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Anthony Sheler
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Albany, OR 
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« Kindle Fire »

I thought, for a change of pace, I’d present my review and some tips and tricks for the Kindle Fire. I’m not a tech blogger, but I am a bit of a geek and enjoy playing with new toys and sharing what I’ve learned.

My wife and I recently purchased Kindle Fires. The Fire is Amazon’s color book reader/tablet based on Google’s Android operating system. I couldn’t bring myself to spend $500 on the iPad, even though it is a more capable device. As the new Kindle commercials say, you can get two Kindle Fires with money left over for the price of a single iPad. I am fairly happy with our purchase, as is my wife. Although, she doesn’t use hers quite as much as I do because it’s that “in-between” device that’s not as convenient as her iPhone and not as powerful as her laptop. I suspect an iPad would not get any more utilization for the same reasons. She does use the Kindle periodically for reading, some video and basic web browsing.

I’ll start with what I like about the Kindle Fire:

It’s very portable. It may not be as thin as the iPad, but with a 7” screen, it can fit in the inside pocket of my jacket and it looks like a traditional book with a leather cover when it’s inside the case I got for it (not included). It can easily go with me almost anywhere.

The video options are great and quality is decent. With access to Youtube (via the web site, but more on that later) Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon’s own Video On Demand service, it really is an excellent device to watch internet video on. The only big player missing is iTunes, for obvious reasons. I’m not much of an iTunes user anyway, so this doesn’t really bother me.

It’s fairly easy to use and navigate for the non-techie crowd, while also allowing for enough customization through third party apps to make me reasonably happy as a geek. It can also be “rooted” which means to gain administrative access to the operating system, allowing you to replace it with a more standard version of Android. I have not gone as far as rooting my Kindle, but I have taken it about as far as you can go without voiding your warranty (rooting does).  I’ll explain more on that in the tips section.

Of course, you can read books on it… and it does a fine job of that, as you would expect from a Kindle device. It’s using the Android Kindle app that already existed for Android phones and tablets, so there’s really not much to talk about here. The advantage over other Kindle models is obviously the color screen. You can read full color magazines and, when available, in PageView mode. PageView preserves the same formatting as the print editions.

I haven't done any authoritative testing on the battery life, but it does seem likely that it's living up to the advertised 8 hours of reading or 7.5 hours of watching video. I can use it periodically throughout a day/evening and then charge it overnight without coming close to draining it completely.

What I don’t like about the Kindle Fire:

The Carousel interface is a little clunky. All of your recently used apps, books, videos and web pages show up in the carousel automatically. In theory, it makes it easy to get to stuff you use regularly. In practice, it’s annoying. I like knowing where my apps are and finding them in the same place every time. I like being able to organize things. With the carousel, you have to swipe through a stack of icons to find something that’s in a different order every time based on the last time you used it. There is the ability to create favorites using a bookshelf metaphor that sits below the carousel. But, it turns into one long bookshelf, the more favorites you add with no pagination of any kind. You can always open your Apps library, but then you have to search through every app you ever installed and there’s no way to organize them there either. Finally, the carousel is just a little touchy. It can be difficult to select the app you want rather than accidentally swipe to the next app in the stack or worse, launch the next app rather than the one you wanted.

I’ve experienced occasional web browsing glitches and jerky video. I put these together because I think they may be related to the same thing, poor memory management. When web browsing, sometimes you can click on a link 100 times and nothing will happen, but if you open it in a new tab, it works just fine. With video, sometimes I get little stops and starts or hiccups in the playback even though the audio remains consistent etc… Both of these issues seem to be remedied by force-closing all open applications or rebooting the Fire entirely. Fortunately, it doesn't happen often.

It’s difficult (but not impossible) to side-load 3rd party apps. There’s no direct access to the Android Marketplace. You have the Amazon App Store, which does contain a lot of useful apps and games, but nowhere near what’s available on most Android devices. In fact, the Facebook shortcut that comes pre-loaded on the Kindle is actually just a link to the mobile version of the web site rather than the actual Android application. There’s just no excuse for that in my opinion. Some apps are available directly from the developer or you can find other places people have posted the APK (Android application Installer) files online. If you have an Android phone, you can get applications by downloading them and backing up the APK files. (More on that later)

One of the things I like about the Fire, the 7” screen, is also simultaneously one of the things I dislike. The screen size is much bigger than phone size, but still not large enough to view most web sites formatted for normal computer screens. The text is also very small when reading magazines in PageView mode. You will have to do a lot of pinch zooming.

Kindle Fire Tips and Tricks:

You can replace the launcher application on the Kindle without rooting. This will hide the Amazon Kindle interface and give you something more customizable. I use Go Launcher. Here’s a link to a forum post that provides a lot of good information and even a link to a zip file with the launcher APK and a couple of other useful utilities:  

Amazon Forum Post

There are some caveats with this setup in regard to accessing your Kindle books and magagines. It's best to just use the kindle laucher for that, but the good news is that you can place a shortcut to it on the Go Launcher desktop.

Here are a couple of shots I took of my Kindle with the default launcher on the left and the Go Launcher on the right. You can click on the picture to get a larger view.


Installing 3rd party applications will certainly make your Kindle Fire more useful than the stock build and limited options from the Amazon App store.  If you have an Android phone or other device, you can use it to get apps from the Android Market place and then backup and transfer the APK files to your Kindle for installation. If you’re an iPhone user like my wife and I, it helps to have a tech savvy brother with an Android phone like I do. J Most apps will work including Youtube and Facebook. The key is to get the Astro File Manager App (free) on the phone to perform the backup and turning on the option in the Kindle settings to allow applications to be installed from unknown publishers.  You can find the option from the gear menu under settings and then device.  Here’s a link to an explanation of the whole process: Blog Post

For reading, I'd recommend inverting the display for white text on a black background and lowering the brightness the minimum setting unless you are in a brightly lit area. With those adjustments, I don't seem to have any eye strain issues and seems very comfortable to read.

Finally, don’t expect the Fire to do everything the iPad does. Ok, that’s not really a tip or trick, but it’s true. You do get what you pay for and if all you need is a basic web browser (that runs flash I might add), an e-reader, a device for watching internet video and some light entertainment applications, then the Kindle Fire will fill that need. It has it’s quirks and trade-offs and if you are geeky like me, you  will be able to work around most of them. If you’re not particularly geeky, you may still be happy with the stock build as long as you’re comfortable with the limitations.

I could go on forever and I practically already have. Feel free to sound off in the comments and let me know if you have any questions about what I’ve done with my Kindle or if you have any tips of your own. I’ll leave you with 5 apps I highly recommend  you side-load on your Kindle. These are apps I have personally installed and tested so I know they work, at least with the current versions.

Dolphin HD Web Browser    
(Better than Amazon’s Silk Browser)

Facebook    (better than the moble web version)

Youtube    (better than the moble web version)

Dropbox    (It's a great way to move data to and from your Fire)

Flickr    (better than the moble web version)

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