By Stephan Lee
Updated November 18, 2011 at 10:25 PM EST
Kindle Fire

If I hadn’t been given one at my old job, I would not own an iPad. I’m not the kind of person who’d use a tablet to store extensive photo albums or record a song on GarageBand. Aside from iBooks, Kindle, Netflix, and Hulu Plus, my other apps — like Pages and Numbers — go completely ignored. I only use my iPad for entertainment purposes, to read and watch stuff when I’m away from my real computer, so I’m clearly wasting its full capabilities. That’s why Amazon’s cheaper Kindle Fire might be the perfect mini-tablet for a light user like me.

So far, I love using the Fire to read books. I know this puts me in the minority, but before the Fire, I actually preferred reading on my iPad to reading on my Kindle 3G, unless I was traveling. I liked downloading books on the 3G and reading them on the iPad Kindle App (the iBooks store never had enough titles) because I preferred the page-turn swipes to pressing a button, the lit screen was ideal for bedtime reading, and the pagination was clearer than on the Kindle 3G. The Kindle Fire combines the tablet reading experience and Amazon Prime’s awesome selection.

I’m also impressed with the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Today, I borrowed The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai for free, and I can hang onto it for as long as I want or until Dec. 1, when I can make another free selection. Of course, not every title is available in the Library — not all publishing houses are thrilled with it — but for what it is, the offerings are pretty generous. The entire Hunger Games trilogy is available, and so are other extremely popular titles by Michael Lewis (Moneyball), Philip Roth, Sara Gruen, Chelsea Handler, and others.

Although it’s not a function I’d use often, I tried out the simultaneous listening and reading capabilities. I decided on the rather incongruous — or super-congruous? — combination of Rihanna’s “We Found Love” ($0.99 as opposed to $1.29 on iTunes) and One Day by David Nicholls. It was easy to set up for those who’d like to read and listen to music at the same time. (Side note: My first choice for music was Rihanna’s latest single, “You Da One,” but it wasn’t available in the Prime Store yet, although iTunes has it. Everything’s a tradeoff.)

As for video, the dimensions of the Fire are ideal for widescreen viewing, and I was eager to watch full episodes of How I Met Your Mother since CBS video isn’t available on Hulu Plus and therefore the iPad. Clearly, the Fire isn’t built for this kind of viewing, but it works.

A big fuss has been made about Amazon Silk, the split web browser that promises a super-fast Internet experience, but the hype didn’t meet expectations, at least in my experience. Using the same Wi-Fi connection, browsing on the Fire was slower, if anything, than browsing on the iPad. Also, swiping, scrolling, and turning pages on the Fire felt jerky and noticeably less streamlined than on the iPad.

Still, for $199 vs. the $499 iPad 2, the Kindle Fire hits all the marks as an entertainment device. You really do need to sign up for Prime to enjoy the device fully; it’s $79 per year — they should really change it to a monthly rate, just as a marketing strategy. But for those of us who just want a solid reading and watching experience, it’s a smart bargain.

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