Thursday, November 17, 2011

Amazon Kindle Fire Initial Thoughts

I want my Google Apps. OK, I get it that Google and Amazon are in competition here and that the chances of Google having their apps available in the Amazon Fire App store are slim to none even if the Fire is Android under the covers. That doesn't stop me from viewing that lack as arguably the only significant problem with the Fire.

Fit and finish on the Fire seems to be excellent. It feels solid without being excessively heavy.The Kindle line has never been about being pretty, so it shouldn't be surprising that the Fire is utilitarian in its looks. One button, one USB port and one headphone jack is what you get.

The glare off the screen is arguably a bit excessive. Screen protectors are available that claim to cut down a bit on that problem. I'm not a fan of screen protectors as they generally seem like a waste to me. I've had my Droid X for a year plus now and the screen is perfect in spite of never having had a screen protector and the fact that I don't baby it. My phone often ends up in the same pocket as my keys for instance. The Fire has a Gorilla glass screen that shouldn't need babying either.

The Fire is fairly responsive but does bog down if you're installing a lot of apps in the background. The same is true of my Droid X which is a somewhat less capable platform so I'm not totally surprised. I'd guess memory is the main culprit here.

Reading technical books on the Fire is much easier than on the E-Ink Kindles. Specifically I'm talking about diagrams and figures. The resolution on the non DX E-Ink readers is just not high enough to render detailed drawings and the speed of the Fire's more basic relatives makes the whole experience of dealing with anything other than basic text frustrating. The Fire provides enough resolution and performance to avoid these shortcomings.

The UI for the Fire is reasonably intuitive and polished. Responsiveness is generally good and I haven't run into any bugs but I've only had about an hour to play with it.

Here are some pictures of dubious quality along with additional comments.

The box that the Kindle comes in is beveled on one end. I'm assuming this was a primarily aesthetic decision but it did save a bit of material which translates into money saved assuming the manufacturing process for creating these non standard boxes doesn't have additional costs. I'd assume it doesn't given Amazon's obsessive focus on costs.

The packaging was nicely designed. There is a high level of protection here. The screen glare isn't quite this bad in reality as this pictures implies. At this point the Fire is still in its shiny protective plastic shipping envelope. This was natural light, somewhat overcast. Yes, I'm using my Cellphone to take the pictures. It's fairly obvious both in regards to the quality and the reflection in the Fire's screen.

When the Kindle was removed from the box a cavity was revealed that contained the external charger/power.

Here's a better view of the shiny protective envelope and the back of the Fire.

The initial boot. I didn't time it but I'd guess around a minute for the Fire to boot from a cold start. At this point the plastic envelope has been removed and you can see there is still a lot of glare.

Minor nit, the power/charger is what I think of as the "old" kind that is one piece. The previous Kindle's we've bought have had the converter with a USB plug and the appropriate cord for charging the Kindle. These are nicer since you only need to carry one around along with whatever cords you need to charge your various electronic devices. This appears to be one place Amazon cut costs. Not a big deal though.

Once you've booted for the first time you'll get a few intro screens. Nothing excessive and it gives you a good idea of how to use the Kindle Fire UI. I tried hard to avoid the glare but didn't have much success. It's not this bad when you are in a place where natural light is minimized but it is distracting. I read an interview with Jeff Bezos where he said that the Fire fills a somewhat different niche to the E-Ink Kindle's and I agree. I'm not going to be getting rid of my older Kindle any time soon based on these results. For plain old text it's much nicer not to have to deal with the LCD and glare. This and size are the main reasons I don't do serious reading on my iPad.

The Kindle Fire in action. Note the diagram is very readable and the use of the built in dictionary.

Overall my initial impressions are positive in spite of the glare. I was able to quickly take advantage of my Amazon prime membership and start streaming a movie. The quality was good and frame rates were fairly consistent though there was some slight stuttering at one point which was likely due to application downloads going on in the background. I was able to quickly pull down books and apps from the cloud and even after I got everything I wanted I still had the vast majority of my usable six gig of storage available. That will likely change over time as I add video and music but it was nice to see that I'm not going to have to worry about managing my "disk space" initially.

For $200 it's hard to go wrong here. The Kindle Fire is solid and a good performer. The screen glare could be better and the lack of Google Apps is a significant downer but a few warts are not unusual when a company is offering a particular type of product for the first time.

I'll be doing some more testing over the next week or two and will likely do some additional BLOG entries on this topic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kindle Anticipation

Apparently my wife and I didn't get our Kindle Fire pre orders in early enough for shipment to happen on the first day. We finally got notification late yesterday afternoon that our Fires are on the way and should arrive today. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on one and getting a better feel for the pros and cons of the platform.

Reviews so far have generally been positive for the Kindle Fire. At worst people have tended to say "Well, its imperfect but its so cheap that is OK." Given the price, Amazon is clearly getting cut a lot of slack for less than perfect performance. That's not something that Apple generally benefits from. There aren't a lot of downsides to being a premium brand, but this is one.

None of the issues I've seen mentioned sound like show stoppers. Performance seems to be the biggest gripe. One big advantage Apple has over Android tablets in general is that they only have two platforms to optimize for. This explains in large part why Apple's iPad's provide a better experience with less memory. Hopefully over time Amazon will be willing and able to do a better job of optimizing Android for their fire platform. Doing so would give them an additional leg up on other Android tablets and shouldn't be prohibitively expensive.

At this point its probably fair to consider the early going of the Kindle Fire as an unqualified success for Amazon. The interesting question is where will they go next? My guess is a larger form factor tablet with a screen a bit smaller than the iPad's 10.1 inches to avoid direct competition with Apple both on the supply side and in the market place.

The next couple of days are going to be really busy for me but I'm hoping to have an initial review and thoughts fairly soon.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Klout/Kindle Fire/Adobe Flash/Foursquare/Google

Here are some short takes on various things that are on my mind right now.

My Klout score has continued to decline. Interestingly the decline nearly mirrors the decline in the "True Reach" sub score. My network has continued to grow and If anything it seems like I've had more engagement recently so I continue to be baffled by what is happening. It's really not that big a deal other than the fact that I'd prefer to have at least a bit of a clue as to what the issue. is.

The Kindle Fire is set for release in a couple of days. The ones my wife and I ordered are actually showing up under the "Manage My devices" section of the Amazon store and have been for at least a few days. Hopefully this means we'll be part of the first batch shipped out. Our order went in on day two. I think the fact that they are registered with Amazon means that they have been configured and boxed. One of the nice things that Amazon does is configure your Kindle so that all you have to do is register it to the wireless network (Assuming its not 3G capable) and you're good to go.

Adobe claiming that Apple killed mobile flash is completely absurd unless Steve Jobs pointing out the all to obvious shortcomings of flash somehow magically made the world wake up and realize the absurdity of the concept of a platform that was never light weight or stable on much more capable platforms being viable on mobile devices. Adobe only needs to look in the mirror to figure out who is responsible for the failure of flash.

The Foursquare app on my first generation Droid X continues to be annoying in spite of the occasional update. It almost never seems to be able to figure out where I am which in turn leads to few points being assigned for check ins as Foursquare understandably declines to give full credit for check ins that are "off the grid". My Wife's iPhone 4 never has this problem. On the plus side I have an excuse whenever she's ahead in the scoring which is pretty much always. Google's navigation software figures out where I am nearly instantly so the looks like a short coming on the foursquare Android client.

I'm hoping Google wakes up and starts proving a better user experience with all their new apps. The new gmail web client has some nice features but the excessive space and lack of good visual separation of elements by way of contrasting colors is frustrating. I use a theme that has primarily light characters on a dark background so at least I don't have worry about being "blinded by the white" like on the new Google reader.

Have a great week, time for me to get some sleep.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Klout Is Annoying Me

061111_ cobwebs 2Image by Headphonaught via FlickrI'm not one of those people who was annoyed a week or two ago when Klout radically changed their scoring method and recalculated everyone's scores going back several weeks using the new formula. Maybe that's because mine went up a little or maybe it's because Klout had made less significant changes previously and had always recalculated peoples scores. Throw in the fact that the site clearly says "Beta" and it should be clear that changes are going to be made.

Having said that, I am getting a bit frustrated with Klout right now. The changes were supposed to make it more transparent as to why your score was going up or down. I still don't have a clue. I've been seeing a steady decline over the past week in spite of no changes in my level of activity and modest additions to my Twitter followers and upticks on other social networks as well. In short, I can see no connection between the decline and what is happening in the real world.

To be fair to Klout, my "True Reach" is going down in spite of the fact that my "Network" score is growing. So it seems likely my score is declining due to my downward trending "True Reach" but an examination of changes in my network over the past week shows no obvious reason for that. Transparency is great, but only if it actually gives you enough information to understand what you're being told. That just isn't the case here.

The other thing that Klout has done recently to annoy me is scrape my Facebook friend info. Yes, I gave the application access to my profile. That was a mistake and it's been rectified. The reality though is that it should never have been able to happen. Facebook continues to have a very lax regard for the privacy of the social graph and that has implications that not everyone is going to understand or appreciate. I feel like Klout took advantage of my trust to invade the privacy of my friends. That's not something I'm comfortable with.

I'm thinking of totally pulling the plug on Klout at this point. I'm going to give the whole thing some more thought though and review my options in another week or two.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Intrusive Advertising, Forbes (Short Take)

I was reading an article on Forbes recently and found random advertising text in line a couple of times. These were single sentences in stand alone "paragraphs" that interrupted the flow of the story big time. It's not like Forbes is skimpy on the ads even without this intrusion so I found the whole experience very annoying. Seriously, why go there? I'm now less likely to click on a Forbes link then I was before and how does that help their bottom line?

I've even been known to let the obnoxious ads run that they often redirect to before displaying their content as I understand they are in business to make money and I'm willing to give a little back.

I'm an MBA. I'm not against businesses making money. I am however less than enthused by how prevalent advertising and invasions of my privacy have become. I have to wonder how much revenue I'm generating for all the web sites I frequent over the course of a month. If it's under $50 than I'd love to have the option of paying the money up front and being left alone. If it's more than that then maybe they should be paying me a share. :)