Monday, November 28th, 2011
Why I love my Kindle Fire (part 4) or  I’ll pick my own wallpaper, thank you very much

The stupid bookshelf UI that default Kindle Fire users get
The default user interface that comes with the Kindle Fire is this bookshelf, with all your stuff jumbled together
If you’ve been following my posts about my Kindle Fire, you know that I rooted it and sideloaded some apps that Amazon thought I didn’t need, like Gmail (see part 1 and part 2 for more info). I’ve also ditched Amazon’s stupid bookshelf UI for an alternate launcher, and I’ve taken control and chosen my own wallpaper — no, Jeff Bezos, you do not get to decide what I look at when I turn on my Kindle Fire!

The default bookshelf UI is fine if you want to browse the content on your Kindle Fire or if you want to see what books or videos you’ve read or watched recently or—and this is why Amazon makes it the default UI—if you want to browse Amazon’s store for new content to buy, and I do still sometimes use the default bookshelf (if you look at the screenshot of my replacement launcher, you’ll see an icon in the upper left for “Launcher”—this is my shortcut to Amazon’s default bookshelf UI).

The Go Launcher on my Kindle with my own custom wallpaper and icons where I want them
Instead, I use the GO Launcher, and I use a wallpaper of my own choosing.
However, if you want to launch a particular app quickly or use widgets that you’re familiar with from your Android phone, the bookshelf UI doesn’t cut it, which is why so many techies have ditched the bookshelf for an alternate launcher. If you look at the default screen on my Fire, you’ll see I wanted quick access to The New Yorker app (see part 3 to understand why), to Gmail (and not Amazon’s lame email app), to Dolphin (and not Amazon’s silky default browser), to a real Facebook app (and not Amazon’s less than helpful shortcut to Facebook Mobile), and to some other apps I use frequently. The launcher I’ve chosen is a popular one, the GO Launcher EX, but basically any launcher that lets you place icons where you want them would have worked for me.

If you do decide to go with an alternate launcher, something that will quickly drive you crazy is that Amazon in their Apple-like wisdom changes the wallpaper on your Kindle Fire to one of 21 fun different photographs each and every time you turn on your device. If you’re using their default bookshelf UI, you see that wallpaper only on the unlock screen and so not being able to customize it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but if you use an alternate launcher, you see the wallpaper every time you go back home, and some of Amazon’s choices just do not work well as backgrounds to put icons on top of. You can override the wallpaper, but that’s only temporary—the next time your Fire goes to sleep you’ll be back to a default Amazon-chosen wallpaper as soon as you hit the power button, unless you jump through some more hoops to impose your own will on the hardware you’ve purchased.

APK MultiTool screenshot
APK Multi-Tool runs from the command line, but that shouldn’t scare you
Luckily, someone at XDA-Developers came up with the steps you need to follow to choose your own wallpapers for your Kindle Fire—actually these instructions are laid out more clearly on this page from Samsung-Tablets.com. If you haven’t rooted your Kindle Fire, you can’t change your wallpapers, and also you’ll need the APK Multi-Tool. I say “wallpapers” plural because you have no choice but to have 21 wallpapers for My Kindle Fire's unlock screen now has my contact info on it
My Kindle Fire’s unlock screen now has my contact info on it
the Fire to choose from each time it awakens, but I actually just used the same exact image 21 times, all of which had to be named exactly what the Fire expects: wallpaper_01_2422.jpg, wallpaper_02_1953.jpg, etc.—see the instructions pages above for the exact names.

I had two goals for a wallpaper for my Kindle Fire, and I was able to meet both of them. I wanted my contact information on my wallpaper. I don’t think that I’ll ever set my Kindle Fire down someplace and forget it, but if I do, I want my name and contact info to appear when someone turns it on. And I wanted a nice neutral background that wouldn’t interfere with the icons for my apps. I got what I wanted, despite Jeff Bezos’s Steve Jobs-like insistence that he knew best for how I use his product, and that’s another reason I love my Kindle Fire.

Friday, November 25th, 2011
Why I love my Kindle Fire (part 3) — New Yorker edition

New Yorker app on my Kindle Fire
New Yorker app on my Kindle Fire
New Yorker app on my Kindle Fire
The New Yorker on the Kindle Fire is optimized for its screen size and includes icons for extras such as audio and video.
One of the things I’m loving about my Kindle Fire is the New Yorker app, and I’ve also found that when it came to the New Yorker app my newfound experience sideloading apps from my Droid to my Fire came in handy in reverse.

I’ve been a long-time reader of The New Yorker and a subscriber for several years now. My uncle Bill always gave me his copies of The New Yorker after he was done with them, and after he died, I got my own subscription to the print edition. It’s a great magazine, useful, of course, for planning trips to New York City, but also containing great reporting and great fiction writing. Part of what makes a subscription so valuable is that in addition to getting current issues you also get online access to every issue they’ve ever published. The web version of their archived magazines is clunky, but you can view every page just as it was printed. [I dislike their unwieldly Flash-based archives website so much that when I access it, I do so only to print the pages of an issue to PDF, and then I just view the magazine at my leisure in Adobe Acrobat Reader.]

If you’ve read The New Yorker in the last year or so, you’ve probably noticed them touting their wonderful iPad edition. New Yorker app not available on Droid
Sorry, the Android version of the New Yorker app, isn’t available on the Droid (or is it?—see below)
And then earlier this year the Intertubes were abuzz with the news that Condé Nast was releasing an Android version of their New Yorker app. That made me excited because I had a Droid, but alas, as The New Yorker’s apps page points out, their tablet editions are available only on iPad, Galaxy Tab and now on Kindle Fire. So no New Yorker app for me, until now.

I didn’t buy a Kindle Fire only for the New Yorker app, but it was one of the reasons, and the app is quite nice. At no extra cost over your print subscription you get all the article in the print edition but formatted nicely Example of a poem on New Yorker app on Kindle Fire with icon for audio of poem being read aloud for the Fire’s screen. You can swipe left and right to switch between articles, and in an article you can swipe down and up to advance in an article or go back to previous parts of the article. And a bonus of the New Yorker app is that you often come across icons for special features—for example, when viewing a poem, you can often listen to its author read it aloud.

The staff of The New Yorker seems to be taking special care to lay out the magazine especially for its tablet editions. In addition to the articles being specially formatted for viewing on tablets so too are the ads. I noticed because I happened to have the hard copy of the November 21 edition beside me as I started exploring the Kindle Fire version, and I saw that the ads from that issue for Banana Republic and Buick were similar but different in print versus on the Fire. Having a somewhat different Buick ad made sense because in the print edition it was a two-page spread, which would have to be adjusted for a tablet, but even though the Banana Republic ad would have fit with some cropping, the tablet version, although it features the same models, uses a completely different image (click images below to embiggen):
Print edition of the Buick Enclave ad
Print edition of the Buick Enclave ad
Kindle Fire edition of the Buick Enclave ad
Kindle Fire edition of the Buick Enclave ad
Print edition of the Banana Republic ad
Print edition of the Banana Republic ad
Kindle Fire edition of the Banana Republic ad
Kindle Fire edition of the Banana Republic ad

So I learned when I first got my Kindle Fire how to sideload apps onto it (see part 1 and part 2 for more info), and today I thought, hmm, Condé Nast doesn’t want me to use their New Yorker app on my Droid 3, do they? Well, let’s just see about that, shall we? And it turns out that the same process to back up an app (such as Twitter) on my Droid and then install it on my Fire worked for backing up the New Yorker app on my Fire and then installing it on my Droid. When I fired up the New Yorker app on my Droid, it did require me to install Adobe Air (that makes sense) and the Amazon Appstore (why does it care about this?).
Installing New Yorker app on my Droid 3
Installing New Yorker app on my Droid 3
The New Yorker app won't run without the Amazon Appstore being installed
The New Yorker app won't run without the Amazon Appstore being installed
New Yorker app running on my Droid 3
New Yorker app running on my Droid 3

I understand why Condé Nast doesn’t really want people running their New Yorker app on smartphones as opposed to tablets. The text is a bit small, although I still found it legible, and the app is a bit slow on my Droid 3 compared to my Kindle Fire, although it was okay. I won’t be doing the majority of my New Yorker reading on my Droid because it’s so much nicer to read it on my Fire’s larger screen, but it’s nice to have options. Although I often have my Fire with me, I don’t always carry it, but I always have my Droid with me no matter where I am.

Saturday, November 19th, 2011
Why I love my Kindle Fire (part 2) or How Amazon drives me a bit mad

So if you read yesterday’s post, you know that I like my Kindle Fire because of the freedom I have with it. That freedom comes in part because Amazon didn’t batten down the hatches so tightly on the Fire that adventurous geeks couldn’t sideload apps on it or root it. It does drive me a bit mad that Amazon decided to go all Apple-like, trying to tell Kindle Fire users what was best for us in terms of which apps we should and shouldn’t have access to Why does Amazon hate Gmail and Twitter? (No Gmail app, Amazon? Really?! No Twitter app?), but if you can follow instructions you can get around Amazon’s strange paternalism and put what you want on the Fire.

If you buy a smartphone or a tablet running the Android operating system (made by Google), it wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to expect that it would include the app for Gmail (also made by Google). But if you’ve read about the Kindle Fire, you know that while it runs a version of Android, the version of Android that it runs has been customized by Amazon for various reasons. One of Amazon’s customizations is that the Kindle Fire does not come with a Gmail app. Just a sucky generic email app through which you can download email from Gmail, but without all the cool features (like labels and archiving) that Gmail users have come to expect. Why, Amazon, why? (Greg Knieriemen of The Register was so dismayed by this that he wrote an open letter to Jeff Bezos about it.)

Luckily since I followed the steps to root my Kindle Fire (see yesterday’s post), today I was prepared to jump the hurdles placed in front of me by Amazon and get the Google apps that should come with any Android device installed on my Kindle Fire. XDA-Developers.com has step-by-step instructions for installing the Gmail app on my Kindle Fire
Fuck you, Jeff Bezos—I’ve got the Gmail app on my Kindle Fire despite you!
GoogleServicesFramework.apk, the regular Android Market, and the standard Google apps that you want including Gmail and Google Books and Google Maps (and even Google+ — does anyone actually use Google+?).

Another app, in addition to the standard Google ones, that I wanted on my Kindle Fire but that Amazon doesn’t seem to want me to have is the Twitter app. Even though you can find the official Twitter app for Android Amazon claims that the Twitter app is incompatible with the Kindle Fire
Amazon claims that the Twitter app is incompatible with the Kindle Fire
for free in the Amazon Appstore for Android, if you try to install it that way on your Fire, you’ll be greeted with Amazon’s fuck you message that says, “Twitter is incompatible with your device.” Oh, really, Amazon?

The side loading of apps that I wrote about yesterday came in handy in proving Amazon wrong about this.

First, I went to ASTRO File Manager on my Droid 3 and backed up the Twitter app that runs perfectly fine there:
Backing up Twitter app on my Droid 3 using the ASTRO File Manager

Then the Samba Filesharing that I’d installed on my Droid 3 and on my Kindle Fire made it very simple to copy the backed up Twitter app APK from my Droid 3 to my Kindle Fire:
Copying Twitter APK from my phone Copying Twitter APK to my Kindle Fire

Then a tap on the Twitter APK on my Fire let me install it, and presto! I had the official Twitter app for Android on my Kindle Fire, despite Amazon’s having claimed that it wasn’t compatible. What does Amazon have against Twitter? Why not just let us install the app, since it clearly does work?
Installing Twitter APK on my Kindle Fire Twitter App running on my Kindle Fire

But that’s the beauty of the Kindle Fire. Even though it may seem that Amazon wants to be Apple and dictate to its customers what we may put on the hardware we’ve purchased, Amazon used Android as the basis of its Kindle Fire, and thus all the techie types who buy Kindle Fires can make them do what we want. We can even replace Amazon’s stupid bookshelf UI with an alternate launcher (but that will be another blog post).

Friday, November 18th, 2011
Why I love my Kindle Fire (part 1)

Kindle Fire I have joined the Amazon Kindle Fire craze. I’m not opposed to Apple iPads—if you have an iPad and like it, good for you—but I’ve had my Kindle Fire for a few days now and am loving it. One reason I like it is because of the freedom I have with it.

I like that right out of the box the Kindle Fire can be connected to a PC via a USB cable and is then accessible as a external drive. No fancy iTunes needed—just drag and drop stuff.

I also like that you can sideload apps on the Kindle Fire fairly easily. Yes, by not including out of the box access to the Android Market, Amazon did take a page from the Apple playbook and tried to limit what can be installed to those apps that are found in Amazon’s Appstore for Android, but without even rooting your Kindle Fire, you can sideload apps on it (i.e., install applications not found in the Amazon Appstore). Laptop Mag has a decent page that explains how to sideload apps. PC Mag has a page that explains not only sideloading but how to make backups of apps from your Android phone to install on your Kindle Fire.

Dolphin Browser is one app that I sideloaded. Amazon Silk, the new browser by Amazon pre-installed on the Kindle Fire that uses split architecture to let Amazon’s servers pre-process web pages, is nice enough, but I’m used to Dolphin on my Droid 3 and wanted the option to use it too on my Fire.

It’s also cool that the Kindle Fire has been rooted so quickly. I’ve already rooted mine, using these instructions. Your mom won’t be rooting her Kindle Fire (unless she’s a techie), but she doesn’t really need to, but I wanted to because some apps I run on my Droid 3 require root access.

One app that I really like that I have running on my Droid 3 and now also on my Kindle Fire is Samba Filesharing. (If you didn’t already know, Samba is the Windows network file system.) With Samba on my phone and now on my Kindle they just appear as servers on my LAN. I don’t have to use a cable to copy photos off my phone to my PC or to copy videos to my Kindle Fire. So much easier!

ShootMe, which I also have running on both my Droid 3 and my Kindle Fire, is another app I like. It lets you make a screenshot by shaking your phone (or Fire). I wouldn’t have been able to do the screenshot of my Fire with Samba running on it that you see above if I couldn’t do screen shots on it. (The developer of ShootMe pulled the ADK from Amazon Market, but you can find it if you google for it.)

RockPlayer Lite is another app that I sideloaded right away (this did not require rooting). I have some AVI videos that the video player pre-installed on the Kindle Fire could not handle, but with RockPlayer Lite I can watch any video I have.

I have not yet gone through the steps it will take to get Google’s apps such as Gmail installed on my Kindle Fire. The email client pre-installed on the Kindle Fire sucks, and I do miss Gmail. But I love that it won’t be all that difficult for me to configure my Kindle Fire exactly the way I want it, and not the way that Amazon thinks I should want it. I’ll be blogging more about my Kindle Fire as I make more changes to it.

 
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