Using the Kindle for Reading
Just like every other Kindle, the Fire has a solid reading experience. Head to the Books section, and you’ll see a fairly standard bookshelf view with all of your purchased books. You can quickly download any of the books to the device, and start reading them right away. If you’ve got a large number of books in your collection, it’s definitely a lot easier to navigate with touch rather than using buttons or the e-ink display on the previous devices.
When you get to the actual reading view, it’s presented full-screen with a flick to switch pages, which works pretty well unless you’re very quickly going through the pages, where you’ll notice a little bit of a stutter, but it works well overall. Tapping the screen will show you the controls view, which lets you quickly page through the book, search, change the font size, or access the menu.
The navigation menu is one area where the Fire definitely is a big improvement over the e-ink Kindles—you can easily get to anywhere in the book, including all of your bookmarks and notes, which show up right there on the screen. Extremely useful for non-fiction books you might have marked up with a ton of notes. Which brings us to a good point—the Fire is a lot better for non-fiction in general, since you might want to quickly flip through to a section, or re-open them on a regular basis.
Playing Music on the Kindle
If you’ve used Amazon’s Cloud Player on the web or any other device, you’ll be familiar with the experience on the Kindle Fire. You can access your entire music collection, stream it off their servers, download to cache on the device, or buy new music in the store. The player works well in either landscape or portrait mode, and you can play music in the background.
Purchasing music is almost too simple—once you search the store for what you’re looking for, click buy, and it’ll be delivered to your cloud drive instantly. You can head to one of the albums and start playing right away, or download it to the device.
Being able to listen to music on the same device you’re reading a book is really pretty useful, especially if you’re taking the Fire on a plane.
Streaming (and Downloading) Video
Head to the Video section, and if you’re a Prime member you’ll immediately have access to a large collection of free video that can be streamed to the device. This includes shows like Lost and The Wonder Years along with many others. If that doesn’t fit the bill, there’s also a much larger number of videos that can be rented or purchased, though it’s a little inconsistent—some titles can only be rented, some are 24 hours, and some are 48 hours.
The Fire can’t play real HD video, at least not according to Amazon’s specifications—what’s interesting is that if you click to see compatible devices, the Fire is listed there. The standard video, however, looks great on the screen, and is presented in widescreen format. If you rent something in HD, you can watch on the Fire in standard def, or watch it on your computer or TV in high def instead.
If you rent or purchase a movie or TV episode, you can download it to the device for later viewing. Once you download a video, you have either 24 or 48 hours to watch it before it expires, which makes it a little inconvenient to load up your tablet with movies before a trip, since you won’t be able to watch them on the way back, assuming you want to vacation for more than a day. It’s definitely good enough for a long plane flight, and you could reload it again before heading back, though your hotel’s Wi-Fi will probably take forever to download the movie. Since there’s not a ton of internal storage, you’re only going to be able to download about 10 movies on an otherwise empty Kindle—if you’ve got lots of apps, magazines, and music downloaded, it might be 5 or less movies.
Your best bet, as a geek, is to rip your own movies and copy them over through the USB cable. The one oddity is that they won’t show up in the Videos section, you’ll have to access them through the Gallery application instead. This way you could also control the bitrate and size of the files if you wanted, so you can fit more on the drive.
Browsing with the Kindle Fire’s “Silk” Browser
Much has been made of the Silk browser on the Kindle Fire, starting with a lot of hype about how fast it’s going to be. The main benefit to the browser, according to the marketing documentation, is that it uses the power of Amazon’s cloud to compress and optimize pages so that everything is much faster.
Update: be sure to read our followup post, where we explain how to make the browser *actually* fast.
In the testing that we’ve done over the last day or two since getting our Fire, the browsing experience is not quite as fast as one would hope. Amazon claims this is because their caching algorithm has yet to be primed, but we’re testing this on a 35/35 Mb FIOS network here, so it shouldn’t matter. Scrolling pages is a little jittery, and the screen seems to be just the wrong size for a lot of sites—like ours, which is clearly going to need to default to the mobile theme for Kindle readers. The tabbed browsing just feels like a waste of screen space, especially in landscape mode.
All the complaining aside, the Fire’s browser is pretty much exactly what you’d hope for if you ignored all the hype. It works well, displays pages about as well as a small tablet is going to, and has all the standard Android features like the Share Page option, which quickly lets you share the page via email, Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, or whatever applications you’ve installed that support the feature.
When you scroll down the page, it does hide the address bar, but it’s still a lot of wasted pixels on the screen.
Email on the Kindle Fire
This device was not designed for email. There’s a built-in application that supports Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, IMAP, but it’s not the greatest application—especially if you’re used to the excellent Gmail application on every Android phone. You won’t have access to your contacts unless you manually export them from Gmail and copy them over to the device using the USB cable, it creates weird labels in Gmail, and it doesn’t natively know how to handle custom domains in Gmail without a tweak.
It is functional, however, and it supports Push for email delivery, so you’ll get notifications in the top bar whenever email comes in. You can switch this off, of course, in the settings. If you’re using an Exchange server you’ll have to grab a different application from the app market.
Programmer by day, geek by night, The Geek, also known as Lowell Heddings, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 11/17/11