December 29, 2011

Kindle Fire

Tied for coolest gift I got this year is the Kindle Fire my wife bought me.  I won't say what the Kindle Fire tied with since most would probably disagree with me.

I won't go into a full-depth review on the device.  There are plenty of other review out there and frankly, after a few days I've barely turned the thing on.  Oh, I've been playing with it, but at least for me the Kindle Fire isn't good-to-go right out of the box.

Sure, like any new electronic toy you have to plug it in and let it charge.  That was done while we went to the movies.  Getting home I did the obligatory registering of the device.  Once that was complete I basically had a blank tablet.  All that was on the device was a single user's guide and links to four websites.

Now I have a lot of digital content....on my laptop.  Getting it on the Kindle Fire required some work.  Some of my downloaded books were purchased through Barnes & Noble for my Nook, so I was just SOL for getting them on my Kindle.  When you buy a book, you should have access to said book.  This DRM crap is a PITA.  I do have a bunch of PDFs and a couple hundred epubs.  I'll generally skip transferring the PDFs for now since they are freakin huge and there is only so much room on the Kindle Fire.  I haven't payed around with the cloud storage yet, so I'm concentrating on just what I'll keep on the device for now.

Skipping the DRM books and the PDFs that leaves me with 184 ebooks.  I attach my cell phone cable to the Kindle Fire, which doesn't come with its own cable.  Seriously, why don't you have your own cable.  There are people who are going to want to use this that don't have wireless connections everywhere they go.  I transfer the books to the device and then.....nothing.  The Kindle Fire doesn't read epubs like the Nook did.


Seriously awesome program (and free)
Fortunately for me, I was using Calibre to manage my electronic books.  After a quick update, it was capable of talking to my new gadget.   Calibre  also is capable of converting all of the epub files to mobi files that the Kindle Fire can understand.  The process took around 30 minutes, but I wasn't quite ready to do the conversion yet.  I had a lot of prep work to do first.

When going through my files I noticed that a lot of my books didn't have covers.   Calibre  simply places a rather ugly generic ebook reader clipart as a stand-in for any missing book covers.  With the Nook, this wasn't an issue because all of the titles were listed as text, like a table of contents.  The Kindle Fire displays all the titles graphically.  This means that over half my collection would be depicted as this ugly clipart.  I went and looked up a cover for every book missing one and manipulated it in Photoshop to get an appropriate size and then saved it as the cover.jpg in the appropriate file.  This took a while.

Did I mention how awesome Calibre is?
Once that was all done I had  Calibre  transfer the files.  For some reason they all went to the Kindle's "documents" folder, so I had to manually move them to the "books" folder.  It took some time for the  Kindle Fire to see the books and a bit more for it to show me all the covers.

This gets me to my second gripe (the first being DRM and file formats): there is no way to organize your files the way you want them.  I'd love to be able to organize my books into collections.  If the Kindle Fire is going to organize everything graphically, then I should have a way to graphically sort the books.  All I have is the default selections of "By Author", "By Recent", and "By Title", with distinctions being made between books on the device locally or on the cloud drive.

I put on some PDFs and they look atrocious on the Kindle Fire.  Instead of giving me a thumbnail of the cover/first page of the PDF, all I get is an obnoxious white box with the PDF title in the middle.  Ugh.

I was able to "sideload" some music on today.  All I did was copy the album folders of MP3s over to the Kindle Fire.  That was easy enough.  The device was able to fish out that the albums were from two different groups, Bowling for Soup and Dropkick Murphys.  Sorting by artist and album worked pretty cleanly.  The only issues I had with the ten albums is that three of them don't show the cover art.  Looking at the Amazon store, they have the appropriate art for the albums there, so I don't know what gives.

Sound on the Kindle Fire is decent enough.  It is better than my Toshiba Thrive, about on par with my Galaxy S II, and worse than my laptop (though to be fair, my laptop's JBL speakers rock).  There are no volume buttons on the device, which means I have to control volume through software.  We'll see how that works out, but it ok for now.

Watching videos is a bit of a PITA, unless you buy and download the video from Amazon.  The Video section of the Kindle Fire only shows videos you've purchased from Amazon.  I was about to say "fuck it" and get my wife to return the unit because without video I'd rather just stick with my Thrive or get an iPad.  After searching the Amazon "help" section I was able to determine that you could view side-loaded videos through the Gallery App.  It's a very clunky way of doing things.  The Gallery App is really for browsing pictures.  Any MP4 videos you have on the device show up there, but good luck trying to figure out which is which because it only shows a screen shot and a date.  In the case of multiple music videos from a single band, it is a crap shoot on which on you open up.

The video looks pretty good on the device though, but watching anything in landscape orientation is less than optimal because the speakers easily get covered by your hand if you hold the device.  That really should have been thought out better.  If you cup the one hand though, it almost acts like a amplifier, which is interesting.

Overall though, I like the form factor.  Laying somewhere between the phone and a larger tablet/laptop, I can see this fitting a good niche.  It is a good device, but could be a great one with some software tweaks.

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