Amazon's new 7-inch, $199 Kindle Fire tablet technically runs on Android, but it's not the user experience you might expect -- rather than the typical array of user-configurable homescreens, the main interface is a handsome rotating bookshelf where you store your virtual books, magazines, CDs and apps all together. By default, your most recently accessed items will appear on top, though you can also pin items to a "favorites shelf." There are also an array of distinct tabs labeled Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Web, each of which play to Amazon's content strengths.
You might be aware that the company launched its own Appstore on Android earlier this year, streams Amazon Instant Video and will already store some of your music and files in the cloud, but the company's got brand-new content deals on tap -- like 100 "exclusive" graphic novels, including Watchmen, and hundreds of magazines and newspapers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and a selection from Conde Nast. Amazon's also leveraging its EC2 cloud computing platform for even more this time around: the Kindle Fire will only have 8GB of local storage, but every bit of that allotment will be backed up in the cloud, and the Kindle Fire's Silk web browser will actually run remotely on Amazon's servers, too.
None of that's to say that Android's heritage is entirely wiped clean, though -- you can still swipe down for the familiar notifications tray, which features volume, brightness, sync, rotation lock, and background music controls. Apps run in a chromeless, full-screen view, but you can pull up a menu bar from the bottom with a upward swipe. When you search, you'll be searching local content and the web at the same time. The company's
not telling which version of Android helped start this Fire, nor what else it might be capable of -- like, say, email -- but until the homebrew community breaks in, we're mostly looking at an entertainment experience. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. Check out our videos below!
Update: We just got a raft of press pictures (after the break) and it looks like email and documents are a go. The Kindle Fire will have a unified email app which pulls in webmail from Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and AOL -- no word on POP3 or IMAP accounts yet -- and a reader for PDF and Word documents.
Update 2: We've confirmed it's Android 2.3 under the hood, and we're hearing the email client will indeed support POP3 and IMAP email. You'll apparently have to download a separate app if you want Microsoft Exchange, though.