Is the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire a Good Tablet Option for Students?

New Amazon Kindle FireAmazon yesterday announced their new Kindle Fire Tablet device that will be powered by the Google Android OS.  The most stunning part of the announcement wasn’t so much the device itself but rather the $199 price point it be will sold at.  That’s half the price of any competing new tablet that has been released and $300 less than the $499 starting price of the Apple iPad 2.  You can quite literally get two Kindle Fire’s for less than the price of an iPad.  So for all those students that were on the fence about buying an iPad 2 and decided you just couldn’t justify the cost when you needed a laptop as well, is the Kindle Fire a potential substitute for the iPad?

The answer is that it could be, but you have to understand the limitations of the Kindle Fire compared to the iPad and decide what it is you’re really looking for in a tablet.  First let’s compare the features of the iPad 2 with the Kindle Fire:

  Apple iPad 2 Amazon Kindle Fire
Price $499 – $829 $199
Screen 9.7-inches, 1,024 x 768 IPS screen 7-inches, 1,024 x 60 IPS screen
Weight 1.33lbs 14.6 ounces
OS iOS Android with Amazon software on top
Processor Dual Core A5 Dual core TI OMAP 4
Content Amazon, B&N, iBooks & more Amazon App Store
App Store App Count 90,000 iPad, 500,000 iPhone 16,700
Storage Capacity 16 – 64GB 8GB
Expandable Storage No No
Wireless Options Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth 2.1 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1
Camera Front and Rear No
GPS 3G Models have GPS No
Browser Mobile Safari Amazon Silk
Battery Life 7.5 hours 8 hours
System Requirements PC or Mac for synching, iTunes software None


Based on this table comparison you can see that the iPad 2 is more fully featured.  It has dual cameras, a larger screen, more options such as 3G, GPS and higher storage capacity.  As soon as you start adding those optins the price of the iPad 2 of course increases.  Amazon offers no upgrade options, it’s a one size fits all, and the sacrifices they make in terms of less storage and no 3G is what enables the low price of the Kindle Fire.

Buying Case for the iPad

overview_multitouch_20110302If you’re a student that’s looking for a tablet that could potentially replace a laptop for on campus needs, the Kindle Fire definitely is not going to cut it.  It sounds like Amazon has put a layer on top of the Android OS that really turns the device into more of a content consumption tablet.  It will be fine for browsing the web, watching movies, reading Kindle books and even listening to MP3s but it’s not going to offer the ability to easily edit documents like Apple does with the iPad apps currently available.  For instance, Apple Notes allows editing of word processing documents, Numbers is an Excel alternative, and Keynote allows editing of PowerPoint documents.  There are a whole host of productivity and education focused apps in the Apple App Store.  I don’t believe Amazon will put a focus on making productivity apps available for the Kindle Fire and given that it has a 7-inch screen it would be to tough to be very productive with that limited screen real estate anyway.

Buying Case for the Kindle Fire

KO-aag-spin._V166735073_On the flip side, if you’re simply looking for a tablet that you can easily carry around with you on campus and pull out whenever you have a break between classes or need to reference material on the web, the Kindle Fire might be a good solution if your campus has readily available wi-fi.  I say that because the Kindle Fire, unlike the other Kindle devices sold by Amazon, has no 3G option so if Wi-Fi is not available you can’t do a whole lot with the Kindle Fire except read books, watch movies or listen to MP3s that are already stored on its 8GB internal storage.   One big advantage the Kindle Fire does have it that it is under 1lb and smaller than the iPad 2 so is well suited for something you want to easily be able to pull in and out of your backpack and hold with one hand.

And then there’s the big price differential.  Since students are on a budget it’s harder to justify the price of an iPad when you’re already up to your eyeballs in tuition, textbook and basic living costs.  It’s easier to justify spending $199 for something that might be helpful in school and providing some entertainment as well than $499 or more.  Another big factor is that theft of Apple devices on campus can be rampant.  A thief knows exactly what a MacBook, iPhone or iPad looks like and will target them.  They sell well and can be converted to cash and sold easily.  A Kindle Fire will likely draw much less attention and if it were stolen the loss to you is obviously not as huge.  It’s a little sad to consider such things, but hey, it’s the reality if you live on a campus that has a dense population and especially those in urban areas.


At the end of the day you have to decide what your needs are and which tablet device might suit you better.  Sure, there are a ton of other tablet options out there, but frankly I think it’s going to come down to Apple and Amazon being the big players in the tablet market.  If you’re starting to shop for a tablet these are the two to start with when looking.  If you need a fully fledged tablet that would allow for video chat, using productivity apps and taking advantage of a vast library of software already available then the iPad is the way to go if you can afford it.  If you just want something for being able to browse the web or watch movies on the go, so long as you know you’ll have access to wi-fi where you plan to use it, the Amazon Kindle Fire is a good fit.

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Filed Under: Feature Articles, Tablet Reviews

About AJ

I'm a big believer in the importance of technology usage in education, but not just having blind faith in technology gadgets and using them in a school setting for the sake of it. I review and write about technology devices such as laptops and tablets that have a clear purpose and provide a learning advantage for students.


3 Responses to Is the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire a Good Tablet Option for Students?

  1. J.D. September 30, 2011 at 2:14 am #

    Nice summary. The Kindle Fire is a really appealing device with such a low price and Amazon standing behind it. Considering how consistently they have improved their traditional Kindles, I am excited about FUTURE Amazon tablets.

    But for now I am really interested in how the Kindle Fire does as well as how the Amazon App Store evolves.

    While I dislike that they forked Android, at least (I think) all their apps for Kindle Fire should still work on the Amazon App Store for Android (and all the Android devices out there…) Is that your understanding as well? If so, it seems like a decent compromise.

    PS if this things gets rooted and you could put honeycomb on it, that would be sweet 😉

  2. Andrew October 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    J.D., I have no doubt somebody will root this thing, it looks like Amazon is taking extremely thin to no margin on the hardware in hopes of driving sales of content on Amazon (books, video etc.) so they will surely have some deterrent for this, but it’s not like Apple where they own the entire vertical of hardware and software and can really make life miserable for hacked devices. There’s actually quite a bit of incentive to root the Kindle Fire, you can just use the regular old Android Market to get apps and not have to go through Amazon. I predict that Amazon will sell out of this thing quickly and have trouble keeping up with demand, much like Apple with the iPad at release.


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