The Geek’s Guide to the Kindle Fire

Trust me.  This is the only Kindle Fire review you need to read.  Why?  Because if there’s one thing I understand, it’s how to use technology to enhance your life.  To be clear, I’m not a techno-geek.  I don’t know how anything actually works (nor do I care).  I’m a geek who uses technology to, well, enhance my geekiness.

Before I begin, let’s put the Kindle Fire in context.  The Fire was designed for a particular purpose and it has to be evaluated in light of that purpose.  The question is not, “How good is the Kindle Fire?” but instead, “How well does the Kindle do what it’s designed to do?”  For me, that means it has to fit within my technology plan.

And what is that plan?  I’m glad you asked.

I’m a gamer/reader/lawyer/blogger/(very) frequent traveler, so I need the following:

1.  The gaming machine.  When I say that I’m a gamer, I’m not joking.  I’ve invested seven full years of my life in the greatest video game ever spawned by the mind of man, and with a new expansion coming I have no intention of slowing down.  When dragons threaten Azeroth, I need to put them down with a machine that combines SKYNET’s power with IMAX graphics.  My solution?  A 27 inch iMac with 8 gigs of RAM (soon to be expanded to 16 gigs in time for Diablo III).

2.  The work machine.  I need power and portability.  I haven’t traveled less than 100 days per years since 2006, so I need to edit briefs, draft blogs, write emails, and create manuscripts in airplanes, in terminals, in hotel rooms, on trains, and occasionally in the office.  There is no better portable writing platform than the new 11 inch MacBook Air.  I’ve got 4 gigs of RAM, 128 gigs on the hard drive and enough graphics to log into the World of Warcraft when my guild calls.

3.  The smartphone.  iPhone 4S.  If you need me to explain this, you need help.

So what’s missing?  Ahh yes, the tablet.  I used to think the iPad was the answer.  And for a while it was, kinda.  Before my Macbook Air, the iPad was my travel machine, a small and light tablet that could — in a pinch — serve as a replacement to the laptop.  But the MacBook Air is virtually as small and light and vastly more capable.  So then as I traveled, my iPad became, well, a big Kindle.  I read my books, checked email, and occasionally caught up on the latest episode of Walking Dead.  But the Kindle app interface was a bit awkward (migrating to and from the Kindle store was hardly seamless), it was tough to read while sipping coffee, and ever since iOS 5, the darn thing has run a bit slow.  In other words, I woke up one morning to the startling revelation that my former pride and joy, my iPad 3G, just wasn’t working for me.  It wasn’t cool (everyone has one, so how can it be cool?), it was a bad laptop, and a bulky Kindle.

So, if what I really need is a good Kindle, I took the next revolutionary step and . . . actually bought a Kindle.  The bottom line?  I’m impressed.  Amazon has learned the right lessons from Apple.  Make it simple — and the Kindle interface is ridiculously easy and access to the store is every bit as convenient as iTunes — make it work, and make it stylish.  My oldest daughter, who had made fun of my decision to abandon my iPad, took one look at my new Fire, and snatched it right out of my hands.  She’s reading Hunger Games, I’m reading Zone One, and I think we need a second Fire.

It’s small, but it feels solid.  It’s not metal like the iPad, but its combination of glass front and rubberized back feel substantial, and it looks sleek.  The actual visuals aren’t too busy (the downfall of many a Droid device), and the rolodex-style touchscreen is extremely easy to use.  It lasts just as long as the iPad and seems to charge many times faster, so it smashes my iPad on total uptime.

I’ve been Amazon Prime since launch and for the dedicated Amazon customer the Kindle Fire is an outstanding entertainment delivery device.  As I said, the store interface works well, and the small size makes it an afterthought to pack and hold.  The bliss of reading my book with one hand while sipping my coffee is now routine, and the display screen allows AMC’s zombies to come to . . . umm . . . life in all their gory glory.   And while I’m reading or watching, I can easily pop over to my email or surf the web.

Yes, it’s got droid apps, and droid apps are second-rate, but who cares?  I’ve got an iPhone 4S so my core apps are located within its cavernous 64 gig memory.  No,  the Fire doesn’t have 3G.  But again, who cares?  My iPhone is a hotspot.  The Kindle Fire drops perfectly into its niche.  It’s everything a Kindle should be — an entertainment delivery device more portable than the iPad, linked to better reading and video content than iTunes and iBooks, and — at least for a shining moment this holiday season — actually cooler and more of a conversation starter than any Apple product.

I got my Fire last Friday and even as I opened it a small crowd gathered.  I was first with a Fire, and I basked in the glory and adulation as I passed the small tablet from person to person.

“Very cool,” said one of our young radio producers.

I smiled, slid it into its graphite case, and replied, “Yes, it is indeed.”

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  • I’m no Apple hater, I even have a Mac Mini, but Droid apps are better. My wife prefers my X to her iPhone.

  • “Yes, it’s got droid apps, and droid apps are second-rate, but who cares?” Your review made sense until this point, but you lost me with what appears to be a gratuitous stab Android.

    After talking about how the iOS version of the Kindle app was not well integrated, you move on to explain that the Fire gets it right.

    I’m struggling with the inconsistencies.

  • Sorry, should be “stab at Android” in the previous comment. I wasn’t able to preview the comment properly on my PowerBook G4. 🙂

  • Kevin

    I’m a longtime iPad 3G owner, and I decided to try the Kindle Fire myself. A couple reasons. Gave me an inexpensive Android platform to check it out. A smaller form factor for reading (such as in bed). For that, its size beats the iPad in my opinion.

    I could have tried one of the 7″ Android tablets, but I didn’t for a couple reasons. One, they tended to be $300 and up. Also, many of the inexpensive Android tablets didn’t look like current models with long term support from the manufacturer. Likely the vendor would let them lapse in support, with no new versions of the OS coming out. I figure that Amazon will attempt to keep the Fire updated for a couple years since they have more invested in the platform past just selling new versions.

    The down side? I’ve purchased 1 book and “borrowed” another book from Amazon. In one case, the book showed up, but I couldn’t download it. Kept on trying. Then, when I didn’t look, the Kindle rebooted itself, and it downloaded. In another case, I bought a book on Amazon’s website and told it to send to my Kindle. It would NOT appear even though I was connected via wifi. I rebooted the Kindle, then it showed up and downloaded.

    The other issue I didn’t expected was the absence of the Google Maps app. Which meant that the weather channel app wouldn’t show a radar map like the iPad does.

    I knew of the other limitations ahead of time (no GPS, no camera), 8GB of RAM. But those don’t bother me as much since I have the iPad and iPhone to hold music, photos, etc.

  • David French

    Yes Michael, it was a completely gratuitous and unmerited stab at Android. But if I’m going to remain a credible Apple owner, I have to maintain some street cred. After all, if one is a Crip and buys a product from the Bloods, how does one stay in the club?

  • David French

    Interesting. Mine has functioned flawlessly through many book purchases and app downloads.

  • Chuck Currie

    How is it outdoors in sunlight? I like reading out on the patio or on the beach. My iPhone is passable, but not my netbook or my wife’s iPad 2.

  • David French

    I haven’t tried it yet. We literally haven’t had a sunny day since I got the Fire.

  • Chuck Currie

    Well that’s a bummer. Wishing you sunny days ahead, and an opportunity to give your Fire a spin in the great outdoors. Let us know how it goes when you do. Thanks…