The Kindle Fire Is a Heap of Crap!

Monday , 8, January 2018 26 Comments

So I bought a Kindle Fire, and here’s my verdict: The Kindle Fire is a heap of crap. It’s cheap, it’s shoddy, and it’s slow. It does a lot of the same things an Apple iPad does, but worse. It’s meant for people who either don’t know they bought a heap of crap, or don’t care.

The hardware is a heap of crap. The plastic is obviously cheap, as is the screen. The “fit and finish” is serviceable, but not impressive. The case is noticeably loose fitting.

The processor is a heap of crap. The User Interface writes checks the CPU can’t cash—promising functionality the device itself cannot provide. Live search for books already on the device, as an example, is a bad joke. Even with WiFi turned off (so it isn’t trying to pull info from the web), every single letter typed into the search induces lag. Type… wait… result. Type… wait… result.

Since the processor is a gimped design that’d have trouble rivaling the raw power of a Speak and Spell from 1978, this means the lag isn’t so much “noticeable” as “rage inducing”. If Amazon Kindle were a person, I might well have hired a hitman to kill his dog and steal his car, just to make my displeasure apparent. You might think I’d be worried about his inevitable vicious and bloody revenge, but take it from me, when it comes to speed and accuracy, Mr. A. Kindle is less “John Wick” and more “John Candy”.

A slow processor means a slow UI, which is DEATH on usability. This slowness pervades every corner of the tablet.

Speaking of the UI, it’s a heap of crap. Preferences, as one example, lie scattered over the place, some in the prefs app (often in bizarre and unpredictable locations), some in random pull-down menus, and some even on the Amazon web site itself. There’s no organization, no real effort at implementing discoverability, and the help system is basically just the user manual, with no useful search functionality. (Apple’s iOS, in contrast, will actually take you to where the preference is located, rather than just throwing up its hands and saying “Hell if I know, here’s 1000 pages of badly written User Manual to leaf through.”) The Kindle Fire’s UI is badly designed throughout, and (as previously mentioned), the slow processor makes it painful to use.

Autocorrect is mostly a heap of crap. Unlike Apple’s default keyboard, Kindle autocorrect won’t learn: it makes the same replacements every single time, time after time, instead of altering them based on your inputs.

The Kindle keyboard doesn’t even PRETEND to learn. I’d like it if, after the third time in a row I corrected some autocorrect misstep, it’d JUST STOP FIXING MY WORDS TO SOMETHING WRONG. This is an autocorrect that spellchecks words IN A SEARCH FIELD and turned “against” into “again st” and “cyberpunk” into “cyber security”. YES THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR SPELL CORRECTING AWAY THE GENRE OF THE BOOKS I WAS LOOKING TO BUY YOU INCOMPETENT JERKS. IT’S NOT LIKE THE KINDLE SOLELY EXISTS TO SELL ME STUFF.

Speaking of which, the ads are a heap of crap. They’re scattered EVERYWHERE. The crappy UI is crappy not just because of the slow-ass processor, but also because it’s designed primarily to shove advertisements for stuff in your face. Even the lock screen is one giant ad. You can sorta turn some of these off, one by one, each preference being located in a separate, unpredictable location, but even if you do, they still push ads on the lock screen unless you PAY THEM A RANSOM OF SEVENTEEN DOLLARS, above and beyond the cost of the device.

And oh, by the way, if you pay them the ransom to banish ads from your lock screen? Ads still show up. They’re smaller, and less obtrusive, but I PAID SEVENTEEN BUCKS TO BANISH ADS AND THEY STILL SHOVE THEM IN MY FACE.

The few apps I’ve installed have been half good, half a heap of crap. Facebook and Twitter are both pain inducing pieces of garbage, worse even than their iOS counterparts, which I didn’t think was possible. Dropbox works well, pretty much the only thing on the device that does, apart from the Kindle book app itself and a third-party comic reader app I bought.

Except that, at one point I needed to delete and reinstall the third-party comic reading app, and its icon disappeared from the home screen, where it is supposed to be, and no combination of rebooting and reinstalling has been able to convince the Kindle OS to add it back. Even when I click on the installed app, buried in a list of purchases, the Kindle asks if I want to REMOVE its icon from the home screen, A PLACE WHERE IT CANNOT BE SEEN.

Frustration. Rage. Hit man.

Of course, the reason why I had to delete the app is because the syncing function (to install outside files, like books and music) is a heap of crap. There are two apps which allow for this to happen, theoretically speaking. The “Transfer to Kindle” app requires a login to use, but it doesn’t support Amazon’s own 2-factor authorization, so using it requires turning off the one thing keeping your Amazon account from being hijacked by Nigerian scammers and used to buy 100,000 bottles of raw water from Oregon to ship to lovely Abuja, all on your dime.

No.

The second sync app, “Android File Transfer”, won’t work if the device is locked, SOMETHING NOBODY TELLS YOU. Not the Kindle Fire Help system, not the Amazon website, not helpful websites I googled looking for a solution, and definitely not the app itself. (The iPhone and iPad will and do sync when locked, so assuming the Fire does is eminently reasonable.)

Assuming you accidentally stumble upon the solution (as I did), copying .mobi files across to the Kindle Fire is straightforward, until they refuse to show up in your book reading app. They’re on the device, and they can even be accessed (via an awkward series of steps) in a separate app wholly unrelated to reading books, but other than that… nothing.

After lengthy googling, I finally found the answer (which I now share with you, so you can help some other poor sap who needs it). It seems that .mobi files have an obscure field called [PDOC], meaning “personal document”, which prevents them from being displayed in the Kindle book app. If you use Calibre, the open source ebook manager, you can covert all your .mobi files WITH this field to .mobi files WITHOUT this field, then sideload them, then finally read the books you presumptuously bought off some website other than Amazon.

I had to convert HUNDREDS of ebooks to eliminate six characters that kept me from reading any of them. Literally. Hundreds.

Speaking of hundreds of ebooks, Kindle Unlimited is a heap of crap. At least on the device itself, it’s very difficult to find the sorts of books you want to read, it now costs $10 per month, even if you own a Kindle, and the genre categories are useless.

Most “Pulp” novels in KU bear no discernible relation to Pulp at all, at least in the “generally consonant with actual classic Pulp stories” sense. Of the top 20 stories in KU Steampunk, only two were actually Steampunk. And, no matter what genre they claim, many Fantasy & Science Fiction novels are actually Romance instead of (for example) Urban Fantasy or Vampire Horror. In one memorable instance, a Top 20 genre book was outright “Erotica”, complete with racy cover featuring half-nude models, that didn’t have anything to do with the genre it had been placed in (even nominally). KU books are frequently mislabeled, either because the writer doesn’t give a damn or because they actually don’t know what the Pulp, Steampunk, or Urban Fantasy genres are.

Some other minor niggles: after years of luxuriating with a fingerprint repelling oleophobic screen, I have to get used to a device that needs to be cleaned on the reg. And, even if clean, the screen is absolutely NOT non-glare, and could actually be used as a signal lamp to send Morse Code messages to US Navy vessels as far as ten nautical miles offshore. And, not for nothing, but there are enough small differences in key placement between the Kindle keyboard and the iOS one that it makes it hard to switch back and forth (but now I’m just kvetching).

Now, before I go off to finally hire that hit man to fire a .50 bullet into my Kindle Fire’s innards, some good points. The Kindle Fire is cheap, less than $100, which is inexpensive enough so that none of the above will matter to many people. Even if lost / destroyed, that’s a low enough price point that most people can easily replace them. (By way of comparison, the closest comparable iPad—the iPad Mini 4—costs four times as much.)

It’s also very easy to shop on both Amazon and Comixology (as it damn well should be, considering that’s the entire POINT of the device). I haven’t had any problems with WiFi connectivity. The screen is bright and clear, and doesn’t seem to have a weird color balance: blacks are black, whites white, and the rest of the colors match what they should be.

Also, so long as you don’t have the brightness of the screen turned up so far you’re in danger of burning holes in your retinas, the Fire has a nice battery life. BL percentages drop slowly, even under consistent use, and the onscreen gauge seems to accurately match the actual charge in the battery (wonder of wonders).

Despite all the bad points, which are aggravatingly bad (Frustration. Rage. Hit man.), and setting aside all of the good points, I’d recommend any indie writer who can afford one to purchase a Fire and a KU subscription. If you’re smart, you’re going to be selling to Kindle users in general, and KU in specific, so it’s wise to learn how both operate, so you can best take advantage of the opportunities available on the platform.

That’s why the Kindle Fire might be worth it to you, even if it is a big old heap of crap.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

26 Comments
  • “KU books are frequently mislabeled, either because the writer doesn’t give a damn or because they actually don’t know what the Pulp, Steampunk, or Urban Fantasy genres are.”

    This isn’t just a writer problem, though some writers don’t care or even deliberately attempt to mis-categorize their books, believing more exposure even in the wrong categories will do them good.

    However, savvy writers and publishers try to get their books into the correct categories, but many times can’t. As usual with Amazon, their algorithms are constantly bending the writer’s choices to their will. A writer or publisher gets to choose two (yes, only two) hard categories that their book will (almost) certainly be listed. All other categories get populated via keywords, and there are thousands of pages written on how to try to get the algorithms to place the books properly–but it’s still hit or miss.

    The out-of-place Romance genre problem is so egregious that Amazon’s terms of service even put in a special instruction:

    “Warning: Do not add books from any Romance category to these categories: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Children’s.”

    https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/A19G4ONBAU6NO3

    But some writers still do it, and/or the Amazon algorithm places them there.

    • Nathan says:

      “All other categories get populated via keywords, and there are thousands of pages written on how to try to get the algorithms to place the books properly–but it’s still hit or miss.”

      So would that be why, for example, a major SFF publisher’s alternate history novel got pegged as a “Vatican Tour Guide”?

    • World's Edge says:

      My understanding is that some writers are now deliberately shunning the Romance category since it is so overloaded with books these days and putting their Were-Seal love stories deliberately into SF or Fantasy.

  • H.P. says:

    The Fire may be a poor man’s iPad, but it is a VERY poor man–you can find them on sale for a small fraction of the price of an iPad. It won’t be as good as an iPad, sure, but is a tablet really worth that much?

    They seem enormously popular, but I have never gotten real utility out of one. My smartphone does a lot of that. I can work on Word on my Surface Pro, but it isn’t small enough, light enough, and usable enough to make me leave my laptop at home. I actually really like the Fire for reading…but not as much as I like my smaller, lighter Paperwhite.

  • I bought one for my wife three years ago.

    I see the product hasn’t improved since then. Back then, it was over $200.

    And it eventually stopped working one day — just after the warranty expired.

  • James Dixon says:

    I have one, and I can’t say I’ve noticed that the device is that slow. Performance for me seems to be roughly on par with my work Galaxy S6 cell phone. The Paperwhite is a much better ebook reader though, I’ll grant.

  • Anthony says:

    Got an old one for 50 bucks.

    Was worth it.

  • Chris Gallo says:

    I got so frustrated with my Paperwhite’s sluggishness and shoddy OS that I just finally bought an Android tablet and am using the Kindle app. It is a categorically better experience.

  • Sheila Hamblin says:

    Golly gee. Tell us how you really feel. I get the same trouble on my phone. A samsung. So don’t blame kindle for everything. YOU could be the real problem. How much do you get paid yfor references to ipad?

  • Rawle Nyanzi says:

    Can confirm. The Kindle Fire sucks; my Android tablet does the Kindle-related stuff far better.

  • Xavier Basora says:

    Jasyn
    Thanks for the review. Granklybyou’d be better off getting an Android tablet. Fire’s oS is an Anazonified Android. I’ve always been a fan of Samsung. I think it has the best tablet design and their ui isn’t too annoying. In fact i really like its music and calander programs. Except for podcasts i use a different program.

    xavier

  • TPC says:

    It’s what a lot of parents use as a babysitter. Cheaper than a human even if you buy a fire every couple of months or even monthly. Their sales volume will continue to be just fine until that changes.

  • Mr. Random Commenture says:

    I got an older refurbished one on sale for $35.00, and I like it OK.

    I If I had paid much more than that, I’d probably fuckin’ HATE. IT.

  • Dr. Mauser says:

    KU has always been $10. You thought it was free with the Kindle?

  • viktor says:

    Should we get off your lawn, too, old man?

    If you want the iPad experience, buy an iPad FFS and install Kindle app. As an AAPL shareholder, I think you should buy 137 of them.

    I’ve got about 5 different Kindles. No issues.

    No need to side load. Download the Send To Kindle app for your OS from Amazon. Right-click on the file, hit Send To Kindle option. Done.

    Is there no Documents icon? That’s where non-Amazon product should be.

    I bought a Kindle Touch for $20 on eBay. Bought a case for it from China for $3 on eBay. It works flawlessly.

    I have the Kindle app on my Samsung tablet, works slow, but fine. Samsung’s fault.

    Pretty sure KU is free for 30 days with any Kindle purchase from Amazon.

  • Codex says:

    I got my Fire as a present from the husband a few years ago.

    It does everything I need it to do, and, not being Apple (I hate Appke: completely counter-intuitive) albeit on a touch screen. And ALL touch screens suck.

    I prefer the e-ink keyboard kindle, but mine died and the new ones are 100% touchscreen, e.g sucksville.

    So I default the the old Fire. Which is a crappy laptop, cell phone and desktop computer.

    But it’s fantastic at getting stuff to read, watch and listen to, hooks up painlessly to my public library (Apple hates public libraries), and lets me, despite the moronic AutoCorrect (protip : use the option to add words like protip and eschew to the “dictionary”) comment on blogs whilst curled up on the couch watching Stephen Molyneux on the boob tube.

    If you want to enjoy multi-platform indie concealment the kindle fire is a good choice.

  • I have the $50 7 inch one, and I have to admit I like it. Though I just use it as an MP3 player and an ebook reader. It’s definitely not an iPad or a Galaxy, but for $50 (or $30 if you catch a Black Friday sale or whatever), it’s pretty good for what it is.

  • Ben says:

    Samsung Galaxy Tab A – bought it with a big grin for $300, now it’s 1/2 that new. That was to replace a $600 Toshiba Thrive tablet that worked good for years then went kooky and died. I’ve typed tons of short stories and a novel with a $13 bluetooth keyboard. I’ve carried it to India and back, into the jungles… Still working save a dent or so.

    For digital art I might get a legit tablet PC for $1000 range but my Galaxy Tab A has freed me to casually check emails and websites and type type type. Got lots of fun videos of crazy Mumbai traffic and such.

    Also, for a reading/comic book addict the 128 Gig card isn’t even 1/10 full yet – bought separate, worth it – get the MicroSD obviously:-) And back up. Good to display stories and preview PDF documents…

    Google docs for writing – all cloud based – if a monkey or robber stole it I’d send the kill signal with the smartphone then be able to access all my docs with backups.

    Cheap is as cheap does. But to spend for quality not that much more. Even the ancient Toshiba one worked way better than this thing by your description, btw.

  • Robert Brown says:

    Lmfao , what a utter tool comparing a £50 tablet against a £300 tablet ..idiot
    I own the fire HD 8 and IV had 0 issues

    • Ben says:

      Robert, really – name calling?

      I thought it helpful to point out you could have a much better device without breaking the bank. I can’t run Windows PC games or Zbrush on my Galaxy Tab A but it does a mountain of other cool things. Price new is in the $160 range from Amazon.

      This is versus $1000-$2000 for a decent full range tablet PC that I would use for digital art and good 3d programs.

      Therefore, if someone – a writer – and plenty of “neoPulp” writers here – well I’m recommending something that’d work better and has more processor, memory, is more durable and expandable… without spending into the $1000+ range.

      Trying to be helpful.

  • I love my old monochrome kindle with the actual physical buttons. I’ll be very bummed when it wears out.

  • Alexandru says:

    Ohh ohh next do a review comparing a Honda Fit to an Audi A8… makes about as much fucking sense as comparing a 49 dollar ebook reader/web browser to a $350+ premium tablet.

  • World's Edge says:

    From what I understand, it can be rooted fairly easily and turned into a much more usable vanilla Android tablet, one without the Amazon bloatware/bizarre Android forking Amazon does.

    Beyond that, I’m not really clear what OP was expecting for US$50.

  • RiceMilk says:

    While I was exploring the kindlefire.
    I got stuck in it.I wasn’t able to put that lock screen pin.What did I even do wrong?
    Somebody plz help me with this

  • Joe Shmoe says:

    These tablets suck no matter how much you paid for it. It is something I would expect to see in a third world classroom.

    Returning the one I bought for my kid today. Paid $59.99

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