Kindle Fire's Innovative 'Silk' Browser Actually Slows Web Browsing

One of the big selling points of the Kindle Fire is the device’s unique Silk web browser. According to Amazon, it uses the power of Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing cluster to accelerate your page downloads.

The only problem? over two weeks after the Fire first shipped, our tests show that the Silk browser is a lot faster with its acceleration feature disabled. What’s going on?

When we first tested the Kindle Fire on November 14th, we found four popular websites loading significantly faster with Silk’s acceleration feature turned off., for example, took 16.5 seconds to load with acceleration on, but only 8 seconds with it off.

Considering that Silk’s acceleration works by remotely caching web files that users access most, we were willing to give Amazon the benefit of the doubt during our review. After all, the Fire had just started shipping when we tested it and EC2 hadn’t had much of an opportunity to learn from user behavior.

Now that two weeks have passed, millions of of Kindle Fires have shipped and presumably most of those devices have been used for web browsing (with the exception of those units waiting under the tree). So you’d think that Silk’s acceleration feature would finally speed up download times. That’s not the case. In a series of tests conducted today, we found that Silk is still a great deal slower with cloud acceleration than without.

Just this afternoon, we whipped out our Kindle Fire and timed the loads of seven popular sites, with acceleration on and off. We also timed the sites when using Opera Mobile on the Fire and when using the default Android browser on a Galaxy Tab 7 plus. In each case, we set the browsers to load the desktop versions of the sites and disabled Flash. We loaded each site three times, used a stop watch to keep track of when each page loaded, and took the average of the load times as the final time for that site.

All the tests were conducted during the afternoon of November 29, 2011 in our New York office, connecting to the same office router, which leads to the same office mobile broadband. All times are in seconds so lower numbers are better.

Site Silk (acceleration on) Silk (acceleration off) Opera Mobile Galaxy Tab 7 Plus
Businessweek 15 13 12 12 14 9 10 7
Engadget 20 15 18 19
ESPN 9 6 11 8
Laptopmag 14 8 12 7
NY Times 11 10 7 8 10 8 6 7
Average 13.3 9.9 10.9 9.7

As of this afternoon, on average, the Silk browser is 25 percent faster with acceleration turned off. With acceleration turned off, the delta between Silk and the stock browser on the Galaxy Tab 7 Plus, which uses Android 3.2 instead of the Fire’s Android 2.3 as its base, is so minimal as to be irrelevant. And Opera Mobile is apparently a little slower on average than Silk with acceleration disabled, but it actually loaded a few sites —, for example — faster than the others.

Considering that the Fire comes with Silk’s acceleration feature enabled by default, a lot of users who don’t know better are going to experience significantly slower browsing than they do on their smartphones or on other tablets. Fortunately, it should take users no more than a few seconds to disable acceleration.

We hope Silk gets better, but thus far Amazon hasn’t made good on its promise to provide a faster browsing experience. We reached out to the company for comment, but have yet to receive a response.

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