Kindle Fire

This Christmas my wife bought me a Kindle Fire. Originally I wanted a Nexus 7, but was tempted by a Black Monday offer of £99 for the basic Fire (normally £129). There is also a more expensive HD version, which also has Dolby sound, for £159; but in my opinion you are getting dangerously close to Nexus 7 pricing at that point.

I am a great fan of the 7 inch form factor. Personally I would be embarrassed to carry around with me a 10” tablet, but the smaller book-sized 7” tablet is fine. Without a case, it will even fit into a suit jacket pocket.

My hope for the Fire was that it would be a quality device, being sold cheap as a loss leader for Amazon, but more to the point I hoped that it would still be usable for email and web browsing and that I would be able to find at least some of my favourite Android apps in the Amazon app store.

Opening it on Christmas day I was immediately pleased with the quality of the screen, which was bright with vibrant colours. The home screen was a disappointment, being a carousel style, which includes all the books bought from Amazon. Entries include your books and apps in what I assume is date last used. This may be a good layout for books, but the Fire is not an ebook reader and I would have preferred a traditional Android home screen. Also the web browser entry reflects the last website visited, which means that you don’t know what the entry looks like, nor where it is - as the sequence is in date last used. On the other hand pressing App on the menu seems to provide you with a list of the installed apps, so perhaps that’s not a major issue.

I knew that I was taking a risk with the Amazon app store, and certainly some of the apps that I was wanted were missing, for example Connectbot and Google+. That said it is possible to install from elsewhere so this may not be an insurmountable problem, and perhaps such apps will turn up eventually. Whilst on the subject of the app store, Amazon seem to offer some normally paid apps for free, and I was delighted to be able to download World of Goo on that basis.

One pleasant surprise is the keyboard, which is of the Swype variety, wherein you keep your finger against the glass sweeping through the letters of the word. This works brilliantly and is not only quicker,but also makes typing possible when typing on the move. It also seems to be very intelligent, you can safely skip repeated letters and it generally works out what you meant. I was very surprised that typing “go” in the previous paragraph correctly entered Goo, which suggests a knowledge of context - impressive in a keyboard. If you prefer a traditional touch keyboard then it can work like that as well.

One of the many free apps was BBC iPlayer and I was easily able to navigate to a program that I wanted to watch and it worked flawlessly, with smooth video offered in full screen.

Another huge positive is the speed of wireless acquisition, it has usually already found it by the time I unlock the screen. In contrast we have another Android tablet that takes forever to acquire our hidden SSID and my non-Fire Kindle has yet to acquire it without manually adding it afresh.

But the main reason for the tablet was my email and I was delighted that the stock email app was able to cope with both my work IMAP as well as my Gmail account.

I have not yet been able to test the battery life, for the simple reason that I have yet to charge it fully, not for lack of trying, but because it takes many hours to charge. This is an issue with USB charging. When buying my wife’s 10” tablet - a Zenithink ZTPAD ZT280 C91 - I was originally disappointed at the lack of USB charging, but now I see this as an advantage - as it will charge up fully in about an hour.

There’s no doubt that the Kindle Fire represents a compromise, but I have to say that this far I am very happy with the deal, the Fire is a very polished device for very little money and what it does it does extremely well. Would I have paid £129 though? I think I would have spent some more time looking at the Nexus before making that decision, but at £99 I am very pleased.

Update: I have managed to get Connectbot working thanks to this post.

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