The Kindle Fire is Amazon’s entrant into the rapidly growing tablet market. Having launched the original Kindle e-book reader in 2007, the company is no stranger to mobile devices. But, the Fire is Amazon’s first true tablet. The Fire runs a heavily modified version of Google’s Android operating system. CNET’s Donald Bell described the OS as “a fork of Android 2.3 that has been gutted and overhauled to be optimized specifically for the Kindle Fire’s lean hardware.”

Not only has Amazon customized the Fire’s operating system, but also the browser, called Silk. Using a combination of the Fire’s internal hardware and Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) system, Silk was engineered to be faster than traditional mobile browsers. But because all browser activity is filtered through EC2, some have raised privacy concerns. Traffic to sites secured with SSL bypass EC2, and users can disable it all together.

Apps are another area where Fire users won’t get a full Android experience. According to Bell, if you enter the Android Marketplace’s URL in the Silk browser, you’re bounced “out of the browser and into Amazon’s Appstore.” Although it appears to be technically possible to run non-Appstore apps on the Fire, the process will likely require more than just installing the apps from the developer’s Web site.

Cracking Open analysis

  • Easily cracked open and dissembled: The back cover is a cinch to pop off, Amazon used standard Phillips screws through out the device, and the LCD panel is not fused to the front glass panel.
  • Lower capacity battery: The Fire’s 3.7V 4,400 mAh battery has slightly less capacity than those in other tablets, such as the Sony Tablet S, Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, and the iPad 2.
  • Lots of Texas Instruments chips: Not only did Amazon use the 1GHz TI 4430 OMAP application processor (also used in the BlackBerry Playbook and Motorola Droid Bionic), but they also used at least five other chips from the Dallas-based company.
  • Amazon store that’s always with you: For better or worse the Kindle Fire is no-frills tablet. It’s designed for browsing the web, playing Amazon content, running Amazon-approved apps, and helping you purchase merchandise from Amazon. In fact, this may be the Fire’s defining characteristic. It basically puts Amazon’s retail store right in your hands.

Internal hardware

Our Kindle Fire test unit had the following hardware components:

Update 12/19/2011: This post originally appeared in our TR Dojo blog.