Kindle Fire: The Curated Content Device

I had one primary goal when I ordered a Kindle Fire: it would free up the iPad to leave home during the day for my wife and kids to use. (Okay, okay, stop looking at me like that. I also love shiny new things. Like you don’t?)

While the iPad has held a steady place in my workflow, my primary use for it during the day was reading. Of course, I love managing projects with OmniFocus for iPad, or browsing feeds, or taking a quick look at email between meetings, but most of my other daytime tasks could be handled just as well on my laptop. So, with the arrival of the Fire, the iPad spends a lot of time in the family room for use by my kids during the day, and for checking stuff in the evening. Or decimating malicious pigs with catapulted birds.

Based on the amount of reading I’ve done in the last few weeks, the Fire has become a welcome addition to my life arsenal. Negative and positive reviews aside, it has turned out to be a perfect device for one purpose: a hub of curated content. I’ve been protective of what makes it on to the Fire, and some of the limitations of the fire are helpful for this. When there are words that I want to give extended attention to, they make it to the Fire. Stuff like:

  • Books — The books app on the Kindle is basic, but it does one thing better than any other Kindle or Kindle app I’ve used – it’s the most responsive and streamlined when it comes to highlighting text. (I also installed Mantano Reader for epubs, though Amazon has since decided it isn’t compatible with the Fire. Hmm.)
  • Instapaper queue — InstaFetch worked well enough that I invested in the Pro version. It’s not as great an experience as Instapaper, but it’s convenient. (It seems a little dirty to use a third-party client to access InstaPaper, but I feel a little better about it having paid for the monthly $1 subscription via the iOSapp.)
  • Music — It took a few days to upload my music library to Amazon’s cloud player, but it was worth the little bit of setup.
  • Dropbox Notes — Syncing with NVAlt via Epistle.
  • Bible Software — I’m still awed by how large of a reference library I can carry with me via Logos.
  • The New Yorker — With it’s emphasis on words, the New Yorker is the only magazine I’ve enjoyed reading on any digital device.

What’s more valuable about the Fire is what I haven’t allowed on it. I don’t have a twitter app installed. I haven’t added an RSS reader. (I did browse briefly, but I wasn’t impressed with what I saw anyway.) I’ve never signed in to Facebook. I haven’t set it up for email, other than a private address used only for sending things to and from the Fire.

As an added [airquote]bonus[/airquote], web browsing on the Fire is nothing like web browsing on the iPad. It’s available, but it’s not a smooth experience, so it’s not pulling me into long sessions of aimless digital wandering. It’s useful enough for short term access when necessary, and in that case, it’s quite useful for things like Lendle or checking out ebooks through our local library. (Or reading about Tebowmania.) But it’s unusable enough to not be very distracting. (Except when it comes to reading about Tebowmania.) My experience isn’t matching up to the sales pitch they put on the great browsing experience of the Fire, and in my case, that’s a plus.

What comes down to is this: I’m spending more time with the content that I have decided is worth more time.

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!