Amazon’s New Kindle Fire (Guest Post)

I recently won a free Kindle Fire at a librarian conference, so my Lister Hill Library colleagues asked me to write up a short review based on my experience using it. So here goes!

Navigating the Fire

The home screen on the Fire displays a bookshelf-type layout. On the top half of the screen, you see the last five or so previously-viewed books, apps, videos, webpages, etc. in a “stack” that you can flip through with a swipe of your finger. A little swipe goes a long way, though; the hypersensitivity of the flip-through feature can be frustrating until you get used to it.

You can store your favorite content on the bottom half of the home screen. A search box is provided at the top; from here you can search either your device or the Web.

Fire Image 1

The seven main content areas – Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web (Silk browser) – are listed along the top. Each of these categories (except Web) takes you to a screen where you can view and access the specific books, videos, documents, etc. on your device as well as those saved in Amazon’s cloud storage. You can also easily access the Amazon Store in the top right corner of each of these content pages, which makes adding new content to your Fire very easy. Here is a shot of what you see when you click on “Books” from the home screen.

Fire Image 2

Amazon Prime Membership

I think to really enjoy the Kindle Fire, you must purchase an Amazon Prime membership. With Prime, you get “free” (once you pay the $79/year membership fee) streaming access to thousands of movies and TV shows and can choose from thousands of books to borrow from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (although, just one book per month). Amazon touts one free month of Prime membership with your new Fire. However, I was unable to access any of the Prime content for free; it kept prompting me to sign up for Prime Membership. I was disappointed to discover that I was ineligible for the free Prime membership that comes with the Fire because I had signed up for a one-month free trial of Prime within the past year. I held out for a few days after getting my Fire to see if I thought I could still enjoy my Fire without a Prime membership. I’ve since caved and signed up for Prime and am enjoying my Fire so much more. So just go ahead and translate the cost of a Fire to $280 because you will probably want to add Prime membership if you don’t already have it.

Pros & Cons

There are several things I immediately liked about the Fire:

  • The Web browsing capability is much better than I thought it would be. I anticipated having access to the Web – but not really. Like my Kindle Keyboard or first-generation smart phones that were more infuriating than useful for web browsing. Maybe my expectations were too low, but I was pleasantly surprised to hop on the Web and navigate with relative ease.
  • The image and video quality seems quite good. iPad users may beg to differ, but I think the average person would be very pleased with the bright, clear display.
  • My Fire automatically recognized that I own another Kindle. In the top left it says, “Susan’s 2nd kindle.”
  • Despite the limitation of only being able to borrow one book a month through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, one of the great things about this service is that for any book you borrow and return, your Fire automatically saves the last page you were on and your notes/highlights. So if you decide to borrow it later or even purchase it, you can pick right back up where you left off.
  • You can zoom in with two fingers on the Fire just as you do on an iPhone or iPad.
  • The Fire’s screen automatically rotates when you turn the device. I like that it turns 360 degrees, unlike my iPhone.
  • The Fire has a native email app that makes setting up your various webmail accounts a snap. My only complaint is that the native app does not support Microsoft Outlook Exchange. (See the fifth bullet point below.)
  • You can easily copy and paste text just as you do with an iPhone or iPad.
  • Lastly, I love that Amazon has finally partnered with public libraries to offer Kindle e-books! (For example, the Jefferson County Library Cooperative site now has Kindle-friendly e-books.) This is great news for any Kindle device owner, not just Fire owners, but I thought it was worth mentioning with my other pros for the Fire.

Of course, there are some things I’m not crazy about with the Fire:

  • The Amazon AppStore is sparse. I looked for a few of my favorite apps (productivity and shopping type apps among others), didn’t find them, and have quit looking. If you’re a gamer (which I am not), you would likely have a different take on the Fire’s app situation.
  • For extended periods of reading, I still prefer my Kindle Keyboard and E-Ink. The Fire’s LCD screen is like reading from a computer screen and makes my eyes tired after a while.
  • I wish the free Prime videos and music could be saved to the device for viewing while not connected to a WiFi network. But then, this would quickly eat up the 8GB of storage space on the Fire. The “free” stuff for Prime members seems to be mostly streaming.
  • Quirky web browsing. Even though Web browsing is better than I expected, it still has its issues. For many sites, neither the mobile nor full desktop versions look right on the Fire due to its unique 7-inch screen size. Scrolling and clicking can be jerky and sometimes unresponsive to touch.
  • I use Outlook Exchange for work email. While I can set up Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. through the Fire’s native email app, I had to get a separate (free) app to be able to check work email. This isn’t a huge deal, but it would be nice to be able to check all email accounts through a single email app.
  • There is no external volume control. This has been very aggravating.
  • The location of the power button is problematic. The button is on the bottom of the device, and I keep accidentally pressing it and turning my Fire to sleep mode or off.
  • I haven’t subscribed to any magazines or newspapers via my Fire, because many reviews say the Newsstand experience is not pleasant. I’m not willing to pay for content that’s just going to frustrate me. It will be interesting to see how/if Amazon addresses the numerous complaints about Newsstand content.

Using the Fire for Research

I haven’t had any luck viewing Lister Hill Library e-books on the Fire, which isn’t surprising since most of our e-book providers aren’t producing Kindle-friendly content yet.  However, I thought searching the LHL catalog and databases like PubMed and CINAHL worked fairly well. The Article Linker button appears and works as it does on a computer. To open a PDF you must get a PDF viewer app from the Amazon AppStore (I use Adobe Reader) and tell the Silk browser to open the PDF file with that app.

Another way you can get documents on your Kindle is by emailing them as attachments (depending on file size and whether the file-type is supported) to your Fire’s “Send to Kindle” email address (e.g., [name]@kindle.com). I had success with this for an 80 KB PDF file and 35 KB Word file. It worked fine except that it took a while to appear on my Fire. When I tried to send a larger PDF article (120 KB) this way, it never made it. But when I logged into my Kindle Library on the Amazon site from a computer and re-sent the PDF to my Fire from there, it worked well. It converted it to a Kindle-friendly format so that I could take advantage of highlighting, note-taking, etc.

Fire Image 3

There are many other Fire reviews out there. Here are a couple I found especially helpful:

Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Tablet: An In-Depth Review (AppleInsider)

Kindle Fire: the Good, the Bad & the Indifferent [Meta Review] (Mashable)

Despite the cons mentioned above, I still think the Kindle Fire is fun and useful – especially for entertainment purposes. For anyone not wanting to spend $500 for an iPad, I think this is a great alternative.

6 comments

  1. Javier says:

    Thanks for this review and thanks to Gabe for posting it on his google+ page.

  2. molly k says:

    thanks to lin wu for the heads up on this – we cross posted https://www.lsuhsc.edu/no/library/news/?p=4872

  3. Avram Lyon says:

    The blog has also covered Zandy (http://www.lhl.uab.edu/tech/?p=532), which is also in the Amazon App Store. Did you get a chance to try it out on the Kindle Fire? I’m the developer of the app, and I’m very interested in making it work well on things like the Kindle Fire, so your feedback would be much appreciated.

    • Susan says:

      Avram, unfortunately, I haven’t tried Zandy on the Fire yet. If I do, though, I will let you know how it goes! Thanks for commenting.

  4. Jean Siebert says:

    You can decrease the brightness of your kindle in settings under display. I had the same problem as you did until I did this.

    “For extended periods of reading, I still prefer my Kindle Keyboard and E-Ink. The Fire’s LCD screen is like reading from a computer screen and makes my eyes tired after a while”

  5. Jon says:

    As you mentioned at the bottom of your post, there are plenty of reviews online. With that being said, I’m glad I found this one. I’ve been thinknig about upgrading to a Fire and really found your Pros/Cons helpful.

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