Quick Navigation Tour
The Kindle Fire uses the older Android 2.3 kernel (Gingerbread), intended for smartphones. Although Amazon did a great job enhancing Google's generic interface, the Kindle Fire isn't as intuitive to navigate as tablets that leverage Honeycomb (3.x). First off, Gingerbread lacks dedicated navigation buttons. That isn't a problem for smartphones, since they have physical buttons. The Kindle Fire doesn't, though.
Like competing tablets, you have to unlock the Fire's screen to use it. Just slide the orange bar to the left and you're ready to go.
Interestingly, the unlock screen only presents itself in a portrait orientation. With other tablets, the display automatically adapts to reflect the way you're holding them.
Once you get past the lock screen, the accelerometer automatically adjusts orientation, just as you'd expect. However, the layout of Amazon's operating environment is notably different from other tablets. Gone is the icon-filled desktop. Instead, you get a digital bookshelf.
The top tier saves a record of your most recently-used programs, so it functions similarly to Android's multitasking switcher. Selecting an app is as easy as flipping through the stack and double-tapping on an icon.
Shelves below the first row are used for apps designated as "Favorites," though the Facebook icon is actually a URL shortcut to the Web browser, and not its own piece of software.
Amazon divides everything up based on media type: Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web. Like other tablets, the search field allows you to quickly locate an app, which is helpful if you have a large library. But it's also useful for searching the Web.
Whenever you navigate away from the main screen, the Kindle Fire displays a row of buttons at the bottom.
- Home button: instantly takes you to home screen
- Back button: move to a previous screen or App
- Menu button: access different viewing modes or additional options for an App
- Search button: instantly takes you to the search screen
Notifications don't pop up like they do in Honeycomb's system tray. Instead, there's a small counter in the upper left-hand corner that logs when you get an email or a download finishes. Meanwhile, the Fire's various settings are accessed by tapping the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner.
The keyboard is generic to Android, similar to Motorola's Xoom. Typing in portrait mode is more difficult, though, because the smaller screen results in smaller keys.