Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kindle Fire - Follow Up

I've had my Kindle Fire for a few weeks now, so I figured it was time for an update.

First off, I rooted my device. I know I had said previously that I would do a full write-up about rooting it if I decided to go that route, but I figured 'why?' as there are numerous sites already describing the ridiculously easy method for rooting your device. Be aware, however, that once you root your device it's not all sunshine and candy. For the moment, if you root your device, video from Amazon Prime will cease to work. Since I pull video from Netflix and local streaming sources on my LAN this did not affect me horribly, but if you live and die by Amazon Prime's free video on demand you may want to consider this. That said, there's no reason you can't 'unroot' your device after getting things on there that you wanted. For me the lacking applications were things like Dropbox and Astro File Explorer (yes, ES File Explorer is out there but I prefer Astro). Once you unroot your device, Amazon Prime will work again. This, of course, just means developer/hacker folks need to figure out how/what it's checking for and come up with a workaround.

Second, it looks like some of my predictions about this device have come true at least for me. The current #1 issue I have with this device is the lack of external volume controls. I knew it would be a problem, I just didn't realize how much of a problem it would be. Most applications don't give you the opportunity to control volume from within them. This leaves you with having to bounce back to the system pull-down and do it there, which can frequently result in you not being able to resume your application or causing your application to become unstable. All of this could have been solved by two plastic buttons on the side of the device.

Also, as predicted, the power button is a huge issue. I hit the power button pretty constantly while handling the device.

Lack of external storage is also a recurring problem as well. First off, some things can't be downloaded to the device such as streaming Amazon Prime movies, Netflix, etc. So when I'm sitting around some place looking to be entertained, I better hope that there's [good] WiFi nearby. First time I take this on an airplane it's going to get old really quick. That said, if I want to load it up with media to amuse me, I'm going to hit that 6gb limit of useable storage really quick. Obviously I knew going into this that the Fire had fixed storage and no connectivity options other than WiFi, I just didn't realize how quickly I'd hit the upper limits of my storage.

In the 'new issues' pile is the UI itself. I had mentioned in my previous post about how clunky it felt and that feeling has only grown. I press icons and nothing happens. The UI seems to only do what I tell it 90% of the time with no explanation for the other 10%. Applications seem particularly unstable on the Fire as well. I'm not talking about the 3rd party applications that I installed from sources outside of the Amazon App Store, I get that those might not run as advertized. I'm talking about the apps I get from the Amazon App Store crashing and burning on a regular basis.

Final UI issue that I have grown to absolutely loathe is the recent items scroller. First off, there's no way to exclude items from appearing there so it's not just recently opened applications, it's recently installed applications and web pages I've visited. The result is a large, unsorted, pile of junk that I have to hunt through to 'quickly' access it. I find it easier to ignore it completely and just pull apps from the app menu, books from the book menu, etc. The other issue with the recent items is that it's too sensitive to even the slightest touch. One thing I have noticed about the Fire is that if you want an icon to execute you have to make sure you are touching it in exactly the right place and in exactly the right way. The recent items scroller is so sensitive that you will spend time trying to get that icon you want to execute into the one and only position from where you can execute it while alternating between scrolling too far or not far enough. I feel like I'm trying to balance something on the head of a pin before I can open it. Luckily the solution here (for me anyways) dropped into my lap this morning: You can now get CyanogenMod7 running on your Kindle Fire.

In the good news column, I no longer hate the screen size. I still think Amazon would do well to offer a larger version, and if they do I would be inclined to buy it, but in the meantime I have grown used to the display. The battery life on the device is pretty nice as well. I've so far only had to charge it about once a week. The other interesting note is that despite my gripes about it, I do find myself using it daily. If I had to do it again, I'd probably go with a Nook Color though.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kindle Fire - First Impressions

I had been reluctant to get into the tablet market for some time. To me tablets seemed like a solution to a problem I didn't have. Every time I wanted to get one I would stop and ask myself "Why? What exactly is this going to do for me that isn't already done by my laptop or netbook?" and every time I would come up without an answer.

Several months ago I decided I wanted to get some variety of e-reader. The physical weight of the books I carry around for reference is not insignificant so I would love to ditch it all for a magical device that could hold hundreds of pounds of books while weighing only a pound. "Finally!", I thought "I have a problem that might be solved by a tablet." The Kindle was my first choice in terms of readability, however with a lot of technical manuals there are tons of diagrams and pictures and the e-paper display of the Kindle just didn't do it justice. I then looked at the iPad but was turned of by both the price and the display. The iPad display is overall really nice but for some reason it just didn't jive with me when it came to reading. When the Kindle Fire was announced I decided it would be the device that I was going to try. First, you can't beat that 199 dollar price point and the specs of the gear were more than adequate. Second, Amazon has a certain reputation to live up to in terms of producing e-readers so I figured they would be a good bet. This logic in hand, I pre-ordered my Kindle Fire and got to waiting.

November 17th arrived and as UPS had foretold, so did my Kindle Fire. I took it out of it's rather unique packaging, plugged it into the wall, and was surprised when it fired up on its own after I plugged it in. Initially I was impressed.

This device is well built and feels solid in my hands. One issue I had noticed with some of the cheaper tablets is that regardless of build quality, I felt like I was going to snap them in half if I didn't exercise extreme caution.

The screen is very sharp. I was impressed with the screen resolution as well as the fact that the colors are crisp and not over-saturated. I haven't been able to see how it holds up under outdoor usage and sunlight as I live in the northwest and we won't be seeing that angry fireball in the sky till sometime next May.

Setup was a snap. I powered the device on, it associated with my wireless network, and then it registered itself with my information unprompted. That last part spooked me a bit as I still need to dig into it to understand how they did that.

Finally my device was up and operational, let's get some apps on this thing and give it a try! At this moment, disappointment began to set in. I wouldn't say that I am unhappy with my purchase, but I have not been terribly 'wowed' by it since I started using it. Here's my current take on it:

1. It's too small. The display is awesome, but this device really needs to be 10" and not the current 7". Yes I can zoom in and look around, but to really be valuable as an e-reader (that is, first and foremost, what I bought it for). With any luck they will release a Kindle Fire + or something that has a larger screen.

2. Power button is on the bottom. It's funny, when I first saw a generation 1 Kindle the first thing that I noticed about it was that the buttons to turn the pages weren't intuitively placed and that frequently the very act of holding it caused you to change pages. Well, it looks like Amazon did it again with their first generation Kindle Fire. The power button is on the bottom of the device alongside the micro-USB and headphone jack. So far I have managed to hit the button repeatedly with my hand by holding the Kindle or by resting the base of the Kindle against my chest while using it. This is going to get old quick

3. No external volume control. This is going to be a problem with this device, especially given that the one thing the Kindle Fire is really awesome at is video playback. As I fired up Angry Birds last night I was made very aware of the fact that the game has no volume control. Since the game had no volume control and there was no physical volume control my only option was to turn the system volume down...which is not even remotely easy, especially while the application is running. I am going to have to figure out a solution to this before I end up disturbing people at work, at the gym, or god forbid waking my wife up.

4. The OS is not responsive, despite the specs. One thing I've noticed about Android based devices is that time and again, vendors take a perfectly functional bit of hardware and make it run poorly by trying to put some custom UI over the underlying OS. HTC has done this with its Sense UI, Motorola has done this with Motoblur, and Amazon has done this with their UI. Based on hardware specifications this device should be screaming fast for Android. That said, I found that hitting buttons (such as the return/back button) frequently yields slow responses if any at all. On numerous occasions I kept hitting the back button to have the device do nothing, then suddenly on press #10 it takes me back. This is supposed to be cutting edge technology, but it runs a bit like Windows Mobile 6.1.

5. No 3g and/or external storage. I obviously knew that the Kindle Fire lacked 3g connectivity and external storage before I bought the device. Amazon was up front about this lack of functionality and that decision was panned by critics almost immediately. Now that I have the device in my hands, I wish it did have one or both. Honestly, I'd be happy with a micro-SD card slot.

6. This may or may not be a problem of scale, but I found last night that numerous parts of the Amazon store didn't work. I would try to download an application from the Amazon AppStore and nothing would happen. I would try again, but still nothing. Final try it worked. This cycle would happen over and over again for every application I tried to pull down. In another instance the Kindle wouldn't pull down graphics/icons for items in the AppStore. As of right now the icon for my Accuweather application is the Amazon 'Image Not Found' image. Someone was quick to point out that this may be the result of Amazon getting hit with a ton of traffic as people unbox their Kindles and begin loading them up with applications. So, I will withhold my judgement of this for a few days till things settle down. I really hope its a scaling issue that Amazon can fix quickly.

7. No 24hr clock. Yes this seems trivial, but I live by the 24hr clock and not being able to select my date and time preferences is annoying.

So what does the Kindle Fire do well? Media. The Netflix application is pretty slick and the video quality is great. Shame that due to some of Netflix's recent business decisions they probably won't be around this time next year. The streaming content from Amazon Prime and my Amazon Cloud Player work great though. It's very likely that I will continue my Amazon Prime membership after my trial month is up.

So what are my plans going forward? Well, it looks like busting root on the Kindle Fire is fairly trivial, so I will probably be rooting my device in the near future. Hopefully Amazon approaches the idea of rooted devices with openness as opposed to the Apple approach of 'fixing' them with every update. Once rooted I'd like to get the Google Market up and running on the device so I can have access to a much wider range of applications. I'll document the rooting of this device when I get around to it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Foundry Burner

Just about to kick off construction of the Black Lodge Foundry. Going with a burner design by Ron Reil

Thursday, May 5, 2011

...and so it begins

DEFCON 19 will be coming to the Rio hotel in Las Vegas, NV.

This will be our 9th venue in the nearly 20 years we've been doing this. How is the Rio going to work out for us? To be honest I really don't know. On the plus side, we have a shitton more room complete with gigantic hallways. On the negative side, it's a new hotel to us so I have no idea how we (staff and attendees) will mesh with them.

That said, planning has begun in earnest. All I can do at this point is make sure my team and I bring our A game to the table to make both the hotel and the attendees happy. Let's see how that all works out.