» NY Times: As Kindle Fire Faces Critics, Remedies Are Promised
» UseIt: Kindle Fire Usability Findings
» David Pogue: Amazon Makes the Fire Less Balky
With a little over a month of Kindle usage, I thought it might be worthwhile to do a bit of a review after more extended usage of the device. You can see what I had to say about it after a few days of use. By and large, my affinity for the Fire still holds.
What I’ve seen of the more critical takes on the Fire are best summed up as follows: It’s not a terribly great tablet computer.
That’s true. Much of Jakob Nielson’s take on UseIt centers on just that critique. What strikes me as odd is that that isn’t what the device ever set out to do. I’m not the biggest fan of corporate-skinned versions of Android. And Amazon’s version isn’t anything to write home about. But it serves the purpose of getting the user to think about the device as a bookshelf of media to consume rather than a desktop to do work on.
So what if you wanted to just root the thing, install a clean version of the real Android OS and go to town on it? I think you’d still be disappointed. Some of Jakob’s criticisms get to why this may be: a 7″ screen is an awkward form factor for doing work on or using for more web. On the other hand, it’s great if you’re reading a book since the screen replicates a page width in portrait mode. It’s also great for movies and TV since the widescreen replicates a TV. Even wider-screened movies lose little when translated to the device.
To restate the case: I picked up my Fire with the intent of getting a reader that did a little bit more. The tie-in to Amazon video is a biggie for me, but your mileage may vary. I don’t use it for music, but the speakers on the device are pretty solid. Some light internet usage and a few (emphasis on few) good apps help justify the $199 price point. Adding a pretty good version of EA’s Madden ’12 will set you back about 1.99 as I write. All in all, I’m probably using it about 50% for video and 30% for reading books, 15% for web and 5% for games.
The bugs that are worth noting is that the screen’s auto-rotate will frequently bug out and temporarily freeze or hiccup. There was an update to the OS that seems to have made the issue less of a concern. But it still happens. I’m not overly enamored with the “bookshelf” concept that Amazon forces on you, but it’s not a deal-breaker as long as getting to the items I want can be done quickly. The browser, in short, was oversold as a great technological leap forward. If there’s anything under the engine that’s worthy of mention, it does little more than compensate for a Safari ripoff that’s fairly buggy. About the best feature of the browser that I can mention is that it at least offers up the solution of restoring crashed tabs for you. The device as a whole, seems to freeze up about once every week or two. Rebooting is easy enough, but the experience is still annoying. For a device that’s a luxury item, I can live with it. If I had my life tethered to it, I’d be steaming over it. So don’t be surprised if the device doesn’t fully replace your smartphone.
A few test runs on my part to see how well the device held up were as follows:
Social Media at JerryWorld. … Not having to drain my phone battery over 12 hours of football games is a huge help to the experience of taking in a full day of football without being able to recharge. Sharing the drain over two devices was something I looked forward to. The main limitation here is that the on-screen keyboard is an awkward fit on the 7″ screen. If I’m in horizontal mode, I have to hunt and peck due to the spacing of keys being odd. But it’s noticeably better in portrait mode – basically a slightly roomier version of a phone’s keyboard.
The screen’s touch sensitivity is still a bug here, as you still have to make sure you’re cursor is properly situated. I used the mobile version of twitter and facebook sites, although the device comes pre-installed with a facebook app. Among Jakob’s critique of the tool is that many websites are designed for either a full web experience or for a 3-4″ phone screen. Again, the 7″ issue comes into play as both mobile version of facebook is a bit clunky and contains a great deal of unused space. Twitter is light years ahead on this score.
As websites smarten up and learn to sniff out the midrange screen-sizes, I think this fixes itself over time. I find the same issue in choosing to view full or mobile versions of news sites and blogs. The “solution” is that I find it easier to do more news reading on my phone and use the Fire for Google Reader and a smaller subset of bookmarks. For what it’s worth, the WordPress plugin that does the sniffing for my site still send you to the mobile version as a default. Many of the other sites did the same. But I tend to prefer the full version for almost any site that I do a fair amount of reading on.
Updates to TXPoliticalAlmanac.com This is really stretching it since I really have no intention of using the device for extended typing/thinking/whatnot. But for the sake of testing the idea, I decided to kill some dead time last week by taking it out on a test-drive with the Almanac. The process got a bit smoother with regard to typing speed and thought process getting in sync. But – again – the 7″ screen played havoc with the input form. It was great for typing in portrait mode, but I occasionally had to rotate to landscape to view portions of copy that weren’t getting compressed into the portrait view when I wanted to review or edit. By no means is blogging something that I plan on doing with the Fire. But for emergency purposes, it’ll do in a pinch. The biggest obstacle for this is always acclimation to the keyboard.
Kindle Singles. This strikes me as a good medium that could take off at some point and really make the e-reader concept a game-changer. I picked up two items – a 60-pager and a 120-pager. If there’s a suffering to be had, it’s that the authors going to this medium aren’t the same caliber writing real books. If that changes, the short-book medium strikes me as a huge plus.
Magazines. I picked up a copy of National Geographic just to see how it translated to a Kindle. Reading is a chore on it since you still have to zoom and scroll to follow the copy. There’s also the issue that pre-dates the Fire, as Amazon would love to have you purchase an automatic subscription to blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc…. As opposed to viewing them on the web for free (to the extent that the content is available as such). I’ve seen a few others really take to the graphic novel and comic book treatment that Fire does. I’m not big on either of those genres, though. For my taste, I’ll stick to the copy that I can read online for free.
PDF Support. This takes a bit of getting used to since there’s a lot of zooming and scrolling to get used to. But it comes in handy for those moments where it’s easier to email a PDF to the device and read it during a commute rather than save it for laptop reading later on. Reading a couple of issues of The New Republic was easy enough due to the basic column-oriented layout. But court briefs, opinions, and professional documents took a great deal more scrolling to navigate. Again – good in a pinch, but not necessarily a selling point.
Amazon Prime Lending Library. I downloaded “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and haven’t read more than 10 pages of it yet. The available titles don’t necessarily speak to me, but there’s easily 5 or so titles on there that I’ll want to get to first. If Amazon expands this offering by the time I’m done with those, then great. If not, I’m perfectly fine buying the books I want and sampling those that I’m curious about.
Still No Google Apps. I can download a Yahoo Mail app, a Hotmail app, and a Mapquest app. But I cannot use Gmail or Google Maps. This is purely my bias, but it’s the biggest failing that I see with the device. If I could at least substitute some of the email reading onto my Fire, that would be great. Gmail’s full version is too much for the Fire’s browser and the mobile version suffers from the same failing as mentioned earlier with regard to 7″ screens. I’m still not planning on running my Gmail through the dedicated email app that comes with the Fire. It really needs a dedicated Gmail app.
Maps (and maybe even Earth) would be a nice followup. I use my phone for checking bus times and route options on a daily basis. The small phone screen is a particular limitation with the latter.
Video Out. It may be that Amazon is too vested with Roku to concern themselves with adding an HDMI plugin that lets you translate the media consumption device to a fuller media consumption environment. I hope I’m wrong since I’m in the market for a new TV sometime this year. Being able to plug my laptop into the TV is something I’m long overdue for. I can hook my phone up with HDMI … so why not the Fire?