Mobility

How a hand-me-down Kindle Fire became an IT guy's favorite tool

The first generation Kindle Fire is an oldie but a goodie, according to one IT guy who has given it new life after inheriting it from his kid.

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Clothing hand-me-downs in my house usually flow from the older kids to the younger kids. Technology hand-me-downs, however, can be a different story – sometimes they actually change hands from the kids to the adults.

My son had a Kindle Fire (First Generation) for a couple of years which he seemed to like well enough, but then he received an iPad mini this past Christmas and the Kindle was kicked to the curb by the gleam of a shiny new Apple product. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to tinker around with something new (to me), I asked for his Kindle which he gave me without another thought.

 

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 Photo: Amazon.com
 

I hadn’t had much exposure to the Kindle Fire before that day, but I had read a little about it and vaguely assumed it was a content delivery mechanism for Amazon books with maybe the ability to install some games or surf the web on a clunky browser. Based on my experience with my wife’s Nook, I figured perhaps I could load some free classic literature onto the Kindle (since I don’t buy e-books through Amazon) or – more importantly – wipe the operating system and put a full-fledged Android installation on it.

I reset the Kindle to factory defaults then got started. I knew whatever I did with it would have to yield a purpose. I don’t keep old stuff around; I’m not running a museum, and I am a minimalist so if something doesn’t fit my needs I pass it along to those who can use it more effectively. I have a Samsung Android and several laptops so I wasn’t sure what the Fire could really do for me but was willing to see if I could wedge it in between the portability of my smartphone and the bigger screen/better working environment of my laptops.

I admit I had low expectations, but as things turned out I was pleasantly surprised at how much it could do out of the box – even for a first generation version. The Kindle runs a modified version of the Android operating system, but it lets you do a lot more than just read books. You can browse the web, install apps and access email.

Checking out the apps

First I looked at the web browser.

 

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I found the web browser fast and responsive and the touch screen quite accurate. I’ve always had middling luck with touch screens – my wife’s Nook barely even acknowledges my existence, much less permitting me to swipe across the screen to unlock it, and typing out emails on my Android is not a fun chore – so I appreciate the fact this screen does what I tell it to with Apple-like precision. Zooming in and zooming out were simple and turning pages or switching screens worked perfectly.

The 7” screen size on the Kindle meant plenty of real estate to display web pages properly:

 

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The tabbed interface on the browser along with the ability to quickly access recent sites has made the Kindle invaluable just for the access to the web alone:

 

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I then scoured the Amazon store looking for apps I might use. I found some favorites like Dropbox, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google+, Facebook and Twitter and got those installed. I also found some new apps such as a FileManager (a Windows Explorer for the Android), QuickOffice, a PDF Reader, and a Wi-Fi analyzer. By the time I was done a few minutes later my Apps list resembled the following:

 

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Dropbox is probably the app I rely on the most since my Dropbox folders contain all of my work, tasks, and current reading material. Rather than buying e-books online I generally put technical PDFs and white papers in Dropbox so I can stay current.

The Dropbox screen easily showed all of my familiar folders:

 

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Like the web browser, opening a PDF file from showed a readable and realistic display:

 

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I then copied several documents to the Kindle and accessed the “Docs” link to confirm they were present:

 

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It’s great being able to just drag and drop files onto the device rather than using a sync program and all of its headaches. The “File Manager” app also helped by allowing me to browse the folders on the device to figure out where stuff is located behind the scenes:

 

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Next I checked out Twitter and found it as useful as on the laptop/desktop:

 

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My Google Calendar displayed well in landscape mode, presenting me with information I can use about my upcoming schedule:

 

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And since I love maps and rely on Google Maps for directions, research and pure recreation I found the Google Maps display handy as well:

 

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The Kindle also offers the ability to play music and videos, but I didn’t test these since my primary focus was to see how I could use it for business purposes.

Some other advantages

I’ve really become attached to the Kindle thanks to its instant-on capability and the way it comes in handy as a second screen when I’m doing research while writing about a topic. I’ve come to depend on dual monitors for my desktop systems, so this gives me more flexibility when working with my laptop.

The battery life has also been fine (Amazon says this version offers 8 hours of reading or 7.5 hours of video playback). I haven’t really used it for hours on end and so I have not found myself in a situation where I’m low on juice.

Some cons on the flip side

Like any other device out there, the Kindle is not without a few drawbacks however. There’s not much drive space; 5 GB total, which seems like a lot if you leave out the music and video and focus mainly on documents – but I have a LOT of documents I work with such as Linux and Windows manuals. I can’t copy my entire library onto the Kindle as I can with my Android, ironically. This is because my Android has a micro-SD slot and the Kindle has none.

I also found I couldn’t install some apps from the Google Play store; nothing happened when I tried. For instance, for the life of me I couldn’t get Chrome installed – I couldn’t even get an error message upon trying to do so. It’s not a huge deal to me since the native browser works fine, but a troubling sign nonetheless.

Having only Wi-Fi connectivity means I can’t access the web on the Kindle everywhere I go, of course, but this is the same situation with my laptop. Only my smartphone has 3G/4G connectivity out of all my gear, but for the Kindle it’s not such a big deal since docs are still saved locally and my smartphone can be used for driving directions or other as-needed web access when I’m out and about.

Lastly, the email client worked fairly well and I could work with items in my INBOX, but I couldn’t access anything in my folders, despite being able to open them (they appeared as blank). Since I have rules that route a lot of my email into folders, this is a distinct disadvantage since I can’t see those messages. Perhaps there’s something I need to tweak there but so far I haven’t come across any clues.

A worthwhile addition to the tool belt

For an oldie but goodie, the Kindle has been a big benefit to me in my quest to access information and keep tabs on social media, my schedule and my reading material. The newer version of the Kindle Fire (the HX) offers more benefits such as a better display, more storage, a faster CPU, longer battery life, and updated apps, but so far so good in terms of working with what I’ve got.

I will probably wind up installing the full-blown Android OS on the Kindle just to see how it compares to the default OS. There will be more to follow on that in a future article.

Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about Kindles, I recommend checking out a very cool site called www.lovemyfire.com. It includes a lot of great tips and strategies.

About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

15 comments
andrys1
andrys1

Scott and xrayangiodoc especially,

 In reply to a question here, the original Kindle Fire doesn't have Bluetooth.


   The Google Maps you downloaded from Amazon's app store are third party ones.  I don't know how they can use the GooglePlay icon. 


   At any rate, yes there are easy ways to get actual GooglePlay apps on any Kindle Fire.  (GooglePlay doesn't allow Amazon tablets to use their apps developed by them, direct from them onto the Kindle Fires.)


  However, Amazon enabled the regular Android setting that lets users check a box to "allow installation of apps from unknown sources" (meaning non-Amazon sources). 


  You can get them from secondary stores that host them also and which don't deny Kindle Fires access.  But I always wait for a few days before downloading any new apps or updated apps until I see that no one's having trouble with them (either with malware or with glitchy new software -- and even googleplay store has had its share of malware).

 It's good to let a newly deposited file on an app store sit for a bit to let others find the problems, if any.   


 So, when on other app stores we download the store app (there are several stores for this) and then use that store app the same way we do the Amazon store app -- Search for an app and then download it directly to the Kindle Fire, Basic, HD or HDX and it's installed and, in my case, just about always works.


No rooting or modding nor any special apps needed to allow this.


I have Google's own Google Maps, Street View, Google Earth, Google Voice on all my Amazon tablets (again, no modding or rooting is necessary).

   Pure download and install. The easiest store for all this is 1mobile.com, which has well over 500,000 GooglePlay apps.


I have steps for this, if needed in an article you'll find if you google the following phrase:

  how to install non-amazon apps on a kindle fire


It's usually the first search result.  I see someone else has made links, so I'll try one to make it easier to directly access the article.

  http://kindleworld.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-reviewer-myth-that-kindle-fire.html


  One thing really nice about the Kindle Fire is it's the only Amazon tablet with built in Flash, as Adobe was supporting it at that time.

  (Nowadays we have to use Dolphin and an older Adobe Flash player on it to get that, with the newer Android tablet operating systems.)

Stuka59
Stuka59

I am very interested in using my Kindle Fire HDX like an Android device, where I can install Google Play apps, MS Office, and WS_FTP and other useful programs. I look forward to your article on that.

spiralingcrazies
spiralingcrazies

My parents came to me with one of these. Right away I hated the fact that you're completely reliant on Amazon. They want you to be always logged on to their site or even their paid apps won't work. You also have to be with a current credit card so with one click you get charged for the paid services which are really easy to rack up charges. There's no security whatsoever, besides a password for the Kindle. 


There were a few other annoyances, like the ridiculously stupid bookshelf type of desktop menu. Also the lack of file manager. These were easily fixed - I downloaded them on my other tablet (Archos 10.1it) and File Expert has an option to pick the APKs by going to Apps->Backup. So in this case I got both File Expert and a new window manager through therev(ADW or similar), loaded them on my PC and then on the Kindle and from there on it has been easy sailing. I did the same when I needed a book reader that wasn't Kindle connected, in this case Aldiko.


Most of the other apps that I needed are free through Amazon.com so I didn't have to struggle through this backhand loading process.


I know there is a way to hack it and load an open OS that doesn't have the Amazon limitations but besides these for tweaks, it wasn't needed.


Awful design though - there is only one mini usb jack for the connection to PC or for charging and it is a flimsy low quality one at that, so after a few uses my parents managed to break it, right out of warranty :)

PsychoPod
PsychoPod

Install CM11 on it, I did a week ago and it turns it to another device. Can't put it down anymore while reading documents or just plain surfing.

jwherman
jwherman

I like my Kindle Fire as a mobile e-mail and internet client.  That's because I like my smart phone "dumbed down".  Why not a tablet you ask?   Well, I don't think too many people are writing viruses for Kindle Fire - what's the point?  Plus Kindle's Wi-Fi is a good complement to the phone companies' wireless networks.  While only the newer models *might* be able to do VOIP, it's still a great little device, even as a backup for your "regular" tablet and phone. 

xrayangiodoc
xrayangiodoc

If you want internet access anywhere with your Kindle you can use your android phones' personal hotspot. If your telephone company doesn't allow that feature with your data plan (like T-mobile does with my Galaxy S3 and my 2GB unlimited plan) you can put FoxFi on your phone and PdaNet Tablet on your Kindle to tether the 2 either with Bluetooth (does the Kindle have Bluetooth?) or WiFi. The carrier may be able to detect the WiFi tether and redirect you to their web page where they ask if you want to upgrade your data plan. The Bluetooth tether seems to sail under the radar. A fairly easy way to access the data you pay for every month with a more useable large screen. I was so pleased that I bought the paid version of FoxFi.

inventor96
inventor96

After my Acer A500 was stolen, my awesome brother gave me one of these tablets that he had found on a job site. Since the Kindle OS is a highly-modified version of Android 2.3.3, it's really easy to install Android 4.2.2! And so I did with mine. I've had it running for a few months as of this post, and it has worked great!


The biggest downside -- like mentioned in the article -- is the lack of storage space available, so for the first time since I've used Android tablets, I've actually had to watch how many of my usual apps I install and where I put them on the device (yep, keep reading). Android -- when installed on the Kindle -- sees an internal storage space, and an SD card (external) storage space, even though there is no SD card slot. You have to distribute apps in each space appropriately.


If anyone else wants to do it, the instructions in this article really helped me with the process. To start the process, it says you need to download the Kindle Fire Utility. The link provided in the instructions is a bit out-of-date, the latest version (as far as I could find) can be found here, instead.


Enjoy!

smmatteson
smmatteson

Hi  Joey, I browsed to Google Play in the web browser and was able to install apps that way, directly onto the Kindle.  If I log into Play from the browser and look for my devices I do not see the Kindle listed so it would seem that application delivery is not available.



david.c.allen
david.c.allen

I installed Go Launcher on my wife's Kindle Fire and it gives her an almost pure Android experience. I had to side load it. I used Wifi File Manager to get ESFileExplorer on it and then I could sideload from my network share. 

JoeyBurke
JoeyBurke

You mentioned above you went to Google Play. I have a Fire HD, and unless I root it, I can't get Google Play to even recognize an Android device is attached. Did you mean Kindle Apps?

fwd079
fwd079

"How a hand-me-down Kindle Fire became an IT guy's favorite tool"


It didn't. 

I went for Android Tablet because I didn't want to yet-another-apple like place bound to one single product. Got iPhone 5 and getting bogged down with restrictions is not  for an IT bloke, so no, I'd rather have an Android I can play with, thank you very much.

jsargent
jsargent

@jwherman  Kindle Fire = Android, who needs to imply viruses written for Kindle Fire when they are writing viruses for Android. Its only a matter of time before Kindles become a big target.

smmatteson
smmatteson

@JoeyBurke  Sorry Joey, my bad - I just checked my Kindle and this was the Amazon store instead.  I apologize for the confusion; I loaded my Samsung Android with a bunch of apps from Google Play during that time frame so I associated one with the other.


There is a good article that discusses a semi-workaround that doesn't involve rooting here: http://www.lovemyfire.com/google-play-apps-kindle-fire.html.  I have not tested this yet but may do so for further research.


Thanks,

Scott

Gwyneth Llewelyn
Gwyneth Llewelyn

@fwd079 the main point here on this article is, "what can you use a Kindle Fire for?". If, for your professional needs, you need something that works all the time, requires little or zero maintenance, and has all the tools that you need for your work, well, then, this might mean that the Kindle Fire, or a similar gadget, might be useful.

You, on the other hand, admit that "you'd rather have an Android that you can *play* with". That's the difference: this article was about tools, your comment is about gadgets to play with. And in that sense I can agree with you: maybe the Kindle Fire is useful as a tool, but not fun as a gadget to play with.

Around 2000, I used to work as an IT consultant paid per hour. After a few months, I noticed that my income was decreasing, and I was wondering why (that was a few years before the first financial crisis of 2001-2003). Then suddenly I tracked it down to constant maintenance just to keep Windows operational: according to my own calculations at that time, in spite of working on average 10-12 hours per day, half of them were unbillable hours, because I needed to fix something which stopped working on Windows. Half! So what did I do? I got rid of Windows and bought a Mac — no more tinkering! It just worked — all the time, without failure.

Obviously that I didn't abandon Windows — or, for that matter, Linux — because of that. In my free time, I enjoy tinkering. I lost a bit the patience with Windows, that's true, but I still enjoy very much tinkering and tinkering and playing around with Linux, trying to squeeze a bit more performance out of it, just for the fun.

Many years later I found out that Mac OS X is also great to tinker with, and that you can completely ruin your Apple product if you tinker too much with it :) (heh!) So, my solution was to get two Macs: one for work, which never gets tinkered with, and the other for play, which is in several states of instability. On the server side, there are production servers (running FreeBSD... much safer than Linux) where my tinkering is absolutely forbidden. And then there is an array of Linux servers — bare metal, VPS, shared — and old HP PCs from 2007 reconverted into home Linux servers. All are part of my "fun time". They're not "tools", they're "things to play with".

My point here is that, for an IT professional, you have tools (which you use for your work that gives you an income) and gadgets (which you use to have fun with). A successful IT professional knows how to keep them apart. And, believe me, I have endured horror stories from outsourced developers, all highly "professional", surrounded by gadgets of all sorts and buying top-of-the-line desktops every six months, who then failed to deliver their allocated work "because their PC failed". The first time that happened, I frowned, but accepted the "excuse" without comments. Soon, however, it became obvious that all these people would be constantly tinkering with their _main_ desktops (and devices), and, as they inevitably failed, would spend several hours of unproductive work while attempting a "repair" (either hardware or software). I remember telling them to make sure they kept a "work" desktop and a "play" desktop apart and never attempt to mix both — or I wouldn't hire them any more.

I'm obviously talking about extreme cases. Obviously "a little tinkering" is allowed. The issue is, if you have a piece of technology that is vital for your work, you should refrain from "playing" too much with it, or face the consequences — being unable to do any productive work because your tools are not working any more. Thus you might better understand why Apple also sells their highly proprietary "tinker-free" appliances to the IT industry: the temptation to tinker with your "work environment" is removed that way, and you just have tools that work all the time and require little maintenance to do what they're good for. Sure, they might not be "fun" (in the sense that you cannot tinker with them), but that's not what they're good at.

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