I'm a big Amazon fan, and a Prime account is great when you live in the boonies. I've also become a big Kindle fan -- but I've just discovered that I'm only a fan of the old design: the amazing thin, light, black-and-white book-reader-only kindles.
I've held off on buying a tablet until now. I have a great desktop (fanless running Windows 7 and, inside Virtualbox, Unbuntu Linux) and a great laptop (Macbook), and it's getting more and more seamless to move back and forth between all the OSes with cloud stuff like Google Docs and VirtualBox. Why do I need yet another computer when I'm trying to save money? And waiting on computer purchases always gets you better, cheaper, faster.
The book I'm working on with Dianne Marsh began as an ebook-only project (we later decided that it's worth having a print version as well). That made me realize that I needed to start playing with ebooks, so I got a Kindle. As I've used it, I've gotten more and more attached to it. Just not having to deal with the weight of a book, hold a book open and (I suspect) compensate for the text curved over pages makes it a lot easier to read, and most people I've talked to say that they are reading more now because of it. Being able to carry your library with you is fantastic.
So when the Fire was announced, I was already primed. I really liked the Kindle experience, and here was a tablet computer for only $199! It seemed like it was time to take the leap.
This was my first tablet computer so I assumed I'd have to compensate and adapt. The 7" screen makes selecting and typing a hit-and-miss affair; perhaps younger and nimbler fingers were having a better time of it.
Then I tried transferring an AVI video file to the device. No go; it simply didn't see the file. Also, there's no way to add memory so even if video files did work I wouldn't be able to put very many of them in (I found one or two blogs that said you had to translate them into MP4 format first, but following those instructions produced no joy. Apparently you also need to use a tool that will translate them and create a special profile file before the Fire will recognize it but I never got that far).
Then a really big surprise. I've been creating a tool to memorize lines for an upcoming play, and it creates a .mobi file (the Kindle format) so I can upload it to the Kindle and use it to prompt myself. This has been terrifically useful, and it's also pushed me through the process of learning how to create this Kindle-specific format.
Or so I thought.
It turns out the Fire doesn't read .mobi format. This completely stuns me -- Amazon has invested so much in having their own format which goes against the apparently more powerful EPUB format that I can't see how they wouldn't have built-in support for it in the Fire. But sure enough, I uploaded my .mobi files to the "books" directory of the Fire and they didn't show up. I understand that there's probably some way to manage all this stuff and get what you want but it seems like an uphill battle.
The more I used the Fire, the more it felt like I was looking through the wrong end of a spyglass and all I could see was Amazon. I had read that the Fire is designed as a consumption device for Amazon products but I hadn't believed that they would go to so much trouble to hobble what should be a general purpose computer. This is an unfortunate sign for the company; it means that the people who are running it are salesmen and bean counters who are more concerned about what a product does for the company and its bottom line than what it actually does for the customer.
Still, I was determined to try to make a go of the Fire because its $199 price tag seemed to be a breakthrough for tablets and could motivate a lot of people to get one, so I should know about them.
Then I went to Costco. There, I saw a $189 Vizio Android tablet which was not only 8" (vs. 7" for the Fire) but also had things like a camera and expandable memory. So there went the price advantage. Next to it was a 10.1" Acer Iconia Tab A500 for $319, sporting the very latest Android as well as things like a GPS and front and back cameras. The size alone drove me to this one.
The feel between the Acer and the Fire is nothing short of totally different. From the first moment, the Acer feels like a real computer, one which is trying to enable you rather than restrict you.
There were some oddities, which I suspect are universal with Android devices. For example, there's no built-in file manager to copy files around and the like. A quick search led me to the most popular, Astro. Downloading and installation is easier than any desktop OS I've ever used. It looks like there are a lot of applications out there, predominantly free or very low cost, on the order of what you see in the Windows world.
If you want to manage files from a Windows machine, all you have to do is connect a USB cable, but for a Mac you must install the Android file transfer program.
If you use Google, Android devices are tuned to make the transition seamless. Although it was possible to connect to Gmail using the Fire, the full Android experience puts you right in touch with all your Google apps (such as contacts). When it's sleeping it even gives you little sound notifications when an email or calendar event happens.
Loading an AVI file was seamless; actually the ACER can accomodate standard USB dongles as well as micro USB and it even has an HDMI output for your TV. There's a switch that locks the orientation of the screen (very nice for watching movies in bed, and something the Kindle Fire sorely misses, or perhaps it's a setting I just didn't discover).
The Kindle reader application works very nicely, and something called "Lumibooks" came pre-installed, and although I have yet to discover the file system for either of them both apps claim you can download to them. There's also a Nook app that comes pre-installed, so buying an Android tablet allows you to read books and watch videos of any kind but buying a Fire makes it hard to do anything but interact with Amazon, while at the same time leaving out lots of other useful features like cameras and GPS and expansion memory.
The salesmen and bean counters must certainly feel like this is a triumph because the Fire feels like a funnel into Amazon. But it is a short-term, hollow victory and indicates a bad trend for Amazon.
Fortunately the company should get quick feedback when people start discovering that lower-cost competing products give them much more: A true computer rather than shackles. I can't imagine why anyone would want a Fire when they can buy a real Android instead. I only hope that programmers will not have to do anything in order for their Android apps to run on the Fire; that would be a real nail in the coffin.
I think ES File Explorer (EStrong) is a better file manager than Astro, unless Astro has been updated a lot in the past year.
Transferring files onto Android can be much easier than attaching a USB cable; ES File Explorer can browse SMB shares, FTP, and even Sugarsynca and Dropbox, to copy files to and from the device over wifi or the internet.
Nice writeup. I'm glad that my first foray into the Kindle world was with the new Kindle Touch. I was thinking of getting the Fire but was worried that its color display wouldn't be as sharp as their grayscale display.
For book reading the Touch is ok, but nothing to rave about. I'd still use the physical printed book if I had it and its Kindle version; maybe I'm old fashioned. But I can definitely see its advantages when traveling and being able to carry a bunch of books with me.
I was hoping that I could use the Kindle for web browsing but its screen is too small for that.
I wish the Kindle would implement a ragged right margin which should get rid of the uneven spacing between words.
Thanks for your review and feedback. I have been the proud owner of an Acer A500 since their release in Australia in May this year. I love it. The only drawback to date is that there is no screen capture software on it. I have been trying to get hold of a Kindle Fire to test as I use technology for Education purposes and making recommendations to teachers and academics. The only reason that I haven't trialled one yet as it is not currently available to ship to Australia. Your comments were certainly enlightening and I am now wondering whether to pursue this "new" hardware.
Bruce, you make some cogent points about Kindle shortcomings, but I think it supports .mobi format better than you suggest. I, too, was shocked when I loaded some .mobi books onto my Kindle Fire and they didn't show up.
Now, look in "Documents" folder! I bet you'll find them there. It turns out there is some distinguishing bit in the .mobi format that marks whether a file is a "book" or a "document" (or at least that's how the Kindle Fire appears to interpret it.)
I haven't found a .mobi bit flipper to alter flag yet, but I imagine one exists. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure the Kindle Fire supports .mobi fairly thoroughly - perhaps too thoroughly!
I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas - *.mobi files work fine for me.
I grabbed some IEEE journals and put them on the Fire with Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/). Computer society mags are available in e-book format from the IEEE digital library; I convert them to mobi w/ calibre.
Calibre recognized the Fire when it was attached. I simply clicked the journals I was interested in, and Calibre transfered them.
I was disappointed in the ease of reading (compared to the e-ink kindle). As an android device, the Fire seems crippled - it feels not like a utility/tool, but rather like a device designed to buy from Amazon with.
Bottom line: I'm returning mine too, partly because the "nicest" use of it I found was to watch netflix (comcast live broadcasts wouldn't work) - just not enough utility. Plus, it doesn't feel like it's "my" reader (more like it's "their" sales tool - kind of an icky feeling).
I'd rather pay more for either a full-functioning android tablet (if that were where I was going to go), or an iPad. But more than likely, I'll stick w/ the e-ink version and keep my macbook running for my other needs.