Monday, August 25, 2014

Quick Review of Kindle Fire HD 7"/Traveling without a laptop


This device was somewhat dated when I purchased it, in July, which is one reason the price was so reasonable, $139.  In this review I will consider the device only from the point of view of my own use pattern.  Tablets to me are eReaders.  I don't care to watch video on them, so I will not evaluate that function.  I also don't care to write longish pieces on them, so will only consider the input function in passing.  It is the reading function that is primary to me and what I will focus on.  I do sometimes listen to music when reading. At home I've used Spotify on the device and that has worked well.  On my latest trip, however, I opted not to listen to music while reading.  That was, in part, because I was traveling with the family and wanted to more alert to what is going on.  It was also a little bit of an experiment to see whether the reading benefited or not without having the music.

For me this device was a replacement for the original iPad I had that reached end of life.  That is how the review will be framed.

Form Factor

I have come to like the Kindle Fire for its size and weight.  The screen is big enough for it to feel like reading a book and not like rapid page turning, as on a regular size phone. Initially I had some trouble with how to hold the thing.  I like it to be in landscape mode.  When you do that, on one side of the device in the back is the power on/off button.  On the other side is the volume control for the audio.  If you hold the device on the side, you're apt to push one of those buttons, which is the pain.

I've found that if you hold the device on the bottom in the middle, between your thumb and index finger, that works pretty well.  It also has the feel of reading a paper if, like me, you didn't worry about breaking the binding while reading the book.

I want to contrast this with how I read on the iPad, where the device typically would rest in my lap, because it was too heavy to hold up with my hands.  As a result my neck would be stressed as my head would be looking down toward my lap.  Given my arthritis, this really isn't a good thing to do for very long.  Holding the device closer to eye level is much better and that is easy to do with the Kindle Fire.

Other things I like about it

The navigation scheme to find the functionality you want is pretty easy to learn.  The tool for handling network connections works well.  The built in browser, called Silk, has nice function and there is a way for it to display just the article you are currently reading and not other stuff on the page, so it is not bad as a reader.  The email tool works fine.  Font size in all the applications is quite reasonable.

You buy this things, of course, because you read Kindle books.  The current book you are reading displays with the main applications.  That is nice, so you have quick access to it.

A few complaints

If you want to put the screen to sleep, you do that with a quick tap of the power button.  Fine.  Another quick tap brings up a screen that has ads on it, where you need to slide a bar to access to the home page.  The time and the amount of power left on the machine is on the page with the ads, not on the home page.  I didn't mind the ads per se, but one in a while I do want to know the time and how much juice the thing has left in it.  That functionality really should be on the home page.  That it is on the page with ads makes you feel like the did that so you'd see more ads.  That was irksome.

In the Kindle application itself, sometimes the word lookup function would launch itself when I didn't intend it.  My sense of this is that by holding the device at bottom center, I would put a fair amount of pressure there and sometimes must have made the device think I was putting pressure on the screen, though I wasn't doing that.  In contrast, however, when I did try to use the word lookup function and the word in question was somewhere near the middle of the screen, I couldn't activate the lookup function then.  Similarly, I had trouble with copy, particularly of a url, though I've also had that trouble on my phone and on the iPad.

Once in a while when trying to find the home screen, the device would seemingly take you to a different screen that had more limited options.  I never found a direct way back to the home screen.  Instead, I would launch an application and from there go to the home screen.

Traveling without a Laptop

For composing short email or writing a quick Facebook status update, the Kindle Fire is fine.  The built in keyboard is adequate and even with the smaller screen there is enough area displayed to make the writing task not too arduous.  If you want to longish blog posts, such as this one, that would be painful on the Kindle Fire.  On my most recent trip I didn't expect to do any longer writing.  The no laptop concept worked well that way and using a very small bag (to hold the power cords of both my iPhone and the Kindle Fire, the devices themselves when not in use, and my sunglasses) really is nice.  That sort of bag fits in the pocket under the tray table on the plane.  It is very convenient.  For short trips, this is the way to go. 

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