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Amazon's Android Kindle Fire review

Price $199 | Company Amazon| Web www.amazon.com/kindlefire

Inspiration can strike in the funniest of places – and it’s rarely just when you happen to be sitting in front of high-def monitors and a graphics pad. Tablet computers enable you to sketch out ideas, edit files or merely doodle randomly, whether you’re flying on an aeroplane or waiting for a bus.

All singing, all dancing

Amazon’s first all-colour Kindle is definitely aimed at the public transportation crowd. Costing just $199 in the US (UK price TBC), the Kindle Fire is less than half the price of the cheapest iPad and has already taken a serious bite out of Apple’s market share. It’s likely to launch in the UK later this year – but is it worth the wait?

While the all-black Fire lacks the iPad’s metallic flair, it’s eminently practical. A soft-touch rubberised back minimises slippages, the screen is bright and colourful, and build quality is extremely solid (read: chunky).

Average size

The seven-inch screen has the same vertical resolution as the iPad 2 and its letterboxed format means it’s less than 4cm shorter. It’s great for movies and web browsing in landscape, but is a thin experience in portrait mode – although perfect as a comic reader. However, the size means it’s more suited to quick sketching than the kind of plein air painting currently attracting artists to the iPad.

The touchscreen feels smooth and natural, while the homescreen is a simple carousel of recently opened items, enabling you to spin through them with a fluid 3D motion. Tabs for Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, App and Web are at the top.

Sight and sound

The screen is on the small side for many magazines, but works out fine for navigating music options and is perfect for video. Films and TV programmes can be downloaded or streamed, and look fantastic. Unfortunately, tinny speakers mean they don’t sound as good as they should.

Strangely, the Kindle book-reading app is rather basic, lacking the new X-Ray feature found on the Kindle Touch in the US. It’s worth noting that Amazon’s new cloud-based Silk web browser is slower than the iPad 2 and Samsung’s Galaxy.

Painting apps

There are some decent painting app options available. SketchBook Mobile Express from Autodesk is an excellent drawing app with 47 brushes, customisable palettes and up to three scalable, rotatable layers. Photos can be imported for editing and your work can be saved as Photoshop files.

It’s easy to find fault. The Fire lacks GPS, webcam, Bluetooth, a mic and occasionally comes across as a high-tech advert for Amazon. But it’s hard to argue with the price, ease of use and its friendly pick-up-and-play interface.