My Personal Experience with the Amazon Kindle Fire Touchscreen Tablet - A Hands On Review
Me and my pals... but they don't read as much
I'm a Geek, and Proud!
Like many other proud geeks, I've been on pins and needles about Amazon's Kindle Fire. I've owned a Kindle for years, and really loved it. But the normal 'E-Ink' Kindles have always lacked a couple of features for me. Specifically, a backlit touch screen. My first ever ebook reader had backlighting, and a touchscreen, but in all other respects it was primitive.
Now, with the Kindle Fire, for me it's the complete package. Along with 72-million other tech-geeks, I even wrote a preview page in advance of the Fire's release. That's dedication!
Or, if you're more advanced, you can read the follow-on hub here:
Kindle Fire at Amazon
After a week of hands-on
It's been a week since the new Kindle Fire was shipped out, and since I've received my Fire. Like the Holy Grail of ebook readers, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and can't seem to put it down now that it's here. Right off the bat, let me confirm: I love it every bit as much as I expected to. It's such a relief... often when expectations are so high, you're really setting yourself up for disappointment.
Does that mean it's perfect? No. There are some perplexing gaps in the Kindle Fire's armament. Doesn't that ruin the Kindle? Not for me. I love it, even though there's room for improvement. And I'm not talking about the lack of a camera and microphone. To be honest, that has no impact on me. If I take a picture, I use a camera. If I call someone, I use a phone. The Fire is not a camera, nor a phone, and that's okay.
An E-Reader with Benefits
Coming at it from an e-reader perspective, I wanted the Fire to be an e-book reader with benefits. I read books. I read lots of books. So the other stuff is cool (actually, a lot cooler than I thought it would be) but not the main thing.
With all that being said, I thought I'd share my experiences with Amazon's Kindle Fire. Please bear in mind, this isn't a technical feature review. That's already been done (Even by me… just click right here!) This is also not a full-feature review. I'm just sharing my personal experiences, based on how I actually use my Fire.
Good tour of the Kindle Fire, a slightly opposing viewpoint
Better than the video I was going to make:
I had planned on making a video highlighting the index and main features of the Kindle Fire, but looking on Youtube, found this excellent video. Since I truly stink in front of the camcorder, I'm presenting this video, which is much better than mine would be, and covers most of the points I planned, on, plus some I hadn't thought about.
My only quibble with the video is his representation of the Fire's video downloading. I've used Netflix on it a fair amount over the last week. Haven't had any problems, delays, or slow-downs. While it's entirely possible the Kindle Fire may hiccup when downloading a movie, mine has not. Rather, it's downloaded / streamed videos smoothly, the resolution & screensize are very nice, and the colors are vibrant.
In all other respects, his opinion seems fair and balanced, good points and bad points, as he thoroughly explores the operating system. Worth watching.
That was Easy
To start with, it's easy. Getting started, that is. I opened the box, logged on to the house wi-fi, and signed in to Amazon. No problems. At the home page, there's a row of index tabs at the top, then a bookshelf that holds your history, and one that shows your selected favorites. From this screen, you'll already get to see both good and bad. I love the index tabs, they're very intuitive, and responsive. As a matter of fact, I handed the Fire to a friend, and without any guidance he was quickly watching youtube videos, checking out my books, browsing online, and generally having fun. There's a very easy learning curve with the Fire, which is really nice.
The Home Page
The favorites shelf is quite nice. Very simple way to keep the best stuff easy to get to. Not so fond of the history shelf. I have no idea why Amazon chose to make user history the single biggest use of screen real estate on the entire home page. There's also not much control over the history carousel. Older stuff to the right. Newer stuff to the left, and each icon is stacked on top of it's preceding icon, like a fanned out deck of cards. A quick flick of the finger scrolls through like a carousel wheel, (their metaphor, not mine), only it has a definite start and end, not full circle. Does this truly bother me? Nope. It just doesn't seem like the best use of the space. I'd rather more room be given to my favorites. I'd also like to be able to put a live wallpaper as my background, instead of the bookshelf. At the moment, that's not an option.
The heart of the Home Page: Index Tabs
So far, these are just minor quibbles. I have hopes that Amazon, or a rabid hacker fan, will offer ways to adjust the home page more to my liking. In the meantime, it's fast, intuitive, amazingly easy... I'm good. Really.
Going back to those index controls; You have Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web. Taking them one by one, the first item, Newsstand, is meaningless to me. I'm not going to subscribe to magazines. They look slick, and a lot of people seem to like Magazines on the Kindle Fire. Not me. Not interested, not going to spend money on it, and have no intention of ever adding a magazine to my Kindle reading list.
At home with Holmes
Books. This is probably one of the oddest situations about the entire Fire. Kindle kind of epitomizes book-reading. When I think about reading books on the Kindle Fire, I expect it to be all that the Kindle was (minus the e-ink, of course), and more. I expect my reading experience on the Fire to be a BETTER experience. After all, it's got backlighting… it's got touchscreen… and it's a Kindle!
In practice, Amazon fell down a bit here. While the actual reading of a book was just fine, nice features, good screen, there's actually some pretty important features missing.
No Nested Directories for Books
I have a good-sized book collection. I like older books, like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, just to name a few. Classic writers, like John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie. I've made plentiful use of legitimate free book sites, like the Gutenberg Project. I like to keep authors in directory folders, both in my main collection on the computer, and my on-Kindle collection. Using directories has no bearing on how the Kindle sorts or displays the books. It's just a way for me to keep my files organized when doing file maintenance. Adding books, removing them… it just makes my job a bit easer.
But on the Fire? Can't do that. In order for them to show up in my bookshelf, they have to be in the primary 'books' directory. That's a bit of a let-down. Not a destroyer… it just makes maintaining my collection a bit more difficult in the long run. I can live with it, though. I just think that If the e-ink Kindles can manage it, seems like the Fire should have been programmed similarly.
Still on books: No "Collections"
Next problem? No Collections. The e-Ink Kindles have a 'collections' feature, that allows me to put each book into multiple collections. For instance, if I wanted a collection of all my Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books, I could define one and put all his books into it. I could then define a Sherlock Holmes collection, and sort them even further. Each book could be put into multiple collections. Kind of like search tags on a blog.
Soooo… you're telling me my new super-duper Amazon Kindle Fire can NOT organize my books? I get to search by author, title, or recent additions. If I have a couple of hundred books on it, and want to see all my Tarzan titles in a single swoop… it's just not gonna happen. This was a borderline deal-killer for me.
A good beginning, but hoping for updates
To me, it looks like they built this really cool bit of hardware for an amazingly great price, but didn't take the time to re-write the ebook reader from the ground up to take full advantage. Instead, it seems like they just slapped the basic Kindle-for-phones app into the Fire. Maybe Amazon just didn't have time with Christmas looming. I sincerely hope they'll go back now and complete a custom re-write of the ebook reader app.
Aldiko on my Home Page
Thank Goodness for the Aldiko EBook Reader App
Lucky for me (and my Fire) there's more than one way to skin a cat. The Kindle is an Android-based tablet. There are several e-book reader apps available for Androids. The leader of the pack seems to be Aldiko. This is a highly functional ebook app. It can find books from within nested directories, so I can keep my file structure organized for 'behind the scenes' cleanup. Even better… Aldiko can organize my collection nicely and neatly. It's quite easy and intuitive to use, as well. (Once I figured out what that little '+' symbol was for in the collections screen!)
How to Sideload Aldiko
I decided to use Aldiko. It's available for free, from the Amazon apps for Android section. But when I look for it from the Apps>Store>Search feature, it's not there. Turns out Amazon hasn't 'approved' Aldiko for the Fire. That's okay, it's easy enough to 'sideload' an app. Here's how:
1. On your computer, Google Aldiko APK (an apk file is the actual app file), find a page to download it directly from. I just downloaded it directly to the desktop.
2. On your Fire, go to Apps, then Store. Search for ES File Explorer. Amazon offers it for free. Install ES File Explorer as an App on the Fire.
3. Now connect the Fire to your computer through the USB port. Open the Kindle directory, and drag Aldiko onto the root directory.
4. Eject the Kindle from your computer, run ES File Explorer, and find Aldiko. It should be right there on the main screen, since it's in the root directory. Double-click Aldiko, and ES will install it.
So now I have a great ebook reader on my great Kindle… it's not the Kindle reader, but what the heck, it does what I want. Irony aside, it's an excellent solution.
Calibre and eBook management
If you do what I did, bear in mind, Aldiko has to see books in Epub format. This is easy enough to provide. Just use Calibre. It's a free (and excellent) ebook collection manager. Calibre can convert all your ebooks to epub format, and send them to your Kindle. So instead of making sure all my ebooks are in a Kindle-friendly format, I make sure they're all converted to epub.
One other detail. Kindle expects to find books in the 'books' directory. But Aldiko expects to find them in the 'ebooks' directory. If you're importing your own books, they'll have to be in the 'ebooks' directory, nested in the 'import' directory.
I didn't mean to include a mini-guide here, but it seemed appropriate to the context. If anybody needs a more detailed guide, let me know. I might write it up as a full hub… :^)
Music and songs
Now, back to the matter at hand. You've heard my real complaints. Everything else works like I'd expect it to. One by one:
Music: I have a fair collection of cds, especially older songs. There's about 100 songs on my Kindle Fire at the moment. I'll probably add more later, but that's what I chose for now. You can sort the songs by Playlists, Artists, Albums, and Songs. I sort by song title. Don't bother with the rest of it, and no idea how to build a playlist. I'll eventually figure out the playlist, but it's low on my priorities at the moment.
Watching Classic Superman
Video: As far as I can tell, this tab only works within Amazon's structure. If you didn't buy, rent, download it from Amazon, it's not going to show up here. This is more like an online video store. No big deal. There are plenty of other ways to watch video on the Fire. First, there's Youtube. Second, Netflix. I already subscribe to Netflix, so it's very easy to watch streaming movies from Netflix. I've been watching a lot of cartoons, like Superman and Captain Marvel vs Black Adam. Hulu is also available, though I've not tried it. And finally, you can USB transfer mp4 videos into the Fire. I've already got about 4 of my favorite movies on it, ready to watch at a moment's notice. (In case you're wondering, yes, I legitimately bought those movies before putting them into the Kindle Fire!)
Hint- ES File Explorer to the rescue again. Find the video file with it, double tap, and it plays the movie.
Docs: Sort of Redundantly Redundant
Docs: This one is kind of odd. Here is where the Fire keeps any plain text file, pdf, or other filetype it thinks is a document instead of a book. While the idea is nice, to separate your computer documents from your books, in practice, I'd be fine merging them all into one big area, then use Collections to sort them by category. (Oops, forgot- have to use Aldiko for that… and I already do!)
Apps: Pleasantly surprised
Apps: Apps is a far cooler thing than I really expected. Originally, I figured Apps were something I'd pretty much ignore. Turns out, they're lots of fun, and all kinds of variety. Limiting myself just to the free stuff, I've downloaded a pretty large number of apps. They're not all in the Fire at once though. Since anything 'bought' from Amazon is stored there permanently for you, I grab everything that looks remotely cool, useful, or interesting, download it, then delete it. This ESPECIALLY includes Amazon's free paid app of the day. I know, that sounds like an oxymoron. But what they're saying is, Amazon will select one app a day that usually costs money to get, and give it away for free.
Let me reiterate: Download it when it's free. Delete it. Always in the Amazon Cloud for you later. Even after the price is back to normal.
What apps am I actually using? ES File Explorer, Aldiko, Random Mahjong, Netflix, Facebook, Reversi Free, Checkers Free, Pinball Deluxe, Mini Piano Lite, Amazon Shop, and a few other odds and ends. Aldiko is my most-used app.
The app page is very nicely laid out. You can choose apps from your Amazon Cloud, from the 'Device', and order them be 'recent' or by 'title'. Select 'Store', and at the top of the page you'll see Amazon's Free Paid App of the Day. So it's incredibly easy to keep track of. Then you've got all the apps listed by multiple means of sorting, or you can search by title. This is seriously easy to use, even for a novice. I know Amazon for Android is not the same selection as the Android Marketplace. But really, how much is just junk, and how many variations of the same thing to you really need? In my opinion, Amazon has done a fabulous job here.
Apps: much more fun than I thought.
Recursive Kindle and Computer Screens
Silk: Amazon's Custom Web Browser for the Kindle Fire
Web: Last, and far from least, is Amazon's custom written, cutting edge, split-function web browser. Named Silk, I'll have to admit, it's functional, fast, and easy. I've done a lot of web cruising, and so far, not run into ANY sites I can't visit. This is just amazing. Of course, Amazon's Kindle Fire is strictly Wi-Fi, but I mostly use mine from home so it's no problem. The one shortfall? No Java. If you look in the settings, you'll see a on/off button for Java, but as far as I can tell, it doesn't actually exist. So no Runescape for me. Mildly disappointed. I didn't really expect it, but it would be nice if tablets in general started supporting Java. So far, I don't know of any that do. It'd be nice if the Fire was the first tablet to support Java.
Battery, Touch Sensitivity, and Screen Brightness
The battery life suits me just fine. Like my cell phone, I nearly always plug it in to recharge overnight. I also occasionally plug it in if I'm using it at my computer desk where the charger is. I do try to keep an eye on the power gauge, but it's never gotten below halfway yet.
The touchscreen? Very sensitive. A light touch is usually all I need, though some games seem to require a double-tap. When using the onscreen keyboard to type, it's surprisingly easy. It's a new experience for me, and I was surprised how fast and accurately I can 'type'. (But I'm not going to start writing hubs on it!)
Screen brightness has always been just fine. A little too bright at it's strongest, but I've set it to about 2/3rds brightness, and that's perfect.
Fingerprints? Oh, yeah... when I'm using the Fire, I don't see them. But when it's turned off, and the black screen is reflecting ambient light, you can tell somebody's sticky fingers have been all over! The take-home here? I can't see the fingerprints while it's on. Not worried about it while it's off. And if the prints really bothered me, I'd wipe 'em off now and then. The screen's made of Gorilla Glass... not like a gentle swipe with a soft cloth is going to hurt anything, right?
A Kindle for Everyone
Kindle Fire: Imperfect, but still Fabulous
Final thoughts? I love my Kindle Fire. Yes, it's flawed. But the only flaw that bothered me was easily fixable. Pretty ironic, but fixable. After all, who would have thought that Kindle's strong point, the e-book reader, would be it's weakest feature? If you'd told me I'd be running a 3rd-party book reader on a Kindle machine, I would have laughed… until last week. Now I'm using Aldiko on my Kindle, and loving it!
For those who just love to tinker, be aware- people have already figured out rather easy ways to root their Fire. Which means an entire operating system replacement is only a major hack away…
Not for me, though. I'm very happy with the Fire as it is.
If you have any other questions, ask and I'll give you an honest answer, as best I can.