SERIOUS GADGET GEEKS TREAT device openings as YouTube-worthy rituals. They shoot video, add narration (my hand is shaking from the fatigue of being up all night…), and then post the entire experience online—from opening the package to a tour of the interface. Assuming your day job leaves you little time for YouTube, consider this chapter your own Kindle Fire meet ‘n’ greet.
When you first unpack the Fire, you’ll notice that Amazon has kept physical buttons and ports to a bare minimum. It’s once you’ve flipped Fire on that things get interesting. You’ll encounter a navigational system for programs and files that looks absolutely nothing like what you’ve seen on a regular computer. Instead, think super-sized smartphone or souped-up ATM.
In the following pages, you’ll learn much more than simply how to turn the Fire on and enter your account info. You’ll see how to control the device using neither mouse nor menu. You’ll get touchscreen basics, including some taps and tricks that will make your time in TouchLand more enjoyable. Finally, you’ll take a trip into the Cloud for a brief but necessary introduction to that increasingly popular method of online file storage. Videotaping what lies ahead is strictly optional.
Amazon has made a serious commitment to minimalist hardware design—no small feat for a firm whose first device, the original Kindle, had more buttons than a tailor’s shop. There’s the screen, of course, and just a handful of buttons and openings:
On/off switch. This nubbin comes in two sizes. On the HD models, it’s about the size of a fingernail clipping; on the non-HD Fire, it’s about as big as a candy dot. In addition to letting you turn the Fire on and off, it’s also how you put the device to sleep (a power-saving mode that’s quicker to rejuvenate than a cold start).
A common criticism among non-HD model owners is the placement of its power button. Down on the bottom of the device, it’s way too easy to hit accidentally, say the complainers. If you agree, here’s a simple fix: Rotate the Fire 180 degrees. What’s onscreen shifts to match how your Fire is oriented, and the offending button is on top, safely away from unintentional turnoffs. HD owners have their own beef: That the power button is so seamlessly inset into the device’s border that it’s tough to locate. Alas, there’s no fix for that.
Combo charging and USB port. Here’s where you insert the one and only accessory that comes in the box—the USB cable. Should you wish to transfer digital files directly from a Mac or PC to the Fire (a strictly optional maneuver covered in detail starting on Transferring Files from Your Computer), you can plug that cable here. If you’re like most people, most of the time, you’ll use this port for battery refills; Turning the Fire Off explains how.
HDMI port (HD models only). Broadcast what’s on your Fire on any newish TV by stringing a special cable (Making the Cabled Connection) between this opening and the HDMI port on your boob tube.
Volume. On the HD models there’s a physical button—a rocker that, pushed one way pumps up the audio, and pushed the other way turns it down. On all Fires there are onscreen alternatives (The Home Screen) for performing the same task.
Audio port. Stick pretty much any gadget-friendly headphone in this 3.5-millimeter opening; the sounds that ensue will be for your ears only.
Microphone (HD only). A small but growing number of apps take advantage of this barely noticeable pinhole. Early entries worth checking out: Skype (for video and audio chats) and AutoRap (which warps your words into a rap-like beat). Installing Apps has more about how to load your Fire with apps.
Camera (HD only). Speaking of Skype, Amazon cut a deal with this 21st century version of Ma Bell. This video camera is what makes the video chats possible. It does double duty for photo-taking apps like Camera Fun Pro and PicSay Pro (Photos).
Speakers. When headphone-free, the Fire plays its beats and beeps through this pair of stereo speakers. HD model speakers are souped up with ear-friendly Dolby Audio.
Want to connect external speakers? No problem. They’ll need their own power source (like most any that work with an iPod or computer) and have that toothpick-sized 3.5-millimeter plug. HD model owners can also make the connection wirelessly with the help of Bluetooth-equipped speakers or headphones. Connecting Bluetooth Devices explains how to do that.
If by some miracle of self-restraint you haven’t turned the Fire on, do so now by pressing the power button. Holding the button for a second is plenty long enough to do the trick. The device logo greets you, followed by a screen sporting the date and some time zone’s version of now. Any finger will do as your entry key: Swipe the padlock icon from right to left. The Fire presents you with a list of different language choices; pick the one that suits you and then tap Continue. You’ve now arrived at the “Welcome to Kindle Fire” screen.
If WiFi is truly nowhere to be found (perhaps you’re unboxing on a plane), tap the link that says “Complete Setup Later” and then dismiss the message warning you about all the fun you’re missing out on—ebook and music buying, app downloading, and so on. When you do get within WiFi range, you need to take care of two chores: Connect to a WiFi network and register your Fire with Amazon. The Quick Settings menu (The Home Screen) is where you make both happen.
As you probably know, the Fire connects to the world at large via WiFi—or, if you’ve got the high-end 8.9-inch model, high-speed cellular. (See the box on WiFi 101 for a WiFi primer, and Appendix C for details on 4G/LTE.) Ahead, you’ll learn about plenty you can do when not in range of one of these wireless Internet zones. But the setup process and all your initial Fire fiddling are much simpler when you’re in a hotspot. Once you’re appropriately situated, your first steps are pretty straightforward:
Connect to a WiFi network. A list of available hotspots appears, with tiny lock icons next to any that require a password. Tap the name of the one you wish to log into. Apartment dwellers may need to scroll down to see the full list. (Scrolling instructions await on Tapping, Touching, Typing for touchscreen rookies. The short version: Place and hold your finger on the screen and then drag up or down in the direction you want the list to move.) If you’re seeing one of those locks, and you’ve been given the password, enter it on the screen that appears after you tap the network’s name, and then tap Connect.
Some security-conscious citizens hide their WiFi network’s name from publicly viewable lists, like the one you see on Turning the Fire On, Making It Yours. If that describes you (or, more likely, your teenage WiFi administrator), scroll to the bottom of the list, tap Add Network, type your network’s name (in the box that says Network SSID), pick the security method from the drop-down menu of that name, and then enter a password.
Don’t have one? Tap Create Account and follow the Fire through the setup process (the box on Creating an Amazon Account shows you how to perform this necessary chore from a regular computer, if you prefer). Finally, tap the Register button.
If a software update is available—a likely occurrence in these early days of bug-squashing and feature-adding—the Fire immediately starts downloading it. Though the Fire offers you an option to pause this operation and resume later, it’s best to incorporate these changes as Amazon issues them. After digesting the new software, the device shuts down; restart it by pressing the power button to pick up again from this point.
Pick a time zone. Tap to choose from the list of U.S. options, or pick from a list of worldwide alternatives by opening the “Select Another Time Zone” menu. Then hit Continue.
On the Get Started screen, check out your social networking options. You see icons for Facebook and Twitter, with your account names for both those social networks showing, if you use them. The Fire automatically links to these services, making it easy to do things like tweet web pages, post photos, and so on. If you don’t want this linkage to happen, head to the My Account section in the Fire’s Settings; My Account explains how to get there.
Tap Get Started Now. Take a whirl through the quick start tips Amazon has scrawled on your screen. Sure, you’ve got this book, but you have no choice but to tap through each of the mini-tutorial’s Next buttons (on the right side of the screen) before you can start using the Fire.
When you’re done, tap Close on the last screen. Now you’re on the home screen.
Sometimes you want to hold the Fire upright, like a paperback. Sometimes you want to turn it on its side for race-car driving or movie watching. The first is often referred to as portrait mode (think Mona Lisa); the sideways pivot is called landscape (think, well, a nice wide landscape). Like any modern touchscreen device, the Fire is smart enough to sense when you switch. It reorients whatever is onscreen to match the mode you’re in. Try it now to experience one of a new tablet owner’s small but delightful pleasures.
Most apps (for ebook reading, browsing the web, and so on) will shift their contents according to how you’re holding the Fire. Sometimes, however, an app developer programs in a no-shift order. In the Fire’s own video-watching app, for example, you can hold the device in portrait mode, but the show remains in landscape. Makes sense, if you think about it, considering how truncated things would look if a movie got crammed into the narrow width of portrait mode.
The party’s barely started, but perhaps you need a break from all this gadget-in-duced excitement. You have two alternatives: powering the Fire down or putting it to sleep. What’s the difference? The first saves more battery life, but requires more time to power back on (about 30 seconds, versus pretty much instantaneously to wake from sleeping). The choice, of course, is yours, but plenty of people rarely turn their Fires off completely.
To fully shut the Fire off, press and hold the power button for about a second. A message appears onscreen asking you to confirm that you really want to shut down. To give your Fire a nap (and avoid having to power up again), press the power button ever so briefly; the screen goes dark. When you want to wake the Fire, press the button again and swipe the padlock icon.
To charge the Fire you have a couple options. If you’ve sprung for Amazon’s extra electric plug (full name: “Amazon Kindle PowerFast for Accelerated Charging”; see http://bit.ly/kfmm220), then plug the USB cable you got with the Fire into the PowerFast, insert the USB connector into the opening on the Fire that matches it, and then plug the power cord into a standard electric wall socket. A full charge takes about four hours this way (longer for the 8.9-inch Fires, shorter for the non-HD models).
You can also refill by plugging the USB connector into a computer, but this method works more slowly—it can take as long as 13 hours on the HD models. To check how much juice remains, in the Status bar (The Home Screen), tap Quick Settings→More and then scroll down to and tap Device, where you see a quick report listing the figure in percentage terms. Two other ways to tell: The power button glows red when charging (and green when finished), and the Status bar’s battery icon turns fully green when charging is done. During a charge, it pulses to indicate the fill-up is in progress.
Don’t like your Fire’s assigned name (Gertrude’s 7th Kindle)? It’s what appears on the upper-left corner of the screen, as well as on Amazon’s various ebook, music, and media stores when you’re asked which device you want to send your purchase to. Name-changing is easy. On Amazon.com, use the home page’s left-hand Shop By Department menu to navigate to Kindle→Manage Your Kindle. On the left side of the page that appears, click Manage Your Devices and then click the Edit link next to your Fire’s currently assigned name. Enter the new name you want in the pop-up window and then click Update. Patience is the final requirement: It may take a few hours for your new handle to appear on the Fire.
The home screen is the entry point to all the fun stuff on your Fire. If the Fire were a regular computer, here’s where you’d find its desktop, control panel, application launcher, and search tool…all crammed onto one screen. There’s a certain elegance to the layout here: As crowded as your Fire may some day become with ebooks, apps, tunes, and TV shows, you can always count on this screen’s navigational simplicity. Head to toe, here’s what your newest gadget looks like:
The Status bar. Most of what’s here is strictly read-only: your Fire’s name, the time, the strength of your WiFi connection (represented by the industry standard stack-of-curved-lines icon), and a battery charge indicator (filled with white when you’re fully charged; green when you’re charging and plugged in; red when you’re close to running out of power). You may sometimes also see, on the left side, a number inside a circle: This Notifications circle is how apps, and the Fire itself, signal they’ve got a message for you—a new tweet or email awaits, for example.
Place a finger on the Notifications number and drag downward to expose a screen listing details. That’s also how you reveal the Quick Settings menu, a small panel of frequently used virtual settings: Locked/Unlocked (to prevent, or allow, the screen’s contents from rotating as you turn the device horizontally or vertically); Volume (plus music controls, if you’ve got a tune playing); Brightness (of the screen’s display); Wireless (quick access to WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular); Sync (coordinates where you are in the ebook you’re reading, the show you’re watching, the game you’re playing, and so on—so you can pick up in the same spot on another device); and the overstuffed More option. This last one is covered choice-by-choice in Appendix A; you’ll also meet its options on an as-needed basis throughout the main chapters of this book. Basically, it’s the Fire’s equivalent of Windows’ Control Panel or the Mac’s System Preferences.
To dismiss the Quick Settings menu, place your finger on the pair of horizontal lines at the bottom of the screen and drag upward.
See an X next to the WiFi icon? It sometimes appears after you wake the device from its sleep mode. The quickest remedy, if you know you’re in a recently visited hotspot, is simply waiting. A couple seconds and that X usually goes away. If you’re out and about and seeing it, then tap the main Web link on the top of Fire’s home screen and some entity—an airport, hotel, or restaurant WiFi system—will ask either for your credit card (to pay for hourly access) or a guest code.
The search oval. On Day One this lookup tool may not get much of a workout—what have you got to hunt for? But as you fill up your Fire, it’s a handy way to quickly find what you need. Depending on which tab you touch after tapping the oval—Libraries, Stores, or Web—you’re poking through your own collection (of songs, books, TV shows, and so on), Amazon’s digital media shops, or the Internet at large.
Libraries. Each of the links in this row puts you one tap away from the Fire’s starring lineup: Shop, Games, Apps, Books, Music, Videos, Newsstand, Audiobooks, Web, Photos, Docs, and Offers. Most of these categories get their own chapters in the pages ahead. (A few of ‘em—Shop and Offers—are recent additions that are mainly ways to get you to spend more money buying stuff from Amazon.)
The Carousel. A horizontally swipeable list of shortcut icons to items you’ve recently looked at: a book, an app, a TV show, or anything else on the Fire. A single tap launches whatever the icon represents. What’s here is whatever’s in the Fire’s recent memory. In other words, the system decides what’s on this shelf, not you. First time Fire starters will see an Amazon-penned user’s guide (helpful, but containing none of the gems you get in a, um, real guidebook), a welcome note from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and a list of any ebooks you’ve bought from his ebook shop, the Kindle Store.
Move through this carousel by holding down and tracing your finger right to left. A light touch is all it takes; you can also flick, just as you’d do when spinning a Lazy Susan: The touchscreen plays along and delivers more or less momentum, depending on how fast you flick. Notice the little white downward-pointing arrow on the lower-right corner of any ebook cover. That means the item is sitting up on Amazon’s servers; to download it, simply tap anywhere on the cover. After it downloads, tap it again, and the book appears onscreen. To get rid of anything on the Carousel, hold your finger on its icon and, from the pop-up menu, pick “Remove from Carousel.” (Two other options you’ll see: “Add to Favorites,” which gets you a permanent home screen shortcut, and “Remove from Device,” which deletes the item from your Fire.)
You can get back to the home screen from pretty much anywhere by tapping the middle of any app, ebook, movie, and so on; the Options bar pops up at the bottom of the Fire, and on its far-left side is the Home icon. Tap it and you’re back on the main page. The universal back button—a leftward-pointing arrow—is also a handy navigational tool to know about. Tap it to return to whichever screen you just came from. Finally, pretty much every app has a Menu button; tap it to expose a row or two of further options, tailored to each app.
Recommendations row. This stamp-sized row of icons, which appears only when your Fire is upright, presents a cluster of related links to whatever is frontmost in the Carousel. An ebook will be accompanied by a list of titles that other shoppers bought; a web page shows other, popular websites; the E-mail app sports a trio of icons called New Message, This Week (a glimpse at your calendar), and Favorite Contacts. Want to get rid of this row (say you find the Customers Also Bought icons intrusive)? Pull down the Quick Settings menu (top of the screen), navigate to More→Applications→Amazon Home Recommendations, and then select Hide.
Speaking of ads, every time you turn the Fire on or wake it from sleep, the Lock screen displays an ad (if you opted for one of the discounted “With Special Offers” versions of the Fire). Getting rid of these commercials will cost ya $15; head to Manage Your Kindle (Reading on Multiple Devices) and choose Manage Your Devices. Click the plus icon next to your Fire’s name and, in the Special Offers column, click Edit. Follow the payment instructions and from here on, your Fire shows a lovely piece of screensaver artwork instead of an ad.
Favorites. Here’s a handy way to corral, for one-tap access, all the things you like most on your Fire. Then, on virtually every screen, all you need to do is tap the lower-right star icon for a pop-up panel showing all these goodies. Add pretty much whatever you like: favorite apps, ebooks, web pages—even playlists (Connecting Bluetooth Devices). If you can view it on the Kindle, you can stick it on this shelf. Create as many of these one-tap-and-you’re-there bookmarks as you like. (More shelves get added as you need ‘em.) The quickest way: Start looking or listening to anything and, when its icon appears in the Carousel, tap and hold its icon till the “Add to favorites” option appears. Feel like redecorating? Tap, hold, and drag any icon to reposition it. Or clean out your shelves by tapping, holding, and choosing “Remove from favorites.”
Now’s a good time to mention a few ways to protect your Fire from snoopers and young hands with over-enthusiastic fingers. To require a password before letting anyone onto the home screen, head to Quick Settings→More→Security and set Lock Screen Password to On. Enter the password you’d like to use, confirm it, and then tap Finish. Now anyone who turns on or wakes up your Fire will need to tap in the secret code.
Six choices up from Security sits Parental Controls. This gate-keeping feature is handy—though a bit heavy-handed. It lets you slap an all-or-nothing padlock on almost every nook and cranny on your Fire. Turn it on, and you can do any of the following: disable access to top-level content libraries (Apps, Books, Music, and so on); require a password before any purchase is made; require a password before any video can be played; and control the ability to turn on WiFi.
As useful as this all might sound for exerting parental control, it’s no fun spending lots of time with Junior bringing the Fire over to you so you can open up your Video library—which only lets you give him access to all the grown-up choices in your collection. You’re better off taking advantage of the all-new Kindle FreeTime app, which gives you much more customized control. Either way, you need to setup a Parental Controls password. Do so by heading to Settings→Parental Controls and turning the sole menu item on. Enter any password you like (four-character minimum) in both boxes and then tap Finish. Now the screen fills with individual menu items for all those padlock options just mentioned.
If you’ve spent any time around kids and gadgets, you’ll soon learn one thing: Slapping a password on the device’s virtual front door doesn’t help much. Either the critters crack the code or, if you punch in the key for them, the young ‘uns get free range of all your content pickings. FreeTime is Amazon’s incredibly useful solution. It’s a special app that lets you control what your kid sees, what she can buy, and how much time she spends on the device. The FreeTime universe is a very different place than the unfettered world of the grownup Fire. Gone are most of the Libraries where little kids probably shouldn’t be. Instead, they get Books, Videos, and Apps—all filled up with items that you select. You can even create multiple profiles (up to six). So you can give your wee-est tots screen-time restrictions that differ from those for slightly older kids.
You’ll find the app waiting in your Apps Library. Tap to open and then follow these steps:
Create a password. Here’s the one reason you’ll need to pay a quick visit to the Parental Controls section in the Fire’s Settings: to create a password. If you haven’t already done so, follow the instructions on the previous page and then, after launching FreeTime, tap Next in the lower-right corner. Enter the password and tap OK.
Add a profile. The first thing to do here is basic, cosmetic stuff: Enter the child’s first name and birthdate and pick out an icon (which will appear on a sign-in screen). Tap Next if you’re ready to pick the content for this child’s account, or choose Add Another Child and repeat the process.
Pick content and time limits. Job number one here is to decide what kinds of books, videos, and apps you want your child to have access to. Tap the Manage Content button, enter your password, and on the Manage Your Content screen that appears, tap the child’s name. Now you see a three-tabbed screen: Books, Videos, and Apps. Turn on the checkboxes for the items you want to include. Tap Save when you’re finished.
Back on FreeTime’s main screen, you also get a Daily Time Limits option to make sure your kid gets some fresh air once in a while. Tap that icon, choose the child whose account you want to manage, and then turn on Set Time Limits. You can either decide on a master Total Screen Time (from 15 minutes all the way up to 6 hours), or choose specific time limits for books, videos, and app usage (options here include Blocked, 15 minutes to 6 hours, or Unlimited). Either way, use the slider below each label to pick the time you want.
Sign in, sign out. When you’re ready to hand over the device to your child, start by launching the FreeTime app and picking the profile name you want to activate. The screen that appears is a customized kiddie version of the one you see on your grownup Fire. It has its own top-of-screen Library links, Carousel (The Home Screen), and Favorites. (Kids can add their own best-loved items here the same way you learned back on The Home Screen.)
Don’t miss the Library’s cool Characters option. It features automatically generated, kid-friendly categories: Dora, Puppies—whatever the system can drum up from the content loaded on your Fire.
You know how to tap. But don’t be embarrassed if all the other, not-so-obvious touchscreen gestures seem foreign. That includes the flick, the swipe, the pinch, the twist, and—they don’t call it multi-touch for nothing—those two-fingered maneuvers. Here, then, is a brief primer:
Tapping. The touchscreen equivalent of mouse clicking. For icons and hyperlinks, a single tap is all you need. On web pages, photos, and some apps, double-tapping enlarges the spot where your finger hit. Double-tap again to return to the regular, full-page view. (Keep in mind that double-tapping doesn’t always make things bigger; when using the Kindle app to read ebooks, for example, that gesture has no effect; Text View: Better Text Reading shows how to use the Options bar to bump up the font size.)
Swiping. Here’s where you hold and trace your finger in either direction, left or right. Great for reviewing long rows of book covers, albums, and movies. If you swipe-and-release quickly, the items whiz along, till the software-simulated friction slows them down. Same as Vanna White spinning the big Wheel of Fortune.
Flicking. Basically, vertical swiping. Any time you see a long, scrolling list (contacts, song titles), you can skim by moving the top of your finger quickly up- or downward. As with all touch gestures, use the fleshy tip of your finger here, not the nail (which will work, but is much harder to position).
The two-finger spread. There isn’t any real-world equivalent to this gesture, but somehow the way it works makes sense: Take two fingers (typically the thumb and pointer), put them down on the screen next to each other, and spread them apart. This move almost always enlarges what’s onscreen. Very popular among photo and drawing apps.
The pinch. Sometimes called the reverse spread, since it’s the previous gesture rewound. On any bit of content that’s been enlarged, place two fingers a chicken wing or so apart from each other and then pull them together. Now you get to see more stuff onscreen, albeit in a shrunken state.
Voice recognition may be the future of gadget control, but the Fire will ignore you no matter how loud you shout. Typing, then, is how you conduct searches, compose emails, and craft status updates. The downside of touchscreen typing is the cramped keyboard; even a puny netbook gives you bigger tiles to press than those on the jumbo 8.9-inch Fire. The good news: Smart software powers the Fire’s virtual keyboard. With timesaving assists like auto-completion suggestions, keyboard labels that adjust on-the-fly to match options you’re most likely to need, and some simple auto-correct fixes, you’ll probably find this input method easy to master.
What follows is an all-purpose guide to keyboarding. Many apps add custom frills, like a dedicated .com button in the web browser’s keyboard. The Fire’s built-in E-mail app soups up the keyboard with helpful, typer-friendly additions (those auto-complete suggestions, for example); see the box on Typing Tips and Tricks for a full tour. And 8.9-inch Fire owners will want to check out Appendix C for a few special keyboard features available only on the big screen models.
The home screen’s search bar is a good place to take the keyboard for a spin. Tap anywhere inside its oval, and up pops a four-row keyboard on the bottom of the screen. It works just as you might expect. Tap any key to type. Make a mistake? The Delete key on the far-right edge erases one character each time you hit it. Tap the Shift key once to summon an upper-case layout that sticks around for the next letter only. Tap the Shift key twice, and the capital lineup sticks around till you dismiss it by tapping the Shift key again.
To get those tiny numbers perched in the upper-right corner of the top letter row, just tap and hold any host letter. Tap and hold q, for example, and you see an orange 1 sprout up; remove your finger to insert the number. (Change your mind? Drag your finger away till the orange key turns gray; now you won’t enter anything in the text box.)
Turns out a bunch of letters sport secret, tucked-away variations. Touch and hold the a for the most common accented varieties: à á â ã ä å ā æ. Other multipurpose keys include: e, y, u, i, o, s, c, and n.
You can find other, less popular variations (asterisk, pound sign) by tapping the lower-left corner’s ?123 key. Burrow down even further to more options (the British pound, the Euro, squiggly brackets) by tapping the ?123 key and then, on the screen that appears, tap the =\< key. Return from any of these odd-key expeditions by tapping the lower-left corner’s ABC key.
To edit a word you’ve already typed—for example, fixing the typo ckngress—tap (but don’t hold) the spot you want to fix. You don’t have to hit the exact letter, because you get a gray pointer that you can reposition by dragging, if it’s not exactly where you want it. When it’s positioned correctly—in front of the k—tap the keyboard’s Delete key and then insert an o to fix the mistake.
Want to customize a handful of keyboard settings, like the sounds it makes when tapped and whether or not new sentences automatically start with a capital letter? Location-based Services has the scoop.
Apps are a big reason people buy tablets and smartphones. Short for applications, these downloadable programs turn your Fire into a 21st-century Swiss Army knife. Play games, edit photos, brush up on your Shakespeare—the list of what these single-purpose programs can do is almost endless. Amazon’s store (officially called the Amazon Appstore for Android) is where you shop for these goodies, or download them for free.
As with regular computers, apps run only on the systems they’re programmed for. So an app designed for the iPad won’t work on the Fire unless the developer releases a separate version. Complicating matters a bit, Amazon doesn’t make it easy to shop at any ol’ Android app store, including the Walmart of app outlets, Google Play. (The Tip on Installing Apps has some advice about how to get around the roadblocks.) Instead, Amazon’s opted to link your device with its own app store. The benefit? Simple installation and a catalog that includes only apps that Amazon has verified as Fire-friendly.
The simplest way to get an app is by heading to the Apps Library and tapping the Store link. Use the search oval to look for a specific title, or scroll downscreen through rows of promoted and recommended apps. You can swipe horizontally (left to right) for more choices in each of these rows. There’s a special treat in the top row: “Today’s Free App of the Day,” which offers just what it says.
Tucked just under the search oval is a helpful group of links: Best Sellers, Games, New Releases, Test Drive, and All Categories. Tap Test Drive, and you see a list of apps, specially programmed to give you a 10-minute taste of the app. Tap the app’s green Test Drive button to check it out. The All Categories link is good for niche browsing. It offers a list of more than two dozen areas (from Books & Comics and City Info to Travel and Weather). Tap any of these and then, on the screen that appears, filter even further by tapping either the All Categories pull-down menu (gets you sub-categories) or the Refine menu (lets you sort in different ways—highest to lowest price, for example—or show only apps meeting a certain criteria; say, 4-star or higher reviews).
Once you’ve spotted an app you want, click its orange download button (either the one that says Free or lists a price). The button turns green (saying either Get or Buy App); tap it again to start the download. After the download is complete, the button morphs one last time and now says Open. Tap it to launch the app. Throughout this book you’ll meet apps that beef up what your Fire can do. And the final three chapters focus exclusively on helping you pick the best apps in well-populated categories like games and task trackers.
You can also go app picking from a computer’s web browser. One advantage to this route is that you get some fine-tuned browsing options that aren’t available on the Fire’s built-in app store. For example, in the Price section of the web-based store (http://amzn.to/kfmm131), you can turn on a checkbox (left-hand column) showing just the free apps. When you’ve found an app you want, click its “Buy now” or “Get now” button (the second is for freebies). In a minute or so, the app appears in your Apps Library (tap the Cloud tab).
Got your eyes on an Android app that’s not listed in Amazon’s Appstore? One somewhat friendly option exists: Install a third-party app market like the one at GetJar.com (Google Play, alas, is not an option). To install GetJar, follow these steps: Pull down the Quick Settings menu and head to More→Device. Next, turn on “Allow Installation of Applications” and, using the Fire’s web browser (Creating and Editing Events), navigate to http://m.getjar.com. Tap the Free button next to any app and, on the screen that appears, tap Download. Once the download is complete, pull down the Quick Settings menu again and tap on the name of the file at the top of the list (it will end in .apk). Now you have the GetJar app on your Fire; use it to browse through its catalog and download any of its pickings.
Here’s a 21st Century, First World problem: With all the digital goodies you’ll end up loading onto your Fire, how on earth can you cram everything into its limited storage space?
You can’t. But you don’t have to.
Enter the Cloud, this decade’s frontrunner for most overused bit of jargon. As you’ve probably figured out, the term refers to stuff stored up on the Internet. Geeks appreciate how the Cloud matches the Internet illustrations in their diagrams. Marketing types get excited because terms like online and web-based were getting boring.
To be fair, though, Cloud-based offerings do contain some special qualities. For starters, any digital file that’s stored in the Cloud is automatically available on any of the devices you own or happen to be using (a PC at the library, for example). That means any Kindle book you’ve ever bought is ready for downloading and reading on any Kindle gadget or app. Same goes, more or less, for Amazon’s TV shows and movies. (The “less” being that you can’t watch a movie on a first-generation Kindle.) In a world where most people shuttle among multiple computers, tablets, and smartphones, having widespread, easy access to all this media is a huge convenience.
Amazon takes the concept a bit further with its Whispersync service. With Whispersync, not only is that John Grisham thriller you’re reading available on any Kindle reader, but your bookmarks, notes, and even your reading location are coordinated everywhere. Start reading on the commute home using a BlackBerry, and then pick up where you left off on your Fire when you crawl into bed. Backup worries also get washed away. No longer do you have to go through the tedium of all that copying. As long as you believe that Amazon’s here to stay—probably a safe bet—their pledge is that you can always re-download anything you bought from them.
For Fire owners, the Cloud plays an even bigger role. It gives you access to loads more media than can actually fit on your machine. Amazon’s solution? Setting you up with a healthy sized Cloud-based shelf. You can enjoy anything stored there, as long as you have a WiFi connection. Tap any of the main Libraries (music, books, and so on), and you’ll notice two tabs at the top of each library’s screen: Device and Cloud. Here lie the routes to whatever you want to play or view. Files behind door number one reside directly on the Fire itself. Door number two—the Cloud—is what lives on Amazon’s virtual drives. Whenever you and your Fire are inside a reasonably speedy WiFi zone, everything you see there is showtime ready.
Now, of course, there are some catches:
Moving your files online. For ebooks, apps, TV shows, and movies, this one’s a non-issue. Buy any of those items from Amazon, and the digital files await online forevermore and automatically. Music’s another story. If you’ve built your collections from iTunes purchases or burning lots of CDs, you’ll need to spend time hauling those bits from local hard drive to the one in the Cloud. Guidance on how to make that happen begins on Getting Music onto the Fire. (If you’ve bought your tunes from Amazon, you’re covered. All its MP3 files get stored there once you flip on a single checkbox; see the note on Note.)
No or poor WiFi connection. Remotely stored media is only convenient if you can get to it. If you’re a subway-riding city slicker, ranch hand far out on the range, or an airplane-trapped traveler, you may not have a WiFi signal in reach.
Everything Amazon. It’s getting increasingly difficult these days to live a life that doesn’t depend on one of the following firms: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, or Google. By storing all or most of your digital stuff on Amazon’s servers, you’re making it tough to pack up and take your media business somewhere else. And it’s not simply a logistical challenge you’d face. In plenty of cases—ebooks, TV shows, and movies—you can’t take those files with you. They’ve got software locks attached (DRM, short for digital rights management) that make the files playable only on Amazon-controlled software and gadgets.
Cost. Amazon’s starter cloud package is free and reasonably sized (5 gigabytes worth of non-music files, 250 songs, no charge for those tunes purchased on their music store). But if you stick with Amazon, you’ll probably find yourself ponying up for additional space. Your options are described starting on Choosing what to upload, but given the annual fees for this extra storage, it’s a price worth understanding.
Fact is, however many downsides you can think of, with finite storage space on even the 64 GB models, sooner or later you’ll have to pick what deserves on-device storage and what’s okay to keep in Cloudville. Of course there’s no right or wrong approach. A few items are no-brainers for bringing onto the Fire: the ebook you’re currently reading, plus the handful of Best Books Ever; reference works (cookbooks, for example) that would be great to have while at that cabin in the woods; any movies you want to watch on a long flight; the couple hundred greatest hits in your music and photo library; and your essential document collection. It helps that the Fire makes it pretty easy to flush out what you don’t need and download what you do.
To keep tabs on how much room you’ve got left, check out Quick Settings→Device→Internal Storage. To delete pretty much any item on the Fire, tap and hold its icon and then select “Remove from Device.”
So there you have it: a short version of Cloud 101. Ready to go have some fun with your Fire? Reading books is a great place to start, which is what the next chapter covers in detail.