The Kindle Fire is Amazon’s first stab at capturing a piece of the tablet market. Until this device launched, when you heard the word “Kindle” you probably thought about an eInk device that only read books. With the Fire, the Kindle platform has expanded to include all forms of digital media, from video to music and Android apps.
Anyone who has ever used a Kindle knows how easy it is to buy and read Kindle books, but how does that process work for all of the new kinds of media supported by the Kindle Fire? Find out more about how to fill the new Kindle Fire with all the best content, and how you (or your lucky gift recipient) can get the most out of what is sure to one of the hottest items this holiday season!
We have already reviewed the Kindle Fire in terms of specs and hardware. For this review, we are focusing on the Amazon content and Fire features.
When you first get the Fire, you’re prompted to enter your Amazon.com account information. All of the books and media you’ve previously purchased will automatically show up on the home screen of the device, though it’s just cloud content at this point. You’ll have to choose what you want to download it all to – so you’ll most likely use local storage since your books and other media aren’t automatically installed to the device.
Tabs at the top of the screen allow quick access to the Newsstand, books, music, video, docs, apps, and the web browser, and when you enter each of those sections, you’ll have tabs for Cloud and Library content, plus a helpful Store button in the top right corner of the screen that invites you to shop for more content from Amazon. Cloud content is a listing of everything that you’ve bought, while library content includes those books, songs, videos, and apps that have already been downloaded to the Fire.
Books, Magazines, and Documents
There’s nothing extra-special about the book buying process on the Fire; simply tap the Store icon and browse bestseller lists, editors’ picks, personalized recommendations, or search for a specific title or author. Once purchased, new titles are automatically sent to your device. Existing titles you choose to download via Amazon’s Whispersync technology will take you to the right place if you’ve already started reading in Amazon’s cloud reader or on another Kindle device or reading app. All of your notes and highlights will also be pulled down with the book, and the Fire’s browsing system for personal annotations is far superior to what you’d find on Amazon’s eInk Kindle models.
Magazines are available via a month-to-month subscription model. Most titles come with a 14 day trial, though there’s currently a three month trial available for several premium titles such as Architectural Digest, Allure, Bon Appetit, Details, Golf Digest, GQ, the New Yorker, and Self. When you subscribe, new issues generally are automatically downloaded to your device; when I started a trial subscription to Allure, however, it took almost ten minutes to download the December issue, and a background download wasn’t an option.
One point of potential confusion–some periodicals show up in the Newsstand section of the device, while others will be available in the Apps section because they have their own app. This is true of Allure, for example, so it can be a little frustrating trying to find your content if it doesn’t show up where you’d expect to find it. This is where the search function on the Fire comes in really handy; search for a specific word or author and when it shows up in the search results window, a single tap will launch it.
Music and Video
All of the music you’ve purchased directly from Amazon will be available in Amazon’s free cloud storage service; you can download it to your device at any time, or you can set it up so that all of your music purchases will be automatically sent to your Fire as well as to your computer. By default, when you play music from your Amazon library it is streamed to your device, not downloaded — if you don’t change that setting, you’ll want to make sure that your favorites are downloaded to your Fire before you travel, if you’re not sure you’ll have Wi-Fi access at your destination.
Of course Amazon Instant Video isn’t the only option, since the Fire also supports Hulu and Netflix. Both services require monthly subscription fee, but prices are reasonable and the video quality is extremely good. The one you choose will depend on which service has the content you’re most interested in, but if you’re a TV and movie junkie you can sign up for both for less than $20 a month. Both apps have the full functionality offered by their respective services, such as the ability to queue videos you’d like to watch later, or picking up right where you left off when switching devices or just stopping and starting a video on the Fire.
One big Kindle Fire limitation is that all content is essentially trapped on the device. With no HDMI output, there is no obvious way to stream movies and video to a larger screen, like an HDTV. There are workarounds and hacks available, but considering the appeal of the Kindle Fire is that it is easy to use, it’s a major drawback.