I love technology. Computers, ebook readers, netbooks, and tablets… they’re all endlessly fascinating to me. I’ve owned one of the early Kindles for years, and loved it. But there’s always been something missing.
My earliest experience with ebook readers was the converted Gemstars from eBookwise. While primitive by today’s standards, those little devices were seriously ahead of their time. Two features they had that the Kindle lacks are touch screen, and a self-illuminated screen. Yes, I know why Kindle doesn’t illuminate the screen, and can understand. But I miss the back-lighting. And the touch screen? Now THAT is something I truly miss.About those 2 missing features:
Did I say 2 features were missing? Amazon recently announced the release of a new line of Kindles. Now Kindle Touch offers… you guessed it… a touchscreen!
I’m stoked. That’s seriously a major upgrade, and well worth the new price lineup.
But wait… there’s more! Yeah, I don’t believe I said that either. Still, this is really cool- the new Kindle Fire has touch-screen (multi-touch, actually) and is BACKLIT! Kindle is now the perfect ebook reader.
Only… it’s not an ebook reader any more. More specifically, it’s now much more than an ebook reader. At this point, you might as well just call it a tablet. We’re talking access to 18 million movies and assorted videos, music, and media. Books and magazines, comics, all viewable in stunning color.The Kindle Fire Tablet
So far, we’re only talking about a multi-media device. What qualifies the Kindle Fire to be a full featured tablet? Let me count the ways:
Access to the already existing collection of apps from the Amazon Appstore. Thousands of apps and games, and a constantly growing library. Angry Birds, of course. Plants vs. Zombies. One of the coolest things Amazon does is offer a paid app for free every day. All apps are tested to work with the Fire, so you won’t have to worry about compatibility.
Amazon Silk- Amazon’s custom web browser for super-fast net surfing. Silk duplicates all the functions of a browser on the Fire, and in the Amazon Cloud. Anticipating your needs, optimizing content for your device BEFORE it downloads, it’s an attempt to seriously speed up web access for the Fire. How well will it work? Only time will tell. One thing I like… it supports Adobe Flash Player.
Along with their own custom browser, there’s a built-in email app that imports email from Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and others. All your email accounts get downloaded into one inbox for convenience. You can import messages and contact lists from other accounts too.
Free cloud storage for all your Amazon content. Wait, what? Okay, this ones kind of a gimmick. It’s free storage for all the stuff you’ve bought and/or downloaded from Amazon. All the stuff that’s… already on Amazon. It’s not like you’re uploading your files to Amazon for storage. They just keep track of what you’ve already gotten from them, and allow you access to it any time you need. Kind of like the way your Kindle Library on Amazon has always worked.A word about WhisperSync Functionality
As long as we’re mentioning things that aren’t new, Kindle Fire uses Whispersync. This allows your status to be shared across multiple devices. Reading a book on your Fire, then on your desktop, then on your smartphone? Whispersync ties them all together so each device knows exactly where you left off. It remembers you notes, highlights, and now, with the Fire, remembers video. Stream a movie on the Fire, and when you move to another compatible device, it picks up at the same point you left off.
This is a great concept, I’m not knocking it. I’m just pointing out, Kindle already had Whispersync. The new part is that they added video to the package.7″ Screen, multi-touch, wide angle viewing
As I mentioned, the screen is multi-touch with rich colors. And an extra-wide viewing angle, using in-plane switching (much like the iPad uses). If you’ve spent any time on a device with a limited field of view, you’ll know how big this is. Being able to clearly see the screen from a broader viewpoint makes life WAY easier, and sharing with a friend a whole lot friendlier. The screen is 7″. That’s more screenspace than the average Kindle (most Kindles are 6″). It might be a drawback if you like a larger screen, like the 10″ Viewsonic Gtablet. The Fire has 16 million colors, high resolution (1024 x 600 pixels, 169 ppi) and an anti-reflective treatment.Prime: Like Netflix and Hulu, but for Amazon
Amazon Prime is, sort of, another gimmick. Well, not really a gimmick. More like Amazon’s version of Netflix, with free accelerated shipping on many Amazon products thrown in. The membership cost of Prime is $79 per year, and you get a month free with the Kindle Fire. This is about six and a half dollars a month. Currently Amazon’s selection of movies and tv shows are a bit limited, but they show potential. For the price, a free months trial run is a perfect way to see if it’s worth it to you. Regardless of whether you use Prime, which claims over 10,000 movies and television shows, Amazon claims you have access to over 100,000 movies and shows through the Fire. They’re being coy about the process, but I assume they mean through free (like Youtube and Hulu) services, and paid (like Netflix) services.Books, books, and (Lots) more books!
Earlier I mentioned books and magazines. Amazon, of course, has millions of books, many of them free or seriously cheap. Plus you can download something like 2 million free copyright-expired books from other sources. (Even Sherlock Holmes!) Amazon also has hundreds of glossy, full-color magazine titles available. Some even come with video, audio, and interactive features. A quick scroll through the available titles reveals Time, Shape, Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, just at first glance. I also noticed several free subscriptions, like the digest of fantasy and science fiction. (Note to self: sign up for free sci-fi mag.) Worth mentioning is the collection of children’s books. Amazon has over 1000 colorful illustrated children’s books. Anybody remember ‘Curious George’?
Have I mentioned music yet? Well, brace yourself. Amazon has over 17 million songs in their MP3 store. You can stream, or download for those offline times. As with the original Kindle, I anticipate being able to import my own collection as well. Play music while web browsing, or reading a book… just one of the advantages of multi tasking. The speakers are stereo, and top-mounted.Email your own documents right to your Kindle Fire
One last little form of media I’ve been saving- on the original Kindles, you had to email your documents to Amazon to be converted and sent to your Kindle. Officially. Unofficially, we just used Calibre, and fabulous ebook converter and library manager. With the Kindle Fire, you can simply email them directly to yourself. Word, pdf’s, any compatible format.
Regarding compatible formats, are you ready? Here’s the list: Kindle/AZW (of course), TXT, PDF, Mobi (unlocked), PRC, Audible, Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX), DOC, DOCX, Jpg, Gif, Png, BMP, non-DRM AAC, MP3, Midi, OGG, WAV, MP4, and VP8. You’ve got to admit, that’s a heck of a list for supported formats.Designed from scratch with a fast dual-core processor
Amazon claims they’ve designed the Kindle Fire from scratch, making it easy to zip through recent titles and websites, watch movies, read books, enjoy music, play games or surf the net all from a single touch. That’s an impressive claim. I’m excited to find out just how true it is, and how fast the Fire is. Amazon is, for now, keeping the processor a secret. All they’ll say is it’s a fast dual-core processor. But according to Engadget, it’s running a dual-core 1GHz, TI OMAP4 processor. If you’re versed in processor lore, this probably tells you something. I, however, am right where I was before… Amazon says it’s a fast dual-core processor. :^)This is not the (an)droid you’re looking for
One thing you’ll notice- Amazon works really hard to brand the Fire as a Kindle. What they de-emphasize, is that the Fire is a custom Android 2.3 operating system. I’ve read that Amazon is going to allow rooting the device, which means all kinds of non-standard things can be done. From potentially installing a whole new operating system (flashing) to side-loading non-Amazon apps, it’s going to be quite friendly to the seriously techie crowd. And by overflow, us normal folk will benefit. I’m betting that before too long, someone will figure out how to directly access the Android Market with it.
While Amazon is banking on most people sticking with Amazon services and shoveling more money into their bank accounts, they’ve taken a surprisingly relaxed stance towards potential hackers. Anyone who knows how to root, flash, or sideload a ROM over USB will be able to mod their tablet to a surprising degree. This will gain Amazon a lot of good-will and keep their market open to people that otherwise might not buy.
Before you get too carried away, the Fire does have a couple of shortcomings. There’s no camera, meaning no photos, and no video. There’s also no microphone, meaning no audio input, no skype, no voice chat. For some, the lack of camera, mic, or both will be a deal-breaker. For me, a camera and mic would be nice, but not critical.
Is it really that important? You’re the only one who can answer that. But make sure you consider the question before shelling out the bucks!Small, lightweight, and sturdy
Kindle Fire is easily portable. It measures 7 1/2″ x 4.7″, and is less than half an inch thick. At less than 15 ounces, it’s light enough to hold in one hand. Personally, I want a shoulder harness like they make for guns, only to carry my Kindle in!
If you worry about accidentally breaking the glass, I have good news for you. The display has been chemically strengthened (Amazon’s words) to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic. Makes it much easier to survive life’s little “oops” moments! (I should know- my first Gemstar didn’t survive a fall onto tile flooring. I was far more careful with the replacement!)Basic specs
There’s 8 GB internal storage. No add-on memory allowed, though. 8 GB is all you get. To put it in perspective, Amazon estimates that at 80 apps and 10 movies. Or 800 songs. Or (and here’s my favorite part) 6,000 books!
The battery lasts an estimated 7 1/2 hours to 8 hours, as long as wireless is turned off. This varies depending on use. Recharging the battery takes about 4 hours, either through the power cord, or the USB connector. Wi-Fi is pretty much standard. Does not connect to ad-hoc (peer-to-peer) networks, but otherwise any private network or hotspot is fine. Works with 802.11 b, g, n, and .1x, and supports WEP, WPA, WPA2 security.
External ports include a USB 2.0 micro-B connector, and a 3.5mm stereo audio jack.
When you buy the Kindle Fire, you get the device itself, U.S. power adapter, and a quick start guide. Warranty is 1-year limited/service, with a 2-year extended available for purchase.
The Ultimate Kindle: Fire
From my perspective, the Fire is an ebook reader with (tons) of extras. I’m sure over the next few years, there’ll be more advances, changes, and improvements. But for me, this is where the Kindle’s been going, and I’ve had a hard time waiting for it to arrive.
Bottom line? I’m excited. My older Kindle has been in need of replacing for some time. Heck, I’ve been pretty rough on it. Not the Kindle’s fault I wore it out. I’m hoping to get my hands on one of the early Kindle Fires. Whether I get to keep it is still up in the air… but I can hope, right?
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