Audio & The Kindle Fire: Win Some, Lose Some
The Kindle Fire does a lot of things really well. From the streaming video library to its many apps, there’s always something to do. Despite all the effort at polish though, the majority of the sound playback abilities seem pretty much tacked on. Admittedly this is not meant to be a portable MP3 player, as might be assumed based on the weight and slightly less than pocket compatible size. There are a few things that could have been done to bring the level of functionality up a bit. While it isn’t recommended that anybody pick up a Kindle Fire just for the auditory stimulation under most circumstances, it is definitely nice to know what the tablet is capable of to get the most out of your new toy.
The obvious sound function is listening to music. The integration for this is easily as clean as that offered for Instant Video titles, allowing users to browse by album, artist, or song as well as produce, edit, or start playlists. Downloading albums to local storage is simple enough, but streaming from the Amazon Cloud Player is excellent and the extra 5GB of storage for user uploads that were not purchased through Amazon will allow for a lot of music even if you don’t have any urge to pay for extra space. The store isn’t obtrusive, but it does let you look up albums based on the usual factors or look up other albums by artists already in your collection with the touch of a button.
In most cases this will work exactly the same as Music playback, assuming you’re not using Audible. If you are using Audible, things don’t get much different. The Audible app comes pre-installed with every Kindle Fire. Just pop over to the App page and you’ve got access to everything you own so far. The internal store seems to be just a mobile skin over their website, but it does the job. My only complaint is that if your audiobook is from Audible you can’t stream it. The need to download can be a pain, given the size of some books and the Fire’s limited storage space.
Read to Me
Unlike every previous Kindle release with any form of audio output, this feature is missing. Amazon hasn’t made any real comment on this so far, and it seems doubtful that they will. Whether it’s an effort to push Audible to the front of things or a desire to break away from this feature, there is no indication whatsoever that this will change. Annoying, but possibly predictable.
The most important concern in all these cases is probably how it will sound. Sadly, this is where things come up short the most. The Kindle Fire has stereo speakers built in, but they are about as mediocre as might be expected. The headphone jack works just fine, and will probably be great for watching movies, but doesn’t seem as useful as it might be given the tablet’s lack of portability compared to an average MP3 player. There also isn’t any way to output high quality audio to a stereo system, which would have been nice, or to hook up a bluetooth headset. Overall, just good enough without impressing in any way.
The usefulness here will come from audiobooks and listening to music while reading. Chances are good by now that you have a better, more portable MP3 player, so it would be silly to try to turn this into one unless you really need the streaming option. The audio quality on the speakers is fine for listening to books while you do something out, and just about anything will do for listening to music while reading a book. These are, at best, perks for Kindle Fire owners, but it’s the little things that add up.