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Thursday
Jul182013

A late review - the Kindle Fire HD

NOTE: I originally wrote this about two weeks ago, after starting it a week after the tablet arrived. Loss of Internet, and a number of other distractions have stopped me publishing it until now. None of my thoughts on the product and services have changed in the interim.

About two weeks ago, I received my Kindle Fire HD 7 inch tablet.

I ordered it the moment I heard that it was available for pre-order in Australia. I ordered the 7inch because, as I already have an iPad, I didn't see the need for another 9 inch tablet.

As usual with ordering Kindles from Amazon, I wound up selecting the model I wanted from the Kindle page, only to be told I needed to go to the international page to order from outside the US. To date, I have not found any simple way to get to the international page without first trying to order the product from the home page. Perhaps Amazon could do something about this?

As usual, it recommended I buy some accessories. I bought the "leather" cover, which isn't really leather, and the suggested fast charger (not included with Kindle). These, of course turned up a week before the device itself, and, as I suspected, the fast charger (not included) I bought with my Kindle Fire HD International for delivery to Australia, was a US adapter. Luckily I already have a large number of Kindle chargers, not to mention Apple chargers that can be used with the included USB cable.

On the whole, the Kindle Fire HD is a nice tablet. It's good for reading e-books on, as you might expect, and it generally works well. It has a much easier time of downloading my Audible books than the Audible app on my iPhone does, but I'm not entirely sure about using it as an audio device. For video it's fine, although the lack of a native YouTube app is frustrating.

As part of the deal, Amazon includes a free month of Amazon Prime. They've been trying to lure me into Prime for some time, and now I didn't really have any excuse. Amazon Prime gives me access to their streaming video library, none of which is available in my geographic location. It gives me access to the Kindle Lending Library, which isn't available in my geographic location. And, of course, free two day shipping, not available in my geographic location. So, pretty much, a complete waste of time. But it is free.

Another feature I was looking forward to trying was Whispersynch for Voice, which not only synchronises your Audible content across devices, but also with compatible Kindle books across devices, and, on the Kindle Fire, offers "immersive reading" where it plays the "narration" (or Audible audiobook) while simultaneously highlighting the text in the Kindle version. The synchronised narration and text highlighting works, mostly (I had some issues where it lost track, and the playback control has to be manually hidden if you want to read the bottom of the page), but in general I found I read much faster than the reader did. This isn't terribly unusual, since the reader is aiming for clear diction, and I'm not the target audience for the feature, but it was interesting to watch.

The synching across devices I am still yet to check, since it has taken me this far to find WhisperSynch for Voice compatible material where both the Kindle and Audible components were available in this market.

The chief issue with the Kindle Fire, though, is the availability of apps. Finding apps is a nuisance. The Amazon store has a number of the more popular apps, but, again, random ones are blocked geographically. For example, the Comixology app is in the Amazon store, but not available in Australia.

Other apps aren't in the store, like the Zinio magazine reader, but can be side loaded (if you turn on the control that allows it).

The main problem, is that it doesn't have the Google Play store. Of course, Amazon don't want you to use the Google Play store, but Google does have many more apps, and several that I would find useful.

It must also be said that Google isn't doing me any favours here, either. Trying to load apps from the Google Play web page gets an error because I should be using the Google Play app, which I can't load because it's only available from the Google Play store... (There are a number of ways around this, but doing it without rooting the device, and thus voiding the warranty, is proving less than successful. Loading the Google Framework and Google Play store works, but they haven't been very reliable. More research needed.)

In summary, I like the device. It's a neat tablet. It rivals my Paperwhite as an e-reader, and it's better for reading graphic novels - the screen is gorgeous - but the way Kindle packages them makes me desperately want Comixology on it. The sound quality is also good, although I'm not sure what the point of Dolby Stereo speakers on something that small are. Having it for output makes sense, but then again, who is going to plug this into their stereo?

The shortfalls are largely due to Amazon's business. Amazon Prime is not a selling point outside countries where it's supported. The difficulty in side loading apps, or even accessing a major App Store other than Amazon's, is frustrating. The fact that Amazon suggested a fast charger that didn't match the location I was ordering from is just puzzling.

Since mine arrived, they've started showing up in Dick Smith Electronics, who partner with Amazon to sell Kindles in Australia. The pricing seems more comparable with, although still higher than, ordering directly from Amazon (and, of course, you get it straight away). Whether you should, is another matter. If you don't already have a Kindle, or want to upgrade, it's worth considering. If you do, but you want an Android tablet to complement it (and your iPad, should you have one) then you might be better off buying a Nexus 7 instead, although you won't get all of the Amazon/Audible features available. If you're outside the US, there's a good chance you won't get all of them, anyway.

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