Monday, October 29, 2012

Tablets, Part 3: The Kindle Fire

I bought my Kindle Fire more or less on a whim last year. I had enough money to pick one up and I knew I could get one from Target, which was a few minutes' drive away. I wandered around the store for a few minutes, getting nervous but increasingly excited about the idea. I approached the clerk in the electronics department, and he was actually really pleasant and knowledgeable. I know he was trying to get me to buy the Target Warranties (thankfully I didn't, they would have been useless to me), but I really didn't have the money for it.

The Kindle Fire is probably one of the better impulse buys I've ever made. I'm not sure if driving to a store to buy one is really pulse or not, but certainly reckless at best. I've always enjoyed the Kindle Fire, but I didn't really enjoy Amazon's skin for Gingerbread(Android 2.3). My biggest gripe is that I could only have one Amazon account linked to the Fire. It wouldn't be an issue normally, but every Ebook I owned was on my Girlfriend's Kindle eReader, naturally bought through her Amazon account. On top of that, now she owns the Prime account we share.

The Original Kindle Android UI
I didn't hate the Kindle Fire's default UI, but it really got in the way. Without access to the Google Play Store I didn't have a lot of Apps I used daily. The good news was that I was an avid user of the Amazon Android App Market, so I actually had a lot of the daily free apps Amazon had been giving away. The web browser was sub-par, honestly. Amazon touted their cloud-based web browser, Silk, would be the future but honestly it never delivered for me. Many say that it gets better with time, because it predicts what links you'll click. The Amazon Android UI was often clunky and in the way, I didn't hate it, but I longed for better.

After having my Kindle Fire for a few weeks, I found the XDA Developer's forum for the Fire and I rooted it. On the Forum, there is an application that makes rooting, installing a custom Recovery , and installing custom ROMs extremely easy. In fact, I would trust just about anyone to do it. I rooted my Kindle Fire and installed the Google Play Store(then, the Andoid Market). I installed Firefox, even though I wasn't sure if it was actually better than Silk, but it was easier to use. I wasn't really satisfied.

I lurked the XDA Forum for a while before I made the jump to Cyanogenmod 7. I had used CM7 on my phone for a while, and really liked it. Sadly, Gingerbread wasn't made for Tablets and due to the Fire's lack of physical buttons, using CM7 was actually really difficult. CM7 had some mods for tablets, like moving the status bar to the bottom and adding ICS style soft buttons. It was all experimental and unstable. I actually used my tablet less because of how unruly it was. I eventually went back to rooted stock.

CM9, which is ICS, had been on the forum even before I jumped to CM7. It didn't have Hardware Acceleration, which was essential for watching HD video and playing games (two events that took place frequently on the Fire). I couldn't make the jump to ICS because I would invalidate some of the biggest uses I had for my tablet, but again I stayed away from the Fire because I still didn't care for the Amazon skin too much. Eventually CM9 came to the Fire in full force and it felt complete. I enjoyed it, but it was still slow, just as slow as CM7 and Amazon's Skin, but it was still slow.

Right now I should mention that the Fire wasn't exactly a performer. It didn't do poorly, it was certainly way better than my phone(The Optimus V), but it was much slower than the iPad, or even the Nook Tablet. It wasn't as good as most Android Tablets at the time. ICS made the tablet better, but not the speedy tablet I wanted.

Then there was CM10. Every new iteration of Android has given me a speed increase of some degree. Froyo was better than Eclair. Gingerbread bought many new features and performed even better than Froyo. ICS was other worldly, but still had the pauses and lag Android held in its list of charms. Android users had accepted that even the speediest experience didn't mean lag or stutter free. There would always be something on the underside of Android that kept it from being silky like iOS.

Jelly Bean changed that. Project Butter really challenged the previous notions of the Android Experience. Gone are the stutters, stops, pauses, pulses, and lag. Netflix is an app I use frequently, I am an avid Netflix subscriber. An issue I've always had with the Android Netflix app is that it was crazy slow. Lack of smoothness isn't the half of it. Even on a much more powerful tablet than the Fire, it's stuttery beyond anything I've ever experienced on a mobile device. With Jelly Bean on my Kindle Fire, it was smooth as just about anything else. Scrolling was like scrolling through simple text. The experience was whole and different. Jelly bean changed everything.

Today I use the Kindle Fire daily. The experience is unlike it was ever before. Every action is instant and decisive. There is no waiting, even in web browsing. Everything is smooth and I love my Kindle Fire.

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