My Kindle Fire Review

Graphic of Kindle Fire

Graphic of Kindle FireI’ve had my Kindle Fire a few weeks now, having received it in he first shipments. I figure the best way to review it is to recap how it’s settled into my routine (and what parts haven’t settled in). I’ve been rather disappointed in the quality of the reviews I’ve seen. Many have been contrary to my own experience. Maybe the early reviews used an early software version. I got an update right after the first power-on. There was also a number of reviews which mainly complained it wasn’t an iPad. I got the impression those same reviewers would have complained it was a cheap knock-off if Amazon tried to clone the iPad. The Kindle Fire and iPad are different devices. I’ll compare them but only because it’s my only other personal experience with a tablet. I don’t consider one better than the other and won’t be declaring a winner.

Pre-conceived Notions

When I pre-ordered the Kindle I was already deep into Amazon, I dislike the term fanboy but I’d have a hard time denying it if applied to me. I’ve put a lot of my music in the Amazon Cloud although I rarely play it directly. I bought most of my music through Amazon since the days it was DRM free and iTunes wasn’t. I’ve also found Amazon cheaper or equal s used it over iTunes. I also have a Kindle and numerous Kindle books.

What I really wanted from the Kindle Fire was a better way to view video. I never really like iTunes for Video and long ago stopped using it. I’ve gone without all but basic cable (real basic – just over the air stuff to avoid needing an antennae) so Amazon video has helped filled in the gaps when I really wanted to see a TV show. But Amazon video was only available on my TV and computers.

So I wanted a better way to access Amazon video and also be able to play my own videos. If the Kindle Fire failed at that I’d be disappointed. If it worked well I’d overlook a lot of other faults.

I was also curious about the 7″ form factor. I seemed just big enough to stay easily portable. It should fit in jacket or cargo pants pockets.

The Hardware

As others have mentioned, it was heavier than expected when I first picked it up. While it turned out being easy to hold and use, it took a little while getting used to it. The power button sticks out on the bottom edge and is easy to hit accidentally. Actually, any edge can be the bottom as the picture will flip around, but the initial power on screen is only oriented one way and in that orientation the power button is at the bottom.

The Fire does have a plastic feel, after all, it is plastic. But it does feel solid.(But I have no plans to intentionally drop test it. Other than the poorly designed power button there aren’t any other switches or buttons, everything is in the software.

The speaker is fine. Not great, not poor. I definitely want to use the headphones when the sound quality matters That said, I rarely use headphones and pretty much stick to just the built in speaker since it’s mainly a video player for me (more on that later), It’s loud enough for personal use in a fairly quiet setting, but if would be a little software for a noisy environment. By comparison, both my iPhone and iPad built-in speakers are louder than the Fire’s.

Video

So let’s get to the video. I’m using it regularly and I’ve bought a few more videos than I normally would and I am using the Prime videos more. So I think it’s safe to say I like it. It’s also safe to say Amazon’s strategy to position the Kindle Fire as a gateway drug is working. The screen is fine for personal use. I generally avoid any high-def video (or video labelled high-def) for anything but Blu-ray on my TV, so my expectations were relative to that. I find the 7″ tablet easier to use than the iPad when lying in bed, a couch or sitting in a chair. If I want video propped up on a desk I might pick the bigger iPad but I don’t watch video that way.

The 8GB of memory (about 6.5 GB available) is limiting, but I’ve been able to copy my own video to the device easily and they play without a problem. Copying the video is as easy as hooking the Fire to my computer via USB and dragging the files to the video folder. What is strange is I have to play my own video files through the Gallery app, not under Videos. It’s not a problem, now that I know where to get the files.

The bottom line is the Kindle Fire is a perfect video player for my needs.

Video streaming over my 802.11N network has been problem free. There has been one recently developed anomaly. The initial load has always ben quick and the video starts playing within seconds. There’s a progress bar during this initial load. Recently the video started playing when the status bar was 1/2 way across. The in a couple seconds the video hesitates and skip a second or so. After that or restarting and it’s fine. Local videos don’t have the problem and Amazon Videos streamed to my TV or computer don’t have the problem either.

The Amazon Video app/widget is not well designed on my TV, The videos aren’t in any order (and they seem to re-arrange qt will) and navigating is a click-fst with the remote. TV series aren’t grouped together and the multiple seasons aren’t in order. The Video section on the Fire is better. The videos are in alphabetic order (and TV series ordered by season). Plus the touch interface is easier to navigate so it’s much easier to use. That alone has me using the Fire instead of the TV.

Books

It’s a Kindle so naturally it can handle books. I find it to be an adequate reader but my use of it is limited. I’d put my e-books into two categories – the first is leisure reading, the second is reference books.

For leisure reading I much prefer an e-ink display over the backlit display. I can read for about 45 minutes to an hour without my eyes getting tired. Between the Fire and the iPad there’s no difference from that perspective. I find the Fire easier to hold and read for that length of time. So my preference is the e-ink Kindle. But if I want the backlit display, say reading in bed before going to sleep (without having to worry about another light source), I reach for the Fire instead of the iPad.

For reference books the e-ink falls short since it can’t handle pictures, tables or anything beyond basic formatting very well. And the larger iPad screen is usually better. So since it’s usually propped up on my desk the iPad gets the nod for this use. the nod.

So as a reader – I use it but I could live without it and use the e-Ink Kindle and the iPad. But if I could only pick one device I’d pick the Fire. Seems strange, but it’s a compromise that’s adequate for the two ways I use it.

Magazines

The Kindle Fire is a terrible magazine reader, at least until they start formatting them for a 7″ tablet. The magazines I sampled weren’t much more than scanned PDFs. They looked good enough, great even, but scrolling, zooming and moving around is a nightmare. If the magazine could be formatted for the screen it would be fine. But on any 7″ screen it’s going to suck.

Comic Book Reader

Because the Comixology Comic Book App includes a guided view to move panel by panel it’s not as bad as regular magazines but the iPad’s larger screen has its benefits. The Fire is serviceable thanks to guided view, but the iPad is a better experience. Like book reading, the Fire is usable for a quick read before going to sleep, but the iPad is the preferred choice.

Music

I already had much of my music in the Amazon Cloud Player and streaming it with the the Fire was fine. I did stream music for a couple hours without any skips, gaps or hesitations. I like iTunes as a music manager and my iPhone is the preferred player. I’m pretty set in my ways for music so I’m not likely to use the Fire for it a lot. I might use it during the few times I need to preserve the iPhone battery. But those cases are probably ones where I’m traveling and won’t have the Fire.

Docs

I haven’t used any docs on the device.

Web/E-Mail

It’s an acceptable browser but since I typically have other choices I rarely use it.

I haven’t even set up e-mail. The Kindle Fire isn’t something I’ve yet found comfortable creating content on. The 7″ size makes it hard to position comfortably in a way to type on. It is small enough to thumb type on when in portrait mode, but I can’t do that for vary long and it’s not something I can do beyond a quick note.

Apps

Apps I use include Evernote, Audible, IMDB and Plants vs. Zombies (my game of choice over Angry Birds) and they are fine. Amazon doesn’t promote the Fire as an Android tablet and not all Android apps will work on it. The Android Market isn’t available and everything will come from the Amazon App Store (unless I want to side-load). I don’t use the Fire as a full fledged tablet so I don’t have any specific app requirements, so when I say it’s not missing apps I want it’s true, but not a really much of an endorsement.

The Experience

I like the Kindle Fire an use it daily. If I wasn’t into the Amazon eco-system I wouldn’t be such a fan since I mainly use it to tap into that. The $200 price is certainly a big attraction. But the Fire doesn’t come off as cheap. Yes, it doesn’t have every feature of other more expensive tablets, but what it does have works well and is solid. As others have said, Amazon sells the Kindle about the cost of building it in order to get us to big more. For me it’s actually worked. I’ve found the video experience good enough to get me to buy some videos I probably wouldn’t have otherwise purchased.

The Fire itself isn’t a speed demon but I find the operation smooth for the most part. It is a little rough around the edges, I haven’t figured out if the Kindle Fire is ignoring some of my taps or I’m not tapping in exact the right spot although it really doesn’t matter. There are times when I have to re-tap. It’s not enough to be frustrating, just mildly annoying at times. Since it’s all touch it takes a little care to shift around the smaller tablet without accidental taps. Such as accidental page turns then reading or stopping a video. But I’ve gotten used to it and it’s not a problem anymore.

For books and video I’m already in the Amazon ecosystem so the Kindle Fire is a good fit. With the exception of reference material it’s replaced the iPad completely for Video and reading. For music I use Amazon over iTunes if I’m buying but most of my new music comes from neither place these days and I still prefer local songs for playing so the Fire’s not used much for music.

For Magazines and Comic Books the iPad still rules due to it’s larger screen. The Fire is unusable for Magazines but acceptable for Comic Books (at least with Comixology)

I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at Apps for the Kindle Fire because I just don’t see it as app platform. Maybe games, but I’m not a big gamer and am happy with the one I have, I have Evernote for reference and quick note taking and a few apps for reference. For Apps and Web the Fire is something I might use for a quick check or note, but that’s it.

So in the great iPad vs. Fire debate the choice is it’s an invalid comparison. If you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem the iPad is probably worth the extra cost. If your invested in Amazon content then the Fire is a good choice. If you want something with abilities closer to a traditional computer then the iPad is the choice.

Summing It Up

During the day the iPad is on my desk and in use whether it’s for work or a little leisure activity during a break. After work the Kindle comes out for entertainment. It wasn’t a conscience decision, just how it evolved. I’d have to say I need the iPad more than the Kindle Fire, but considering the price difference that’s what I’d expect. For entertainment the Kindle fire is a fine device.

Any other Kindle Fire experiences – agree/disagree?

OS Quest Trail Log #64: Vacation Edition

Picture of palm trees on an islandAs October begins so does my two week break from my day job. Long before the word “stay-cation” became popular, my idea of a perfect vacation was one with no plans or clocks. That’s what my vacation will be this year. If the weathers good I’ll get out and about, otherwise I should get some quality time with computers and gadgets.  The last trail log was only a couple weeks ago but, I’m hoping to get back to the monthly frequency with this one.

Kindle Fire

Of all the recent gadget news and rumors, the Kindle Fire is the one I’m more interested in. So interested I already placed my pre-order. There’s still some who are comparing Amazon’s tablet to other low cost tablets based on the specs. The specs are irrelevant for it’s success. Most competitors try to come up with specs that match the iPad when placed on a checklist. Amazon buries the tech specs and leads with what the Kindle can be used for:

a beautiful full color Kindle for movies, TV shows, music, books, magazines, apps, games, web browsing and more, for only $199

Unlike other tablet manufacturers they built the content first and then built the tablet. Whether they planned it that way or stumbled into it doesn’t really matter. It appears that most (all?) of that content will be coming from Amazon. The more technically inclined may root the device or seek out web based content but for most people it will be what Kindle provides out of the box. The Kindle is the first non-iPad tablet that has an answer to the question “why should I buy this instead of an iPad?”.

As for me, I’m already part of the Amazon ecosystem so this is a natural extension. I have to give it to Amazon, they make it easy to buy from them and they make me pay for the privilege.  I pay for a yearly Amazon Prime subscription for free shipping (the video is a relatively new addition) and now I’ll pay for a tablet to consume content and then buy more.

While $200 isn’t small change, it was low enough to get me on board. I’ve been spending more time in Amazon Video and it can’t be played on my iPad so this will help. I am concerned this is a rush to market for the holiday season along with being a Gen 1 device. I suspect Kindle Fire 2 will be significantly different even if the rumors of Amazon trying to buy WebOS aren’t true. (Or are true and don’t lead to a deal. Although I would be surprised if Amazon moved off Android since they already have the apps.

SpiderOak – Syncing Is Hard

I’ve been using, and liking, SpiderOak for my backups. I use it on my Windows Home Server 2011 and on my Mac & Windows PCs. I had been using it to sync files, mainly between some WHS folders and my Macbook Air so that files would be with me on the road. It wasn’t long before I had my first significant problem with it.

I’d been using it to sync my Bento database. I made significant changes the other night on my Macbook Air and when I went back to it the next morning all the changes were gone. Best I could tell the sync had overwritten the files from another machine, basically rolling back the file. Since I hadn’t used Bento on any other machine I knew it wasn’t a file with old data getting updated. Luckily I never really trust any sync, having been burned numerous times, so I had backed up the database after all the changes and could just restore it.

So SpiderOak is out as my sync solution. I’m using ChronoSync but that does require me to make sure the latest file is on my laptop before I go mobile. I’m still liking SpiderOak as a backup solution.

Software Updates

While there have been plenty of software updates, only one seems worth mentioning.

VMWare Fusion was upgraded to version 4. Since I recently purchased Fusion 3 it was a free upgrade for me. I try to avoid running Windows programs on my Macs so I’ve never been interested in features such as Unity or even game performance. Based simply on the time the VM runs, my primary usage is to run a virtual machine so that I can VM into work and keep everything work related separate from personal stuff.  Add a second VM for Windows 7 testing and another as a test web server and that’s about all I use. The point being, my needs are minimal and to keep that in mind when I say I like Fusion and it performs well for me.

The competition between VMware and Parallels (along with VirtualBox) seems good for us as the crown of “best” seems to switch between Parallels and VMware on a regular basis and prices stay relatively low. I’m on VMware because that was the least expensive choice at the time (VirtualBox on the Mac was causing be problems.)

Website Changes?

I was recently able to register the domain osquest.com when it dropped. It makes things a little easier to drop the “the” and not have to tell people to include it when I mention the name. I’m still deciding exactly how I want to implement it. Swapping the URL is a pain (having to switch internal links and do redirections) with little gain. It would be easier to just redirect the new URL to the old one. On the other hand this may be a good opportunity for a major redesign since I can move stuff to the new URL when ready. This may be a good vacation project.

Project List

Prior to my vacation I put together a list of things I wanted to work on. Even with the days off I don’t expect to get through everything on list list but I’ll list it all here just to see how bad I do. So in no particular order…

  • The previously mentioned website redesign. Off-hand I’m guessing this won’t see much progress during my vacation, at least not enough to go public with.
  • pfSense router – I’m happy with Untangle as both a router and UTM but I’m still interested in pfSense as a router. If nothing else it has more bells and whistles on the router side. I hadn’t used it because it didn’t work with my DSL. I no longer have that DSL line (it was a backup and to handle traffic when I went over my Comcast quota). Plus, there’s a new version of pfSense out.
  • Ubuntu Home Server – I’m happy with Windows Home Server 2011 but I’d like to get a Ubuntu server running as a home server too. I don’t think it will replace the WHS, but it may be fun to experiment with.

I’ll see how much progress I make on these. Between other shiny things catching my attention and vacation I’ll have to pick a choose. We’ll see how much progress there’s been with the next trail log.

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire image
photo credit: Amazon

The web is all abuzz about Amazon’s Tablet, the Kindle Fire. Naturally it’s being compared to the iPad. Well, I have to admit I already placed my order. I figure I have some time to cancel, although my gadget curiosity will probably have me getting it. Some of my thoughts…

It’s not an iPad killer and it’s clear it doesn’t try to be. It’s about half the specs so it seems clear to me that Amazon’s not going to market this by comparing it to the iPad. As for what will kill the iPad? If the iPad dies it will either be suicide or death by a thousand cuts. The Kindle Fire may be the first cut but I doubt it will be a deep cut. It may be less than an iPad but it’s significantly cheaper than the iPad and Amazon already has content for it. It’s not a “if we build it they will come” mentality. I doubt iPad sales will suffer, rather tabler sakes overall will grow.

It’s still an open issue if the Kindle Fire is for me, especially since I already have an iPad. While the Fire runs Android it seems to be targeted as a content consumption system, with that content coming from Amazon. I haven’t seen acknowledgment that content from 3rd parties, such as Netflix or Hulu, would be allowed on the Fire. Still, in my case that really doesn’t matter. I’ve gone through spurts of using Hulu and Netflix streaming but never really became attached to either one. I’ve recently gravitated to Amazon Video despite having both Netflix and Amazon available on my TV. I can’t say why I’m using Amazon more than Netflix, but I am. Some of it is simply because I have bought some videos from Amazon since the stuff I’ve actually wanted to watch hasn’t been on Netflix. Beyond what I’ve bought I’ve just stuck to browsing the Amazon prime videos when I’m looking to find video to fill time. If I add up what I spend with Amazon it’s around the $8/mth for Netflix streaming, so I just dropped Netflix streaming which puts me even more in the Amazon camp,

Other than when I travel I don’t watch video on my iPad very much (unless it’s web video or podcasts) and I’m not sure that would change much with the Fire, The smaller screen makes it less video friendly than the iPad (at least on the surface). The wireless only nature of it means video would have to be copied to it before any travel, just like my iPad. That’s disappointing since Amazon already has the videos stored in their cloud.

Then there’s Kindle books. I prefer reading novels and test-only books of the Kindle e-reader rather than the LCD of the iPad. I don’t see that changing with the Fire. I do use the iPad for manuals and other books that are either graphics rich or that I want to refer to while I work at my desk. The smaller Kindle Fire screen may make it less useful than the iPad for me.

I do subscribe to a couple magazines on my iPad and the Fire will probably be just as good for them, assuming they’re available.

After going through the above list it seems like the smart decision is to stick with the iPad. But assuming my curiosity gets the better of me and I get the Kindle Fire – would I sell off my iPad? Maybe, but it’s not a certainty.

My MacBook Air is closer to the definition of iPad killer for me. It’s small enough that it’s not much more cumbersome than the iPad when leaving the house.. The smaller iPad is still easier to grab and go or to use when there’s no desk or table available. (Although the Air is very usable on a comfortable couch.) Assuming the browser is capable, especially for my common sites, I could see being able to replace the iPad with the Kindle Fire although the smaller screen has me a bit concerned. I’m not saying the Fire is a iPad replacement, but for the way I use it, it just might be,

There’s still a lot of questions about the Kindle Fire, so it’s premature to say this, but I will anyway. If I was deciding between the iPad and Kindle Fire, and already had the Air I’d go for the Kindle Fire and save $300. If I didn’t have the Air I’d want some better mobile computing capability and would probably go for the iPad. I can also see having both, Like the HO Touchbook that caught fire when it dropped to $99 the Kindle Fire low price should help it out and a hacking community may grow around it. The Kindle Fire would be something I’d be more willing to hack or jailbreak than the iPad.