Saturday, December 10, 2011

TECH REVIEW: 5 Things I love about the Amazon Kindle Fire + stylish Venture Case by Case-mate

The Amazon Fire serves up Amazon books and movies well on this affordable android tablet...

Over the last 1 1/2 years, I have had the opportunity to review lots of tech products on this blog. So of course, I had to do a review of the newest technology gadget for the 2011 Holiday Shopping season: The Amazon Kindle Fire.

I have wanted a Kindle for sometime now because I enjoy reading Kindle books and wanted to read them on a bigger screen than on my smartphone.  So when the Amazon Kindle Fire debuted at the unbelievable price of only $199, I was as excited as everyone else about the possibility of not only getting a great eReader, but also playing games and movies on Amazon's first tablet version of the Kindle.

I have been using my Kindle Fire now for a few weeks to find out both the good and the not so good.  So, here is a list of the things that I love about the Kindle Fire and the things that Amazon should improve on to make the Kindle Fire an even better product.

Here's 5 of my favorite things...

1. The Size (Perfect!)
The Kindle Fire weights 14.6 oz and it just a pleasure to hold and carry in my purse. I have been reading most of my Kindle book collection on my HTC Thunderbolt's 4.3" screen, so it is a real pleasure to now read my eBooks on a 7" inch screen. At 7.5" x 4.7" x 0.45" , the Kindle Fire is the size of most paperback books. While the Kindle Fire is heavier than the typical Kindle, the weight is not a burden. I have reviewed other 7" tablets (Samsung Galaxy Tab, HTC Flyer) and they just don't give me that feeling like I am holding a book. Amazon hit it out of the park on the size and weight of the Kindle Fire.

2. Sideloading (My Fire now reads Nook, eReader, and Kobo ebooks)
Amazon left the door open to allow you to install apps that are not available in the Amazon Android App Store. Through a process called "Sideloading", you install a sideloading app like GetJar and then use it to install Android applications. You can also use the browser to go to websites (like to download Android apps or use a file manager app (like Astro or File Expert) to backup apps on your smartphone and install the backups on your Kindle Fire.

I have been able to sideload the Nook reader app, the app, and the Kobo reader app. So now I can read any of these eBook formats on my Kindle Fire. There is no need for me to buy a Nook reader and a Kobo reader since you can have them all on the Kindle Fire. Sweet!  I was also able to sideload the Comcast Xfinity Email app so that I can check my Comcast email.

3. Magazines (Wonderful!)
Amazon has optimized certain magazines to run on the Kindle Fire and is giving everyone that buys the Kindle Fire two months of FREE subscriptions to these magazines. I downloaded both Glamour and Conde Nast Traveler and they were both a pleasure to read on the Kindle Fire. The content magazine pages are optimized for the best reading experience through scrolling bars (both up and down and left and right). This optimization means your eyes never have to read small fonts and you get all the content without widening and minimizing the content on the screen.  Totally awesome!

4. The price
Amazon really knew how to get cheap frugal people like me interested in buying the Kindle Fire.  At $199, it is $50 cheaper than the B&N Nook Tablet and only about $30 more expensive than the other popular Kindle eReaders.  And for only $199, you get a color eReader that is also an android tablet that you can use to play games, watch movies, and check email.

5. One FREE Month of Amazon Prime
When you activate your new Kindle Fire, Amazon automatically gives you a FREE month of Amazon Prime. This $78 a year service gives you access to hundreds of movies and TV shows for FREE.  Amazon just announced yesterday an extended licensing agreement with Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution that will bring the popular FOX and FX television shows, Glee and Sons of Anarchy, to Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service.

And 5 things that Amazon needs to change...

1. The Volume Button (Where is it?)
There is only one button on the Kindle Fire and that is to turn the device on and off. I just did not believe at first that the Kindle Fire, which is being billed as an entertainment tablet, did not have a volume button.

So how does one adjust the sound? When playing MP3's on the device or in the Amazon cloud or watching content from the Amazon Video on Demand store, you touch the screen and a volume slider will appear. But that only happens with Amazon content. When I watch a Netflix movie, there is no way to adjust the volume on the Kindle Fire. So even though Netflix has partnered with Amazon to have it's app be part of the Amazon Android store, you still cannot adjust the sound of the movie with the app.

2. The On/Off Button (Why is it on the bottom?)
Amazon put the on/off button on the bottom of the unit. So if you sit your Kindle Fire in your lap to read it like you would normally sit a book, you will more times than not accidentally turn your Kindle Fire off. The only way around this is the turn the Kindle Fire upside down (the screen will adjust) for reading.

3. Google is a bad word (Bring back Gmail!)
The Kindle Fire will not play any Google Android apps. That means no Gmail, Google+, Google Docs. Nothing. And on top of that, the Kindle Fire browser will not let you go to the Google Android Market Place. Now I have been critical of Apple being proprietary in the past, but Apple has nothing on Amazon in turns of locking down a device in this way.

Even if you sideload Google apps on the device (which I did), they will not play because Amazon will not allow you to enter a Google Account id. Word to Amazon - Lighten Up. Even Apple allows the Windows OS to be installed on their Mac Books. The only way to get to Google functionality on the Kindle Fire is to navigate via the browser to the mobile versions of the websites for Gmail and other apps. It may not look as pretty but it works.

4. Local Newspapers (No Detroit News - yet!)
I have wanted to buy a Kindle for a while now because there is one thing that I cannot do with the Kindle app for smartphones and tablets - subscribe to magazines and newspapers. So imagine how surprised I was to find out that I still could not read the Detroit News and Free Press on my new Kindle Fire.

It turns out not every subscription publication has been optimized to run on the new Kindle Fire. Some of the big newspapers have been optimized for the Fire, but the list is small. So reading any of my local newspapers is not currently an option.

5. No Bluetooth (My wireless headphones are useless)
Seeing that this is a tablet that retails for under $200, I was not expecting a whole lot. I knew it did not have any cameras (I would not have used them anyway) nor USB port. I also understood the device only has 8GB of memory - I'm fine with it since I can push my old content to the cloud. But how does an entertainment tablet not have bluetooth so I can use my wireless headphones while watching Amazon On Demand Movies? I actually had to go borrow my son's wired headphones. Amazon, you should really fix this.

The Fire is a great Amazon Content tablet
After having reviewed tablets in the $500 range, I found the Amazon Kindle Fire is a great eReader and a very basic Android tablet that is worth its $199. It is reported that Amazon is actually losing $6 on each Kindle Fire that is sold so the price is more than fair for what you are getting, but don't except a full functioning android tablet.

If you are looking for a tablet to give your kids that is reasonably priced and will encourage them to read more ebooks, the Amazon Kindle Fire is perfect.

If you read lots of eBooks and want a basic tablet for buying Amazon content, watching Amazon movies and TV shows, playing MP3's you buy from Amazon and reading email, this is a perfect tablet for you.

Venture Case for the Kindle Fire by Case-mate

Once you spend $200 for a Amazon Kindle Fire, you are going to need a fabulous case to protect it. I bought my Kindle Fire at Target (using a coupon to get a $10 Target Gift Card) and then went looking at the cases that were available - and hated everything that I saw. None of the cases looked very fashionable and the prices (starting at $40) did not justify the product being offered (ie these cases were too ugly to be worth $40+).

While attending CES in January, I met representatives from the Case-mate company and remembered a particular tablet case that I saw called the Venture. Case-mate sent me the Venture Case for the Kindle Fire for review and I totally love it.

The Case-mate Venture Case for the Kindle Fire completely encases the Kindle Fire for full protection while being totally stylish.  The case is jet black simulated leather with red accents and it makes the Kindle Fire look like a real book.  The inside of the case is all butter soft gray flannel colored felt.  The case has two snaps that when opened, allow the case to turn into an easel for using the Kindle Fire to watch movies in the landscape position.  There is also a snap to close the case which I like much better than other tablet cases that are kept closed by using an elastic band.

The cost of the Case-mate Venture Case for the Kindle Fire  is $50, which is in line with the prices for most tablet cases.  But the Venture will allow you to protect your investment with style and flair.


Disclosure: Case-mate sent me a complementary Venture Case for Kindle Fire in exchange for my honest opinion.  This post contains affiliate links.

Part of the 2011 Holiday Gift Guide

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