The Kindle Fire is a powerful device for the price and as a result many people are eager to get the greatest possible return on their investment. It can definitely do more than what the default UI brings to the user’s attention, given the de-emphasis on apps in favor of media consumption. This has led to an ongoing complaint that the Kindle Fire’s custom launcher is a bar to purchasing because of its break from the general Android experience.
People generally understand, from a financial perspective at least, why Amazon felt the need to cut their tablet off from the Google Marketplace (now Google Play) in favor of the Amazon Appstore for Android. The building a visually distinct user experience tends to be more troubling.
Having had more experience with Android smartphones than tablets, I have generally been inclined to favor the Kindle Fire UI on a personal level. It handles everything I feel the tablet is good for and doesn’t bother me with anything else unless I put it on the Favorites bar. When I got an email from a reader here recently about an app called Go Launcher EX that would change everything around to a more general Android tablet experience without all the trouble of rooting, though, I felt I had to give it a try.
The program is available in the Amazon Appstore, but it is listed as incompatible with the Kindle Fire. This is not entirely the case. If you download the .apk from the developer’s website (making sure to enable side-loading in your Kindle’s settings), it will install with no trouble. The app is freely available.
What you get for the effort is a great deal of customization. Multiple pages of customizable screen space are opened up by default. Widgets are included that will keep you up to date on everything from the weather to your device’s battery life and more are available with little trouble through a built-in store. Technically the backgrounds for the desktop screens are configurable, though that isn’t entirely functional alongside the Kindle Fire’s password screen for some reason. In general, while far more complicated than the default launcher, Go Launcher EX did bring a great deal of the tablet versatility that might be what people want.
Unfortunately, while using the new launcher I found the Kindle to be noticeably slower to react. Even when making use of the included utilities to completely free up active memory in every safe way possible, the experience included stuttering from time to time that reminded me of the Kindle Fire’s state before the first major firmware patch.
On top of this, the shift in emphasis to favor apps over Amazon’s integrated services seems to open up new possibilities at the expense of clarity and intuitive design. For a good half hour I was near to believing it might be impossible to gain access to cloud-stored apps and documents, for example. Overall I can’t really recommend for or against changing your launcher. I think the Kindle Fire shipped with a UI that is fast, intuitive, and plays to the hardware’s strengths. That doesn’t mean it is perfect or that you won’t find things you wish it would do better.
I will probably want to try something like Go Launcher again on a larger tablet, but for now I’m still finding the best uses of such a small device are exactly where they have always been. Apps can help with the consumption focus, but I’ll never need to have half a dozen screens full of them on the Kindle Fire like I do on my phone.
Earlier this month the Kindle for Android app got a bit of an update. While nothing huge, it did finally bring the Real Page Numbers to Android users. In addition to this, they managed to pare down the size of the download required to use the Kindle platform from 10+mb to a more manageable 8mb. This might seem rather minor, but considering the lack of space on many Android devices as well as the fact that some users have reported sizes of up to 25mb (can’t reproduce that, but the claim has circulated), this is a definite improvement.
Much as I like the Kindle app however, and I do, there are some things that I would like to be able to do that it does not provide. Real Page Numbers are nice, but situational at best given that they still only exist in a fraction of the available Kindle Editions. Now, I have posted here before about the ability to download and install the Nook app through non-Amazon sources and this works quite well. Sadly I believe that the specific method I mentioned several months ago has been blocked off, though. This difficulty became a non-issue thanks to Good E-Reader being kind enough to open up their own free app store.
While you can find a fair selection of general purpose apps present that they felt were worth keeping around for people, the folks over at Good E-Reader are concentrating mostly on reading. This covers books, magazines, comics, and all such things along those lines. There are only free apps, but this allows the site to operate without adding in any of the inconvenient restrictions that currently plague locked-in Android device owners wishing to pick up something useful. It is definitely worth checking out.
In terms of reading on your Kindle Fire, for example, some people find it more convenient to have access to the Nook app’s extra level of brightness control than to be able to simply invert the contrast of the page. Others will appreciate the level of social media integration offered by the Kobo app. In either case, at least you will be able to open EPUB formatted eBooks, which the Kindle Fire lacks any form of native support for at the moment. You won’t have luck with everything (Google Books, for example is still not working in my experience) but for the most part they’re doing a good job of making the latest popular selections available without all the hassle.
Overall Amazon has done a good job of giving customers what they want, both in terms of the software they provide and the hardware they sell. I can understand the urge to retain control over what gets installed on Kindle Fire devices, especially since if anything goes wrong it is likely to be Amazon’s Customer Service that gets the call. They have left the door pretty wide open to install most things, though, provided you know how to find them. In some cases, it’s more than worth the effort it takes to get the most out of your experience. Kindle Fire software updates do not remove any apps when they occur, so it shouldn’t be an ongoing hassle.
Last time I did a round of recommendations for the Kindle Fire was really a focus on games. This makes sense to me given how much fun I’m having with my own. That said, there is a fair amount that we can get out of Amazon’s tablet besides just fooling around. I think I’ve got a couple here that you might find interesting, especially in situations where the Kindle Fire is a household or family device rather than something for a single owner. Let me know what you think.
This is one of those interesting things that could easily pass under the radar. It is intended, at face value, to keep you ready for any emergency. To a certain extent, it seems like it would?
Lights (both a basic night light and assorted signal lights)
Emergency Phone Numbers
Emergency Contact List
Medical Information List
Guide/Lists for Emergency Situations
Links to external Emergency related web resources
Most of that doesn’t strike me as useful, especially the audio alarms and sirens given the Kindle Fire’s mediocre audio capabilities, but as a thing to have around the house I would consider this one great anyway.
Parents especially should give it a look, as the medical information list is perfect for anybody with children. You can store any special instructions, allergy information, medication needs, etc. in a convenient place that won’t be getting lost. It is a newer app, still in development, but at $1 it would be hard to argue against buying.
On the side of less tragedy-related utility, we have a neat little app that will help build your Kindle Fire into your home network in a productive way. All in One Remote lets you hook up to a PC on the network and take control of various things as an interface device rather than remote desktop management.
Using this app, you can control pretty much anything. It works as a remote touchpad, extra keyboard, game controller, and more with varying degrees of usefulness. You are also able to stream music through it, which is nice. My own experience has been that you get the most out of this app with HTPCs and presentations. The Kindle Fire isn’t particularly well suited for use as a controller for games, but it handles general interface tasks from a couch quite well and makes it much simpler to manipulate PowerPoint presentations in any setting.
Not a whole lot of description necessary here. It is an app that will keep track of your Kindle Fire’s battery life, given you an estimate of time remaining, and let you know which apps are causing the most power drain during use. If you are regularly finding yourself in situations where the Kindle’s battery is just barely enough between charges, this will be a useful tool. Rather than just a percentage you can get actual time estimates, both in terms of time remaining to depletion and time remaining to reach full power while charging. Strongly recommended.
Tablet PCs are neat devices and the Kindle Fire is no exception. While they’re great for watching videos on, and even pretty good for reading and listening to music in a pinch, I’ve not found games to be all that functional before now. Maybe it was just the fact that my iPad is a bit too large and heavy for comfort, but anything more complex than Angry Birds gets old pretty quick. In this respect, the smaller form of the Fire makes a huge difference. It’s been a lot of fun to play with the past couple weeks, so I thought I would share some of my new favorites.
Plant flowers quickly and strategically in order to protect your house from a zombie invasion. You get a variety of stages, loads of seeds, and hordes of zombies who just can’t wait to pick your brain for a minute or two.
I’m sure this one doesn’t surprise many people. It’s available on pretty much every platform in existence, yet it always manages to impress. The Kindle Fire edition is particularly well done, in my opinion, and will provide hours of fun to new players and old fans alike.
A while back I picked this one up for the heck of it when Amazon offered it up as a daily freebie. Word games are neat and it looked essentially like a Boggle clone, so why not? It turned out to be incredibly addictive.
You are given five rows of what are basically Scrabble tiles, each row slightly larger than the one above it (ranging from 2-6 letters from top to bottom). From these, the goal is to use all your letters. Rather than simply finding all possible combinations, you need to find the one combination that will allow all lines to be filled. There are elements of strategy that enter into it, particularly if you’re having a very good game and can be picky about which row gets your highest scoring tiles, but even when you can’t figure out that last piece in the puzzle it is hard to put down.
Quite possibly the most highly rated game in the Amazon Appstore at the time of my writing this. It’s a fun little puzzle game that’s so simple to learn how to play that you almost don’t realize how complex it can become.
The controls are simple, and the concept is likely to be familiar. You swipe in the direction that you want to go and then move in a straight line until you hit a wall. The idea is to achieve the highest possible efficiency while achieving your goals. Definitely not as flashy or fast paced as many other options you’ll find in the store, but sometimes a simple, elegant option will be more appealing. Supposedly a sequel is right on the horizon as well, just in case the 80 or so boards you have to solve in this version don’t do enough for you.
I was browsing through some random reviews, recommendations, and complaints about the Kindle Fire a bit earlier, trying to get a feel for the reactions as people get used to them, when I came across the truly unbelievable claim that the Kindle Fire‘s major flaw as a family device was its lack of parental controls. Now, there are a few reasons to get something besides the Kindle Fire for use with kids, such as some games not yet being available through the Amazon App Store or wanting to avoid the guilt of competing with your own children over the use of a favorite toy, but Parental Controls just don’t make the list. In an effort to help people better understand their device, let’s go over how this works.
How to Turn On Parental Controls
Open the App tab on your Kindle Fire
Load the integrated Appstore
From the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, select “Settings”
Edit settings under both “Parental Controls” and “In-App Purchasing” as desired
What Parental Controls Do
By enabling Parental Controls on your Kindle Fire, you can prevent unauthorized purchasing. This works in two ways. Simply switching the setting to “On” will require entry of your Amazon account password before any purchase of anything in an App. There is a second setting in the same menu tree that blocks in-app purchases entirely. You also get the option to set a four digit PIN that can be used in lieu of your password, which can be convenient and is always going to be faster than entering a really secure password.
What Parental Controls Can’t Do
The most important things that the basic settings will fail to do are prevent purchasing and prevent app access. The former is simple enough. You can disable Mobile 1-Click Purchasing from the “Your Apps & Devices” settings on Amazon.com.
Under the main drop-down menu, select Appstore for Android>Your Apps and Devices
From there, select 1-Click Settings
Your primary payment method will be displayed. Click “Edit” to the right of it
You will then see a button saying “Turn off 1-Click” under the heading “Mobile 1-Click: Kindle Fire”
Simple enough, you just can’t do it easily from directly inside the Kindle Fire‘s menu system.
As far as the app access goes, to the best of my knowledge there is no work-around. If you have an app that doesn’t require a password, anybody can use it.
Why Bother With Parental Controls?
There was a great deal of controversy over some of the iPad’s apps earlier this year when their micro-transaction model, coupled with an emphasis on entertaining small children, resulted in ridiculously large charges being run up without parental consent. There are always going to be games on the Appstore, of course, and it would be silly for us to expect them to avoid something as profitable and tempting as micro-transactions, so it’s probably best to be prepared. Amazon admittedly seems to be doing great at keeping on top of all of their potential customer service disasters so far, but something is going to slip through eventually. Don’t be the one to find out too late that you owe $10,000 over digital Smurf accessories after leaving a child alone with your Kindle Fire.
Clearly the Kindle Fire is creating some buzz in the tablet community, and among people who just generally like these sort of gadgets in general. With the announcement of the new Nook Tablet, though, some people had started looking more closely into potential shortcomings for the Amazon offering and quite possibly the biggest one was the external services tie ins.
While the Nook Tablet is completely giving up on offering its own unique video service in favor of letting customers find their own way among companies like Hulu, Netflix, Rhapsody, etc., Amazon kept touting their own library selection and the advantages inherent in the integration with this library. Surely, the thinking goes, Amazon would be pointing out that they were allowing seemingly competing companies a place on their new device if such were the case. I’ve often seen this cited as a reason for the Nook Tablet’s superiority since that device was announced, in fact.
Naturally this relies on incomplete information. As I have mentioned previously, companies like Netflix and Pandora were among the few to have preview copies of the new Kindle Fire before it was officially announced and blocking access to the services these companies offer was never indicated in any way. To head off these rumors, Amazon issued a press release this week emphasizing the large selection of media based apps that we can expect to see ready for their new tablet.
In the week to come, Hulu Plus and ESPN ScoreCenter apps can be expected to appear in the marketplace. A Netflix app is confirmed as well. There will be games from popular developers like PopCap, Zynga, and EA. A number of music streaming apps from companies like Pandora will be around as well. Across the board every effort has been made to draw in app developers who might bring customers what they want on the new device regardless of how that might cause increased competition for Amazon’s own products in the long term. Pretty much the only apps you are unlikely to see on the Kindle Fire are those from more direct competitors like Apple and Barnes & Noble.
It also demonstrates Amazon’s fairly impressive confidence in their own offerings, when taken with everything together. As a digital retailer, Amazon serves up games, movies, music, and eBooks to Kindle Fire users. The fact that they still anticipate making money off of the device, which they are selling at or near the cost of manufacture, indicates faith that customers will find value in what is being offered. I would say that this has to be based on more than simply the convenience of one-click buying integration throughout the interface.
Amazon will continue to inspect all of their App Store submissions before releasing them for the Kindle Fire, but clearly this will not be to weed out the competition. Users will enjoy the full benefits that a tablet like this has to offer, which should reassure some people who have been hesitant to join up with a platform that may have seemed at first glance to be considering emulating the Apple model. No more reason to hesitate over this matter.
Amazon’s new Kindle Fire is built for devouring content. Even if you weren’t going to make that assumption based on Amazon’s place as a general digital content retailer, the size of the tablet and the details released in the marketing make that clear. What is less clear is how thoroughly Amazon is planning to lock down their new toy to force customers to buy from them.
This line of thinking has led some customers to wonder whether it will even be possible to access content from vendors besides Amazon. To put that to rest, yes you will be able to load up just about anything that the Kindle Fire’s hardware can support. While the hard drive might not be terribly large, offering just 8GB of storage space to users, if you can fit a file on there then you can probably run it. There is no reason to expect a complete content lock down.
What does seem plausible from a certain point of view, however, is that Amazon would be willing to lock out companies like Netflix that offer services similar to their own. Amazon has, after all, spent considerable energy in expanding the range of their Instant Video library over the past several months and much of that will be accessible through subscription based streaming options for Amazon Prime members. Given that, why would Amazon want to accommodate the competition?
Fortunately this is not the case. In an interview way back in September, Dave Limp, Amazon’s Kindle VP, said that Netflix was actually one of the very few companies to have access to a Kindle Fire prior to the device’s announcement. Amazon is pushing for maximum available content for their users and this includes subscription based providers.
Will this extend everywhere? Probably not. Companies like Netflix and Pandora offer streaming media rather than outright sales, which seems to render them safe from Amazon’s perspective at the moment. Purchasing options, such as Barnes & Noble in the case of eBooks or iTunes for movies, are unlikely to receive the same sort of treatment. At the moment the majority of Amazon’s video, music, and eBook libraries are centered around outright sales of titles and integrating with competitors along those lines is not quite as easily justified.
Users will still, of course, be able to side-load content from any source they desire. Bought some music from Apple? So long as it’s DRM free, there is no reason for you to avoid throwing it on your Kindle Fire. The same goes for eBooks or movies, of which all formats should be accessible from Apps available through Amazon’s Android App Store if not natively supported. I wouldn’t be expecting to see a Nook App for the Kindle Fire any time soon, but there are plenty of reasons to draw that particular line and plenty of ways to read an EPUB eBook, should that be what you have in mind.
It appears that we have a major addition to the Kindle platform’s family coming up this summer. Kindle for Android has been announced and issued its preview page, where interested users can look into the details first-hand and sign up to be notified the moment the application is openly available. The features listed are basically those that one would expect: Availability of purchased books across all Kindle platforms, Whispersync across your entire account keeping track of last page read and annotations, five font sizes to choose from, and a generally intuitive touch-screen page turning interface in either portrait or landscape mode. All of the features we’ve come to expect from the Kindle Storeshould translate as well.
While it’s no secret at this point that LCDs aren’t quite as pleasant as eInk displays to read off of, the overwhelming sense of convenience and availability for most people in a day when cell phones go everywhere with us makes this a truly exciting announcement. It also raises the question of what effect will a Kindle Android app have on the openness of development for the nook. There was some excitement after the highly successful competing device’s last patch brought the first instance of Android app use and a great deal of speculation about what this could mean. Perhaps this announcement is related?
It looks like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is looking to become the most cross-platform eBook reader on the market.
You may of heard that over the weekend Apple unveiled it’s new iPhone 3G device, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the device, mostly because of the software, the actual hardware is not that impressive and mostly includes improvements that the original iPhone should have shipped with in the first place. The iPhone 3G comes in at a impressive $199 to buy, however you will be paying more in the long term compared to the classic iPhone with higher network subscription charges.
Now how does the new iPhone effect us Kindlers? well… Apple has done something remarkable with the software – they have opened it up! which is impressive considering we are talking about Apple here. All this has allowed third party developers to create e-book apps for the iPhone 3G and has turned the iPhone into a e-book reader.
There are already a couple of iPhone e-book reading apps out already, the iPhone Bookshelf is one which supports multiple formats.
Another promising e-book app is Stanza. Stanza is an app which lets you read e-book which are stored on your iPhone and e-books online, make sure you check out the demo at the bottom of the page. Stanza can also read files in the ePub format, which many other apps are able to work with, perhaps the Kindle will eventually support ePub aswell one day.
The only annoying thing about reading an e-book on the iPhone is that each e-book comes as its own individual app, with its own icon on the iPhone home screen, Apple could have done a better job of categorising e-books or even better creating their own e-book reading App.
There is still some speculation on whether Apple will create a dedicated e-book reading device, but for now we know e-books are on a Apple device through third party apps, if you couple this with rumours that Apple is in touch with major publishers this would support the theory that Apple is working on its own e-book reader, or at least a e-book store.
Will the touch screen make it easier to read an e-book? I don’t know since I don’t own a iPhone or iPod Touch, but I suspect that it might be a bit easier to read with the iPhone, swiping the screen to turn the page seems a more natural gesture than pressing a button, however you will be using both hands, whereas with the Kindle you need only use one. With the Kindle accidentally turning the page can be quite frustrating, I cant see it happening on the iPhone.
You can watch our buddy Walt Mossberg review of the Apple iPhone 3G in the video below, he mentions the e-book reading capability of the device.
Can Apple with its new iPhone 2.0 software challenge Amazon?