Amazon Kindle Fire
Writing CNET's official review of the Kindle Fire was probably the toughest assignment I've had all year. This is a tablet that wears its price tag like a bulletproof vest. The standby criticisms don't work. Holding it up to an iPad, I may as well be comparing a Vespa to a Mercedes.
That isn't to say that the Kindle Fire couldn't have flopped. I've seen my share of cheap tablets before and I haven't flinched at flunking them. Nine times out of 10, it's the screen that ruins things. On a tablet, the screen is the foundation of the entire experience. It's the window to the software; it's the substance of the navigation; it's the keyboard; it's the game controller.
Fortunately, Amazon didn't cheap out on the screen, though (spoiler alert!) I was surprised that it only supports two-finger multitouch. My three-finger Fruit Ninja technique was ruined.
The rest of the tablet was groomed down like a bonsai tree. All they left behind was a browser and an email client, along with apps, videos, books, magazines, and music -- all seamlessly linked together under a single Amazon account.
Even more interesting (to me, at least) is what they left on the floor. There's the obvious stuff, like GPS, maps, 3G, Bluetooth, memory expansion, cameras, and video output. But they also cut out the inane barrage of TOS and privacy agreements. They cut out the desktop metaphor. They cut out any chance of you lying to yourself about using the tablet for "work." They cut out all of the features that your smartphone already does a better job providing. And let's not overlook that they cut the price down to $199.
The end result is dramatic. It will leave Android fans scratching their heads, wondering how to fit it with a proper install of Gingerbread, and missing the point entirely. This isn't a tablet for us geeks.
The Kindle Fire's sole objective is to deliver entertainment with zero friction and zero complications. For $199, I'd say that's enough. If you need more from your tablet, you've got plenty of options.