By Jennifer Williams, Contributor, US Daily Review.
I have spent the past week, in between baking three cheesecakes and Thanksgiving dinner, playing with my new gadget, the Kindle Fire. I have spent a year looking at tablets, trying to decide which one would work for me. I like my gadgets but I’m not obsessed by them. Tablets are wonderful tools and I spent my summer looking over the shoulders of friends and strangers, asking the pros and cons of their tablets. Although most of my work is still done on a desktop or laptop, I needed something that was more portable for my presentations and travel. But the tablets were long on price and short on practicality. Until now…I originally ordered a new Kindle Touch and then changed my mind. I’ll tell you why.
We all agree that the iPad is the ultimate tablet. I won’t go into details – go find out for yourself if you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years. But at $499 for the entry level tablet, it is out of my price range. So I decided to bide my time and wait on the second version of the Playbook since I own a Crackberry…I mean Blackberry smart phone. You can tether the Playbook to your Blackberry and use your unlimited data plan. I do love that idea – no additional data plan! But there were issues with the first version and Blackberry, due to loss of market share, backed off a second release. So when I saw the Kindle Fire, I began to read the early buzz. When I considered that I had been looking for a basic tablet that would not require an additional data plan, that was portable and easy to use, and that didn’t require a foregoing a mortgage payment to buy, I changed my mind and pre-ordered the Kindle Fire.
My streamlined black tablet is a little heavy but more than manageable. I can hold it in my hand and hold it up for anyone to view easily. The view rotates nicely and it is sharp and clean. I also bought a stylus to tap rather than my fingers to avoid prints on the screen. You can purchase thin protective covers – I did buy a two pack from Marware but they were not crystal clear and gave the screen a pixelated look so I ditched them. I would suggest a cover of some kind and Marware has a nice selection. The stylus allows me to tap nicely. I have used it to type. The keyboard is easier to use in landscape mode since the keyboard is wider. I had no trouble typing but I had to type a little slower to avoid typing errors. However, it still works quite well.
The Kindle Fire uses Android – there are some issues with the Android operating system, just as if you had an Android phone. There are frequent force closes that plagues any Android operating system but for the most part, I have able to run Android apps without any trouble. You can download apps from Amazon but there are several preloaded apps such as Facebook to get you started. Since I do not have an Android account, I do not know if I can download them from the Android website but I’m sure it would work. I have downloaded and used the Weather Channel, Pandora, and Documents To Go apps, among others, without much trouble. And yes, I do have Angry Birds.
You also get a month of Amazon Prime and that gives you access to movies and television show for free and you have the option to continue the membership. I watched a movie today and it streamed perfectly fine without stuttering or shutting down. I also downloaded the Pandora app to listen to my radio stations while making Thanksgiving dinner. I cruised the web as well and there was no problem with functionality or speed while streaming music. And, of course, I have Kindle on my Fire. I have nearly a couple dozen books. I will order more but, for now, I’m busy with other projects and will catch up with my reading over Christmas. Also with the Amazon Prime membership is the ability to check out books for free from Amazon rather than buy them. If you want to browse through a cookbook and try a recipe or two before buying or check the content of a book that your child would like to own, this is a handy feature.
I uploaded music, documents and photographs over the weekend and the clarity is lovely. I can open Power Presentations and flip through the slides easily. I can edit Excel documents with Documents To Go and save them, then download them. If I used Dropbox or another file sharing service, I could upload and share them. I have used Google Docs for some work-related spreadsheets without a problem. I have a good chunk of my music collection on the Fire and the two small speakers are surprisingly good. But I usually use my headphones, much like I do with my laptop. Instead of always breaking into the laptop, I can go to my Kindle Fire and do almost everything on my laptop. But it will not replace my laptop…nor will it replace an iPad or Xoom. Because you don’t have a data plan, you will need a wi-fi hotspot to use many of the features. That usually is not a problem these days but you will need to find a hotspot. Even in my summer home of Juneau, Alaska, there are a multitude of hotspots available. This might be a limitation for some folks. It does not come with an SD slot or USB port but you can use any mini USB cable to tether to your desktop or laptop to upload or download music, photographs and files. There are 6G of storage available and that is more than plenty for what I do.
There are some issues to consider. The web browser is a little slow; however, it is mere seconds and it not noticeable unless you pair it next to an iPad to compare speed. Even then, the lag is a couple of seconds. On occasion, it takes more than one tap of the home or any button for the system to move and until you learn to navigate, the home button may be hard to find. Some reviewers do not like that there is no external volume control but that’s not an issue for me – a tap will take me to the volume control safely tucked so I don’t accidentally crank the volume while wearing headphones. I have done that with my Walkman and my Blackberry phone, just trying to get them out of my pocket. There is some visual clutter on the front page when you open up the Fire – the last few apps you used, the last book you were reading, the last web page you looked at. It can be distracting. Some folks have reported issues with downloaded magazine subscriptions that may need to be downloaded more than once and some kinks still need to be worked out in transferring print subscriptions to electronic subscriptions.
Overall, I am happy with my Kindle Fire. No, it is not an iPad. But it does what I need in a cost effective way and I use it daily. And I have money left over in case I want that iPhone. It may not be for everyone but if you want a nice basic tablet without the huge price, you might want to look into the Kindle Fire.
Jennifer Williams is adjunct faculty in American History at Ashland (OH) University and the American Public University System. She is also the teaching chef for the New Day Family Resource Center in Sandusky, Ohio. Her interests are photography and curling. She lives with her family in Norwalk, Ohio.