Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

Summary: While on vacation in Florida, I've found the Kindle Fire to be a nearly ideal portable digital convergence device, despite a few minor shortcomings.

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For the last week, I've been in Florida visiting family and doing a bit of house hunting. But let's face it, you don't come to the Sunshine State without doing a bit of R&R as well.

After surviving Turkey Day and having seen some 30+ homes with our realtor, my wife and I will be mostly be vegging out in the swimming pool and hot tub, catching up on some reading, and finding good places to eat in Palm Beach County while we rest up here on Singer Island.

Like many other vacations in the past, I like to bring along mobile technology to see how it can assist with our travel experience. Last year, when we visited Florida's Gold Coast, I brought along Google's CR-48 to see if it could replace a full-blown laptop.

This year, I brought the Amazon Kindle Fire, in addition to my Motorola XOOM and Lenovo X200 laptop.

In the last week or so since the Kindle Fire's introduction, there's been a lot of reviews by both the mainstream press and the new media which outline the device's strengths and shortcomings.

For the most part, I happen to agree that the first generation Kindle Fire is a better content consumption device than a full blown tablet, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

At this stage in the product's development cycle, the Kindle Fire is somewhat of an early adoption compromise tablet, but at the entry price, it's a very low risk investment to buy one.

Why? Because it's virtually guaranteed to be a huge success for Amazon and tons of Android applications are going to be ported over to it and a huge amount of content is going to be made available on the platform.

Even with the rough edges, I happen to think the product is a bargain for the $199, particularly if you are an Amazon Prime member.

But you know all this stuff already because everyone who has reviewed the device has pretty much said all of this. Most of these reviewers, however, have not yet taken it on the road and used it extensively, particularly in a travel/vacation setting.

Let's start with how the device works as a web browsing platform.

A lot of reviewers have said that the Silk web browser -- which uses Amazon's EC2 cloud to pre-fetch/pre-process pages before sending it down to the device -- has not proven to be significantly faster than conventional tablet browsers (such as the iPad's Mobile Safari or Android's native browser) which use direct HTTP connections.

From my experience, I would say that is not necessarily true. Certainly, when I've had the Kindle Fire connected to Wi-Fi broadband at a hotel or an access point that is giving me better than 10Mbps, Amazon's pre-fetch doesn't seem to make a bit of a difference.

However, I suggest you try using a Kindle Fire's browser versus the iPad or a Honeycomb tablet on an aircraft using Gogo or in an airport lounge where all the business travelers are competing for the same free connection.

In a heavily bandwidth constrained environment such as this, the Silk browser and the brute force of Amazon's cloud really shines.

Similarly, if you have to Wi-Fi tether the Kindle Fire on a 3G or 4G connection from your cell phone, I also find Silk to be extremely responsive and as smooth as its namesake.

And that resort hotel Wi-Fi broadband connection that's blazing fast during the daytime when everyone's at the pool and hitting happy hour? Try it on an iPad when the storm clouds start rolling in and everyone wants to check their Facebook or stream Netflix. Kindle Fire doesn't skip a beat.

Besides the advantages of the cloud enabled web browser, I really want to emphasize the convenience of having a handheld versus a full-size tablet like an iPad or a XOOM.

It's a much more comfortable device to use while lying in bed than a full-sized device (particularly when you are sharing sleeping... uh, surface area with your spouse) and I found it to be ideal for reading the morning news/emails/tweets while sipping my coffee on my parents' breakfast table or on a shaded patio.

You can hold the device with one hand while sipping coffee or eating with another, and it's easy to pick up and put down.

With a larger device, in the same usage scenario, you'd need to use some sort of a case/stand combo, such as one of the newer generation OtterBox cases. With a 7" device like the Kindle Fire, you don't.

It's also worth stating that the Kindle Fire is durable enough that you really don't need a carrying case for it for added protection, you can pretty much toss it in your wife's pocketbook (or your own "murse") without fear of it getting damaged.

While I feel enhanced protection cases for iPads and full-size Android tablets like the XOOM and Galaxy Tab are worth the investment and are a necessity (which also should factor into the overall weight and bulk considerations for carrying such a device with you on vacation) I think a $49 leather case for a Kindle Fire is probably a waste of money.

I'm more likely to look for some kind of inexpensive waterproof or water resistant sheath or cover if they become available.

So, what's the downside to using the Kindle Fire on vacation as your exclusive tablet or computing device?

About the only thing I would really like to see in the next-generation Kindle Fire is GPS with integrated mapping services. Case in point being Urbanspoon, which is our go-to application for finding restaurants when on we are on vacation.

Urbanspoon does run on a Kindle Fire, and Amazon offers it in their Appstore, but it can't auto-detect your location as a GPS-enabled smartphone can, so you have to program in your city or map location manually.

Since my wife and I both have Android smartphones with GPS integrated it's not that big a tragedy as we'd be bringing them along anyway and the Urbanspoon application runs on them just fine. But it would be a nice thing to add to the next generation product.

If Amazon doesn't want to substantially increase the cost of the unit, they may wish to consider developing some sort of Kindle Fire "helper" app that could be installed on a Wi-Fi tether capable smartphone which would allow it to use a remote device's GPS location.

Such a "helper" might also be useful in communicating with native Google APIs on the handset. While this sort of strategy has failed for Research in Motion on their PlayBook, I see this as more of a utility or value add rather than a functionality requirement like BlackBerry Bridge is.

Bluetooth in the next-generation model might be a good compromise since in theory the GPS services on the smartphone could be made platform agnostic via an app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Have you brought your Kindle Fire on Vacation yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Hardware

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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41 comments
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  • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

    What has happened in the mobile phone space is happening in the tablet space. A Google Android tablet domination is coming fast upon us. I bought an Acer 8GB tablet for 219. All my friends picking up Androids in the $300 rage - Acer, Asus, Toshiba, Lenovo are selling out hot.

    Why would you buy Fire and get locked into Amazon when you can buy an Android tablet and use all Amazon services!
    boby_k
    • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

      @boby_k

      First to answer your question: Price. That's why you would buy this over another tablet for $300+. Plus, I think this is tied into Amazon's offerings in a way that no other tablet is (or will be).

      Plus, Amazon actually did a good job designing the UI. I enjoy it much more than I do most other Android devices.
      bhartman36
      • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

        @bhartman36 Amazon has nothing in software to call it an ecosystem. All that they have is an old OS with books, movies and music. THAT IS NOT AN ECOSYSTEM. Android market has it all. Then look at what Google has in its ecosystem - editing, drawing, gmail, video chat, voice, phone, picasa, maps, to name a few. A tablet itself is a supposed to be a generic device., changing rapidly. Spending money on an Amazon tablet, EBay tablet, Facebook tablet do not seem to be a good idea. How many tablets would you carry?
        boby_k
      • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

        @boby_k

        Actually, Amazon's Appstore is larger than the other non-Market options for Android. What compares to it? SlideMe? GejtJar?
        bhartman36
    • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

      @boby_k Funny what I see happening with the Android tablet space reminds me of Linux....many distro's shattering the whole movement.

      All of my friends either have a iPad or want one badly.
      JeveSobs
    • the proof is in the pudding.

      @boby_k It's about the way that Amazon presents a unified seamless interface for their services, (not a separate app for each service). Android is GREAT for customization, but often at the sacrifice of a consistent and seamless user experience. There is always another app with its own customized settings, icon, and controls, and which requires more clicks to get to what you want. Amazon does away with a lot of this by designing their UI as a simplified portal for media access.
      Do you realize that behind the Fire's UI, Android 2.3 Gingerbread is the core OS? It IS possible to side-load generic android apps.
      Also, how many of the other tablets that you mentioned run Gingerbread? not many. Most use either 2.2 or the orphaned (and often incompatible) 3.0 honeycomb.
      People are over-exaggerating the extent to which Amazon "censors" their app marketplace or "locks you into the Amazon world." Go browse the Amazon marketplace. You'll find thousands of android apps that are certified to work with your device. In fact I defy you to find me 5 quality and notable apps that don't exist in the amazon marketplace that do in the android market. Now try to find me some malware apps! Exactly...
      I am a little bit bummed out that GoogleApps don't come pre-installed and some of the API's don't work natively, but I understand the reasoning behind excluding apps which the hardware doesn't support (lack of 3G and GPS on the Fire = no GoogleVoice or GoogleNav).
      In regards to your final argument: I think if Amazon's goal was to "lock people into the Amazon world," they wouldn't have included Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and ESPN as NATIVE preloaded apps. They wouldn't allow you to upload your pre-purchased music to their cloud music service, and they wouldn't offer a kindle app for virtually every other mobile device and OS...
      It sounds to me like you want to paint Amazon as the dictatorial player that is castrating a truly open mobile OS for the sake of it's own evil empire... In reality they are a company that has achieved success by giving people more of what they want (regardless of their affiliation or platform loyalty). The Fire is their attempt to build upon the strengths of the Android OS to present their loyal customers with a better way to experience THEIR services. Is Amazon's content easier to access on the Fire? OF COURSE! But what tablet manufacturer doesn't give you the best experience with their own branded services? On the iPad, iTunes store is the best. On the Nook, B&N ebooks. If/when microsoft makes a Zune tablet, you can bet that the best/easiest access to media and content will be through a service that also bears the Microsoft name. Amazon hasn't made a practice of excluding any content, and for that reason has earned my respect much more so than many of the other major players in consumer electronics and media. Because of how they operate they are much less susceptible to the corporate squabbles that end up denying their users access to a useful app or service (a la Apple bashes Adobe, Microsoft bashes Apple, Apple mad at Google, Google retaliates against Bing, Facebook pisses everyone off...) on and on and on... what results? Each company locks out services and apps from other companies. Need examples? (iTunes Store refuses to approve GoogleVoice app, GoogleMaps integration removed from the iPhone, iServices are only available to iDevice owners, Flash API's not available to iDevelopers)
      wr230746
  • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

    I'm surprised you never mentioned Wifi in your article. If I had to name one thing I think they could change easily with the next version, it's the inclusion of a Wifi receiver. That would be a big deal. I wouldn't expect it to be subsidized the way the other Kindles' 3G is subsidized, but offering one with a monthly plan would be great.
    bhartman36
    • Wifi or 3G?

      Think your getting a bit mixed up man.

      @bhartman36
      rd14@...
      • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

        @rd14@...

        You're right. I meant a 3G receiver. Sorry aobut that. :)
        bhartman36
  • The perfect kid tablet?

    I'm thinking of getting one for my nine year old. Are there lots of kid apps? Kids like apps fun for +/- 4 years. So my 9 year old likes games for 5 yr old up to 13 yr old. Please let me know if she would find kid games and activities.
    A Gray
    • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

      @A Gray

      The only thing I'd caution you with on a Kindle Fire for a child is that there are no parental controls. There's nothing to stop a child from buying from the Amazon Appstore or from viewing content you might not want them to see on the Web.
      bhartman36
    • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

      @A Gray
      My 7-year-old absolutely loved the games I had on the Fire. He played for hours over Thanksgiving. Some of them were from the amazon app store, others I sideloaded from getjar, but there was lots of content. A lot of the games he was enjoying are ones that I've also played and enjoyed (Majesty Kingdom Sim, Plants vs Zombies, etc.). Battery life was impressive considering the constant use the tablet was getting.
      nerfwarrior
  • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

    "For the most part, I happen to agree that the first generation Kindle Fire is a better content consumption device than a full blown tablet"

    Considering that all tablets are content consumption devices, I'd like to know why the Kindle Fire is better at it than anybody else.

    "A lot of reviewers have said that the Silk web browser ??? which uses Amazon???s EC2 cloud to pre-fetch/pre-process pages before sending it down to the device ??? has not proven to be significantly faster than conventional tablet browsers (such as the iPad???s Mobile Safari or Android???s native browser) which use direct HTTP connections."

    My biggest issue with browsers that do this pre-fetch stuff is that they break a lot of websites. JavaScript isn't expecting to be going through a third party proxy, and isn't expecting the page it's on to be modified by a third party. Lots of stuff breaks.

    "You can hold the device with one hand while sipping coffee or eating with another, and it???s easy to pick up and put down."

    Considering you probably already have a smart phone for this kind of convenience - *yawn*.

    "So, what???s the downside to using the Kindle Fire on vacation as your exclusive tablet or computing device?"

    I've heard their app store is more restrictive. They're not necessarily as powerful as other devices. Don't expect all of the bells and whistles like GPS.
    CobraA1
    • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

      @CobraA1 You do realize that the average consumer that is targeted for this device has none of these types of concerns, right?
      jperlow
      • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

        @jperlow

        CobraA1 did make one interesting observation that you didn't answer. Did you encounter many broken web sites caused by prefetch issues related to Amazon's Silk technology?
        kenosha77a
      • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

        @kenosha777 I haven't noticed anything break from the pre-fetch.
        jperlow
      • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

        @jperlow

        You often respond rather aggressively to people who ask interesting or pertinent questions about your articles. Why is that?
        lapland_lapin
    • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

      @CobraA1
      ""For the most part, I happen to agree that the first generation Kindle Fire is a better content consumption device than a full blown tablet"

      Considering that all tablets are content consumption devices, I'd like to know why the Kindle Fire is better at it than anybody else."

      Hey Cobra,
      JP's writing is a bit foggy here, but the way I read this was that, as a device, the KF is better for content consumption than acting as a full-blown tablet. His prose isn't clear, but I don't think he is saying that the KF is better than full-blown tablets at content consumptions ... he's saying that the KF is a content device, not a full tablet.
      lapland_lapin
      • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

        @lapland_lapin and @CobraA1
        I read this as Perlow saying that the Fire is more useful as a 'consumption device' than it is useful at doing more general tasks which a more tablet-y tablet might be better at. I.e., he is not saying it is necessarily better at serving media than a non-Amazon tablet. But, if you are already using the Amazon ecosystem (I have the older Kindle wth Amazon ebooks, have Prime, and use the music service), it's great at giving you easy access to your media. It's a great device, in my opinion. I thought the article was pretty much right on.
        I didn't see broken webpages. A lot nicer than doing things from my phone.
        nerfwarrior
  • RE: Taking Amazon's Kindle Fire on vacation

    My wife and I love our new Kindle Fire. It's lightweight, easy to use and has a great interface. The first thing I recommend anyone with a new Kindle do is install the nook app. We got our instructions from www.kindlemad.com through google.

    It basically unlocks all the Android marketplace apps and unlocks the device. I am one very happy Kindle owner!
    kindlemad