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Amazon Kindle Fire HD limitations

Over Christmas I helped someone set up their brand new Kindle Fire HD. I hadn't realised quite how coercive Amazon have been: they're using Android as the basis for the system (for which there is a whole world of handy free stuff), but they've thrown various obstacles in your way if you want to do anything that doesn't involve buying stuff from Amazon.

Now, many of these obstacles can be circumvented if you are willing to do moderately techy things such as side-loading apps, but for the non-techy user those options simply won't appear to exist, and I'm sure Amazon uses this to railroad many users into just buying more stuff. It's rude to be so obstructive to their customers who have paid good money for the device.

The main symptoms of this this attitude which I encountered:

  • You need to set up an Amazon one-click credit-card connection even before you can download FREE apps. It's not enough to have an Amazon account connected; you also need the one-click credit card thing.

  • One of the most vital resources for ebooks readers is Project Gutenberg, the free library of out-of-copyright books - but Amazon don't want you to go there. There's no easy way to read Project Gutenberg stuff on Kindle Fire. (Instructions here.) They will happily sell you their version of a book that you could easily get for zero money, of course.

  • You can't get Google Maps. This is just one result of the more general lockdown where Amazon doesn't want you to access the big wide Google Play world of apps, but it's a glaring absence since the Fire has no maps app installed. We installed Skobbler's ForeverMap 2 app which is a nice alternative, which can calculate routes for walking and for driving. In my opinion, the app has too many text boxes ("Shall I type the postcode in here?" "No that's the box to type a city name") and so the search could do with being streamlined. Other than that it seems pretty good.

So, unlike most tablet devices out there, if you have a Kindle Fire it's not straightforward to get free apps, free ebooks, or Google tools. This is disappointing, since the original black-and-white Kindle was such a nicely thought-through object, an innovative product, but now the Kindle Fire is just an Android tablet with things taken away. That seems to be why the Project Gutenberg webmaster recommends "don't get a Kindle Fire, get a Nexus 7".

There are good things about the device, though. It has a nice bright screen, good for viewing photos (though the photo viewer app has a couple of odd limitations: it doesn't rotate to landscape when you rotate the device - seems a very odd and kinda obvious omission since almost everything else rotates; and it doesn't make it obvious whether you've reached the end of a set, so you end up swiping a few times before you're sure you've finished). There's a good responsive pinch zoom on photos, maps etc. And the home screen has a lovely and useful skeumorph: the main feature is a "pile" of recently-used things, a scrollable pile of books and apps. A great way to visually skim what you recently did and how to jump back to it - biased towards books and Amazon things, but still, a nice touch. Shame about the overall coercive attitude.

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