Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Kindle Fire After Two Months

My wife got me a Kindle Fire for the holidays and I thought I should check in and report on how it’s been going with it. I wanted to provide the perspective of someone who’s been seriously using the device for a few weeks, rather than someone who played with it for a few days.

I’m not a huge tablet fan, in general. I’m a very fast typist and I find it infuriating working with text on an on-screen keyboard. Even a simple search often drives me nuts on my phone.

That’s impacted how I’m using the Fire. I’m really using it to consume content and avoiding creating content on it, including emails and tweets.

In fact, I’m really just using it for games, feed reading, and reading PDFs, and for those purposes, it’s perfect.

I’m not much of a gamer. I pretty much live on NHL 2008 on my PlayStation 2. The Fire is nice for simple, mindless games when I need to zone out for a few minutes, or if I’m waiting for a short period and don’t want to get sucked into reading anything.

The PDF experience is fine. I purchased EZ PDF Reader Pro for reading PDFs, since it gives me the ability to annotate the PDFs also. That’s worked out well for me. And I find myself reading a lot more longform work, since it’s much nicer reading on the Fire than on a laptop screen. I’m constantly making PDFs of long web articles and sending them to the Fire (I like the pagination available in PDFs, rather than scrolling through one long web page).

Of course, figuring out how to get PDFs onto the Fire wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be. Every Fire has a unique email address that allows you to email documents to the device. However, more often than not, the documents wouldn’t arrive, or would only show up once I had restarted the device, which I don’t do too often.

I tried uploading stuff into my Amazon Cloud Drive, thinking they would automatically be available on my Fire, but that’s not how the Cloud Drive works. I would still need to go into the Drive and download the documents via a browser. And shockingly, there’s no Cloud Drive app for the Fire. This is in fact so shocking, I’m going to provide corroboration.

Also, I was shocked that Dropbox isn’t in the Fire app repositories. I sideloaded it easily, but it’s kind of crazy that such a popular app isn’t available.

Once I had Dropbox installed, uploading content was much, much easier. I just upload everything I want on the Fire into a Kindle folder in my Dropbox account.

I also wound up sideloading the Zinio app. Zinio lets you subscribe to magazines electronically. I sideloaded it since I’m anticipating subscribing to Linux Format in the near future, and I know it’s available electronically via Zinio. Zinio gives a free two-month subscription to some not-so-great magazines, so I got to test it out, and the experience is great. It preserves magazine formatting, which looks great and facilitates browsing, but it also gives you the options of reading articles as plain text, making it easier to read something that’s in a weird layout. It’s the beauty of magazines and the convenience of simple text. Amazon has its own periodical subscription interface but I haven’t tried it out yet.

I know .mobi is supposed to be the Kindle format, but I’ve yet to get any of my .mobi files to work on the Fire. Pretty much everything I’ve wanted to read as a .mobi has also been available as a PDF, which is why I haven’t bothered to figure out what the issue is with those files. Linux Journal's PDF of the magazine is very nice, by the way. It actually makes me OK with their decision to go all digital.

And truth be told, I’ve yet to read a book on my Fire. I’m a librarian and so have access to a huge range of material (and New York City has three kick-butt public library systems, two of which are super convenient for me). I can’t rationalize paying for a book that’s available to me for free. And just about everything is available to me for free. I did download some ebooks out of ebrary, but I haven’t gotten to them yet (ebrary is a subscription ebook service that allows users to download books as PDFs).

As a Linux user who can’t run Netflix on his computer (and probably will never have that ability), I appreciate that the Fire has a Netflix app. It’s not a bad way to watch stuff, although I watch 99.9% of my Netflix content on TV.

The Fire has a great form factor. It fits in my jacket pocket. If I’m going out for fun, I don’t want to bring my bag with me. That used to limit what I could bring with me to read on the subway, since I didn’t want to carry around a big book all night. Thanks to the Fire, I always have a ton of stuff to read on the train. And it fits in my wife’s purse, which is a plus for me (but a negative for her).

I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to find a decent RSS reader for my phone and Kindle. I wanted something that would sync with Google Reader and that would allow me to easily keep items as unread.

Shocking as it may sound, I still have not found that reader, but I’m kind of OK with the Google Reader mobile interface. I bookmarked the Feeds view (see below) and it’s a convenient way to read my feeds. Plus, I find it easier to catch up on certain feeds on the Fire than it is on my laptop.

screenshot of Google Reader mobile view

The web is fine for my purposes on the Fire. I followed these steps and the speed of the device did improve. While it’s not peppy, it’s good enough for my purposes.

A lot of people have said they find themselves spending a lot of money on content for their Fire. I’ve been using it pretty regularly and I’ve yet to buy anything through it, other than EZ PDF Reader Pro (and a cover, which I actually bought at Staples). I’m not opposed to paying for content for the Fire, but so far, there’s been no need to. I’m an Amazon Prime member but I haven’t watched much Prime free streaming video on my Fire (or anywhere really — the free Prime content is a bit hit or miss).

One interesting usage point, though. I recently I needed to read a stack of articles for something I was writing. I threw everything onto the Fire but found it challenging to work with the articles. I found skimming hard and marking them up kind of a pain. In the end, I wound up printing everything and working from hard copies. I think a lot of that has to do with how I work. I like having everything out in front of me and I like to circle and annotate so everything is visible from like 10 feet away. Also, a lot of times it’s easier to lug around a small stack of paper rather than an entire electronic device. I still read a lot of stuff on the Fire, but it’s mostly stuff I might want to work with, rather than material I need to work with right away.

The Fire isn’t perfect, but it’s great for its price. I can read PDFs, surf the web, and watch the occasional film, without having to squint at a tiny phone. The form factor makes it a great traveling companion. I’m curious to see how it compares to the Barnes and Noble Nooks Color and Tablet, but I’m very, very glad to have the Fire.

It’s not perfect, but it’s more than good enough for the price.

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Notes

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