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

By Lowell Heddings on November 17th, 2011

<- Previous page: Actually Using the Kindle (Reading, Video, Music, Browsing, Email)

Reading Newspapers and Magazines

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One of the unique features of the Kindle Fire is the ability to read magazines, in all their glorious full-color originality. There’s loads of magazines already onboard, with old favorites like Popular Science, Wired, Car and Driver, and loads of newspapers like New York Times and the Washington Post. Most of these are designed as a subscription model—you can buy single issues, but it isn’t cheap. Instead, you need to sign up for a monthly fee and the magazine or newspaper will be automatically delivered to the Kindle. You can see all your current magazines by heading the Newsstand, or you can shop in the store for anything else you want.

For some things, this works pretty well, like the New York Times, which is mostly text content. For other magazines, like Popular Science and Car and Driver, there are still some formatting problems. The default view is the image view, which doesn’t work quite right. The 7” screen is not big enough to clearly read most of the content, and zooming in works tolerably until you flip to the next page. Then it zooms back out again. You can use the menus to switch from Page view into Text view, where you can much more easily read the content, but a lot of the visual awesomeness is gone. It’s definitely something that needs to be solved.

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Then there’s magazines like Wired and GQ, which are not delivered using the Amazon content system—instead, they are implemented as apps, and you have to subscribe and sign in separately. They are a bit more of a hassle, but the end result is a really beautiful magazine that’s designed for the Kindle. These magazines are gorgeous, and really a testament to what a tablet magazine can be. You can swipe up and down on some pages to read the entire article, or flip left and right to navigate between articles. There’s also a way to zoom backwards and see all the pages of the magazine in a view where you can more easily scan the entire magazine. It’s impressive.

There’s just one odd thing: if you go straight to the web site you can subscribe to the print version for $12/year, and then you can get the Kindle Fire version for free. If you subscribe directly to the Kindle Fire version, it’s $20/year.

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Kindle Fire App Store

And now, the part that loads of people have been wondering about: the Apps. There’s a very large library of applications you can install on your Kindle, including things like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Seesmic, Angry Birds, Evernote, and a lot more. We tested Netflix, and it works fairly well, although it’s a little jumpy—but we’re guessing part of that is on Netflix, since their navigation is laggy on our Roku box as well.

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There’s a ton of applications in the market, including a daily free (otherwise paid) app, but you can also allow installing unsanctioned apps by heading into Settings –> Device and turning on the option. You’ll have to manually install them, but it’s a way to get your favorite apps on the device even if Amazon doesn’t have them in your store. For instance, you can even install the Nook app this way.

Note: you can’t go to the regular Android market in the browser, it simply will redirect you to Amazon’s app store . You’d have to get your hands on the install file otherwise in order to install the applications.

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Our guess is that in the very near future, almost every Android app that you can want will show up in the market. The only exception will be system tweakers and very low-level applications.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be testing out whether you can get Google apps on the device, and whether there’s any great hacks that you can do.

Final thoughts: It’s a rather nice tablet.  Got any questions that we didn’t cover? Ask them in the comments.

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
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