Return to Sender: Why I Shipped My Kindle Fire Back to Amazon

I boxed up my new Kindle Fire today and sent it back to Amazon. "Was it really that bad?" people asked me on Twitter. Yes, it was. It was neither an adequate tablet nor an adequate e-reader. Note the adjective there: "adequate." I didn't return the Kindle Fire because it failed to live up to the iPad. I returned it because, for $200, it failed to live up to the older and cheaper Kindle models. It failed to live up to the reading experience of the Kindle app on the iPhone.

* * * I bought an iPad on the day it was first released. It was an incredible device in its first iteration -- remember that, when people say "Oh, but this is just the first generation Kindle Fire."

However as time went on, as much as I loved the iPad, I found myself using it fairly infrequently -- to read books via the Kindle app, to watch Netflix as a "second screen" while I worked on my Mac, to review educational apps. It just wasn't worth my dragging around another device as I traveled. I already carry a Chromebook in addition to my Mac, as my "backup computer" -- I've never found myself able to be a fully functional blogger on the iPad.

So this fall, I sold my iPad on Craigslist. I also got rid of the Samsung Galaxy Tab I was given at Google I/O (my son took it). I figured I would just buy a Kindle to replace the iPad. I really just wanted an e-reader, and while I have used the Kindle app on my iPhone since then, I'm always wary, particularly when traveling of wearing down the precious battery in my phone.

Then the Kindle Fire was announced and I figured that, hey, for $199 I could have both an e-reader and a second screen for streaming Netflix. I pre-ordered one right away.

When I read the initial reviews of the device this week, I thought about canceling my order. But I figured that we tech journalists are hypercritical sorts; I figured folks were just playing up the device's shortcomings. But read Macro Arment's "human review of the Kindle Fire and you'll see that this isn't just the case of the over-gadgetized Engadgetry being fussy. The Kindle Fire is, as Arment argues, "a bad game player, a bad app platform, a bad web browser, a bad video player, and, most disappointingly, a bad Kindle."

* * * I'm reluctant to hand the keys over to my digital world over to any one company, and as such, I actually use all the big three technology companies to host and handle my consumption and creation of media.

I do love Google, and I would say that much of my work world relies on Google's productivity tools: Gmail, Google Reader, and sometimes Google Docs (I've recently started using Evernote more than GDocs, admittedly). I've had an Android phone and an Android tablet, but neither "stuck." I tried Google Music when it first was released, but without integration with my iPhone, I wasn't that thrilled.

Much of my media consumption relies on Amazon: I buy my MP3s and e-books there. I use the Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player to store those things, but much like with Google Music, haven't fully transferred my whole library there as there's no integration with the iPhone. If I'm going to buy something -- an actual "thing" -- I'm apt to use Amazon, and I've been an Amazon Prime member for a while now. I also use Amazon Web Services for my blogs as well as for general file storage.

But when it comes to hardware, it's Apple all the way. I use a Mac, and I love my iPhone. I never bought a lot of music from iTunes, and honestly I'm not that sold on the new iCloud or iTunes Match. But when it comes to the choice of apps, the Apple ecosystem can't be beat. Nor can it be beat when it comes to easy-to-use, reliable devices.

* * * My dad recently bought an iPad. He was convinced he needed one after visiting my little brother and seeing his 2 year-old granddaughter and 5 year-old grandson use an iPad. My dad isn't computer-literate at all, even though my brother had given him an old PC of his. He never quite "got it," and since the computer was located in an upstairs bedroom, my aging dad just wasn't going to make the trek up and down the stairs to use it. He "got" the iPad right away. It's lightweight. He can take it into the kitchen; he can carry it into the living room. He can take it with him when he visits his aunt in a nursing home -- no more need to print out photos of the grandkids. He can FaceTime with the grandkids. He's already cancelled the DVD-version of his Netflix subscription. He's canceling all his magazine subscriptions. He said he'd cancel cable if he could watch the Broncos live on the iPad.

The iPad is the perfect device for him.

Honestly, it was probably the perfect device for me too.

* * * I shipped the Kindle Fire back today and sat looking at the Amazon website at my choices for a Kindle. Considering the amount of money I've invested in e-books, it's hard to leave the Amazon ecosystem. That's a good reminder about the dangers of putting all your digital eggs into one DRM-restricted basket -- hell, that's why I never bought music from iTunes. It's why I'm reluctant to give up owning digital media to have access via subscription.

I'd like to have a Kindle so I can check out the Amazon Prime Lending Library -- it seems like a perk that, as a long-time Prime customer -- I should get to utilize. I'd like to have a Kindle so I can have a lightweight e-reader -- one that's easy-to-use, easy-on-the-eyes, lightweight with a long battery life. It doesn't need to provide access to my Google world; it doesn't need to replicate an iOS experience. Not if it's just simply an e-reader.

But if it's a tablet, something that the Kindle Fire claims to be, then it needs to do all of that and more. And the Kindle Fire doesn't meet even the most minimal of standards.


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