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Extinguishing the Kindle Fire

After about a month of use, I am ready to send back my Kindle Fire. Thankfully, Amazon gave until January 31st 2012 to return it. The reason I am returning it is because I no longer want or need it. I brought it to be a lazy device. I planned on using it when I wanted to sit down, read a magazine, browse the Internet, and maybe watch a movie. Sadly, these are the features that lack on the Kindle Fire.

Magazines that have apps like GQ, for example, the only magazine I currently subscribe to, has an app which formats the paper magazine to the Fire’s screen, has videos and links built-in and you do not have to zoom into the magazine to read the articles. This is a really nice reading experience. In most cases, I like reading GQ on my Kindle Fire more than I do on my normal paper subscription. That was until the current issue arrived at my door about a week ago (a week after I started seeing it on Newsstands) and it is STILL not on my Kindle Fire. 3 weeks ago I saw the latest edition on a Barnes & Noble Nook tablet.

The magazines that don’t have an app are pure pain to use. They basically scanned the magazine in PDF form. You MUST zoom into every page you want to read. The problem with that is that you have to zoom in in the center of the screen, if not, the page turns. There is also a problem with orientation. Some ads and articles require landscape mode and SOME require portrait. It’s a bit annoying to keep turning the device around to find the perfect format.

The web browser is horrible. It’s slow, it crashes, and tends to forget the tabs you have open. Mobile sites tend to work fine but if you are using a full site, you will have some issues with it. Since I brought this device mostly for browsing the internet, this is a bit of a bummer.

Video is another pain. If you want to stream something from Amazon Prime, it usually looks pretty good. The issue is, the streaming library is kind of weak. You can buy videos from Amazon but since I have Netflix, I’m not going to pay to rent each movie. Getting video from your computer to the Kindle Fire is a bit annoying as well. It requires a Micro USB cable, which Amazon does not include with the Kindle Fire. They do provide this cable with normal Kindle’s so if you are lucky enough to own a Kindle, you can use this cable with the Kindle Fire. The lack of cable isn’t even the worst part. You need to put your file in the correct folder, not just a drag and drop like an external hard drive. If you are transferring a video, you must put it in the Video folder, transferring a song=Music folder. You get the idea. Now, since this thing ships with no manual at all, good luck figuring out where the hell the content you transferred went. You need to search for the Gallery app, which is already installed on the Kindle Fire, just hidden by default, and that’s where all the non-Kindle content is stored.

Right now, I am only using my Kindle Fire as a magazine reader and I feel like it’s a waste of money. I don’t need a $200 device to just read magazines. It’s also not like I’m saving any money using the Kindle Fire instead of getting a paper subscription. I did the math and it turns out that I will be saving money by getting a 2 year subscription of the paper magazine rather than paying per issue on the Kindle Fire. I’ll also have a better time reading on paper than I do reading a big PDF file.

I like the Kindle Fire for it’s size and weight and I would recommend it to anyone who can find a use for it.

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Kindle Fire Review

The back of the Kindle Fire

Tablets, tablets, tablets. Seems like tablets are the device that everyone is talking about. The iPad started the craze and now there are dozens of tablets to choose from. The problem is, many of them aren’t that good. Most people are familiar with the iPad since, in the most common opinion, it is the best tablet to buy. Amazonwants to change that. This week, Amazon started selling their 7 inch tablet named the Kindle Fire. I preordered one and here are my opinions so far.

The Good:

Packaging: Amazon does a great job at packaging their products. The box that the Kindle Fire comes in is also the box that it ships in. You just pull a tap on the box, lift up the top of the box and there is the device. Included with the tablet is a very small “quick start” guide and a AC power plug for charging. That’s all. The box does have the Amazon logo and the Kindle Fire logo on the side of the box, which I would think would increase theft but I guess Amazon doesn’t care.

Build Quality: I love holding this thing. At just 7 inches, it fits very well in your hand and feels like a very solid device. Compared to my Kindle, it feels hard and secure. The screen is a glossy glass touchscreen and the back is all rubber making it easier to grip. It is not as light as a normal Kindle, which weighs the same as a paper back book, but the Kindle Fire is not heavy. It has a nice size and weight which makes it a joy to hold.

Video streaming quality: I am an Amazon Prime member ($80 a year, free 2-day shipping, free video streaming, free Kindle book loaning). All Kindle Fire’s come with a free month so you can start using the free streaming video. The Instant Prime streaming  library doesn’t have the library of Netflix but it surprisingly has some pretty good stuff. The internet where I am currently living is pure crap and the streaming video still looked pretty good. It only buffered twice. I cannot comment on the streaming HD quality since my internet speed does not allow me to view anything in HD.

The screen: The screen is very clear and vibrant. I watched an HD video that I transferred to the Kindle Fire from my Mac and it looked awesome. Amazon says that they design their products to become invisible when you are reading/watching something on it and this is true. You forget that you are holding the device in your hands when you are looking at the screen.

The Bad:

Lack of buttons: The only buttons on the device is the power button, which is located at the bottom of the device. No volume button, no home button, no orientation lock, nothing but an on/off/sleep/wake button. This gets annoying when listening to music or watching a video. You need to turn the device on, unlock the screen, click the little gear icon on the top right corner to bring up all the controls (brightness, volume, orientation lock). On the bottom left of the screen is the home button which will get you back to the shelf-like homescreen. Usually, just a tap will bring up these controls but in some cases, for some apps, you need to click a little arrow to bring up these controls. I’m not sure why sometimes a simple tap brings up the controls and why something a little arrow in the middle of the screen does. It’s a inconsistent experience.

The Keyboard: I’m an iOS guy and I feel the keyboard needs a bit of work. I always find myself typing “p” instead of the backspace. The space bar is also pretty small so when I think I’m pressing the space, I’m actually pressing the period key.

The homescreen: This is really different from all the tablets out there. The homescreen isn’t just a grid of icons, instead we get a shelf which displays EVERYTHING on your Kindle in a cover-flow like way. All your books, magazines, videos, and apps are on this cover-flow shelf. It’s not a bad design, however, a lot of unnecessary stuff ends up there. Watch 2 seconds of a video, it’s cover appears on the shelf. A screenshot of the website you are looking at also appears on the shelf. There is no way of deleting anything that appears on your shelf. So if you downloaded a trashy romance novel, be prepared to be forced to look at the cover every time you turn on your Kindle Fire.

Lack of USB cord: The Kindle Fire does NOT ship with everything you need. If you want to transfer content from your PC/Mac to the Kindle Fire, you need a Micro USB cord. This cord does not come with the Kindle Fire. It does, however, come with their other Kindle products. I have to say that if I didn’t already have this cord from my eInk Kindle, I would have sent the Kindle Fire back. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants content from their computer, that wasn’t purchased from Amazon, to be on their tablet, especially when that tablet is made for content consumption.

The So-So:

The volume: The volume of the device seems pretty low. In a moderately noisy location, the sound from the speakers are barely audible. I assume that’s why it has a headphone jack.

The browser: While the browser isn’t horrible, it isn’t awesome either. I’m used to the iPad’s Safari browser which is pretty good. The pinch to zoom is either way too fast or way too slow. The loading doesn’t seem to be noticeably faster most of the time, though Amazon said it would be. It does play flash which is nice but I noticed some problems on full sites, like YouTube for example. Some pages aren’t formatted correctly and it just creates a some what of a mess on the screen. It works well most of the time but it isn’t the ideal experience. Hopefully Amazon will fix this with a software update.

The apps: Compared to iOS, the Amazon App Store doesn’t have nearly as big of a selection. Finding apps is easy but good luck finding the ones you want. I suspect this to be an Android problem since I had similar experiences on Android phones when it comes to finding an app that does what I want, it just doesn’t do what I want well.

Reading: The Kindle Fire is not an eReader, or at least it shouldn’t be. If you want to read, buy a normal Kindle since normal Kindle’s still have an eInk display which is much, much better to read on. The glare and LCD screen of the Kindle Fire makes reading books a pretty bad experience. Magazines, however, are fine to read. Since magazines are mostly glossy pages with color pictures, the Kindle Fire’s glossy, color screen really fits the magazine format. It’s also better when the publisher takes the time to optimize the magazine for a tablet. GQ, for example, formats for the screen and includes videos and links on where to buy the clothes. DETAILS magazine is basically a PDF, which sucks.

I only had this device for a day and time will tell if I decide to keep it or not but as of now, I like the device. For what I want to do with it, it’s fine. It’s not an iPad killer because the iPad can do so much more. If you want to sit back, watch a movie, read a magazine and browse the web without having a heavy, big laptop on your lap, than the Kindle Fire is a good option. If you want to create your own content and want something that is a big bigger (and heavier), I would go with an iPad. Either way, you really can’t go wrong with a $200 tablet.

Pictures:  Click to enlarge. 1st image: Kindle Fire box. 2: Inside the box. 3: Tiny Quick Start guide. 4:Power plug. 5:Kindle Fire startup. 6:Lock screen. 7: Streaming video (The Tudors)

Amazon Will Monopolize Your Holiday Shopping

I should start out by saying that I have loved Amazon for years. They have provided me with free 2-day shipping and very cheap next day shipping. I have ordered every blu-ray disc that I own from Amazon, almost all of my PS3 games, my 40” HDTV, HDMI cables, BD player, MacBook Pro and when I’m enrolled in college, I purchase all of my supplies there. I also own a Kindle, which completely changed the act of reading for me.

The reason why Amazon works is because it’s so cheap and easy. Everything is cheaper on Amazon (at least in my experience) and when you start to use it as much as I do, the $80 a year payment for Amazon Prime pretty much pays for itself. Now, all Amazon Prime users get free instant streaming of movies and TV shows. Sure, the content library isn’t as big as, let’s say, Netflix, but still, it’s much cheaper than Netflix if you consider all that Amazon Prime offers.

So enough with this praising of Amazon and let’s get to the new products.

I wasn’t a big reader until I got a Kindle. Now, I read an average of 30 minutes each night. The e-ink screen is fantastic for reading books, since it simulates actual paper and ink, and the device is perfect for holding, about the size and weight of a paper back book. Last week, Amazon announced three new Kindles at really low prices.

The Kindle $79: is lighter than the previous generation, at less than 6 ounces (30% lighter) but has the same 6 inch e-ink display. It has built in WiFi but does not have 3G at all. It has all the same features as the old Kindle except it does not have a keyboard. This, in my opinion, isn’t great since you have to use the d-pad to type which is a bit annoying and not as fast or easy as using a keyboard but if it makes the device lighter and smaller (the new Kindle is 18% smaller than the previous generation) than I’m all for it.

All the new Kindle’s start at their Special Offers price. The Special Offers version of the Kindle’s display ads when the device is turned off. There is also a little bar with ads when you are on the home screen but as soon as you start reading a book, the ads go away. Some people might be annoyed with the fact that they are served ads on their Kindle but with the price difference (the Kindle without the Special Offers is $109) and the fact that it does not distract from your reading makes it a very good option.

The new Kindle is available now for purchase.

The new Kindle Touch is also a pretty sexy device and should be a big hit this holiday season. At only $99, $139 without special offers, or the Kindle Touch 3G for $149 or $189 without special offers, it’s a really cheap gift.

The Kindle Touch has the same e-ink display as the Kindle, just with multi-touch technology. I’m not sure how “multi-touch” this is since no one has been able to get a real hands on review of this product yet but either way, it does appear to be very similar to the Barnes and Noble Nook touch. It is 8% lighter and 11% smaller than the Kindle but features the same size screen. In my opinion, the Kindle Touch is the e-ink Kindle to buy this season, with or without 3G. The Kindle Touch is released on November 21st and you can start pre-ordering now.

Now for the product that a lot of people have been waiting for: The Kindle Fire.

The Kindle Fire is a 7 inch, LCD color screen tablet. Think of the original iPad but just in a smaller, lighter product. The Kindle Fire does not have 3G or cameras but honestly, it’s not needed. This is the tablet for content consumption, not creation. It has a dual-core processor for fast navigation. The cool thing about the Kindle Fire is the UI. Amazon took the bare bones of Android and totally customized it to their own UI. The Kindle Fire features a shelf-like interface where you can scroll through your content, similar to Apple’s Cover Flow.

Books, magazines, movies and TV shows play on this device. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you get free streaming movies on this device the same way you do on Amazon.com. Don’t be worried about hard drive space. Amazon uses their WhisperSync service to back up and serve you your content via the cloud. This also allows you to start watching a movie on the Kindle Fire and then start watching the same movie directly where you left off on your computer or TV. 

The web browser on the Kindle Fire is really interesting. Amazon will predict what web page you will go to and load it in the background so when you finally do navigate to that page, it will already be ready. For example, if you go to nytimes.com, it may start pre-loading the Business section if you frequently go to that page after loading up nytimes.com. Basically, Amazon learns your browsing history and starts loading pages before you get there.

Wifi, movies, books, magazines, TV shows, free-streaming for Prime members, the Amazon App Store: The Kindle Fire is only $199 and will be released on November 15th. You can pre-order now. For that price, why bother getting any other tablet?

If you are interested in the older kindle, you can a “Kindle Keyboard” for $99 with Special Offers or $139 without. The Kindle Keyboard 3G is $139 with Special Offers and  $189 without.

If you are a reader or a person who wants a tablet, there is very little reason as to why you should not buy one or all of these products (The entire Kindle family is less than the cheapest 3G iPad).

Amazon is sure to be selling these products like hot cakes. If I didn’t already have a Kindle, I would buy one of these new models. I already pre-ordered a Kindle Fire.