December 22, 2012

A quick review of the US Kindle Fire 8.9" tablet

I bought myself a Kindle Fire a while back. I only got to see it recently; I live in Japan and we only have the Kindle Fire 7" over there. I had it delivered to my sister's place in California, and have been playing around with it for about a week while I've been here on vacation.

I bought a cheap case for it (about $20?) and the case is great too. I have an android phone, so was curious how the Amazon UI experience compared. The choice was down to this or a Google Nexus 10". I actually think I would prefer the nexus, but I wanted to see how the Amazon experience measured up, and anyway my phone (a new LG Optimus G) is a new phone with a pretty powerful setup and should be a good indicator of the stock Android experience. So I picked up the wifi only 32GB (I do wish it had SD expansion if only because I could not worry about filling it up) version.

There are three main things that I want to do with a tablet:

  1. Check my email. Note that this almost positively involves writing email in Japanese.
  2. Browse the web
  3. Keep up on my RSS feeds, which I currently do with Google Reader
  4. (Optional) Play some games
  5. (Optional) Keep up with FaceBook. Note that this almost positively involves writing in Japanese.
  6. (Optional) Video chat with family
  7. (Optional) Play around with programming this thing
So how does it hold up on those fronts? For checking email it is great. I don't know what the email app is that it uses but it works great when I set up an IMAP connection to my personal mail server. It also works well with the web-based Gmail page. Of course, Google Play is not on the tablet and you don't have access to the Google apps. Normally. The email is great though. I have no problem with it (except that maybe it looks like if I have multiple devices on the same IMAP account, I can't force a sync so the local changes on the tablet might not be reflected on the other devices.)

Web browsing: great so far. Except I have now way to change the font size. Sometimes you can use pinch to zoom and it will zoom in on the web page (scaling it up.) Sometimes pinch to zoom will increase the font size. Sometimes it does nothing. Otherwise, web browsing on the tablet has been great, and much better than on my phone. The screen display is gorgeous, it has a HD 1920x10yy panel (I don't really remember off the top of my head, but it looks great.) The web pages load quickly over wifi, it scrolls well, and hasn't really had many problems with any web pages. There is no flash support, which is a good thing from my point of view. I haven't wanted to install flash yet, but there are ways to sideload it as far as I can tell.

Keeping up with RSS feeds has been great too using the Google Reader webpage. I do have two minor niggles with that: it should just load all available stories automatically (I have to periodically tell it to load more -- same with Gmail) and I wish it would say how many stories are left. Also, when I long press on a link to open it in a new tab, every once in a while (after opening up lots of tabs) it will open the link in the main tab I am in. I think that is intentional, they probably limit the number of open tabs.

The one major problem is that I can't write Japanese on this thing! I finally fixed that today. I spent a lot of time reading things about this and that, but in the end the approach I took was this:

  1. Backup the Japanese keyboard (that I like, not the default one) from my phone. I have one keyboard that I like, Jellybean keyboard. I needed to back that, and its Japanese dictionary up. I was able to back them up using File Expert, which has an option to save the APK files for apps that you have installed on your phone to the internal memory. Since I don't have access to the Android App store I used the 1mobile appstore file expert download. Note that you need to enable loading 3rd party apps in the Kindle, which is buried somewhere in the preferences but that isn't too hard to do.
  2. Hook up the phone to my computer and copy the backed up APK files to my computer.
  3. Hook up the tablet to the computer and copy the APK files over with the now installed 1mobile File Expert app.
  4. Run File Explorer, locate where I copied the apps, and run them. Run the Jellybean Keyboard app and it pulls up preferences that let you select the language to use. It looks like actually just installing the Jellybean keyboard would have worked, but I need the Japanese dictionary to type Japanese. For some reason, the keyboard itself could not download the dictionary, so it is good that I copied it over.
  5. Hey, Japanese works!!
So now I just have to focus on the other things. I did buy CinePlayer, which plays movies fine (I copied some over to the tablet.) I usually use VXPlayer, but that crashes after a few seconds, consistently, so I needed to pay all of $2 for the CinePlayer app. It works well. I also bought a Humble Bundle a while back that has a lot of Android games. I haven't had time to play any of them yet.

The FaceBook app is broken in a strange way: the first 10 entries or so work, but after that everything is just text and looks like there is no CSS formatting. No pictures. And you can't update it. I've reported that to FaceBook (as have others) but luckily the mobile version of FaceBook in the browser works very well. There are some problems there (sometimes pictures are too large and run off the screen?) but it works well enough. Time should help there.

The speakers on this thing are great. They are loud. I fired up Amazon's cloud player and have a bunch of music in there, even though I haven't ever used it before. Previous purchases just ended up there. Neat.

I haven't looked at video chat, but it does have a front facing camera. I haven't looked at programming either, but it should be possible.

Overall, I'm really satisfied! We have an ipad mini in the house too, and I prefer the Kindle Fire 8.9" to that, and it was cheaper to boot.



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