A surprise today — my Kindle Fire HD pre-order arrived much earlier than expected. Amazon said October (“early October,” in that by now trite marketing-esque-speak). I don’t know if Amazon is trying to under-promise and over-deliver but if that’s the case they’re doing a fine job of it. That, or they’re trying to counter-program against Apple’s iPhone pre-orders, predictably the talk of the town, or whatever our modern equivalent of “the town” and “the talk” is. So, if the latter, they are failing miserably, at least judging from the top news around the web, which at the moment seem concerned with the fact that ship dates for pre-orders of iPhones have now “slipped to two weeks.” Not that I’m skeptical (in principle, I’m not), but this is exactly the kind of thing that could be triggered on purpose with some careful inventory management.
Back to the Kindle — the package arrived like all Kindles do, a box that to be opened requires you to tear it apart, as if wanting to induce the feeling of a wrapped present. The fact that Amazon chose to pre-label the thing as “Diego’s 7th Kindle” did not, in fact, made me feel good. It made me feel guilty. By numerating my gadget obsession it somehow exposed something that David Foster Wallace would have, probably, classified as an addiction. I quickly navigate Amazon’s site to rename it “Kindle Fire HD” and so be able to conveniently, perhaps too conveniently (DFW, echoing again), sidestep this minor shame.
Once on that “Kindle Manage” page, or whatever it’s called, I pay another $15 to get rid of the ads on the home screen, all the more visible since there’s simply no way a human can figure out where the wake button is. This seems like a minor inconvenience — at most, you just have to turn the device on its side four times, right? — but then you realize the physical action makes you hyper-aware of what pops up onscreen when you do find that button. I find myself wondering if buttons are this hidden on purpose. But of course they aren’t. It’s just an oversight. The usual. Then it strikes me, the real price of this thing is $214, not $199. Somewhere, someone, has figured out that the wake screen is worth $15, and that by pretending it’s $199 they will sell more. A concept to contemplate, at least briefly.
Once in it, I’m struck by how ordinary it all seems. Minor lack of polish here and there (is there such a thing as minor lack of polish, I wonder?). A first, hurried look reveals no obvious way to conjure up a web browser. What is the world coming to?
I find it, eventually. There’s the web. And there’s the books. And there’s Amazon Prime videos, and…
There’s something missing, a Fire, I dare say, from this device. It’s a fine piece of silicon and plastic and rubber all around, don’t get me wrong, but somehow it’s lacking conceit, and even though we often accuse Apple (however silently) of having too much of it, there’s also something to be said for having too little.
The Fire HD is a fine 7-inch tablet, even if both bulkier and heavier than the Google Nexus 7, at the moment its only worthy competitor. Not a general-purpose tablet, as I’ve said before, but another window into Amazon’s content. We will see if October brings with it an iPad mini, or iPad Air (as Gruber calls it), but in the meantime, the Nexus 7, sans content, rules the roost. Content included, it doesn’t. Somewhat, somehow, disappointing — but then again this form factor is less revolution than evolution, even if it was “invented” (read: done properly for the first time) barely two years ago, with the original iPad. It feels like more than that, doesn’t it?