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Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Tablet: the How-To Geek Review

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Using the Kindle for Reading

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Downloading

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.

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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.

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When you scroll down the page, it does hide the address bar, but it’s still a lot of wasted pixels on the screen.

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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.

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Next page: Reading Newspapers, Magazines, and Using Apps

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/17/11

Comments (52)

  1. Usman

    Great review! Please get the nook tablet as well :)

  2. The Geek

    Yes, I plan to get my hands on the Nook Tablet and see how that compares.

  3. Paul

    Sigh. I’m going to get blasted for this, but here goes.

    I’d actually compare it more to the iPod Touch than the iPad 2. It puts it in the same price category. Yes, the Fire is then twice the size of the Touch, but the Touch has, I think, most of the features described above. So, if the largest available screen for the lowest price is your goal, I think the Fire is the easy winner. However, if we’re after the best portable device for the lowest price, I’m not so sure.

    And just so any bias is clear, yes, I have an iPhone. Yes, I love it. No, I do not have an iPad, but, yes, I would love to have one. For that matter, I’d like to have a Kindle Fire. It looks cool, I’m just not sure comparing it to the iPad is the right Apple product to use for comparison.

  4. jczesq

    Nice review. My wife wants one, but I think I’ll pass. I received a Vizio Tablet (V.I.A) for my B-day a few weeks ago! My daughter paid $189 for it at B.J.s, and based on your review of the Kindle Fire, I think the VIA is better. I haven’t used my laptop much at all since I got it.

  5. SkiddMarxx

    I too would like to see a Nook review – I’m torn whether to go with the superior Amazon media ecosystem or the Nook superior hardware specs (including the micro SD slot).

    Maybe waiting for the second version of the Kindle Fire is the answer.

  6. Cheri

    I found a down side….. On my kindle Gen 3, I have lots of active content… games to be exact. I cannot use them on my Fire :( at all…

    You hinted at installing apps . I haven’t figured that part out… please help.

  7. echofoxtrot

    From what I’ve heard, this first-generation Kindle Fire was rushed into production so it would be on the shelves in time for Christmas. However, the second-generation model is currently in production, and scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2012, possibly even in January.

    Will the capabilities of the 2-Gen model be enhanced? Will it have free 3G internet, like the current-model Kindle has? I’m waiting to see that model reviewed.

    Thanks for the good work….and the good comments here.

  8. kevalin

    I have to admit, my interest in the Fire took a fatal hit when I heard that the Nook tablet will have twice the power (or more), twice the internal storage and substantially more external storage capacity for only $50 more. I look forward to reading that review to find out if it’s battery life will be worth a damn, then I’ll decide if buying a 7″ tablet is worth it.

    By the by, I probably wouldn’t use it as a reader at all. I already have a Nook Simple Touch and MUCH prefer e-ink to lcd reading. It’s much easier on these old eyes.

  9. Lee Williams

    One thing I noticed is that it ‘stalls’ at the bottom of a scroll screen sometimes, not allowing you to go back to the previous screen until you scroll up again. Also not a deal-breaker, but slightly annoying.

    I would add that I REALLY like reading comic books on it! They are beautiful and the navigation is nicely done.

  10. The Geek

    There’s definitely way too much stalling and weirdness with the touch experience. I’m hoping that an update will fix the bugs and make it work better.

  11. mharrsch

    I guess I’m puzzled as to why the Kindle Fire was compared to an IPad 2 and not the Nook Color. It was released as a competitor to the Nook Color more than an alternative to an IPad. From what I can tell by reading the above review, the Kindle Fire is glaringly lacking in storage capacity, lacks Bluetooth and is much less powerful than a Nook Color. I have also rooted my Nook Color so I have full access to the Android Market (although you must avoid apps that require a camera) and the Amazon App Market. The Amazon Cloud application works wonderfully well and the sound is reasonably good without earphones. The games I have downloaded seem to work smoothly. I’ve also watched Netflix without a hitch and I haven’t even downloaded the newly updated Netflix app for Android tablets yet.

    I couldn’t tell from the specs of the Kindle Fire if it has an accelerometer like a Nook Color does. This is important for games that utilize an accelerometer for navigation.

  12. Audrey Aabey

    Hi,
    My Fire should be here any time now.
    I was hoping that you would mention the gallery and if one could use Picasa for showing off pictures when I’m out and about.

  13. T. Dyer

    Your comment about no Google Mail is wrong. I had gmail up and running on my Fire ten minutes after receiving it. I do agree with the button position. It just doesn’t feel right at first. Like anything else, once you get used to it, its’ no big deal.

  14. tommy2rs

    Meh, no SD card reader no sale. Looks like it’ll be a Nook for me.

  15. Ross

    I was wondering if you have figured out a way to clear or reset the items in the carosel. It is kind of annoying to have it just grow and grow with every piece of content I open, ready, listen to, etc.

    Better yet, is there a way to turn it off completely?

  16. The Geek

    There is no Gmail app. Sure, you can use Gmail via the mail app, but it’s not the same as the Gmail app.

  17. Tom in PHX

    I got mine today. Kinda nice but some downsides: (1) the carousel is a mess, can’t alter it, can’t delete it, can’t rearrange the items (2) can’t get rid of the apps like FB and Pulse from the homepage – installed by Amazon for Amazon, not the owner of the unit (3) really miss a button for the Homepage (4) You cannot transfer your non-Amazon books to the Books folder. They will only go to the Documents folder, no matter what! This even includes your mobi files. (5) missing an SD card slot. Other than above, a cool unit!

  18. The Geek

    FYI – I have a Nook Tablet in my hands, and I’m going to be doing a review of that device and a comparison against the Fire.

    Also note that the Nook Tablet is the new version from Barnes and Noble – the Nook Color is their older, slower tablet. The Color could be rooted and hacked, but from what I understand so far, the Nook Tablet has a locked bootloader that’s going to be difficult to crack.

  19. mickey walker

    I just got my Fire yesterday and really like it. However, my biggest disappointment so far is that my daily subscription to the Wall St Journal, which I received on my older Kindle is not available on the Fire.

  20. esam

    nice review ,thank you very much

  21. ouman

    Pardon the pun – but isn’t that review rather like “comparing Apple’s to bananas”?
    Kindle is primarily for reading books, i-Pad is a multifunction “toy”.

  22. Alex

    I would like know if there is any good firewall software that work on Kindle fire so i can block allow apps to connect on a need basis.It would be great for privacy as well.Do we need an Antivirus for kindle fire?

  23. airrescueff

    In a nutshell this is basically intended as a media consumption device. As such, a lot of that happens in landscape mode- especially media with sound. That being said, why in the hell would they place the speakers at the top, shortside of the device? Have no idea what they were thinking. Watching video or playing games and having the sound come out from one side is irritating to me. Holding the device while doing so will most often cover one of the speakers as well. Back in the box and returning.

    Yes, I know. Caveat emptor and all. However, I didn’t think of “Make sure that the speakers are on the long side” to be put on my checklist when pre-ordering. I figure something like stereo speakers would be oriented where media would most be used. Wish the speakers were placed in a similar area as the tablet that the Fire is allegedly modeled after, the Blackberry Playbook.

    Maybe the rumored 2nd generation Fire will address this, among other things.

  24. Chris

    Any idea when the Kindle Fire will be available in the UK? I have asked Amazon several times but they will not answer the question. They just point me to other Kindles on Amazon.co.uk and say the Fire has not been announced. Disappointing!

  25. Chris

    By the way. When you review the Nook Tablet, can you please ask the same question? Will it be available and work in Europe?

  26. Magpdx

    I received my kindle fire and returned it the next day. I hated the fact that there were pre-installed apps that could not be removed. I also found it clunky to read my ny times when I had no wifi access (riding the bus)-even though I downloaded the paper to the device, there were links to the web-based version of the times that I could not access. Annoying!

    I loved my kindle one and my kindle 2. I will either invest in the Touch or wait for next fire release

  27. Beverly Kurtin

    Oh for goodness’s sake. While it is true that there no Google apps, all you have to do is to go to the Web and bring up Google and away you go. Otherwise known as BFD.

    I got the first one out the door from the store at which I purchased it and about the only thing that made me grind my teeth was the lack of a cable that could allow me to transfer files from my PC to the Fire; that should have been included. I also own a Color Nook (I couldn’t decide on which one to get so I bought both). It has a cable that fits into a changer and then can be used to transfer files.

    Which one do I prefer? Yes. I love both. Of course, I could have bought an IPad with the money I paid for both, but the Ipad is too big for my purposes. Having a good laptop gives me the flexibility I want. I have a CLEAR personal hotspot, which fits nicely into the case that I carry the Fire and the Nook in. I also have the $189.95 Kindle that I’m going to gift to my doctor’s medical assistant. She can’t afford a reader but really wants one. I could Ebay it, but I’d feel better gifting it to someone who loves to read as much as I do.

    One of the big (but not all that important) is that the Fire seems to resist getting thumb or finger prints all over the screen; the Nook? Quite a mess all the time, but a quick wipe or two and the prints disappear. Again, it’s a small difference, but nice.

    Speed is about the same although the Silk browser seems to be a tad faster than the Nook’s browser, but heck, having something small enough to fit into your hand and being able to REALLY get on the ‘Net is amazing to this gal who started using computers back in the days when floppies were REALLY floppy with the 8-1/2″ floppies that CP/M used.

    The only other disappointment with the Fire is the lack of the ability to expand the memory. Nook has a slot that takes a mini flash device.

    The visibility seems to be slightly better with the Fire, but it’s insignificant unless you’re using them side-by-side.

    Bottom line: Both are needed especially if you find an ebook that is available in a format that your system will not use. One book, for example, is available on Amazon but not at B&N and vice-versa. They’re both good for what they are and what they do; I bought both.

  28. kevalin

    Well, freak!

    Nook is locking the boot loader? Well, if that’s so, that will certainly make me think twice about buying it, until and unless someone finds a way around it.

    Call me fickle, but when I pay my money for something–as opposed to receiving it as a gift, which Barnes and Noble sure isn’t arranging–then I should be able adjust it as I will. It’s not, after all, as if I’m trying to mess with someone else’s

  29. ThunderByrd

    I searched your site, and can find *no* mention of the Kobo Vox; a device that has better hardware options than the Kindle Fire.

    Ironically, your Google ad on your home page is for the Kobo Vox. Go figure eh?

  30. Nigel

    Why are we consumed with comparing every new device with the iPad? It beats the hell out of me.
    Great review but don’t compare please, it show lack of understanding.
    Do you think Amazon were thinking about the iPad when they put this together? You bet they were, but not for performance and looks. No, to cash in on iTunes. Build a device that can only stream content from your web service. Brilliant. For content alone amazon beats iTunes hands down plus most of it is not locked down to play on that device only.
    So, as I write this on my iPad, because I can’t be bothered to get off the sofa and wait for xp to load, I might just consider one of these fire thingies because I really do hate iTunes with an avengence.

  31. HeatfanJohn

    How do you justify saying that the Kindle Fire is slower than the iPad 2? My personal experience is that the device is extremely fast and in fact I find the Silk Browser to be much faster than the browser on my iPad 2. I suspect that is due to how the Kindle Fire leverages using the Amazon cloud to accelerate browsing.

    According to the specs that I have read on Wikipedia, the Kindle Fire has a 1 GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 dual-core processor which is the same generation ARM chip as the Apple A5 in the iPad 2.

  32. StevenTorrey

    My daughter has one of those readers–I think Barns & Noble. On a whim, we downloaded a free book on Hebrew Grammar. The reader was not able to read the Hebrew characters, just a bunch of gobbly gook. I really wouldn’t consider using such a thing; too much in love with the real book. Even though I have about 10 ebooks on my computer–out of print Hebrew or Greek texts–reading from a computer screen is not the same as reading from a book; it seems more of a strain on the eyes. In short, its a gewgah I don’t really need. More limitations than plus.

  33. Walusa

    Received Fire and played with it for a couple of days. It is very heavy at 14.5 oz compared to the Kindle Wi Fi or Keyboard. I can see myself getting muscle cramps holding it for a couple of hours to read a book. It is also very slippery so you must hang on to it; otherwise, if it drops to a hard floor the display glass can break, so says the Fire warning. It is also very touch-sensitive. If you hover over the screen with a hangnail when moving your hand past the surface, the screen changes. The keyboard is also so small that it is likely that you will be spending too much time and becoming frustrated correcting typos, especially if you are typing mixed letters and numbers as required for many passwords. For any male with large hands, or any Senior Citizen, male or female, you will be better off doing keyboard entries on your computer to find books or search the Internet.

    Needless to say, it has already been returned to Amazon. I will stick with my Kindle Keyboard which has been the ideal tool to use for an eReader. It has served me well for several months.

    For any potential user who is ‘on in years’, my advice it to get a Kindle Wi Fi or Kindle Keyboard and leave the Fire to those with younger, smaller, steadier hands…. and sharper vision.

  34. Ann1e

    I have had the Kindle Fire for about a week now. I found the sound to be too soft for movies even at the highest level. But it is loud enough for the games and has to be turned down. I decided to try sending a photo to the Kindle via email. The photo ended up in the documents file and I wanted it to be in the gallery file. I have been unable to move it into the gallery file. I would like to see if there is a way to move it or to send photos directly into the gallery file from an email. In general I really like the Kindle Fire and its sleek appearance compared to the Nook. My choice between the Fire and the Nook came because Amazon has better access to books etc. and Amazon is a very good company to deal with. We don’t have many Barnes and Noble book stores around here. I was given a stylus for use on the keyboard and it works great! I have small hands but did have a problem typing on the Kindle. For the price, I think the Kindle Fire is a nice tablet and I think it will get better and better as things are upgraded.

  35. ThunderByrd

    Why does no one ever mention the Kobo Vox. It’s better than the Nook or the Fire!

  36. Conner

    does the Kindle fire have any Accelorometer , as I believe this would be a good feature

  37. Clark

    Appreciate all the constructive comments…but I’m seeing tech questions and not many replies. We users who don’t qualify as geeks need help!!

    For instance, I can receive email on my Fire but I can’t send. I’ve followed all the set up directions for connecting to my Comcast email account but they must be incorrect. Setting outgoing port to 465 doesn’t work. When I set that port to 587 (the same setting that works in all my other devices going through the same wireless router) i get a message that “unable to verify the provider’s certificate.”

    Amazon support was no help. I was connected to a non tech rep whose diction I could not comprehend…and who simply went over the setup directions I was already familiar with.

    There is something I’m missing, if anyone has figured this out…please reply

  38. thoracias

    So far I am loving my kindle fire. One question though…do you need an antivirus for the fire? I would think so with the constant web browsing and app downloaded but I cant find any info.

  39. Asta

    Got my kindle fire for my birthday from my hubby… i thought i’d like it but for reading i prefer my old kindle and i really don’t need the Ipad features with internet and all so i want to resell it.
    how to i get my stuff off of it before i sell it and get it back to original state? do i have to unregister it?

  40. Caymangolfer

    As I am in the process of buying my wife a ‘new tablet’. I say ‘new tablet’ as we have had tablets in my house for a decade or so, however I am intrigued on what Android can bring to the table and looking at the Fire or Nook Tablet as she does not need huge amount of ‘stuff’ other than web, e-mail and reading. Would love to see how your review on the Nook Tablet is coming along as it has been 10 days since you received it ;). Did you root the tablet, I saw on XDA Developers that there is a root for it now, which rocks as you can get SU permissions which I think should allow you to open up the 1GB limit for non BN content on the integrated 16GB storage.

  41. Greg

    I now have now have my original Kindle, a DX, and Ipad (w/ the kindle app) & the Fire. each one has its place. I use them All no one device covers all the bases IMHO

  42. Bill

    Using the usb port can i download jpeg files to my Kindle Fire? Is the a photo viewer app available?

  43. allen

    Can I purchase antivirus software for my kindle fire? Thank you.

  44. Tina Glenn

    I pre-ordered my Kindle Fire and received it the day after release. I have literally carried it with me every day since that date. I purchased a Folio Cover, which helps the Fire to feel like a book in my hand. It fits perfectly into my purse. I did quite a bit of research before deciding on a Kindle Fire and I am so glad that I chose the Fire over an IPad. The IPad is just too big and bulky and looks too much like a netbook for my taste (I have an IPhone so no bias here, just observation). I have not even begun to fill up the storage space on the Fire. Constantly finding new games, books, magazines, apps, to keep me entertained. For the price, I think the Kindle Fire is the best tablet on the market right now. I feel that Amazon will be tweaking and updating some of the little things that people consider “cons” very soon. Checked out the Nook Color, IPad, and the Vizio tablet prior to making my decision. Love it and consider it to be the best electronic purchase that I have made in several years.

  45. Tina Glenn

    Bill, I transferred my photos, music, and videos onto the Kindle Fire via the usb and view them with the pre-loaded Viewer.

  46. Hilda

    I have been looking for your nook tablet review, have you already posted it? when will we be able to find it?

  47. BryanKc

    Yep, another AppleBoyFan article! My KFire is anything but slow. Why do I care if it has a camera? I have three digital cameras all better that that junky camera in the I-overpriced-Pad. Here is a home button on the screen i the lower left hand corner. Funny, I read on it outside.

    I’m sooo tired of the “It doesn’t have a camera!” comments. So What!

  48. meg

    just got my k-fire 4 Xmas & was wondering if anyone could tell me how to move content to the right location? for example I downloaded a book & a magazine via a program on my Cpu (my bf is a HUGE computer nut & can find anything I want 2 download) but all the files/content goes straight to the DOCS location, HOW DO I GET IT TO GO TO THE RITE PLACE?! this is extremely annoying & was hoping someone had figured it out?! HELLLP!!! (please)

  49. Chuck G

    I am generationally out of date , but can get around on my lap top. The new fire, an exmas gift, is not at all intuitive. How do you oper/make available the keypad?
    Thanks

  50. Wallace

    How can I cionnect my kindke fore to my 15yr old high end stereo to listen to music through it .. like Internet radio?

  51. Layinka

    Thanks for the in-depth review.
    I’d like to know why you are comparing a Tablet (I-Pad) to an e-reader with extra options.
    I bought my e-reader for reading purposes it just so happens now that the new Kindle offers extras.
    If I want a second computer that is really really small and light then I’d buy a tablet, also explains the great difference in price.

    Well thank you though :D

    diylanguage.wordpress.com

  52. debisonherway

    I got my Fire for Christmas, and I absolutely love it! It’s not all that heavy, if its going to cause you muscle cramps or weigh you down, I suggest a stress ball or gym membership, you obviously need to build up your strength. As far as no gmail app, who cares, I also had my gmail account up and running in a couple of minutes. I agree with others, why even begin to compare the Fire with the Ipad, makes no sense. My Fire isn’t slow at all, I have books, games, email, etc loaded on mine and have not had the first freeze. No camera? Don’t need one on here. Don’t take the word of the reviewer, try it for yourself!

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