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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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September 2016
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Kindle Fire vs iPad 3 Is Easy, But Will Kindle Fire 2 Change Things?

I’ve gone over the fact that choosing a Kindle Fire or iPad isn’t really a tough decision before.  They are completely different devices that offer drastically different capabilities to their users.  A Kindle Fire could no more replace everything an iPad does than it could a traditional Desktop PC, but buying an iPad to do nothing more than what the Kindle Fire is capable of is wasteful at best.  There is some speculation that this will be changing in the fairly near future, however, and we have to wonder how well Amazon can hope to pull off a direct confrontation.

Their strength has been the ability to present a device that does exactly what it sets out to do, does it well, and doesn’t claim to be able to do anything more.  The Kindle eReader can be adapted to type on if a user feels like it, but Amazon never advertises it as a tool for that.  The Kindle Fire was provided with just enough power to handle movie watching and most common apps.  To be able to compete with an iPad on Apple’s terms, Amazon would have to be prepared for just about anything a user would want to do.

Some of these things are easy.  Cameras, which most people are either convinced or at least hopeful that the Kindle Fire 2 will have, would go a long way toward making it a better communications device.  A mic, which obviously would be needed in almost any situation where a camera would be useful, would also allow for voice controls and speech-to-text.  The larger screen would offer users greater real estate for customizing their experience and developers more leeway to add in features or information in ways that couldn’t fit on a smaller device.  To really match the iPad 3 side by side though, they would need more.

It is pretty safe to say that the Kindle Fire 2 will not have a Retina Display.  It will also not have multi-touch capabilities able to handle significantly more than two contact points at a time.  The screen will be larger, which is useful, but the impact of that can’t be assumed to cover everything.  In terms of processing power, graphics capabilities, and any number of other factors, there is little reason to believe that Amazon has a chance at taking the lead in general use situations.

Does this mean that a larger Kindle Fire will flop?  I don’t believe so.  If Amazon can keep the price down, it will still stand out.  Apple’s keeping the iPad 2 available at $400 is ingenious in that it makes the comparison with a 9-10” competitor at $300-350 closer than it would be otherwise, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to move in.  Really the only question will be how much they advertise what the new Kindle Fire is meant to do.  If they can make it clear that despite being larger it is still a purely consumption drive design, that will work as an advantage.  If they seem to be actively trying to create and sell a full featured tablet, it will take something big.

Kindle Fire 6.2.2 Details Released

While we knew that the 6.2.2 update to the Kindle Fire tablet was mainly going to be a matter of performance upgrades and behind the scenes stuff, a few things were noticed as the roll-out quietly began that were worth drawing attention to immediately.  As noted, the upgrade to this newest firmware did break root access for user who went that route.  This was addressed quite quickly, however, and initial doubts about whether or not BurritoRoot 2 would do the job seem to have been based on people failing to follow instructions correctly.  Aside from that, all we could see was the admittedly convenient full screen option for the Silk browser.

Things have settled in a little bit better now and Amazon was kind enough to let us in on what the entirety of the patch was meant to accomplish.  There are a couple perks:

Kindle Fire Silk Browser Customization

Users are now able to set their browser to disable Flash.  This was possible previously, but through the setting for “Enable Plugins”, which some users found confusing and overly broad.  By default, Flash will be disabled.  Check Silk’s Settings menu under the Behavior heading to turn it back on.

It is also now possible to disable the constant encrypted data shuffle through Amazon’s servers.  While you are still able to turn it on in settings by clicking on “Enable Optional Encryption”, users should find significantly improved performance now that it is non-mandatory.  This will not have any effect on encrypted connections to web pages.

Also, to access the previously mentioned full screen browsing, simply click on the square of four outward facing arrows in the lower-right corner of the Silk browser’s menu bar, next to the bookmark button.

Performance Improvements

There has been some small but noticable improvement made to the speed and smoothness of rendering on the Kindle Fire.  Scrolling, panning, and pinch to zoom all seem to work more fluidly and without the occasional stutter than previously occurred during fast movements.  Hard to say how impressive this is for most things at the moment, but there’s never anything wrong with optimization.

Email Control

It is now simpler, and in some cases possible where it was not before, to get email addresses set up manually.  Doesn’t fix all gmail complaints, but for the most part that has to do with the gmail end of things being updated so often (for the record, my own gmail account works fine with IMAP enabled, but other experiences may vary).

Many users have been somewhat disappointed to note that this update did not include the addition of finer control over the carousel or Kindle library collection management.  Presumably, however, a project this large has more than one feature being worked on at any given time and so we can probably assume that something is being done to address the vocal complaints of the user base even if it is not quite ready for release yet.  Personally I found it beyond tedious to manually delete my entire Kindle library from the carousel when the feature was introduced and would love a Mass-Remove type of option as soon as possible.

Kindle Touch’s X-Ray Feature Combats Piracy The Smart Way

While the news of the week is certainly focused on the Kindle Fire media tablet and all of the wider implications for tablet computing that go along with it, this week also brings us the release of the new Amazon Kindle Touch eReader.  It does a few things right that other companies haven’t quite caught on to yet, but overall it’s just another iteration of the line.  Once you reach a certain point, there is a limit to how much excitement can be mustered over fractions of an inch in dimension reduction, fractions of an ounce in weight reduction, or fractions of a second in page refresh rate.  It was all pretty much great in the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) and the trend continues in the fourth generation here.

What is really important here aside from the touchscreen implementation, which I’ll talk about another time, is the way Amazon has managed to add extra value for users beyond the simple reading experience.  That’s not easy when you’re talking about something as basic as a book, and most attempts to do so up until now (i.e. video embedding, hyperlinks, etc.) have been at least somewhat obtrusive during the act of reading.

The new X-Ray feature is, at first glance, an extension of the search function.  It will find what you need in an intelligent fashion using Amazon’s own predictive algorithms to determine what the most important parts of a book are.  The name is meant to imply that by using the Kindle Touch you can see through to the “bones” of a given book.  This information is stored on your eReader, having been downloaded alongside each eBook you picked up, so it remains accessible even if you keep the WiFi turned off consistently. Accessing X-Ray will get you things like a list of proper names in the book, how often those names appear and where, as well as other extrapolated information about the form of the book’s content.

While this isn’t generally going to be a feature of major importance, it will come in handy to many.  For students and reading groups the applications are obvious.  It serves as a reference point.  Even during a casual reading, however, it will come in handy to be able to pull this up on the fly.  Forgot where you last saw a character earlier in the book?  X-Ray.  Not sure if it’s worth looking up a historical figure to understand a reference?  Check X-Ray to see if they keep coming up during important passages.  That sort of thing might not be a day to day need, but it’s nice to have handy.

In handling things the way they are, Amazon is effectively providing paying customers something that pirates don’t have access to.  Even if people figure out a good way to side-load this content, Amazon is presumably improving how the X-Ray feature determines what is important.  This means that each time you sign online with your Kindle Touch, the information potentially evolves and improves.  It’s a neat system and manages to avoid restrictive content control while giving users an incentive to stay honest.

Kindle Fire Review

I’ve had my hands on a Kindle Fire for a bit now and I figured that it was time to share impressions.  Overall, definitely a nice device for the price.  That’s worth saying up front.  It does everything that I expected it to be able to pull off and a fair amount that never even occurred to me.  Probably best to break it down a little more specifically, though.

Video

The Kindle Fire was always expected to be a video viewing device and it pulls that off quite well.  Integration with the Amazon Instant Video library is seamless and you can browse through the Prime membership freebies without any trouble or intrusive sales pitches.  Playback is perfect and I haven’t had so much as a stutter or buffering delay in the time I’ve been using the service.  Downloading rental movies goes quickly and it’s obvious how to choose between streaming video and what you have on your device locally.

The inclusion of Netflix and Hulu Plus at launch was a nice addition that effectively shut down the Nook Tablet’s main point of potential superiority.  While I don’t maintain a Hulu Plus account, Netflix runs almost as well as Amazon’s Instant Video.  Jumping into the middle of a half-watched movie resulted in about 2 seconds of stuttering followed by normal playback.  Basically the same experience I have come to expect from the box hooked up to my television.

I would love to be able to side-load more content that I already own onto the device.  At present the supported formats are rather limited.  The majority of my library is incompatible.  Probably, as with the fight over EPUBs with the Kindle eReader line, a way for Amazon to “subtly” encourage adoption of their house preference.  Conversion is much more of a pain for video than it is for eBooks, though, which might make this a major inconvenience for people looking to play things they already have around.

Audio

Possibly the biggest drawback to using the Kindle Fire to watch movies is the limited audio capability.  While yes, it is indeed perfectly possible to listen to music or movies through the built in speakers, the quality is quite lacking.  With a decent pair of headphones, however, it works as well as any audio device I’ve ever owned.  There isn’t much more to say other than that the streaming here seems to work perfectly well for me, even when reading or using other apps.  So long as there isn’t a conflict over who gets control of the speakers, you’re good.

Web

One of the biggest perks of the Kindle Fire was meant to be the new Amazon Silk web browser.  Since most of the work is done off of the device by outsourcing to Amazon’s cloud servers, there’s a lot of potential.  Unfortunately there are some problems.  Most noticeably, there seems to be a slight jump in input lag while using the browser.

I’m told this has something to do with a known problem that Android 2.3 has in trying to decide whether the OS or the browser gets to handle input, but I’m not intimately aware of the particularities of Android so this may be inaccurate.  If it is true, however, then to some degree it is likely a problem that won’t be going away in the near future.

Other than that, things work great.  You do get some small speed increase over normal browsing, which if I properly understand how Silk is supposed to work will only get better in time.  It scores pretty well on HTML5 tests, though not perfectly, and should run most HTML5 apps.  Not much more you can ask for in a browser besides being able to open pages quickly, I suppose?

Apps

This is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the tablet experience for many people, but it is also somehow the one that Amazon has decided to put the least emphasis on.  Yes there are loads of apps to choose from, but not all of the ones in Amazon’s Android Appstore will work on the Kindle Fire.  That makes sense, given the wide variety of Android devices out there, but Amazon is able to put a little check mark for device compatibility next to the purchasing button on their site so I would love it if I could just get a “Kindle Fire compatible only” button.  I’m sure it will happen in time, though.

As for functionality, I haven’t noticed any problems with the apps.  Their icons look a little out of place on the carousel next to the eBooks you’ve been reading recently, but no more so than many movie or TV show icons do. I’ve also had no issues so far with performance.  The apps specifically for the Kindle Fire work slightly better than their more general counterparts, but even those have little trouble and the screen isn’t huge enough to cause much distortion when interfaces get stretched more than developers intended.

There doesn’t even seem to be any major area overlooked by those developers so far, either.  Everything I’ve wanted out of it has been available for a dollar or two. The fact that Amazon has a daily free Android App is also a nice plus.  This isn’t necessarily Kindle Fire specific, but I’ve seen everything from games to office suites up there.  It opened up some options that might have otherwise been overlooked as too expensive to be worth a potentially wasted purchase.

Summary

Overall this is a great device.  It is not a PC replacement, or even a netbook replacement, but for what it was meant to do it works well.  You can purchase and use any content you want from Amazon and it seems to run smoothly.  Picking up media in unfamiliar formats might cause some complications, but even then there are usually conversion programs available should it be particularly important.  While I do see clearly how Amazon is trying to push people into using their services by offering minimal support for anything else, it isn’t nearly as heavy-handed as many claimed it would be.  I feel like they are genuinely trying to convince their customers that Amazon services are superior rather than just saying that you shouldn’t have other options.

At $199, the Kindle Fire is more than worth the investment.