I loved my old simple black and white simple e-reader Kindle, and would probably still love it if I hadn’t given it to my son when I got my Kindle Fire. He is still using it and enjoying it. I got my Kindle Fire as a parting gift from my last employer. It was a logical progression to upgrade from one device that I used a lot to a better one.
The transition was a smooth one at first, although a couple of features I missed straight away. I could no longer quickly and easily set up the Guardian to listen to on the text to speech feature. Actually turning it on was a bit more of fag. And recharging the battery became something that had to be considered in my daily logistics plans. But it did open up a whole lot of new possibilities. I could now surf the internet, watch videos and do some rudimentary word processing. And it had a backlit screen so I could read in bed. Best of all it had the ability to handle podcasts.
I was quite happy and impressed at first. I was surprised at just how easy it was to get hold of content on it. I had never heard of Netflix when I first got hold of my Kindle Fire, but being able to watch old episodes of the Mighty Boosh in bed was quite a treat. I also found that BBC iPlayer worked really well.
It also had a version of Twitter.
There was one inevitable downside to all this extra content, and one for which I cannot blame the Kindle itself. The simple eReader version was designed for and worked well for reading books. So I picked it up when I wanted to read, or listen to, a book. I don’t have iron willpower. In fact I have the willpower of a hungry Billy Bunter in a cake shop just after a postal order has arrived. So rather than read on my Kindle Fie I read a bit, then tweet a bit, check the news – well you get the picture. Instead of the immersive experience of losing myself in a book I get the experience of fiddling around looking for distractions.
But I also find that the search for distractions is not all that satisfying. The various applications on the Kindle upgrade themselves according to whatever plan their owners have, and their stability varies. For a while BBC iPlayer was unusable. It has settled down now, and in fact is rather splendid at present. Twitter by contrast is going through a phase of extreme clunkiness. Amazon allow you almost now control over the way the device works so you simply have to live with its vagaries.
The overall operating system is simple to use and generally works well, but it does freeze up and need to be restarted often enough for it to be annoying.
But the worst disappointment is that you really can’t use it to write on. I have got a bluetooth keyboard, but that requires a flat surface to work on so can’t be deployed as flexibly as a laptop. You can write on it via the touch screen with patience, and with the aid of a specially designed pen you can get a reasonable speed up, though still too slow to do any serious writing. The office app I use is pretty clunky so regular saving is a necessity. It does integrate well with online storage though, to be scrupulously fair to it.
But the biggest problem of all is reading books. The backlit screen can be adjusted for light intensity – with some trouble but it can be done. But a prolonged reading session leaves my eyes aching. The performance of the text to speech feature is better when you can get it working, but requires some skill to get used to invoking it. It doesn’t cope with page turns very well so you sometimes find that when you switch back to normal reading you have lost your place. I think I have finally mastered the art of using footnotes, but it took a while and some frustration. But if you do follow the footnotes you will find that on returning to where you came from the page has been re-arranged. It is functional and it does enable me to finish off a book faster than reading the paper version. But the experience is much less satisfying and I find myself giving up much sooner on difficult books. It is also very inconvenient for books that are heavy on tables and diagrams. This is quite a big issue for my scientific reading.
So all in all I never really fell in love with my Kindle Fire and I find myself trapped in a loveless marriage of convenience with it. It just about fulfils the tasks which I set it, but does so in a way that gives me very little pleasure. I will probably stick with it until it breaks down but I won’t be replacing it with another Kindle. I hope there are some better options out there.