Six Days With the Kindle Fire

Since the first Kindle was released, Amazon has offered a device that’s the perfect storm for this tech-loving book lover. Or is it book-loving tech lover? Either way, I’m a lover, and tech gadgets and books sit high on my affinity list. Put all that together, and I took a serious look at the Kindle Fire when it was announced. That serious look was brief; I pre-ordered mine a few hours after it was announced.

Many reviews have already been written, so I won’t attempt a comprehensive review. But I will offer my own thoughts based on my experiences so far. The Fire fits in to a unique role for me, and I think it will for many others as well. I will write more about how I see it in my workflow in an upcoming post, but here are my impressions after some qulity time with the Kindle Fire since it was delivered last week.

What I Like

The Size – I mentioned this before, but a 7″ screen is a great size. It’s large enough for reading copy, but small enough to tuck away in lots of handy places. I don’t intend to watch much video on the Fire, but the smaller screen size seems adequate for a personal viewer, though maybe not so handy for a shared viewer. It’s not going to replace our iPad for entertaining the kids with a move on road trips.

The Feel – When I had a Nook Color, it didn’t feel flimsy, but it didn’t feel solid either. It felt, how do I say…a little creaky. The Fire doesn’t feel that way. It feels solid, but the rubbered back makes me feel like I have a nice grip on it.

The Screen – The screen looks great, and is a consistent brightness all across the screen. The Nook Color had a noticeable flicker when display darker images, but there is nothing like that on the Kindle. Text isn’t as sharp as on an e-ink screen, of course, but I’m used to reading on an LCD, at least in this stage of life. Maybe I’ll regret that in 20 years.

Responsiveness – Some of have said that the screen isn’t as responsive as an iPad. In and out of the operating system, that’s true. But for highlighting in a book, it’s perfect. The Fire responds to my touch to highlight some text as if I’m drawing on the page with my finger. At times, it might even feel too jumpy, but I prefer that over the lag I sometimes experience with the Kindle app on iPad. Or the directional pad on the Kindle’s I’ve had.

Music – The majority of my music comes from ripped CDS or unprotected MP3s/AACs from Amazon or iTunes. I set it all to upload to the Amazon Cloud Player months ago, so it’s all available from the Fire.

Some Handy Apps

Dropbox(!) – Dropbox isn’t available in the Amazon App Store. Thankfully, Amazon left in the Android setting to allow the install of other apps. A quick search for “dropbox apk” from the Silk browser led me to a link which installed Dropbox for me.

Mantano Reader – This is an app that is pretty ugly, but it gives access to reading epubs. Thankfully, once your are reading, the ugliness goes away, as long as you have a tolerance for Times Roman. The main benefit, though, is that allows me to export notes from epubs. My prior epub readers have been iBooks or the Nook app, neither of which can export notes, so this is a nice gain.

New Yorker – The New Yorker app feels like a smaller version of the iPad app, which has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. But, as a print subscriber, I could log right in and download the latest issues. (I assume the same benefit wouldn’t have carried over if I had subscribed via the iPad app.)

Epistle – I’ve mentioned Epistle before; it’s syncing with my Dropbox folder that is tied to NVAlt. It’s not drop dead gorgeous, but it’s handy knowing I access and add notes to my text file catalog from the Fire too.

I’m Neutral About…

The Silk Browser – It’s doesn’t compare to the iPad, and I wouldn’t choose to do an extended session of browsing on the Fire. It’s sometimes hard to hit targets, it’s not as fast as it’s touted to be and not as smooth as mobile Safari. But, it’s functinoal, especially for things like logging into my library website to check out a book to be delivered to the device.

Room for Improvement

The Home Screen – The home screen looks good in the screenshots on Amazon.com, and that the only positive I can say about it. I don’t like mixing all my content types. I’d much prefer to have an icon for each time, perhaps showing the most recently accessed item. And I won’t even go into how overdone the shadows are between the items. Or throughout the interface. Nope…won’t get into it. But I will hope for some customization options in a future software update.

Kindle App – The Kindle app is simple, lacking features like popular highlights. It’s gets the job done, but I’m surprised to see it lagging behind the apps for other platforms on the flagship Kindle device. Again, something I hope will be remedied with a future software udpate.

Android – Amazon has crafted and skinned their own version of Android, but it’s still Android, and there are things that aren’t as natural and intuitive, especially to someone coming from iOS. Particularly, I notice this with text entry and editing.

Audio Quality – I like having my music library available, but there is a subtle hiss with headphones, plus some pops and crackles when you first press play.

There are other areas I could nitpick about. They are matters of form over function, and they are usually related to comparing a Fire to an iPad; an unfair comparison for two devices with different primary purposes. The Fire is a $199 device with a lot of versatility, and I’m happy to tuck it in my bag each morning.

The links to the Fire above are affiliate links. If you do end up purchasing one, I’d be grateful if you’d click through those links to support my reading habit!

2 comments
Luca Ferrero
Luca Ferrero

I am curious about the underlying of books and the responsiveness of the screen to touch. I would mostly be using the Kindle Fire to underlie (and comment) on pdf papers from my students. On the iPad I use the great app iAnnotate pdf http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iannotate-pdf/id363998953?mt=8 (not available for Android). iAnnotate allows to preselect a highlighter and then highlight the text as if one were to use a physical highlighter (that is, as soon as one touches the screen). Is this how highlighting/underlying works on the Kindle Fire? Or one is first to touch the screen, select the text, and then select highlight -- as many standard pdf highlighters work even on the iPad?

John Chandler
John Chandler

Luca, Thanks for the comment. For unique cases like that, I don't think the apps are there yet. They aren't as good and there isn't as much competition. I use Repligo reader on the Fire, and it's not bad, but it doesn't offer the one touch highlighting. (I'm not sure the strength of the Fire is going to be apps personally.) I read a lot of PDFs on my iPad, but the Fire isn't quite as suited for that. It's possible, but that's one instance where the smaller screen doesn't work out as well, because the text is usually too small if you go with a full page view.