Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review - Kindle Fire - the Good, the Bad, and the Must Have

I'm moving away from books to PDFs and eBooks. Books, by their physical nature, require their presence to be useful while, with a suitable device, you can view electronic media anywhere. Electronic media also has the advantage of easy bookmarks and text searches. While it might seem romantic to curl up with a book by the fire or in bed at night, my age dictates I need a strong light and reading glasses for any such endeavor. An eReader or Tablet solves both those issues.

As long time readers will know, I've long looked for a product to hold my gaming PDFs that is portable and versatile. I investigated various tablets and eBook readers but none seemed to fit the bill. The basic problem being that eReaders don't do PDFs well and Tablet Computers don't make for great readers.

As time passed, the two markets began to merge. Tablets became more reader-friendly while readers became more tablet-ish. Eventually even the products' operating system became the same, Google's Android. So I waited for the right product at the right price.

My wife finally put me out of my indecisive misery and purchased a new Kindle Fire for my birthday. I have ever said how awesome she is?

Because some of you are trying to make a decision, I'm going to give a bulleted list of the things I like and dislike about the product. An explanation will follow along with a list of 'must have' applications for your Kindle.

Likes and Dislikes

  • Long Battery Life
  • Beautiful Multi-touch screen
  • Easy, Integrated Email Client
  • Heavy integration with the Amazon catalog and services
  • Easy navigation compared to other mobile devices
  • Nice keyboard
  • The Kindle Reader
  • Easy method to send to and manage documents on the Kindle
  • Amazon content - books, movies, music, and more (best reason to buy a Kindle Fire)
  • A bit heavy
  • Buttons are, at times, a little laggy
  • Email client doesn't auto update (might be a configuration issue)
  • Default PDF viewer has limited features.
  • It's almost too easy to buy new products
  • Limited to Amazon approved software
  • No access to Google Android Products like Google+, Google Docs,  or Google Mail. You can still use the web browser to access these products but I prefer the android applications for these Google products. I consider this the product's biggest drawback.
  • No built-in swype technology for keyboard. This gets confusing since I have an Android phone that supports it.
In the 'eh' category
  • No GPS
  • Wireless only - no 3G/4G 
First Glance

My first impression of the slate computer was the beautiful screen and the weight. It was heavier than I expected. Not uncomfortable just unexpected. The battery in the Fire must be a monster because one charge generally lasts me three to four days.

My second impression was the screen clarity. I connected the WiFi and opened the web browser. The sharpness/contrast of color impressed me and the device made web navigation a breeze compared to my phone. I could actually read content without pinching the screen and scrolling.

I hit my first 'huh?' moment when setting up Facebook and Google+. Amazon does not allow the Android version of these applications in the Amazon Android Market. You are left with the mobile web version. Since I run the rptools.net social sites on Facebook and Google+ this is a drawback. I don't think most users will have a problem with it but it's a pain for me. There are simply some things I cannot do.

My next 'huh?' moment came when I couldn't download either the Gmail or Gdocs Android application. While the Kindle email client is fine, I prefer Google's take on email. It's cleaner, simpler, and keeps threaded conversations together.

You'll want to do some modification to the Kindle email client. By default it is silent and only retrieves emails when you start the application. A quick trip to settings fixes these issues.

The other oddness about the email client is the mass action check boxes. If you want to select multiple messages to delete or move, you swipe the screen to the right to get the check boxes. That took me a day or two to figure out.


The default PDF viewer disappoints. It has no search capability that I could find. This turns out not to be a major drawback; the Adobe reader is easily downloaded and works well. An advantage to the native reader is that it works like the Kindle eReader. I think this was Amazon's intent but a few more features would have made the default product much better. In the meantime, it would be nice to be able to set Adobe as the default reader for managed documents (those you've loaded yourself vs. downloaded). Without the feature you must first open Adobe and browse for your managed content.

The  Kindle Reader is, in a word, wonderful. I'm in my late forties and my eyes don't work that well in the morning. Having adjustable text size means I can wake up in the middle of the night and read without resorting to glasses. Since the Fire is back-lit, I have no illumination problems either. In short, I don't need a light or glasses to read.

The form factor of the Kindle is nice. Although a bit heavy, it is easy to carry and fits in my back pocket. I'm glad I didn't go for the 10" tablet. I like the 7" form factor much better.

How I Use It

The only add-on I have is the Verso Prologue Cover. This makes my Kindle look like a book and protects it well.

How have I used my Kindle? Well, not exactly as expected. I do read books and PDFs but that isn't its primary use. I use the eReaders at night before going to bed. In effect, I've dramatically increased my night time reading.

I read a lot of emails on it. The text is larger than my phone so, while at home, I use the Kindle as my mobile device of choice. I also do a good bit of web browsing to keep up with news and blog sites.

My third most frequent activity is Twitter and I'm forced to confess, I'm surprised. Now, while watching TV, I can tweet about something interesting I saw and see what others have to say. I suffer from insomnia so it makes a great late night activity to take my mind off whatever is bothering me.

Other great moments in Kindle usage include watching the Maltese Falcon as research for my 1930s detective character, Thomas Gunn. The movie and sound were both good. I also watched The Joker's Wild, the life story about Joe E Lewis, as research for my upcoming novel, Prescription for Revenge.

Must Have Aps

So what are the 'must have' apps and content for your Kindle?
  • Google Reader for keeping up with your favorite blogs and websites.
  • Adobe Reader (free) - to replace the feature-deficient default PDF viewer
  • *new* ezPDF ($2.99) - better PDF reader than Adobe.
  • Quick Office Pro - if you plan to manipulate documents
  • Netflix - if you have an account
  • The Weather Channel App - there are others, but this does the job
  • US News Papers - An app providing links to a variety of news papers from across the nation. The same application is available for other countries as well.
  • ComicX - Comic book reader. I haven't read a comic in years due to the cost and general content suckage. ComicX lets me browse comics for ones I might be interested in and then purchase them for a discounted price after they've been out for a while. 
  • Aquaman #1 (via ComicX) - They own the 'Aquaman sucks' concept. It's a must read.
  • The New Moon Murders - shameless plug for my novella
  • Twitter Client - TweetCaster and Seesmic are the best so far
  • Angry Birds - game
  • Cut the Rope  - game
Some of the apps are free with ezPDF, Quick Office Pro, Seesmic, and Cut the Rope being notable exceptions. Even these are pretty cheap for what you get. 

Over all I'm very satisfied with my Kindle. I suspect Amazon will fix some of the default application issues over time. I've learned you can bypass the Amazon market if you want to install other Android applications but have decided not to do this yet. I'll wait to see what opens up in the future.

And don't forget to purchase The New Moon Murders for your new Kindle. It's a must read. :-)


  1. At the suggestion of David P, from Google+, I gave ezPDF a try. It's $2.99 but well worth it. It is superior to Adobe in almost every way. I'll update the blog post, adding ezPDF.

  2. How does it handle opening large, image-heavy PDFs? Thinking Pathfinder Core Rulebook here.

  3. @Stacy - way better than expected. It's not perfect, and the aspect ratio is sometimes a bit off, but it renders images like a champ. I believe the recent update will help with that as well.
    Thanks for the write-up Keith, I got my Fire a few weeks ago, and I'm still learning how to integrate it with my DMing. I too lament the loss of Swype, though the onboard keyboard is acceptable. Have you tried Evernote?

  4. I opened the largest I have - Pirates of the Spanish Main. The 260+ page doc is full of graphics and hopped around. It was pretty peppy. I'll try to post a video in a bit.

  5. @stacy My cold prevents me from narrating a vidcast. I did play around with ezPDF for a while. It does search but I found no way to go to the next search result. I'm still looking. Surely it's there.

    It is better in all other ways to Adobe and the default Kindle viewer. It will even read the text to you.

    @dbv I use Evernote but not for gaming. Since I use MapTool, I normally put all my notes in there.