Saturday, 29 November 2014

Amazon's Kindle Fire

I have a Kindle Fire HD - it was a gift from someone, since normally I wouldn't be keen to support Amazon. The Kindle Fire mostly works well as a simplified tablet but with irritations, including:
  • Regularly refilling the carousel with music I had deleted.
  • You can't get rid of nagging "Customers Also Bought..." icons.
I don't care what they bought!
  • You can't put a lockscreen image of your choosing up, such as one with a visible contact number if lost.
  • It has a cluttered top menu with options trying to sell you things which you can't get rid of even though you don't use them such as Audiobooks, Newsstand, Videos, Shop.
  • Some clunkiness - I made new documents in a word processing package and the Kindle could see them and open them, but they didn't show up when I connected the Kindle to my PC - it turned out I had to reset the Kindle before they showed up.
  • Kindle Automatic Updates doesn't work. I updated my books many times. The Kindle never downloads the new versions unless I speak to Amazon directly and ask them to send the update! Also, to get the new covers to show, I had to de-register then re-register the device. Kindle purchasers would assume that if updates to Kindle books are made available then the updated version will appear on their device, but Amazon doesn't use that sensible approach. Instead the publisher has to contact Amazon and tell them, provide evidence, wait weeks, and maybe Amazon will make the option of an update available. It's a far cry from having the latest version always there, and depends on both the publisher and Kindle-owner going out of their way.
  • I remove docs (pdfs) from the device after I have read them, using the hold>menu option, but when I look at the Kindle's storage space directly by connecting it to my PC the documents are often still there, invisible to the Kindle but taking up loads of space (with altered filenames). I have to delete them a second time manually. The Kindle seems to duplicate and rename pdfs, and only delete the originals through the OS shell options.
What you see on the Kindle - a Docs folder with only one item,
which I then removed from the device

What I see in Windows Explorer: 44 files taking up space, 

all of which had supposedly been removed from the device 

via the Remove From Device option in the Kindle's interface
How they look on my PC

How the same email looks on my Kindle
  • Some issues specifically about the keyboard and typing:
  • I think I have turned off all the autocorrect options but it still manages to make typing a pain e.g. as I type each word it underlines it - if you tap anywhere else on the screen before pressing space, the whole word disappears.
  • It's slow. I press delete a few times, start typing replacement letters - it didn't record all the keypresses, only deleted a few letters, started the new ones, and now the word needs fixing again. Sometimes you have to just type very slowly, which makes typing a pain - no good for long messages, or drafting a story. I think the unremovable autocorrect is partly at fault - every tiem you add or delete a letter ti is checking its dictionary to see what words to "offer", slowing ti down even if you don't use that feature.
  • Words are underlined in red if kindle doesn't know them, which is distracting.
  • I type in landscape view for bigger keys, but it still wastes a line displaying words you might want, leaving an unnecessarily narrow window.
  • There is no easy way to move the selection cursor. I end up tapping loads of times trying to get the pixel-perfect placement (especially between narrow letters like i's or l's), which takes ages because a fingertip is bigger then the point you're trying to select. The answer would be to zoom in: but you can't zoom in on the text box on a Kindle. My phone has a button that acts like a mousepad, ideal for finetuning cursor positions, but the Kindle (and more recent smartphones) don't have an option like that.
  • When you switch to typing in numbers there is no option to add a full stop/decimal point. You have to jump back and forth between screens to do numbers with decimals, classmarks etc.
The number screen, lots of symbols, but no full stop

There are nice features too, such as the ability to email documents to a special address and they then appear on the Kindle (though copies are also stored on Amazon's servers by default: a setting I recommend changing).

Generally I use it for books and magazines sourced from places other than Amazon then transferred on to the Kindle; also music, email, and web browsing. I came across another irritation today though. I was reading a magazine, which I had converted to a mobi file. It appeared exactly like the print version. I came across a URL relevant to the article, selected it, and tried to copy it so I could paste it into the Silk browser. But there was no "copy" option. Uh? It's a basic feature you would expect, but is absent from the Kindle Fire's native books app. My only option was to try and memorise the URL, switch to the browser, type in the long and fiddly address. I couldn't remember the last bit. I went back to the magazine. Ah yes, that's the end. Went back to the browser. It had reset itself, since every time you switch apps it closes the previous one and opens the new one. So I remembered the end of the URL but not the start. What a mess. I gave up. It shows that we come to expect technology to work in logical ways but then get let down when developers remove basic features. This must be because Amazon don't trust people to be able to copy and paste from mobi documents, but it is like having a car where the indicators have been removed in case people use them incorrectly. Silly. (Please note: some software adds automatic references to anything copied, which is also a pain if you are pasting words or a URL into the browser, then get lines of text you have to manually delete - developers, stop treating customers like morons!) It seems ridiculous to have to ask Amazon to add a basic copy and paste feature to the Kindle, but I'll do that. I don't expect they'll do anything about it, since this must be a conscious decision on Amazon's part not to allow you to copy words. A good example of why DRM is always a shackle on the consumer.

Anyway, for people with a Kindle Fire HD, here are a few tips and notes I have discovered.
  • What common formats of text-based documents can it cope with? Txt, pdf, mobi, doc, docx. Put .mobi files in the Kindle's Books folder and they appear in the Books tab; put all other formats in the Documents folder, to show up under the Docs tab. If you email documents to the Kindle then pdfs open with the pdf reader, doc or docx files with the normal Kindle reader. Calibre is great for converting between formats such as pdf, mobi, epub etc.
  • Common audio formats supported: mp3, midi, ogg, wav. They appear in the Music tab.  
  • Image/photo formats supported: jpeg, gif, png, bmp. 
  • Video formats supported: mp4, vp8. Make sure you use software to resize any films to the resolution of the Kindle - this can be a challenge if you want to avoid stretching, so is usually more trouble than it is worth. My Kindle's screen is 1280 × 800.
  • It is possible to turn a Kindle Fire into a standard Android tablet. Except then you swap tax-dodging Amazon for a Google OS tied to ethically-dodgy Nestle. You're damned either way.
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2 comments:

  1. Those are useful insights, Karl. I have a first-generation Kindle and was annoyed that it wouldn't open pdfs properly as my ancient Sony Ebook reader would. (Yes, I can see pdfs on my Kindle but not resize the text, so it's illegible.) But it's interesting that the Kindle Fire will do that. (Presumably?)

    BTW: It's also instructive that your post reads perfectly - with bullet points, etc - on your blog but the layout is lost in your blog feed at Goodreads. Memo to self: don't put bullet points in posts after I drop my RSS feed into my Goodreads Author page!

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  2. Hi John,
    Thanks for commenting. You're right that the Kindle Fire HD works well with pdfs. Two-finger touches let you easily zoom in and out to the required size. The pdf displayer has advantages over the Kindle books app too - for example, when you bring up the fast navigator (one tap, then the bar at the bottom) and scroll left and right you actually see a mini preview of each page, making it easy to spot the one you want. I use that feature a lot.

    I see what you mean about the Goodreads rendering of HTML, I've no idea why they can't deal with a straightforward HTML list. Still, I see the the Goodreads render as just a photocopy - the blog itself is the master copy. :-)
    Best wishes,
    Karl

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