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Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual by Peter Meyers

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Introduction

WHY IS THE KINDLE Fire such a big deal? After all, Samsung, Motorola, HP—the list goes on—have built iPad wannabes…that most shoppers ignored. Amazon’s stroke of genius was deciding not to go head-to-head against Apple. Instead, they built a tablet that was vastly more affordable, much smaller, and still does what most folks want: email, ebooks, the Web, videos, and apps.

Less than two months after the Fire’s release, Amazon shared the early results. Of the many, many items it sells, the Fire had become the bestselling, most gifted, and most wished-for product. Congratulations, then, on having picked a leader in the Great Tablet Derby of the 2010s.

The Fire is deceptively powerful. Though it’s got only a few physical buttons, underneath its sleek, simple exterior lies a machine that can do as much as a “real” computer. It’s a Kindle so, of course, you can buy and read ebooks. But because it’s a multi-purpose tablet, that’s just one of its many talents. With it, you also get:

  • TV set and movie screen. Bring a Fire into bed or onto the bus, and you’ve got your own personal entertainment center. Amazon’s Hollywood and TV studio dealmakers have put together a cheap and large catalog that’s big enough to rival Netflix and iTunes. Your choices, of course, are smaller than what you’d find on a normal boob tube or cineplex, but you still have thousands and thousands of titles to pick from. This particular revolution is just getting started and it’s wickedly fun for any moving image fan.

  • Web browser. Most phones nowadays give you some way to surf. But even the biggest smartest phone is still around the size of your palm. The Fire’s extra real estate really helps you appreciate the Web. What you see on its shiny, multi-million colored display is pretty near close to what you see on a full-size computer. The Fire can also play multimedia Flash content (videos, games, and, yes, ads)—a checkbox that the iPad will never tick off.

  • Email, chat, and social networking. It’s all here. However you connect, the Fire is ready to help. It has a nifty built-in email program and lets you install your choice of third-party apps for Facebook, Twitter, and more.

  • Portable picture frame. TV, movies, and the Web aren’t always enough. Sometimes the best home entertainment is the kind you make with your own family: pet photos, vacation albums, and birthday party and camping videos. If you can capture it on a digital camera or camcorder, you can show it off on the Fire. Photo sharing in particular is a blast. No longer do your friends have to squint at the cellphone screen to watch little Eddie make the diving catch. The Fire’s big enough to really light up people’s faces.

  • Digital briefcase. Tired of fumbling around with printouts? With the Fire, you never have to bother printing hotel confirmations, online shopping receipts, or the work documents you want to read on the train. Out of the box, the Fire is ready to display any Microsoft Word or PDF file. A few add-on apps, which you’ll meet in Chapter 4, extend that list to almost any document type you’ve ever heard of.

  • Jukebox. Amazon’s been hard at work stocking the shelves of its digital record shop. Even better, it’s designed free software that makes it easy to remain a loyal Apple fan while playing its tunes on non-iGadgets—the Fire very much included. Whether you plug in a pair of earphones, play your music aloud on the Fire’s built-in speakers, or connect a pair of legit speakers, this gadget’s great for tuning in and turning on.

  • Video game player. Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, even 21st-century versions of Pac Man and Pong—it’s all here on the Fire, plus a cool 5,000 or so other options. A quick list of key categories include: race car driving; football, soccer, and pool; word and number puzzles; card games; pinball; and strategy and adventure fests. Hardcore teenage gamers may need a dedicated gadget for high-end performance, but for the rest of us, the Fire is a pretty amazing portable arcade.

  • Everything else. Speaking of apps: Anything the Fire can’t do out of the box, some developer somewhere is probably working on. Weather report videos, podcasts and worldwide radio tuners, recipe displays, sleep-inducing white noise machines, horoscope advisors, family calendar keepers. These are just a few of the apps that are currently available on the Fire. About half of these special-purpose programs are free, and most cost no more than a buck or two.

Tip

One simple way to load up on apps is via Amazon’s daily giveaway. At the very top of the Appstore (either on your Fire or on Amazon.com), a paid app’s price gets slashed to the low, low price of free. Installing Apps has details on downloading and other app suggestions. Also check out the final three chapters of this book, which are dedicated to guiding you through the many app options that await.

Under the Fire’s Hood

Under the Fire’s Hood

Making all this happen is a combination of hardware and software that matches the Fire’s exterior: simple and sufficient to get the job done. Weighing in at 14.6 ounces, the Fire packs 8 GB of storage (only about 6 GB is available for your use; the rest is occupied by the system and other built-in software). That’s enough to hold about 80 apps, plus some combination of 10 movies, 800 songs, or 6,000 books. The screen is a 16-million-color IPS display. That’s short for in-plane switching, which means that even if you’re not looking directly at the Fire, what’s on screen still looks clear. In other words: two kids in the back seat of a car both get a decent view of the movie. A full charge of the non-removable battery gets you about 8 hours of use.

Most significant is the underlying software. You may have heard that the Fire uses the Google-designed and freely available Android operating system. (Version number 2.3, nicknamed Gingerbread, for those keeping score at home.) But you’d never know it if you compared the Fire to one of the other Android-powered tablets out there—Amazon made all sorts of custom changes. You’ll read about the details in the pages ahead, but in effect, Amazon laid an easy-to-operate topcoat of its own design over the basic Android framework. Aside from the fact that Amazon gets its base layer of programming for free, the other beneficiary is you, given that many Android apps are playable on the Fire.

Note

This book covers version number 6.2.1 of the Fire’s system software. If Amazon’s past history with the other Kindle devices is any indication, the company will push out new updates with bug fixes and feature additions every couple of months.

About This Book

Tucked alongside the Fire and its power cord is a playing card–sized “getting to know your Kindle” guide. It’s enough to usher you onto the home screen, where you’ll find a bare-bones User’s Guide—the kind that covers a headline–only list of features, without telling you much about which ones are most worth your time. This Missing Manual, then, is the book that should have come in the box. In the pages ahead, you’ll learn about all the Fire’s nooks and crannies. But what’s more valuable, you’ll find out which apps and options work best and which items are still works in progress. You’ll also get real-world counsel on how to beef up the Fire’s still-developing talents with third-party apps.

About the Outline

The book is divided into five parts, each containing a handful of chapters. Everything’s arranged to help you get the most out of the Fire’s key talents, from reading and watching to staying in touch and using apps. You’ll find it helpful to start with Chapter 1 for a quick tour of the Fire’s parts and navigation. After that, read the chapters in any order you like—page-specific cross references point you to related material you’ll need to understand any explanation. What follows is a highlight reel of what each part contains:

  • Part I. The first chapter explains what you need to know about how the Fire organizes its contents and how to operate its touchscreen controls. Reading Books (Chapter 2) tells the story of every Kindle’s main talent; it’s also where audio books are covered. The Newsstand (Chapter 3) is next, with coverage on finding, buying, and reading magazines and newspapers (both plain-text editions and multimedia-powered app versions). Documents and Spreadsheets (Chapter 4) is primarily for Microsoft Office fans—be they businesspeople or students—but it’s also where you’ll learn how to do things like read PDF files and load the Fire with ebooks that don’t come from Amazon.

  • Part II. That beautiful screen you’re holding is ready to show off beautiful images—moving and still alike. Watching TV and Movies (Chapter 5) introduces you to the ever-growing commercial lineup that Amazon offers, ready for display not just on the Fire, but also on your computer and network-ready TV. For your own version of showtime, Photos and Home Videos (Chapter 6) gives you the scoop on getting your own pictures and movies onto the small screen. Listening to Music (Chapter 7) is more than just about buying and playing the 18 million songs Amazon now sells. You’ll also find out how to import any existing iTunes or Windows Media Player collections you have, as well as the kinds of apps you’ll need to play podcasts and even real radio.

  • Part III. The Fire’s WiFi connection is ready to do more, of course, than just buy books and songs and movies. Email and Address Book (Chapter 8) explains how to get the most out of two apps that ship with the Fire and Browsing the Web (Chapter 9) sets you up with Silk, Amazon’s homemade Internet explorer.

  • Part IV. The hundreds of thousands of special purpose programs—apps, as they’re commonly called—that have revolutionized the software industry and filled our virtual skies with Angry Birds are available, or coming soon, to your Fire. Amazon’s set up a special store (the Appstore for Android) where it vets each submission to make sure it’s Fire-compatible. The chapters here—Playing Games (Chapter 10), Creative Corner (Chapter 11), and Managing Time, Tasks, and Travel (Chapter 12)—distinguish the best from the rest, in an effort to help you spend your app budget wisely.

  • Part V. Two brief, back-of-the-book help guides. The first (Settings [Appendix A]) guides you through every option in the buried-deep control room of that same name. The second (Troubleshooting and Maintenance [Appendix B]) lays out a half dozen or so remedies to the most common Fire ailments and lists links to some helpful advice and support sites.

About→These→Arrows

In order to keep the navigational pointers in this, as well as every Missing Manual, concise, we’ve adopted a simple shorthand for pointing out how to burrow through menu or button hierarchies. Rather than slowing you down with a cumbersome series of instructions—Tap the middle of the screen to summon the Options bar; on it, tap the Menu button and, from the row that pops up above it, touch Now Playing—a series of arrows helps more efficiently convey that info, like so: Options bar→Menu→Now Playing.

About MissingManuals.com

This book is loaded with web links. If you’re reading the print edition, sure, you can type in each address every time you want to visit an online pointer. Why not, though, bookmark the Missing CD page for this title (www.missingmanuals.com/cds/firemm)? There you’ll find a list of every link mentioned within these pages.

The Missing CD page also offers corrections and updates to the book. To see them, click the View Errata link. You’re invited to submit corrections and updates yourself by clicking “Submit your own errata” on the same page. To keep this book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you’ve suggested. Or go directly to the errata page at www.tinyurl.com/fire-mm.

While you’re online, you can register this book at http://oreilly.com/register. Registering means we can send you updates about the book, and you’ll be eligible for special offers like discounts on future editions of Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual.

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