Some thoughts on the Kindle Fire

I’ve had the Kindle Fire for over a week now and so far it’s been an interesting experience.

There have been plenty of reviews that do a much better job than I’m willing to do reviewing all of the gory details (take a look at ArsTechnica’s review for a complete run down), but I do have a couple of specific thoughts I’d like to share.

To put this in perspective, my “other” tablet is an iPad 2. I totally get that the Kindle Fire is NOT an iPad, and is not a full fledged tablet, so these comments do take that into account.

First of all, the build quality is definitely a step below what you get with an Apple device. The design is “chunky”, and in my case, if you squeeze the top and bottom of the left side together (such as when gripping it between your finger and thumb), I feel the case flex, and I can even sometimes hear a tiny squeak!

Second, the lack of a built in Exchange email client is a tough pill to swallow. I’ve found an app that handles the job (Touchdown for Android – $20 for a license, 30 day free trial), however it does not work as smoothly as my iPad does. The main issue here is that even though the new email notification chime will go off when a new email arrives, the time it takes to display the email once the device is turned on and the app is opened can sometimes seem like forever. It’s probably “only” a 30 second delay, but that’s compared to no apparent delay at all with the iPad.

Third, the Kindle reading app itself. There is no excuse for something as simple and important as page turning to stutter. Now the good news is that a release that came out between the time I started writing this and now seems to have fixed this. The problem is that it still fails in another major way – reading magazines. I have gone pretty much paperless in my reading life and magazines are one of the things I’m happy to have on my device instead of on a table. The problem isn’t so much that the Kindle Fire screen is too small for reading magazines (most have a button on the screen that lets you switch to a text view that works just fine), it’s just that for many magazines, it completely forgets where you were at the last time you opened that magazine. It’s as if each time you put a magazine down, you don’t bother to put a bookmark in so you can find your spot! Now if you’re reading some fluffy magazine this might not be a big problem, but for things like Technology Review from MIT it is not acceptable to have to keep hunting for where you were last. The funny thing is, the Kindle reader app on the iPad handles this just fine.

Finally, the carousel that shows your most recent apps run / web sites visited / books read is just awful. It is impossible to position correctly, and it’s impossible to hide stuff. For example, if I just finished a book, on the iPad I can just delete it from the Kindle app. On the Kindle Fire, it’s impossible to get rid of it. I’ve read it, I’m done, I don’t want to see it again!

I’m finding overall that the experienced is mixed. What are your thoughts?

Lapin Systems and Amazon delivering great customer service

Good customer service is such a pleasure when I encounter it. I had two stand out instances this week.

I have an iMac at home, and really appreciate Mac OS X and all that it brings to the table, but after having an SSD in my systems at the office for the past several years, I couldn’t take the “slow” hard drive any more. Just to be fair, the drive is no slower than that in any other PC (speaking generally of course). It’s a bog standard 7200 rpm drive, which is probably adequate for most people.

However, once you go SSD, you really don’t ever want to go back! I finally decided that I’d had enough of the performance “problems” on the iMac and put my plan in action.

The first thing I had to do was acquire an SSD. While we’ve purchased around 20 OCZ Vertex drives at the office, we’d had a high enough failure rate with them that I wasn’t going to buy another one. I ended up ordering a 512 gig Crucial SSD from Amazon on Monday evening at around 7pm, with standard Prime second day shipping. The web site estimated a delivery date of Thursday (not sure why there was a projected delay, but what the heck).

I was shocked Tuesday morning when I arrived at my office at 11am (I had to visit another office in a suburb before getting to our headquarters) and discovered that the SSD had already arrived! That is customer service!

The next part of the master plan was to get the drive installed. I’m a pretty geeky guy and could do it myself, but I also capable of changing the oil in my car and yet I choose to pay someone else to do it. I honestly just didn’t want to deal with removing the glass from the front of the iMac. Breaking or scratching that, or even worse leaving dust behind the glass (the horror) would cost a lot more than paying someone else to do it.

With just a bit of Google-Fu (Bing-Fu just doesn’t sound right) I found Lapin Systems in Evanston, IL. I exchanged some emails with them to confirm their willingness to do the work, and how long it would take. I was a bit disappointed that they couldn’t guarantee a same day turn around. It is understandable though – if someone came in with a “system down” situation, it would make sense to fix them up first. Anyway, I dropped the iMac off their office on Thursday at 9am with the promise that they be able to get it done today (not much work sitting on the bench I guess).

An hour and a half later I got a call from them that my machine was ready! Hot diggity. After a quick round trip to their offices I got the machine hooked back up and restoring data (back up your systems kids!).

A big thank you to Lapin Systems and Amazon for making this upgrade project pretty much painless (except for paying for the SSD).

Oh yeah, the iMac screams and runs multiple VM’s under Parallels (Windows 7 and Windows 8 ) quite nicely now.