All Fired Up about Kindle Fire – Guest Blogger!

Today’s I’m lucky enough to be hosting a friend and colleague as guest blogger, Dr. Lisa Macon (@lisamacon).  Lisa is a Professor of Computer Programming and Analysis at Valencia College’s West Campus and definitely a “Gadget Girl”.

My new Kindle Fire arrived at 5pm today.  When I first placed the order on September 28, the day the device was announced by Amazon, the estimated November 17 arrival date seemed ages away.  Alas, here we are thanks to Amazon shipping the device a day earlier than scheduled.

I’ve had about two hours to explore and play.  Well, less if you count the interruptions by my children and my dog.  But I digress.  I’m sure there are still things I have yet to discover about my new Kindle Fire, but I promised my good friend Professor Josh that I would attempt to speculate about the possibilities for engagement, excitement, and education afforded by Amazon’s first dalliance into the tablet market, and indeed I intend to do so in a timely fashion, lest I get lost in the fire altogether.

Kindle Fire

I’d like to begin with a few disclaimers to set the stage.

  1. I am a Mac.  Seriously, I am loyal to all things produced by Apple Computer, Inc.  Yes, I even have an Apple logo tattooed on my neck.  Seriously! It must be mentioned that I have both iPads and am a huge fan of all things i.  So I will not be able to keep myself from doing a lot of iComparing, if you catch my drift.
  2. Point #1 notwithstanding, I have also owned every Kindle model ever produced.  I am a big-time leisure reader and acquiring the very first Kindle changed my life forever.  Specifically, it saved my marriage because I was under a “no more books or bookcases or there will be no more room left for me!” moratorium laid out by my dear husband Brian.

Okay, the cards are on the table.  Here we go.

Engagement

I certainly would be hard pressed to not be engaged by this device.  It’s the perfect size – right between my iPhone 4S (just a little small for 41 year old eyes) and my iPad (too big to prop up on the elliptical trainer without fear of its becoming dislodged during a steep hill climb).  The size is great and the customized Android interface is certainly a no-brainer to use.  It’s interesting how humanity has seemed to settle upon the best of many worlds from various devices – spotlight search/cover flow a la Apple… and certainly some of the features that look a little foreign to me must be Android inspired, but having owned no previous Android device, I can’t be sure.

The user interface design is different from that of the app-based models we iPadders and OS X Lion tamers are used to, and yet there is enough familiarity there to make things easy.  Your path through the various apps, books, web pages, etc. you’ve used is conveniently available on the home screen in a cover flow format, but you can dock your favorite ones down below at the bottom.  Being able to choose your Amazon Cloud storage or device storage for literally ANYTHING (news, books, movies, etc.) totally rocks.  I have no doubt Apple will have to step up its game to compete with the ease of movement here.

Of interest is the fact that some of the icons I thought originally were apps were simply links to web pages – Twitter, for example, has no actual Android app available in the Amazon app store (although several third party clients are available, many free).  The Twitter app itself takes you to the Twitter mobile web page, and the Amazon Silk browser seems to be, so far, super fast.  I know, that’s not really a technical term, but it’s the best I can do right now.  Yes yes yes I know, you can set up links to web pages as icons in iOS as well… I know.  But who does that, when there is literally an app for every web service imaginable in the App Store?

It’s also worth mentioning that one of the best features of the Fire is the complete integration with Amazon.com.  If you are a long-time Amazon Prime customer (hello!) then you are going to get more bang for your buck with a Fire.  I may just cancel my Netflix streaming subscription altogether now that I have access to so many instant videos, for free… and even the paid selections run an average of a buck cheaper than their iTunes colleagues.

If you’re not a Prime customer, you get a month free… which has me feeling a little bit disenfranchised as I may have been the first Prime customer Amazon ever had.  Where’s my freebee, or at least my thanks?

I have to add that the streaming is AWESOME and watching video on the Fire is beyond fun.

But I have to wonder… will these videos stream through my AppleTV? Hmmmm.

Excite

Two words here – NEW APPS.  Obviously, if you’re an iPad user, you’re quite used to having a virtual smorgasbord of apps at your fingertips… for a price.  I’m pretty surprised at the large number of apps already available for this device.  It seems as if you’ve got all the Android apps that can run on standard Android devices (some require heftier hardware than others) plus some that are specific to the Fire.  A large number seem to be free.  I wonder if this will last.

My main observation is that the Kindle Fire seems to be a book reader that has a lot of tablet features… not the other way around.  I think that’s the way Amazon wants it, because the device does run an Android core with, essentially, a Kindle shell. If you want to market a tablet, why not stick with the typical Android UI that many people know and seem to love?

Educate

Certainly the Fire seems to offer the majority of functionality that an iPad affords you, at a significantly cheaper price.  The base iPad (16GB Wireless only) costs $500.  The Fire (8GB Wireless only, no 3G option thus far) costs only $200.  Don’t let the lack of storage deter you from the Fire, though.  Remember you have unlimited storage in the Amazon cloud, and so far I’ve been hard pressed to figure out what I would actually NEED to store on my Fire other than the book I am CURRENTLY reading and the movie/TV show I am CURRENTLY watching.  Oh yeah, and a few apps that I use regularly, because I can store the big, lesser-used ones in the cloud as well.

So if you’re a student looking for a tablet device that can help you be more successful in your academic endeavors, the Kindle Fire will work just fine.  You’re probably at a slight advantage as far as book purchases go – Amazon is still ahead of iBooks in terms of offerings, and the Amazon lending library announced recently (which I have not yet used) offers some interesting possibilities for sharing resources that were not previously available.  Full web access in a wireless hot spot… yes.  The ability to rent video and purchase music… yes.  It’s all there.  Games?  Oh yeah, that too.  You haven’t lived until you’ve played Angry Bird Rio for Fire.  ahem…

 Stuff that will take some getting used to

Let’s keep it real… as a long time iPad user (as long-time as possible, let’s just say) there are some difference that will take getting used to.  Nothing crucial, but here are some “things that make ya go hmmm” worth mentioning:

  1. The home button is not where my finger wants it to be.  It’s on the screen itself, in the left corner.  I’m a righty.  You do the math.
  2. I feel as if I have to actually press down a little harder on the screen.  It’s less sensitive to touch than iScreens.
  3. My mom thinks she is getting my Kindle Keyboard (3rd Gen) now that I have a Fire, but she is probably wrong.  As circumstance would have it, when my Fire arrived I was 96% of the way through John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, the Litigators… so I decided to finish it on my Fire.  Just like I struggle with reading on my iPad because the backlight is SO harsh and the glare on the glossy screen will negate $2700 worth of LASIK if given the chance, I don’t think I could have read more than 4% of a book on this little guy.  But I will be carrying it around for a while and trying that again.
  4. For a 7 inch tablet, this seems kind of heavy.  I’ll admit I haven’t lifted many others but this is quite a big heftier than my Kindle Keyboard.
  5. No hardware controls for volume.  Agh!

Stuff I’m still wondering about

  1. There is no way the battery charge can last as long as the standard Kindle reader battery… right?  I’m going to need to charge this almost every day I’m guessing, instead of once a month as I do with my other Kindles. But I don’t really know.
  2. Can I turn this into an every-day Android tab?  Probably someone has already posted the instructions on how to do that, but I haven’t tried it and I’m not really inclined to.  It’s not broken, why fix it?
  3. Is there a cover or sleeve for this that is cooler than my Vera Bradley e-reader sleeve in Twirly Birds Pink?  Doubtful!

All in all, I’m glad I got one.  They don’t call me “Gadget Girl” for no reason. But only time will tell if Fire is a legitimate iPad replacement.  I don’t really think it’s a Kindle replacement.  As I said, I’ll be packing Fire for a couple of weeks, so if you see me, stop me and see if you can’t get a little burned.

 

Dr. Lisa Macon can be found on Twitter @lisamacon

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