The Kindle Fire as a textbook reader?

I’m a gadget guy, I admit it. I also have to disclose that I’m generally not an Apple person (I hate iTunes), so I’ve been living a Google mobile experience for nearly two years (Android OS on my Motorola Droid2).

I had pretty high hopes when a brand new Kindle Fire showed up in my (physical) mailbox. Had someone finally answered my call for a low-cost tablet? Here are some of my thoughts after two weeks of use.

Pros:

  • $199, less than half the price of the cheapest iPad.
  • The 7-inch screen makes the device very portable, without sacrificing screen resolution. It fits in the pocket on my jacket.
  • The weight is not too bad either. It’s fairly comfortable to type with your thumbs in portrait or in landscape mode.
  • Apps included in the vetted Amazon App Store are available to be installed on the device.
  • The user interface is very intuitive. The most recent apps and content are a swipe away on the home screen.
  • If you’re already an Android user, this device will be very familiar to you.
  • If your content already lives on Amazon (Kindle books, Amazon MP3, video on demand), everything you ever bought will be available on your device.
  • Using a stylus and the Skitch app, you can get away with creating simple drawings.
  • Configuring the device for email was fairly easy, although I’ve heard people complain that the native email client doesn’t support Exchange accounts (but users can buy an app or use the web interface in those cases).

Cons:

  • No camera or microphone, so forget Skype.
  • No Bluetooth connectivity, limited accessories to choose from. I don’t think you can even have an external keyboard on this device.
  • No 3G option limits the connectivity of the device when not at home or at work (but then you save the data plan).
  • I haven’t found a way to take screenshots… yet.
  • Touchscreen woes: You really have to be steady when clicking, the slightest movement will be considered a swipe. This is particularly annoying on the home screen when browsing your recent content and when highlighting in Kindle books.
  • Some of the very basic apps most users have by default on their Android devices are missing (i.e., not available on the Amazon App Store), notably:
    • Gmail
    • Youtube
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • Dropbox.com
  • Sending files to the device is clunky. You need to either download files and images from the web browser, connect through USB, or send them as attachments to a “user@kindle.com” email address. EPUB and DRM files are not supported, but DOCs are. I was able to open a PDF on the device even though it’s not listed as a compliant file type (I installed Adobe Reader, but PDFs are read-only). See complete list >

The Kindle Fire as an e-textbook reader?

I don’t think the Kindle Fire offers much more than the e-ink based Kindle or the Kindle reader software for computers. Its biggest advantage is the fact that it’s in color, but you can get the same feeling from any other tablet with the Kindle app on it, and you get access to other types of files, such as documents, music, and videos.

It supports highlighting and notes, which are synchronized to all your devices supporting Kindle books. Copying and pasting from the Kindle software on a computer grabs a citation and page number at the same time, making the process a bit easier when quoting in an academic paper.

The Kindle Fire doesn’t claim to replace a laptop. It was not designed as a do-it-all device. In a recent Wired article titled Jeff Bezos Owns the Web in More Ways Than You Think, he explains the philosophy behind the Kindle family:

Bezos doesn’t consider the Fire a mere device, preferring to call it a “media service.” While he takes pride in the Fire, he really sees it as an advanced mobile portal to Amazon’s cloud universe. That’s how Amazon has always treated the Kindle: New models simply offer improved ways of buying and reading the content. Replacing the hardware is no more complicated or emotionally involved than changing a flashlight battery.

Overall, the Kindle Fire is a nice and affordable media consumption device that a student can use IN ADDITION to a laptop and a smartphone. But people will push to get it to behave like a laptop, and will probably partially succeed as time goes on.

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3 thoughts on “The Kindle Fire as a textbook reader?

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