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November 29, 2011

Kindle Fire: *whew* ...thought mine had died!

I've been using my Kindle Fire. A LOT. I've been cancelling all hardcopy magazine subscriptions, since I'm extremely happy with reading magazines on the Kindle; whether it's via subscriptions through the Amazon Kindle store, or through the Zinio app (which I had to sideload), it's been great. Much to my surprise, I actually prefer the Mail client on the Fire to GMail (which I'd sideloaded and then later removed). Facebook, Twitter, book reading, web surfing ...it's all been great.

Then a few minutes ago I reached for the Fire. I pressed the power button. I pressed it again. And again. I plugged in the charging cord but no light came on (the power button is also a light that indicates charging status). I tried different electrical outlets and a different charging cord. Nothing.

Much to my dismay, I then saw some posts on the Amazon forums about Kindles experiencing sudden death. Amazon's great on returns, and I did also buy an extended warranty from SquareTrade, but I really didn't want to have to go a whole day or two without my reading device!

But then - happily - as I was starting to fill out the online form to list my problem and start a chat with a support rep, I saw the below message...

Resetting your Kindle Fire can solve intermittent problems. To reset your device:

  1. Make sure your device is disconnected from any power source.
  2. Press in the power switch and hold it there for 20 seconds.
  3. The screen should turn off, once the screen is fully turned off press the power button in for 2 seconds and release. The device will turn back on and you will see the Kindle Fire loading screen.
This reset will not affect any books or content you have on the Kindle. If your Kindle does not restart or this problem happens again, you can reach us by phone directly by clicking the link below.

The simple procedure worked! Whew! My Fire started up and (as I'd remembered) was only down about 20% in the charge. Hopefully, this was a one-time issue!

 

Posted by Joe Litton | November 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 22, 2011

Kindle Fire: "sideloading" Google apps

In my previous post, I mentioned sideloading. In the case of the Kindle Fire, this means locating the .apk file for the app you want, putting that file on a PC, transferring to the Fire via USB cable, and then installing the file. Yup, it's a hassle, but for apps that are not available from the Amazon Appstore, this is the easiest way (of which I'm aware) to get the apps installed.

Get the install files: For the Google apps, the first thing you need to do is get the Android install files. Thankfully, these have been posted already. Download gapps.rar from http://www.multiupload.com/DGMBZZNOXM ...You'll need WinZip (there's a free eval version) or a similar program to extract the .apk files (the Android app install files) from the .rar file. I suggest extracting the files to an easy-to-remember location. Maybe create a folder called "Google Android Apps" on your desktop.

FYI, here's the Google files that are included in that .rar:

  • com.google.android.apps.books-1.apk
  • com.google.android.apps.maps-1.apk
  • com.google.android.apps.plus-1.apk
  • com.google.android.apps.reader-1.apk
  • com.google.android.gm-2.apk
  • com.google.android.gsf-2.apk    << That's the same as GoogleServicesFramework.apk
  • com.google.android.street-1.apk
  • com.google.android.talk-1.apk
  • com.google.android.youtube-2.apk
  • GoogleServicesFramework.apk    << That's the same as com.google.android.gsf-2.apk

Grab a couple of free utility apps for the Kindle: From your Kindle Fire, go to the Amazon Appstore and get the free ES File Explorer app and the free Easy Installer app and install them on the Fire.

CopyToKindleCopy the Google files to the Kindle Fire: Connect your Kindle Fire to your Windows PC with a USB cable. After a moment or two, you should see the Kindle appear as a drive available from File Manager. Select the Google files from your PC folder and drag/drop to copy them to the download folder on your Fire. Once the files are copied, you can disconnect the devices; press the Disconnect button on the Kindle and remove the USB cable.

Install the apps on the Fire: Remember the Easy Installer that you snagged from the Appstore and installed on the Kindle? Open that app. It will list the apps that are available in your downloads folder. IMPORTANT:  Before you install any other apps, first install the Google Services Framework. Locate that file in the listing showing in Easy Installer, press to place a green checkmark at the right of the filename, and then press the Install Selected Apps at the bottom of the screen. Once that install is done, you can go back and select any of the other apps you want to install, and click the Install button for those as well. If you've selected multiple apps, as each one finishes installing, click Done; if you click Open, you'll be popped into the just-loaded app and will have to go back to Easy Installer and again select /install the other desired apps.

What about other apps, like Listen? Just as with the Google apps that were included in the .rar file linked above, you need to have the .apk install file for your desired app. In my case, since I already had the Listen app on my Android phone (an HTC Incredible), I used the free ASTRO File Manager to backup the install file, and then sideloaded that file from the phone - to the PC - to the Fire, and then again used Easy Installer to install the app. To back up an app, open ASTRO and press Application Backup. Select the app(s) you wish to back up and press Backup. This places the appropriate .apk file(s) in the /mnt/sdcard/apps folder (on my phone, anyway), which appears simply as the apps folder when connected to the PC with a USB cable and browsing the files via Windows File Manager.

Astro_appBackup   Astro_Listen

After the files are all sideloaded and installed, I have a Kindle Fire with a sweet suite of apps :)

KindleApps

So why did I suggest that you load the ES File Explorer app on the Fire? Well, there's been a time or two when .apk files I've sideloaded do not show up in Easy Installer. No worries! You just open ES File Explorer, open the download folder, and tap the icon for the desired app to install it :)

Disclaimer: I had previously rooted my Fire whilst doing other things, and had installed most of these apps while it was rooted. To test things tonight, I uninstalled all of those apps, and with the Kindle Fire not rooted, I sideloaded and installed the apps and took the screenshots seen here. Please comment if you try these steps and they do not work for you.

 

Posted by Joe Litton | November 22, 2011 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (5)

November 20, 2011

Kindle Fire: Is this the droid you’ve been looking for?

KindleAppsAs much as I hate ending a sentence with a preposition, I make an exception here, and offer my answer to the question: Yes for me; maybe for you.

My pre-ordered Kindle Fire arrived last week on Wednesday, 16 Nov. After sideloading several apps, doing a temporary root to load more apps, then unrooting the device once the desired app were running (video streaming does not work if the device is rooted) …I now have what I have looked for in a tablet. Total cost was $200 for the tablet, and about $10 for a couple needed apps (described below). Oh, and I'm using a cover that my son gave me.

 

Kindle Fire without modifications: The Fire is about the same size as the Kindle 3, and slightly heavier (I measured the difference at 4.4 ounces). As a short gent (5’4”) with small hands, I like that I can hold either device quite comfortably in one hand. The display on the Fire is brilliantly crisp and clear. But although I keep the brightness turned down to less than half when inside, even with the brightness cranked all the way up, the Kindle Fire is not as easy to read outside as the Kindle 2.

Kindle std outsideThis pic shows the 'regular' Kindle outside. Very easy to read!

 

 

 

Kindle Fire outsideHere's the Kindle Fire, brightness up all the way, reading the same book at the same outside location. As you can see, the screen is quite reflective. I can absolutely read this, but the standard Kindle is definitely easier to read outside.

 

 

The Fire includes a link to the Amazon Appstore. Here’s what’s disappointing:  the Android Market offers over 250,000 apps; the Amazon Appstore – if you access it from an Android phone or your PC – has 4,000 apps (maybe more, but significantly less vs the Android Market). From the Fire, the Amazon Appstore only makes some of those 4,000 apps available, and it seemed that several of the apps I wanted were not available. By the way, I was rather appalled to read multiple online articles and posts mentioning the "must have" apps for the Fire and offering reviews of the device …when it is now obvious to me that these authors did not have the actual device! The articles described apps that are not available for the Fire, and ignored some of what I consider to be very nice included apps. The authors had erroneously assumed that anything available from the Appstore from a phone or PC would be available from the Fire. Wrong!

I’ve tested reading books and magazines on the Fire and I like the experience. That is, for the content I could load. Books and magazines purchased from Amazon for my prior Kindles all downloaded fine and the experience is quite nice, especially for content that normally includes color photos or charts (which render in grayscale on the earlier Kindles). Gaining access to the digital versions of some other periodicals was more challenging and required sideloading the Zinio app.

Video streaming on the Fire via Amazon Prime is amazing. I’ve tested a few videos now (tried a couple of TV shows and a movie) and in all cases the video and sound played just as smoothly and clearly as if watching content via normal TV.

Apps included with the Fire allow you to access your email, read books / periodicals, listen to music, read/post to Facebook and Twitter and other sites, and browse the web.

I was not familiar with Pulse, and this has been a happy discovery among the pre-loaded apps on the Kindle Fire. I am slowly getting this content aggregator configured and tuned and find it more useful each day.

So why would I want to modify things?

Swype: I have a droid phone for work and a droid phone for personal use and I use Swype on both of those (allows me to very quickly drag my finger from letter to letter, ‘stringing’ words together. I refuse to be limited to pecking out text a character at a time. You can “sideload” Swype on the Fire, and it will happily install – but it is not available as a text input option, so you are still left with the sole input option of the Kindle Fire soft keyboard.

Google apps: Gmail is my personal mail provider, and I am quite accustomed to running the Gmail app on my phones; Gmail is not among the available apps from the appstore on the Fire. I also use Google Maps and Google+. I have no idea why Amazon and Google aren’t playing nice here. Android comes from Google, and the Fire runs a modified version of Android.

A better web browser: The Fire comes with a browser, but I don’t care for it. This definitely comes down to personal preference, but now that I’ve modified the Fire and am running the Dolphin Mini browser, I like the web experience much more.

I would not want the Kindle Fire if I were not willing to do some tweaking. And I am willing to do some tweaking (my personal phone is rooted; heck the night I brought my brand new car home a few years ago, I tore off the front bumper assembly and other parts to do various upgrades). This is much easier than tearing into a car!

Here’s the approximate process I followed (I researched and experimented a bit, so this is not necessarily the exact and complete description of my fumbling)...Post a comment or email me if more details are needed.

  1. Grabbed my HTC Incredible (my personal Android phone), and used Astro File Manager to backup some apps (the associated .apk files were stored in the Apps folder on my phone's SD card). Among the apps I grabbed were Zinio reader, FiOS Remote (let's me manage my Verizon FiOS DVR), Swype, ...basically anything I had on the phone that I might want on the Fire.
  2. Using the phone, bought SQLite Editor ($2.99 and only needed if you want Swype) and Root Explorer (File Manager) ($3.99 and worth every penny). Backed these apps up using Astro File Manager once the apps were installed on the phone.
  3. Connected the phone to my PC via USB cable (most of my machines are linux, but I have one desktop with a Windows partition), and copied those saved .apk files to a folder on the PC.
  4. From Amazon Appstore, installed Easy Installer on the Fire
  5. Followed the instructions in these articles to root the Kindle, sideload the desired apps (including various Google apps and the Android Market):
    1. Root the Kindle
    2. Getting the Android Market (and other apps) working on the Fire
    3. Getting Swype to work
    4. MarketOpener app ...This simply puts an icon among the apps on your Fire - to let you easily get to the Android Market once you have the Market loaded.
    5. UN-root the Kindle Fire (instructions are in the "Root the Kindle" article linked above). This step is required in order to allow content to stream from Amazon.

Rooting requires that you have the Android developer kit loaded (instructions are in those linked articles) and that requires a Windows machine with Java. All the instructions are in the articles, and if you don't have Java yet, the Android dev kit installer will detect that and help you.

Do read all of the text of all of those posts / articles before you start messing with your Kindle. Bear in mind that you do risk bricking your device, so care is needed. BUT, if you prepare carefully, and give yourself the time to enjoy the process, you can - as I have - end up with a wonderful tablet and reading device for only $200!

I am happy.

Posted by Joe Litton | November 20, 2011 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4)