Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 28 November 2011

Vox or Fire?

If you're in the market for an iPad and can afford it, then I guess your search is over.  As far as I can see, there isn't a viable alternative to the iPad on sale at this time if you take into account the functionality of the device and the infrastructure that surrounds it.  I'm certain that this time next year there will be viable alternatives to the iPad, but we're not there yet.

But if the iPad is too expensive for your taste (probable for many), or you want an e-reader device that's a step up from your basic Kindle or Kobo without the cost of an iPad, then there's two devices you need to look closely at - and I admit that right now I'm addressing my US readers specifically as one of these devices isn't available in the UK right now with no forecast of a UK launch on the horizon.  For the benefit of the UK readers, the Kobo Vox is available in WH Smith stores for viewing now - if my local branch is representative of the whole country then they will have added it to the Kobo demonstration stands.

The two devices are, of course, the Amazon Fire and the Kobo Vox.  Both devices run on versions of Android, providing access to the apps available on that platform.  However it does appear that the Amazon device does limit access to the full range, preventing access to Android marketplace specifically, which is restrictive if true.  Both devices are functional e-readers with capacitance screens (stretchy, in terms non nerds use), provide access to the Internet, are optimised for viewing videos and listening to music.  And both are priced at $200 in the US (I assume local sales tax is added to that - if anyone would like to confirm that, I'd appreciate it - use the comments box at the bottom of the blog to make the information available to all other readers please).  Both are WiFi only, no 3G option is available so you need to be in a wireless zone to access the Internet.

So, which one to buy?  Well, $200 isn't a trivial amount of cash in these financially restricted times.  I always assume a few multi-millionaires follow this blog, naturally, but most readers are likely to be normal people struggling with the spiralling costs we're all experiencing against virtually static wages (for those of us still working).  So the price of these devices, while far from outrageous, are significant.

Aesthetically both devices present a minimalist view.  I note from US web pages that the Kobo comes in a variety of colours other than black - I think I'm correct in saying black is the only option in the UK at the moment - but the Fire really does appear to adhere to Henry Ford's alleged preference for black.  Personally I don't think this is a big deal - I've seen the Vox in the flesh and looked at the Fire on the web and quite like the minimal styling.  Of course this is a personal view and some people like to see lots of physical bells and whistles, but I'm an engineer by background and I see every switch, button and lever as a potential fail point in devices.  Think about it - what fails most, the TV ot the remote control?  I'll give you a clue - pop into Wal-Mart or Asda and look at the replacement remote controls for sale!

Neither device have cameras fitted, which is a shame as they would be perfect for Skype-ing.  That and a microphone have to be must have improvements for the next versions (front mounted camera, please). 

So are they equal?  I've only played with the Vox for a few minutes while it was securely fixed to a mount in store and as I've said, the Fire isn't available over in the UK right now, so I'm hardly in a postion to say which performs better.  Of course, if Amazon would like me to road test a Fire ahead of the UK launch for a review on my blog, and if Kobo would like to loan me a Vox....

My advice to US readers is to go and handle them at your local Best Buy or wherever you can view both together, look at the specs and make your decision.  For me, the apparently restricted access to the Android Apps on the Fire is dissapointing and I think it is highly likely, looking at the technical blurb for the Vox, that Vox owners would be able to download the Android Kindle App - so giving them the best of both worlds.  Of course it's possible that the Fire will permit the Kobo App to be downloaded too - I can't tell from the specs.  So for me, on the basis of what I know right now, I'd favour the Vox.

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