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Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ Review

Posted by Andrew at 11:37 AM on February 13, 2014

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9Any seasoned tech watcher will have noticed that Amazon is quietly building a third mobile ecosystem, competing against Apple’s iTunes and Google’s Play. Starting with the original Kindle ereader, the environment has grown into tablets and currently the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ tablet sits at the top of the food chain. And very tasty it is too. Let’s take a look.

Kindle Fire HDX Front

On first inspection, the HDX is black and angular. It’s kind of like a stealth tablet, with radar-reflecting angles on the back and the sides. It’s very different from say, the curves of the Nexus 10, but it’s a refreshing changing and Amazon further plays on the theme with the Origami case. Giving the HDX a once over, there’s not much to poke at. The front has the main screen and a front-facing camera, on the sides there’s the micro-USB port and the headphone port, and on the back there’s the power button, volume rocker, rear camera with flash and stereo speakers. The rear camera will do 1080 and the front, 720p HD. There’s also a large Amazon logo emblazoned in the middle of the back.

HDX Rear

Taking hold of the HDX, it feels good in the hand weighing in at 374g, which is light enough to hold in one hand but heavy enough that it doesn’t feel cheap. The rubberised back is grippy too and  the buttons on the back of the HDX for power and volume come nicely to the hand – a good touch which makes the tablet feel designed for use rather than style. Not everyone will like the plastic back, but it’s largely a matter of personal taste.

On powering up, the HDX and Fire OS come into their own. The screen is absolutely stunning at 2560 x 1600 pixels, which is equivalent to 339 ppi. (The Nexus 10 has the same resolution but in a larger physical screen). Amazon’s Fire OS takes full advantage of the screen with a gloriously smooth “flow”-based interface. There are some great touches to the interface with the soft buttons moved to the right-hand side, conveniently under the hand, instead of at the bottom.

Flow

It’s all about the apps though, and at first I was a little concerned that there wouldn’t be the same range of apps available in the Amazon Store as would be in Google Play. In terms of sheer numbers, there are far fewer apps than in Google but if you are a mainstream user who rarely veers from the path of popularity, you are going to find all your apps here. I went through my commonly used apps and mostly they were there. Office Suite Pro – check; Feedly Reader – check; Netflix – check; Facebook – check; Guardian newspaper – check; Fitbit – check. Where an app was missing, it tended to be one from a competitor, so no Google+, no Zinio, no YouTube. Of course, you can still access these services via the web browser but it tends not to be an optimal experience.

Apps

Some of native apps are better than the equivalent Google versions. Calendar in particular is functionally better than the Google equivalent, and both Contacts and Email are a whole lot more attractive, although the later doesn’t haven’t the deep Gmail integration. Pure Android persists with a largely flat UI, whereas Fire OS has subtle shading and hinting that gives a lovely 3D effect without being distracting.

The 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor has plenty of power, and action games benefit from this. There are lots of good games, but action apps like Iron Man 3 or Asphalt 8 show off the HDX’s capabilities to best effect.

Iron Man 3

More than apps, Amazon is about content and here the Kindle Fire delivers in spades. Signing into the Kindle Fire with your Amazon credentials instantly accesses all your books, music and video content. It’s easy to switch between content that’s on the device and content that’s still in the cloud – there’s a simple toggle on the top right. Audio playback is good and background noise is minimal, even when listening with earbuds in quiet environments.

Cover Art

For films and TV on demand, Amazon offers LoveFilm in the UK and there’s a 30-day free trial for all HDX owners. Playback of movies is as smooth as you’d expect, but the coolest feature is X-Ray, a link with IMDb which offers movie and actor information based on the film or programme being watched. It’s pretty slick and I think we can expect more of this kind of experience-enhancing app in the future.

The HDX has some other nice touches too. Kindle FreeTime is a parental controls app that lets Mum and Dad add apps and content to a child’s profile. Access to the web browser and social networking apps is restricted and the amount of play time can be controlled as well. It’s well done and increases the appeal of the HDX to families.

Turning to price, this is not a budget tablet nor is it intended to be. This is a high-end device and the price reflects this: the base cost is GB £329 for the 16 GB wi-fi version with “Special Offers” aka adverts. The top-of-the range 64 GB 4G HDX without ads will set you back £489. For comparison, the larger 16 GB Nexus 10 is available widely for around £250 and the squarer iPad Air is £399.

I’ve been using the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ for a bit over a month now and I like it a great deal. Sometimes I’m frustrated by the non-Android way of doing things or the lack of a particular app, but other times I’m in love with it – Fire OS is very well presented. The animations are smooth, the touch-screen highly responsive and the layout of the soft buttons on the right is great design. If you are looking for something between the frontier that is Android and the closed confines of Apple, it’s a perfect match and if I was recommending a higher-end tablet to a non-geek friend or relative, the HDX would come high up the try-out list. And Google, you need to up your game.

Thanks to Amazon for the loan of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7” Inch Widescreen Tablet

Posted by tomwiles at 9:48 PM on January 3, 2013

Over the Christmas holiday my nephew showed up at my house with an Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7” Inch tablet. My Mom, who just turned 88, ended up playing with it and decided she wanted one. So, we stopped by Best Buy and picked one up.

I spent some time adding free apps from the Amazon Android Market that I knew my parents would like, such as Accuweather, News Hog, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, recipe apps, etc.

What followed over the next few days was surprising. Of course my Mom started using it right away, but what surprised me was that my 79-year-old Dad started using the Kindle as much as my Mom uses it. Mom has used a computer for a number of years. Dad has played around with computers but never did much with them. Dad made the observation that the Kindle was a lot easier to use than a regular computer.

I have had an iPad for a long while now and my parents have been around it, but they’ve never used it much. The Kindle is a different story. Perhaps they felt more at ease since they own the Kindle, but I think there’s more to it than that. I believe the Amazon Kindle Fire HD has a better, friendlier user interface than the iPad has. The Kindle Fire HD presents app icons in a very large format on a revolving carousel that the user simply swipes through. It didn’t take long at all for them to begin to remember which of these large icons start which apps.

Another advantage the Kindle Fire HD has over the iPad is better, much louder sound. My parents are a bit hard of hearing, yet the Kindle Fire HD is able to get plenty loud enough for them to be able to easily hear, even in a noisy environment. The iPad isn’t capable of getting nearly as loud.

The $199 Kindle Fire HD 16 gigabyte (as well as the larger 8.9” inch version) comes bundled with a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes Amazon Prime streaming videos. Mom ended up easily figuring out how to stream videos and liked it so well she went ahead and subscribed.

The 7” inch widescreen seems to be just the right size for them. It is easy for them to handle, yet large enough for them to be able to see and manipulate the multi-touch screen.

The Kindle Fire HD has a dual core processor and gives great battery life. The apps are very responsive and there is never any lag.

If I were going to buy a tablet today, I would give strong consideration to a Kindle Fire HD. For $199 for the 7” inch and $299 for the 8.9” inch, Amazon is giving a tremendous amount of value and performance for the money.

The only downside that I can see is that the Kindle Fire HD doesn’t have a built-in GPS chip, nor any native mapping apps, so mapping on it is currently limited. However, for $199, it’s easy to overlook the lack of GPS. The WiFi-only versions of the iPad don’t have built-in GPS either.

The Kindle Fire HD has a forward facing camera for use with apps such as Skype, but no rear-facing camera. That’s not much of an issue for me since I rarely use the rear-facing camera in my iPad, but it might be for other people.

Now, if I can just get my parents to give up their flip-phone for a smartphone…

It’s The Content, Stupid

Posted by tomwiles at 8:28 PM on October 6, 2011

Admittedly I’m coming in late to the party. I had all sorts of excuses – I already have a MacBook Pro, as well as the latest generation of iPod Touch. Why would I need an iPod with a giant screen to run mostly the same apps I can already run on my iPod?

After buying an iPad 2, I understand what all the fuss is about. It has also become immediately clear to me why there is a booming iPad market but currently not much of a tablet market. The reason is staring everyone in the face, yet few seem to see it, particularly large tech companies that are struggling to compete in the wrong arena.

The iPad is admittedly an incredibly nice piece of hardware – however, that’s not why it is so successful. The reason for the iPad’s overwhelming appeal and success is very simple – it revolves in large part around being able to run well-written targeted iOS iPad-specific apps that take advantage of the iPad’s screen size and svelte form factor. At about the size of a traditional magazine, it takes the best elements of the multimedia computer and puts them into a highly-readable, touch-interactive color screen that will easily fit into places and situations where even laptop computers don’t work so well.

In short, it’s all about the content and being able to easily consume it anywhere. The content isn’t just about browsing, listening to music or watching videos. The content in large part is the iPad-specific apps themselves, some of which are incredible, such as the 100% free Flipbook RSS reader app.

Amazon has a chance at success with the 7” Kindle Fire, not so much because of the $200 price point, but because Amazon has a lot of ready-made content hanging out in its cloud. Many people pooh-poohed the original Amazon Kindle, only to witness it quickly morph into a success. The Kindle was not and has never been a success because of the Kindle hardware – the plethora of Amazon ebook content is what caused the original Kindle rise to stardom. The availability of the content finally got the ebook ball rolling in a huge way, and the mass market finally realized the incredible convenience and advantage of having a cloud-connected ereader.

Would-be iPad competitors will never effectively compete with hardware alone, no matter how sexy or inexpensive they are able to make it. To borrow part of a phrase from an early 1990’s presidential campaign, we would all do well to paste this sign on our wall:

“It’s the content, stupid.”

“FiRe” Field Recorder App For iPod/iPhone/iPad

Posted by tomwiles at 11:42 PM on December 26, 2010

“FiRe” Field Recorder is an audio recording application for making high-quality audio recordings on an iPod, iPhone or iPad. The application cost is $5.99 U.S.

“FiRe” Field Recorder does a good job of making high-quality recordings, but the program does have a few quirks that need to be taken into account.

I found that if I tried to make multiple recordings one after the other, the FiRe app would not record the second file unless I exited and re-entered the app. This glitch was a bit of a nuisance but once I realized what was going on it became easy to overcome the problem and get the app to do what I wanted it to. Recorded audio files are transferred to one’s computer via WiFi by enabling the feature in the app and then browsing with a computer on the same local network to a provided local IP address.

The latest generation iPod has a surprisingly high-quality built-in microphone. However, that being said, there are a few caveats that must be taken in account when using the iPod as an audio recorder. Recordings made in low background noise situations were high-quality and quite good. However, I also attempted to make recordings while driving down the road in my semi truck with a lot of heavy background noise present. The resulting audio files were distorted and noisy. Even with an anti-rumble software filter enabled within the app, the recordings were still unacceptably distorted and noisy using the built-in microphone or a standard 3.5mm wired stereo headset microphone.

With these shortcomings and limitations taken into account, I still recommend “FiRe” Field Recorder for iPod/iPhone/iPad if you are looking for a recording app that offers a higher level of sophistication than the simple Memo audio recording app that comes with IOS 4.x.