Showing posts with label Amazon Fire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amazon Fire. Show all posts

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Thoughts on Amazon's refresh of the Fire 7 & Fire HD 8

Amazon announced an incremental update to their Fire tablets. The Fire 7, released in Autumn 2015, gets an expected update. Amazon keeps the resolution the same (1024 X 600) but with an improved IPS screen that comes with better contrast and clarity. Other upgrades include a decrease in tablet weight and a bump in battery life to 'up to 8 hours'. Surprisingly there was no Fire 10 HD update, despite the HD 10 being released at the same time as the original Fire 7. The 10 HD also features less prominently on Amazon.com and this might mean it will be gradually discontinued. The Fire 10 HD is priced closer to a mid-range tablet and with more attractive alternative, from other vendors, Amazon may now exclusively target the budget end of the tablet market.

The surprise was in a supposed 'update' of the Fire HD 8, considering the Fire HD 8 was only updated late 2016. Despite Amazon's claim of an 'all new' Fire HD 8, there is no upgrade here and the near identical HD 8 2017 only brings the possibility to use a microSD slot for up to 256 GB of expandable storage. While Alexa comes with the 2017 HD 8, it will also gradually roll-out to the previous generation of Fire 7 and HD 8. In other words, this is a marketing gimmick to attract more users to Amazon Prime, rather than an attempt to convince owners of the previous generation to 'upgrade' their hardware (it may be argued that Amazon does not aim to convince users to purchase their hardware updates since the release of the Fire 7 and focusing on the budget end of the tablet market).

The goal, in this marketed refresh, it appears, is to make the Fire HD 8 even more attractive to first time users by further discounting the price of the tablet. The difference between the entry Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 is now £30 but this gets the user a larger screen, higher resolution, twice the storage (16 GB in contrast to the entry 8 GB with the Fire 7), more RAM, dual Dolby Atmos speakers and significantly better battery life. If the 2016 release was a success, I predict the Fire HD 8 to do even better and attract more users to Amazon's services.

There is no turning back to the more premium HDX line of tablets. The goal now is to get users - in a family-centric approach - to subscribe to Amazon Prime via different hardware mediums. For example, Prime Video is not available, at the moment in the Google Play store, and needs to be side-loaded to be installed. I think this is an intentional strategy to encourage users to access Amazon content via Fire tablets that are meant to offer a user-friendly 'out of the box' integration of the Amazon eco-system.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Exporting Kindle notes and highlights

In the past the best option to access annotations and highlights was to transfer a locally stored ‘my clippings’ file when connecting a Kindle to a PC. To further organise the output of the file, according to e-book and location in an e-book, there were options to upload the 'my clippings' file to clippings.io or to utilise a Calibre plug-in. Thankfully things have moved on since then and Amazon released an update that allows greater flexibility and options to externally store a user’s notebook. On a Kindle device the possibility of exporting a notebook to an external email is possible through first selecting reading settings and then notes (from notes there is an option to then email the notebook). Unfortunately, the ability to email notes and highlights applies to Amazon books and not personal e-books.

However, it is still possible to email and share a personal e-book's notebook to external accounts - e.g. Evernote and Onenote - via the Kindle application or Fire tablet. This is possible, as notes and highlights of e-books are stored in the Amazon cloud and automatically synced over different devices. Thus, a personal e-book's notebook would be available to export in the Kindle application when synced from, for example, a Kindle Paperwhite. The process of exporting the document is very easy and applies to both Fire tablets (Fire OS) and Kindle application - first tap on reading settings and then choose export a notebook; after choosing to export, it is then possible to send the notebook to external applications e.g. E-mail, Onenote, Evernote etc. A further useful feature is the ability to export utilising different citation styles (APA, Chicago Style, MLA or none).  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Review of the Fire HD 8: The stand-out Fire tablet

I’ve been using the Fire HD 8 (late 2016 release) for a few months and, overall, it is the best tablet in the Amazon Fire range; I would also recommend the tablet as a stand-out budget choice. Below are some reasons for making this a very good tablet in its category:
  • The 1.5GB RAM makes a significant difference compared to the 1GB version released late 2015. The performance is snappy and doesn’t freeze or slow-down when multi-tasking e.g. downloading an e-book, updating an application and streaming video content. 
  • Despite the same 1280 X 800 resolution, the display quality is slightly downgraded compared to the previous generation. This generation of the Fire HD 8 doesn’t match the colour vibrancy and contrast levels of the previous generation. However, the display is good for its price, compared to similar tablets released by other vendors, and well worth the compromise for an increase in RAM and battery life (both major draw-backs with the previous generation of the Fire HD 8).
  • Fire OS 5 is based on Android 5 Lollipop. This is a good thing, as applications not found in the Amazon app store may be externally side-loaded as an APK. The Amazon app store itself contains most popular applications and is far ahead of the Microsoft Store. This being said, you do miss the Google services and other applications tied into the Google Play store. Amazon released a tablets tightly integrated into its ecosystem and Prime services and for that purpose it works well. 
  • Amazon excels at syncing between devices tied to its ecosystem. The affordable Fire TV Stick, Echo Dot and Kindle all work seamlessly with the Fire HD 8. 
  • Compared to other Android tablets – in this price category – the Fire HD 8 generally offers more for less, with extra RAM and good battery life making the difference. However, Lenovo’s Tab range of tablets, offering a near stock Android experience, are comparable and sometimes better. The Lenovo Tab 4 8 has just been released and is priced similar to the Fire HD 8 but with 2GB RAM. The Tab 3 8, which I will review soon, is well worth considering, as it discounted and so priced slightly lower than Fire HD 8; the Tab 3 8 comes with both a better display, despite the same resolution, and 2 GB RAM. What makes the Fire HD 8 stand-out, compared to Lenovo’s Tab range, is its superior battery life. 
 Overall Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Alexa support for Fire tablets outside the US


Visiting the Fire tablet section on Amazon.com shows the Alexa support to be 'coming soon'. Recently Amazon announced a software update in the US that adds Alexa support to its current batch of Fire tablets (2015 and 2016 releases). Unfortunately, so far, there is no 'coming soon' notice or immediate software update for Fire tablets outside the US.  Eventually the feature might be released outside US but I don't think we will see it anytime soon.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Amazon Fire HD 8 is now the choice Amazon budget tablet

Amazon updated the Fire HD 8 and judging from the changes, it seems we have acknowledgement that they got it wrong with the previous iteration of the device. Below is a summary of the changes:
  • First, Amazon got the pricing wrong with the 2015 Fire HD 8, with most vendors offering tablets with similar specifications at a lower price. The price of the Fire HD 8 has been slashed from £129.99 to £89.99. I think the lower price with the specifications offered now makes the Fire HD 8 a more attractive budget tablet than the Fire 7. 
  • The anaemic battery of the previous generation (advertised as ‘up to 8 hours’ but in real world use it was significantly less) is upgraded to an estimated ‘up to 12 hours’. 
  • The glossy back (a finger print magnet) is now replaced with a matte finish, similar to the Fire 7. 
  • The back camera has been reduced from 5MP to 2MP. This is a good compromise, considering many users don’t use their tablet’s camera. 
  • The processor is slightly bumped down but RAM is increased to 1.5 GB. The previous generation, while not unusable, did suffer from lags and delays when multi-tasking or opening new files or applications. The extra RAM should help with performance.  
  • The entry level storage is doubled from 8GB to 16GB. I found 8GB to be manageable on Amazon devices, as they are not bloated with Google apps and services that comes with standard Android (Fire OS is based on Android).
  • Amazon is further moving forward in the integration of its services (in my opinion, Amazon is well ahead in service integration across devices), with Fire HD 8 advertised to soon receive Alexa support. This move makes sense in the context of Amazon releasing for the first time, outside the US, updated models of the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Will the third generation of Fire HDX tablets get Fire OS 5?

Recently Amazon sent a letter to owners of the third generation of HDX tablets, confirming an upgrade to Fire OS 5 in the coming weeks. Amazon later emailed that this letter was an error, with apologies for any confusion. I primarily use the third generation Fire HDX 8.9 and having also used Fire OS 5, with the Fire 7, I was pleased to read the mistaken letter of an upcoming upgrade (Fire OS 5 is an extensive update to Fire OS 4.5.5 that is currently used with third and fourth generation devices). Disappointedly, further feedback from Amazon indicated third generation devices would not receive the upgrade. I contacted Amazon, querying if indeed there will be an eventual upgrade for third generation devices and the answer was in the affirmative:
I'm sorry to learn about the trouble with the message you received regarding the Fire OS 5. Unfortunately, this message was sent to your device in error. I’m very sorry for any confusion caused. Your tablet ( 3rd generation) will be updated to Fire OS 5 soon. We are not able to provide a specific date right now. Once our Engineer's make Fire OS 5 available for 3rd generation devices, you'll be sent an update via email
It may be speculated that the confusion might be due to the process of porting Fire OS 5 still being in the developmental stage, at the moment, with engineers working on the update for the fourth-generation devices, let alone third generation ones. If the third generation devices are not receiving the upgrade then it might be due the cost of testing and development. I do not think it is an issue of pushing users to purchase current Fire tablets, as Amazon is focused on selling content and it is also not likely many users will downgrade to inferior hardware with the current generation.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Using Amazon's newstand can be confusing

Newstand, featured in Fire tablets, is one aspect in which Amazon lags behind other providers. In comparison, Barnes & Noble excels with their newspapers and magazines e-store, offering consistency and good features. Not only is there a good selection but also many magazines and newspapers offer the feature to strip magazine pages to just their text and images, with further options to change fonts, margins and line spacing, as with an e-book. Also, the same stripped down version of a magazine syncs to your Nook e-reader, making them accessible on an e-ink screen. Amazon lags behind due to confusion with the manner they present their content and how it is then managed. The main problem is that many subscriptions are not handled direct via Amazon; this means to obtain a magazine or newspaper, the user needs to install an external application. Needless to say, external applications and their related publications are not available on a Kindle e-reader.

This results in confusion, as you get different ways of interacting and managing content. Amazon has two ways to manage subscriptions - if the magazine downloads direct via Amazon, then it is available through 'Newsstand Subscription Settings' that you will find under managing your content and devices in your Amazon account. If, on the other hand, the publication downloads through an external app, then it can be found in 'Your Apps and Devices'. Other than confusion with managing subscriptions, many external magazine/newspaper apps are near uniform, in which magazines only appear in image format; in these applications there is no option to turn a magazine page in landscape, pinch to zoom is restricted and turning pages is cumbersome. On the other hand, magazines that download direct through Amazon onto a Fire tablet, without requiring an external app, work better with the availability of landscape mode, flexible pinch to zoom and easier page turning; there is also the option for text friendly presentation of content (if you double tap an article you then get a text friendly version, in which you can change text size, font, margins, line spacing and background colour). Most publications offered direct from Amazon also sync to a Kindle e-reader, due to this availability of stripped down text versions of articles. Further, there is also the problem of some magazines, possibly by accident, being offered direct via Amazon and also as an external application.

To solve these problems, Amazons needs to introduce uniformity across newstand. A possible option would be to remove all publications offered via third party applications and then offer these same publications as a direct download, similar to an e-book. In the meantime these publications should be exclusively offered in the app store, in a specifically designated category, where they belong.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Amazon goes budget friendly

Amazon has released three new Fire tablets and it appears, from the official website, these are not just further choice to the existing tablet range but may become the default offering. The HDX tablets, with far better resolution and specifications, are no longer advertised on the front page of Amazon.com. Also, judging from the aspect ratio of the devices, these are, foremost, for media consumption to complement an Amazon Prime subscription.

I think, other than the $50 7 inch tablet (1), the other devices are over-priced compared to tablets from other manufacturers. For example, in UK pricing, the Fire HD 10 sells for £170, while the Nexus 9, which is vastly superior, can be found for £200 (there is also the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 that beats the Fire 10 HD in both specifications and price). While resolution may not matter for multimedia content, it might with clear pixelation for e-reading (the Fire 10 HD comes with 149 ppi). The $50 Fire 7, however, is the best of the lot. This may seem strange, considering the specifications, but the compromises made were just right. Skimping with resolution was balanced with an IPS screen, that even at 1024 x 600, offers 171 ppi (the Fire 7 is not advertised as HD, so it is not clear what this entails? Is there no high definition rendering? Or is anything under 1280 x 720, regardless of screen size, officially non-HD?); the device also does not compromise in either processing power or memory. Then there is the ingenious offer to buy six Fire tablets and get one free! I can see the device doing really well as a gift, other than offering a budget friendly entry point to Amazon products e.g. Amazon Prime and Amazon Kindle Unlimited etc. Amazon might, in the future, discount the tablet with an annual Prime membership.

In all, considering the trajectory of tablet sales, it is understandable Amazon would go for a more budget offering, compared to the HDX range. However, relative to other available tablets, both the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 offers less for the price. The Fire 7, on the other hand, is a great idea and one that might get more users into the Amazon eco-system to off-set the device's low price.

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(1) In the UK the Fire 7 sells for £50 and in Europe for 60 Euros. The different pricing might be due to the device coming with 90 days warranty in the US, to keep the price low, compared to one year in the UK and Europe.