December 15, 2011, 10:40 AM

Don’t make me work too hard

Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire was easy to use, but not easy enough.

Most retailers know that consumers respond best when it’s easy for them to shop (I’m looking at you grocers for putting the milk in the back of the store). That’s why I was especially excited in November when the Kindle Fire tablet I ordered from Amazon.com Inc. arrived. Along with many other e-retailers, Amazon has a reputation for making it easy to shop on its site, and the Kindle Fire appeared to be another extension of that usability.

The Kindle Fire, with its 7-inch screen and Android operating system, would be my first e-book reader and a way to access Amazon’s online video archives. What the Kindle Fire turned out to be, however, was only the second purchase I’ve returned to Amazon. What happened? Why was it worth it for me to return the device?

Before I get to that, let me declare that as a first effort the Kindle Fire is pretty good. Amazon had the iPad and other Android tablets as examples of what to include and what to leave out. For the most part, the Kindle Fire’s fundamental functions, such as displaying e-books, watching videos and using the Amazon shopping app, work.

Also, let me declare that I own an iPad. A direct comparison between the two isn’t entirely fair because their hardware is different and the iPad is more of a laptop replacement than the Kindle Fire. It is fair, however, to compare the usability of the two devices.

For me, the deal breaker with the Kindle Fire was its sluggish responses and how simple functions, such as adjusting the volume or returning to the home screen, were not as simple as I’d like. Amazon says it will issue a software update within the next two weeks to address many of these matters, a sign that I’m not the only disappointed buyer. But, as someone who already owns an iPad, it just wasn’t worth holding onto the Kindle Fire.

One of my colleagues had similar thoughts about his Kindle Fire. He’s going to wait for the update, hoping the performance will improve. But he’s generally pleased with how the Kindle Fire performs now. He’s an iPad owner, too.

As for what the Kindle Fire provides in access to content, it performed well. It just needs a little refinement in organization and making the software easier to use. I doubt that Amazon would invest in the Kindle Fire if its ambitions were not backed by investment. Rumors are swirling that the next version of the Kindle Fire already is in development. Perhaps that will be the one to buy. Again.

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