Quick: Name a company that starts with an A, makes beautifully designed products, and has radically changed how we consume media. If you’re thinking it’s Apple, think again.

Amazon starts shipping the Kindle Fire today (a day earlier than expected), and it may be the best product they’ve ever released. Sporting a luscious 7-inch screen, the device looks similar to recent models like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch or the Acer Iconia Tab A100 tablets and runs on the Android operating system.

Yet, the Seattle-based company has a much more ambitious plan to compete against Apple that involves more than just a new hardware gadget, although this is their first really compelling tablet. Amazon has one of the largest e-book stores in existence (with over 1 million titles) and a storage system that houses over 556 billion objects. Popular services like DropBox use the Amazon S3 service. A movie and television show rental service, a vast music store, and even a growing presence for newspapers and magazine downloads (including Inc. magazine) set the Kindle store apart.

The burning question is: Should you buy a Kindle Fire?

That’s partly a matter of taste. Rob Enderle, an analyst with Enderle Group, says the $199 device offers some unique features that make it attractive, including a highly readable screen, long battery life (8 hours), and a robust ecosystem for movies and other media.

The 7-inch screen size is decidedly better for reading books and magazines, although the Kindle Fire uses the same IPS (in-plane switching) screen technology as the Apple iPad 2 instead of the much sharper E-Ink technology used on the existing Kindle models. The color screen looks vibrant and clear. At 14.6 ounces, the Kindle Fire is light enough for business travellers who already carry a laptop.

In total, Amazon claims to have 18 million items for sale, including books, songs, and movies. Yet, for business use, it’s too early to tell if the Kindle Fire will offer enough secure apps for business e-mail, an app for accessing customer contact information (say, through Salesforce), or even any included document editing tools that make it easy to type up Word documents on a business trip. There’s also a question about whether the 7-inch screen is ideal for more than reading books. The iPad 2 has a 10-inch screen that makes movies and games pop on the screen; at 7-inches, you might be squinting more.

That makes the Kindle Fire less than a must-own for business. However, Amazon has the storage available to keep your content readily available in the cloud. The Kindle Fire also uses a new browser that speeds up website viewing by sharing processing duties with the cloud. That feature alone is worth investigation for business users who use Web apps to stay productive.