An iPad Lover Plays With Fire, Part 3
The Kindle Fire is well-designed for consuming content. But how capable is it when it comes to work-related tasks? Turns out it can be put to work to a certain degree, though getting there may require a little perseverance on the part of the user. I'd much rather tackle work tasks with the iPad 2 than with a Kindle Fire.
Dec 6, 2011 5:00 AM PT
The Kindle Fire is a great little media-consuming tablet, of this there is no doubt: If you're a happy Amazon.com customer, a Fire will likely warm your heart. You can buy, rent and stream TV shows and movies from Amazon, buy and stream music, surf the Web, check email, and read lots and lots of books. You can even buy and install Android apps -- at least, the ones that Amazon sells through it slowly growing app store for the Kindle Fire.
For watching and reading, I'm a big fan of the Fire. For taking the Fire to work? Not so much. The Fire is more for lunch breaks than it is for real work.
Of course, Amazon never attempted to create a little tablet that would a be-all, end-all tablet able to everything well. Besides, for US$199, Amazon was pretty smart to focus on what it could do superbly -- content for consumers.
But Apple didn't try to push the iPhone and iPad into the enterprise, and nevertheless, there it is. Why can't the Kindle Fire go to work, too?
When an Awful Lot Isn't Good Enough
First of all, you can do an awful lot with the Kindle Fire. Many of my quibbles have workarounds, which means many things are possible -- just like it's possible to dig a hole with a spoon. Sure, the spoon is inexpensive and well-made, but it's still a spoon. It is not a shovel. If you follow the metaphor, the difference between a Kindle Fire and an iPad is not the same as the difference between a spoon and a shovel, but the point remains: I'd much rather tackle work tasks with the iPad 2 than with a Kindle Fire.
That said, if all you have is a Kindle Fire or a spoon, then dig with the tools you've got -- nothing wrong with that!
Reasons Why the Fire Sucks for Getting Things Done
- Email. You can read email, have multiple accounts, enjoy a combined inbox view, and for the most part, the built-in email app is a pleasant enough experience. But it doesn't automatically provide a way to connect to a Microsoft Enterprise Exchange Server. You can use the browser and connect via webmail, of course, but that's not the same as having a more native email client.
Still, you can buy and download an Android-based app from Amazon's app store to provide connectivity, but there it is: You need to find, decide and install. It's not a huge hurdle, but it's there. And there are others, too.
The thing is, I like the built-in email app, It's got a great look and feel -- until you open an html email in portrait mode and realize that some of the email is cut off on the right side. At this point, there's no way to zoom in or out of that email so you can see it all. Pain in the butt. The answer? Flip the Fire horizontal. Still no zoom, but at least most emails fit.
But there's more. With my iPad 2, I can receive many kinds of attachments via email and automatically preview them simply by touching their icons (even if I need a special app to edit them). With the Fire, it's not so easy. Quickoffice came free to my Kindle Fire, and I thought with it I could open up Word files and such. Not exactly so. A basic .rtf file? Not possible. As near as I can tell, I have to upgrade Quickoffice to a pro version for that. Again, not the end of the world, but if you want to put the Kindle Fire to work, you'll have to step through all of this stuff before you're ready to rock and roll.
- Keyboard. The keyboard is virtual, as you would expect. What sucks, though, is that you can't add an external Bluetooth keyboard. This means that if you need to tap out a couple of paragraphs (much less something longer), you've got to do it with a small touch keyboard. What about a USB option, you say? As near as I can tell, they don't exist. Also, the Fire might not even be able to support them via its little USB slot anyway. So yes, you can touch type out a novel on a Kindle Fire -- just not with any sort of keyboard with real keys.
- No Camera. You would think this wouldn't be a big deal, really, for work purposes. Turns out, it sort of is. With a camera, you can "scan" physical paper documents and turn them into PDFs or other files that can be easily shared and delivered for work purposes. Quite handy for contracts.
With no camera, you've got no option. Fortunately, you probably have a smartphone that can do it, but then you end up managing two devices for a task that one device ought to be able to handle completely.
Also, your functionality is limited for other apps that use the camera, though for "working" I see most of the issue related to documents and not special apps -- though some retail and distribution organizations use cameras all the time with iPads for work purposes. (As for kids in school, no camera means there's no way to, for example, snap photos of bugs and then add them to a report on insects.)
- No GPS and No 3G/4G Cellular Data Service. The GPS is handy for finding yourself while out and about, say in a new city or whatnot. Again, you probably have a smartphone for this, so it's not the end of the world. Where things fall apart is when you need to get work done and there is no WiFi handy for you. Or the signal is bad. In this situation, work doesn't get done.
Perhaps you have a spendy tethering or cellular WiFi hotspot service ... that works. But it's not built in.
- Screen Size Just a Bit Too Small. Obviously the benefits of a Kindle Fire that's smaller than an iPad work out for portability. The give and take here is that for work, viewing and manipulating files, using apps, etc., means that you'll likely feel a bit constrained by the Fire, at least compared to the roomier screen on the iPad 2. And part of this is the comfortable font size -- the iPad, on default settings, usually seems easier to read from a text standpoint.
- Can't Hide the Home Screen. The cool home screen that shows you the last handful of items you worked with is cool if you're a consumer, but for a worker, not so much. Tablets are often shared, and there are some apps or websites you probably don't want your peers at work seeing on your tablet -- or realizing that you weren't checking your email during the meeting break but were instead checking your eBay auctions. Again, a small quibble, but some work environments aren't as flexible or forgiving as others.
- Immature App Store for Fire. This one will change quickly over 2012 ... but for right now, there aren't as many options for enterprise-related apps for the Fire. They just aren't there. As the Fire continues to sell well, and as Amazon gets better with its app store and Fire integration, the Amazon world will attract developers to offer enterprise/business apps, too.
A Series of Hurdles
Overall, the Kindle Fire is capable of doing a lot of kinds of work. But putting it to work on a consistent basis ... I think this will end up being more about an individual's preferences, needs, patience and perseverance in getting their Kindle Fire set up to meet their particular needs.
For me, wow, it just doesn't hold a candle to my iPad 2. But if I didn't own an iPad 2, I'd jump over a few hurdles and through a few hoops in order to eke out a bit more "work" usage. Just don't buy one thinking that it will change your life in your ability to get things done on the go, and remember that the Kindle Fire is mostly about content consumption.