Kindle Fire, Round 2

So it’s been a few days since I picked up the Kindle Fire and I wanted to revisit some of the items I brought up in my initial review. Specifically, I want to review some of the enterprise “have nots” that I noted.

First and foremost, I stick my my original impression: the Kindle Fire is a good device for the price but its missing a couple a few things.

As a content device, specifically used for consuming books, movies, music and more it’s absolutely awesome and in some ways its even better than the iPad.

But to accomplish that feat they had to sacrifice a few things that affect a user like myself, and these sacrifices make it difficult for me to use the device to get work done. Now, I realize that this device isn’t intended to be a laptop, much less desktop, replacement. However, neither is the iPad but I find I can use the iPad as a consumption device but also use it to get work done when needed. As far as the Fire goes, there are three specific items I mentioned in my original review that are lacking. The good news is that I found a solution for one of them.

  1. They didn’t provide VPN access to get into corporate networks.
  2. They didn’t provide EAP to log into corporate WIFI networks.
  3. The didn’t provide a Mail client that could connect via ActiveSync to mail servers like Microsoft Exchange and SmarterMail. This means no push email, calendars, contacts, etc. and is a big deal for many users. Sure, you can use our web interface to access SmarterMail and get your messages, check your calendars and contacts and more, but you won’t be able to get push notifications if you don’t have a client that is compatible with that technology. Thankfully, this is the issue I found the solution for. More about that in a minute.

The reason Amazon isn’t providing an in-depth mail client on the Fire, and why you don’t see in-depth mail clients on other Android devices, is because it costs money to license ActiveSync, the premier synching technology from Microsoft. At SmarterTools we had to license the server side of this to include it in our mail server but clients that connect to servers also need to license it. As Android is a “free” OS, it’s difficult to include paid, licensed software as a part of providing it to device manufacturers. In addition, Amazon is pricing this device so low they’re losing a little bit of money on every device, further affecting their ability to justify adding an ActiveSync client.

Now to the “How do we solve the Mail issue” part of this blog.

There is a mail client called Moxier Mail that supports push for mail, calendars and contacts. It works well on at the Kindle Fire but it only supports one Exchange-type account (an account that uses ActiveSync). Also, your calendar and contacts are stored within Moxier Mail and not in the native Android contacts and calendar system which can be accessed by other applications on the tablet – something I wasn’t aware that Android allowed. Also, Moxier Mail is not available from the Amazon app store so it needs to be “side loaded” it from an Android phone after downloading it from the Android app store.

The second solution, and one that I like more, is using Enhanced Email which IS available in the Amazon app store. It is $9.99 but I was fortunate enough to get it for FREE as the Amazon “Application of the Day.” This program supports multiple Exchange accounts and also synchronizes calendars and contacts to the Android system itself. Doing this allowed me to open up the address book application that came with the Kindle Fire and “voila”: there were all my contacts. Now, the Kindle Fire doesn’t come with a calendar application to view the calendars stored within the Android System. However, for $5.99 I was able to download an app called CalenGoo from the Amazon app store. This allowed to connect the two accounts that were syncing via ActiveSync.

Sure, it cost a few bucks to get some additional functionality that is available for free on other tables, but those tend to be on the $500 tablet variety. My extra expense was only $15 on top of the $200 for the tablet, and now I own these applications and can use them on future devices.

So, all-in-all, $15 to solve one problem I had with the Kindle and I’m now managing my 4 mail accounts (two of which are using ActiveSync) against SmarterMail servers. This device continues to become more and more functional!

A Review of the Kindle Fire

SmarterTools is a company full of gadget and technology freaks.  Whether its Android phones and tablets, Roku or Boxee media devices, virtually all Apple products, Plex media server, any manner of television (yes, someone actually bought a Google TV), off-brand tablets and phones, computers (including laptops, desktops, gaming machines, netbooks and others), even various cloud services and more. If you can buy it or build it, someone here probably has it. Some of these devices and services benefit our products and the company in general – we use them to test things on and play with here at the office and at home. Some of them don’t benefit the company as much as they benefit the individual. Regardless, the hobby keeps us on our toes and familiar with the latest and greatest, but more importantly it keeps us happy.

Knowing all of this, we felt it might be a good idea to harness some of our geekdom and start reviewing differing products and services for our readers.

So welcome to a new category of blog post: the Review. Now, we’re not Engadget, the Verge, Joystiq, Kotaku, Metacritic or even Consumer Reports. We’re users, and that’s how we’re going to approach our reviews: from a user’s perspective. With that in mind..

The Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire

Today we got some Kindle Fires to play with.  First impressions? It’s a great device for $200. That’s not a knock and I don’t mean it would be a bad device at $400.00, but the $200 price tag is definitely a plus.

To start off, I think this is a much better device to give to kids and to older people (like my grandparents) than an iPad. After using the Fire I found the iPad to be bloated with too many icons and too many different ways to do things.  With the Kindle Fire, the layout of books, magazines, documents, applications, videos, the Web is just – to use a very “Apple-like” phrase – simple.  It’s very obvious to people where to go for whatever it is they want to do as the overall layout and distribution of services is easy to understand. And for many, the Amazon services (books, music, streaming content) will be more than sufficient. What’s funny is that I had an iPad, then an iPad 2, for a very long time and I never really noticed how complex the icon sets and groups were until I picked up the Kindle Fire.

In addition, I think the Amazon cloud and service infrastructure is in a much better state than Apple’s. Sure, Apple has the App Store, but after seeing iCloud and the new music match service I think Apple has a LOT of work to do to transition users off of iTunes. The only possibility is for Apple to move people in stages, and that means it is going to be complicated, frustrating and will cause them to lose ground to competitors.

Overall Impressions

What is good about the kindle?

  • Its simplicity and access to a wide variety of media
  • Decent sound for a 7″ device
  • Bright display
  • Quality for the money (its not iPad quality but good for $200 – much better feel than the WebOS TouchPad!)
  • Amazon doesn’t discriminate on side loading applications and most of the applications that I moved from my Android phone to this device worked perfectly.  I was able to have a VERY capable tablet VERY quickly!
  • Gingerbread was a good idea for a 7″ tablet as my phone applications work GREAT on this device. It’s almost as if the Fire was just a big Android phone!
  • Surprisingly good WIFI reception on a variety of access points and routers.

What is bad about the kindle?

  • The Amazon Marketplace is limited but developers will quickly be submitting applications to both the Android Marketplace and now Amazon’s Marketplace.
  • No enterprise features at all (EAP Wireless, VPN, or ActiveSync support)
  • Like any Android device the battery life is lagging. It looks like it will have 4 to 5 hours of battery life.
  • Limited local device storage space.
  • Lack of camera and microphone

But are the “bad’s” really that bad?

Amazon will clearly alienate some people because they want a camera, microphone or need more local device space. The iPad 2 really spoiled people with all of that. Sure, 64 Gigs might not seem like a lot anymore, but on a mobile device it’s a ton! However, for a user like myself, those aren’t deal breakers. I rarely Face Time on my iPad.  I rarely Skype with my iPad.  I mostly use my phone for these activities, and I have that on me all of the time anyway which (I have with me all the time).

I do like to carry gigs and gigs of movies, TV shows and music, but to be honest, this is something I can probably manage a bit better, especially since I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Spotify services.  I also have Plex media servers setup for other random videos and I also stream my music without having to put media on all my family devices. iTunes is now obsolete in my house.

With the 8 gigs the Kindle has on the device I can see putting only a portion of music and/or videos that I might want to watch on a flight or a trip.  My Android phone has all the music I need, and then some, so duplicating on the tablet is just more time than anything.

Fire running SmarterMail

As far as enterprise features go, we put up an access point in our office not using EAP for random devices like this. Not having VPN capabilities is an issue, though I’m not sure, just yet, how it’s going to affect me. Fortunately, I can control IT aspects at SmarterTools, but other users aren’t so lucky. As for no native ActiveSync support, I’m working around that by using TouchDown and Moxier Mail as both offer calendars, tasks, contacts and mail via Exchange ActiveSync and work with SmarterMail. In addition, there are definitely some browser and web interface issues with SmarterMail and SmarterTrack and we will have to decide if the default browser that’s on the Fire is the issue. I’m guessing it is because after side loading Firefox onto the Fire, I could use the SmarterTools products. (See, improving our products by testing new gadgets).

So, to answer the question, I don’t think the “bads” are all that bad, especially if you are comfortable with some of the workarounds available.

Options, Options, Options

Overall, the Kindle Fire is a great product. I’m going to try and put down my iPad and use this device exclusively for awhile and see how it goes. The 7” size and weight is much nicer to carry around and the keyboard is the perfect size (without having to reach across the tablet to click a key). I know iOS 5 resolved the keyboard issue for most people, but I’m not a fan of the split keyboard on the iPad and I actually prefer some of the third party keyboards for Android devices.

Overall, the world is full of options and choices when it comes to gadgets and electronics, and all of the options are keeping us busy on the server side of things making sure our applications work, and work WELL.

Until next time…or maybe a better sign off is “Until next gadget!”


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