Don’t worry, get appy #1
This is actually something that I’ve recently added to my book, Love Your Kindle Fire: The ILMK Guide to Amazon’s Entertablet. Well, I’ve submitted it, along with updates with my experience with other sections. It will probably take a couple of days before the update is in place, but I wanted to try to do it about a month after release. If you’ve already purchased the book, I will ask Amazon to give you the option to get the update…but I’ve done that once already when I did corrections, and I never saw an e-mail offering me the updated version. I really hope they do, but if not, you have it here. I also figure I may want to update the book again after the next software update, if it makes significant changes. I don’t know how Amazon will feel about me asking for updates to be sent out repeatedly, though. Oh, and these aren’t all the apps I’ve gotten…but if I hadn’t really tested one, I didn’t include it (unless it came pre-installed).
Amazon Santa (free) ***
Amazon released this one on November 30, 2011. It’s a wish list app for kids, basically. What they’ve done is limit the access to items that are “kid friendly” in several categories (music, everything, books, video games, toys and games, movies and TV). Each user can create a list and add things to it by clicking on them. It’s sort of like having the Sears Wishbook when you were a kid (if you are old enough to remember those…if you are, you may enjoy a nostalgic look at them at Wishbook Web). You can save the Wish List at Amazon, and “send it to Santa”. In order to do some things, you need to have signed into Amazon through the app.
Angry Birds Seasons (free) ****
If you haven’t played Angry Birds yet…run away! Avert your eyes…do not gaze directly into the time-sapping vortex! It’s been incredibly popular, and is quite addictive (here’s a YouTube parody combining Angry Birds and Star Trek: The Next Generation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkBws1yx5HA). There are several versions, and you can get a free one with ads or pay a small amount without ads. The game play is fine on the Fire…better than on my phone, I’d say, because of the larger screen.
Audible (pre-installed) ****
Audible.com is owned by Amazon, and does audiobooks (see the Music and other audio section for more). I like the app. I’ve never been much of an audiobook listener…I prefer text-to-speech (where the device reads a book out loud to you using software). However, I do find the controls here reasonably intuitive, and the audio starts very quickly when I press play (remembering where I was when I was last listening). It would be nice if the shop was more obvious (click Menu-My Library-the shopping cart icon at the top of the screen), but outside of that, it works fine.
Bocce (free when I got it) ***
It’s a simple little game…virtual Bocce Ball. I got it when I was out at a company event at Campo di Bocce (in Livermore, California). I was basically just showing off my Fire. While we were waiting to play the real thing, I connected to the restaurant’s wi-fi. No problem to do, by the way, even though you need to acknowledge terms and conditions. When you have to do that, a box pops up on your Fire to allow you to go to the page to do that. So, I showed some people a YouTube clip on how to play Bocce, and downloaded this free game. You can set it on three different levels. Playing is fairly intuitive. The music (and waves crashing on the shore) is inoffensive…not always true in apps. It’s a very simple game…good for kids, I’d say.
Bonsai Blast (both a free version and a ninety-nine cent version) ***
I got the paid version as a Free App of the Day. It’s a simple little game. You shoot colored bubbles at a line of colored bubbles…when you get three of the same color in a row, they pop and disappear. You may have played similar games on other platforms, like Bust-a-Move. You can play an adventure version, or a survival version. There’s not much to it…you tap where you want the balloon to go. I find I lose interest in it pretty quickly, but not bad for five minutes in line. Might be good for kids.
It’s fortunate that I got this as a free app…I didn’t find the game play effective. Some of you may have spent a good part of your youth playing Breakout. That’s what this is like…bricks at the top of the screen and a bouncing ball. You slide your paddle back and forth at the bottom of the screen to bounce the ball up to break the bricks. I’ve played my share of Breakout, but this one just didn’t have the right feel for me.
This is one of my absolute essentials. I use it at work…I’m often in places where plugging in a laptop is inconvenient. You start a note, you write the note, you can e-mail the note. All easy enough to use. You can set a reminder, you can make a list, and you can search your notes very simply. It’s what I need to make the Fire a productivity device for me. That means I can bring my Fire to work, right, boss?
Honestly, I haven’t used this. When I need contacts (in e-mail, for example), the other app seems to handle it. There isn’t a way to import directly from your e-mail list. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but since it was included, I thought I’d mention it. It just hasn’t been friendly enough to be useful for me at this point.
This was a free app of the day for me. It’s one of the more challenging sports games. Expect to have a learning curve on this one…you probably won’t win the first time you play. It will feel more like a sports game on a console…this one isn’t simple, and could be frustrating for kids. If you have someone who actually likes working to conquer a game, though, this is a good choice…if they like tennis, of course.
My Significant Other is a big word game player. This one has been great! You need something which is challenging but is pretty purely based on knowing words and strategy. The only luck is what tiles you get. You are arranging “tiles” into words. The longer the word, the higher the multiplier for the letter values…using an “x” in a long word is better than using it in a short word. Every single tile can be used to make the two, three, four, fix, and six letter words on the “rack”. I find I can make all the words…but that doesn’t necessarily get you the highest score. I did find the way to make multiple profiles for individual players a challenge, and it takes some time getting used to how to move the tiles (one tile replaces another, so that’s part of the game…it’s a bit like sliding around those puzzles in a square that are missing one piece). Still, I’d recommend this one.
Drawing Pad ****
I got this as a Free App of the Day. It’s fun and simple. I was waiting to pick up my car, and there was another adult there with a child…maybe three or four years old. I let the kid play with Drawing Pad (with the adult’s approval). No problem…started drawing right away with a big smile. The controls are simple…you draw with your finger. You can use several drawing tools (including ones that leave a trail of stars or hearts), and you have “stamps” that are pictures, like animals or cars. You can rotate, relocate, and resize those. You can also e-mail the picture, if you like. You aren’t going to make your company logo with this, but I like it. Great to entertain kids. If you need a more sophisticated drawing program, see SketchBook Mobile below.
Email (pre-installed) *****
This is the best way I’ve ever had to check my e-mail, bar none. It was easy to set up my accounts…and it will combine them all into one unified mailbox. I don’t have to log-in every time I want to e-mail…it’s just there. You can search your e-mail, sort it many ways, reply, delete it without opening it (long press), see more from the same sender (long press), and compose. It will help you automatically set up Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and AOL. Amazon also gives you a list of the settings for several other popular services, so you can configure them manually: Manual Settings for Some POP3/IMAP E-mail Providers. If you are using Outlook, though, I think you’ll need to get an app for that. I haven’t tested one yet. This is a big plus for me…recognizing that it will only update e-mail while you are wi-fi connected, of course. They can be read offline, though.
Entertainment Weekly (free) ****
I read EW every week cover to cover, and have been a print subscriber for years. The big caveat on this app is that you must be a print subscriber to be able to get it. That’s unfortunate…I’m sure people would pay to subscribe to it. I may figure out a way to have them not send me the paper edition…I’d prefer to just get it digitally. You also can’t increase the text size, or switch to a “text view”. However, even though I have some issues with small print, I can read it (barely). You can’t generally zoom the images. It is nice to have the interactive elements…you can tap something to watch a trailer for a movie about which you are reading, and you can often tap to buy something. It was pretty easy to navigate it, having both thumbnails of the pages and being able to click a cover headline to go the story. This could replace my print subscription…but I’d like that option to increase the text size in the future.
ES File Explorer (free) *****
I consider this one essential! I use it every couple of days. It lets you work with your files in a manner similar to Windows. Download something and don’t know where it is? Use this to find it. You can delete files. It even has an editor…I can read Project Gutenberg books in it, for example, and edit them if I want to do that. I can highlight (just long press a word, choose Select Word…you can then slide the markers with your finger to select more text). I can copy and paste (long press a highlighted section to choose Cut or Copy). I’ve pasted from there into ColorNote (see above). This is highly recommended…it massively increased the usability of the Fire for me.
ESPN ScoreCenter (pre-installed, untested)
Facebook (pre-installed, untested)
Fandango (free) ***
I’ve used this site on a number of devices. I don’t usually buy movie tickets through it, I just get the information (our favorite theatre isn’t likely to be sold out on the days we are seeing the movies we are seeing). It lets you search by movie or by theatre. Unlike on a device with GPS, you’ll enter your location manually…not as handy when you are traveling. I’d like more search and display options. For example, I’d like to be able to specify that I want to see a specific movie at a bargain matinee and see the options around my location across theatres easily. Still, it’s a good app to have.
This game has a big following and some cultural impact. Jeff Bezos gave it a shout-out at the Kindle Fire launch event, and it shows up in a trailer at my local movie theatre (the one where they tell you to leave your apps and such outside the movie theatre itself). It’s simplistic, and that can be good. Fruit flies up in the air, you slice it with your finger. There are bombs, too…don’t slice those. It’s one of what I call a “backstop” game…like practicing tennis by hitting your ball against a wall or a backstop…over and over again. I’m guessing most people enjoy it for the first minute…and some for many hours after that.
Gallery (pre-installed) **
This should be very easy, but I just don’t get the flow of it. It should be showing me my media that I put on the device…pictures, video…maybe audio, not sure about that. It just doesn’t. I’ve put pictures on my Kindle Fire. They don’t appear in the Gallery app (although they are on the Carousel as individual items). It mentions albums, but there don’t appear to be any instructions to tell me how to create and organize those. There certainly may be more instructions at Amazon online about this, but it’s not very intuitive.
Help & Feedback (pre-installed) ***
This one is listed as an app, but it’s the same thing you get in the Settings Gear. I like the ability to give feedback about specific features, but there is no search function (despite that feature being on many screens on the Fire). It also tends to take you to the website. That’s understandable, since the help information may change, but there could be more help actually on the device (for when you are away from wi-fi). It’s not that it doesn’t work…it’s just that it could work better.
Hulu Plus (free) ***
I love information…in many forms. I get that people think that Hulu Plus is worth paying a monthly fee to get. I pay a monthly fee for Netflix. However, I’m not going to pay for Hulu Plus. I got the free trial, and there is good content. I can get good content other places. Even with Hulu Plus (unless this changes after the trial), I’m still seeing some ads. I don’t find the search intuitive…I don’t seem to have a genre browser on my Fire (which I do on my computer for Hulu). I realize that this is just a benefit for people who already pay for the service, and that’s probably nice. The Netflix app gives me benefits that Netflix on my TV doesn’t…I don’t feel like this gives me enhanced value. It looks great, but as someone who isn’t subscribing already, it isn’t worth it to me to start on the Fire.
IMDb (pre-installed) ***
This is one of my favorite sites on the web…I visit it every day. It has a reliable database on movies and TV,and brings you recent box office information and other news (it’s owned by Amazon). I have an IMDb news feed as part of my Pulse set-up (see below). However, the functionality in the app is much less than I get on my computer. It works, it’s fine…I just can’t do that much with it on the Fire. It may be unreasonable, but I want my Fire apps to be as useful as visiting a website on my desktop and/or give me more options.
Kids Place (free) *****
This is an absolute game changer for the Kindle Fire. I highly recommend it. At the time of writing, one of the biggest concerns people express about the Kindle Fire is the lack of parental controls.This free app resolves a lot of those issues. If someone is determined to get around it, of course they can. To prevent accidents, though, like stumbling on to an adult website or accidentally buying something, this apps works very well. The basic idea is that you set up a new homescreen, and put in there what you want your child to access. It takes a four digit PIN (Personal Identification Number) which you select to get out of that area to get to other things. That’s just part of it, though. You can also turn off the web browsing. No web browsing, no buying. One interesting option I found was to add the Launcher app into the Kids Place. That lets your child use the familiar interface of the homescreen, but that doesn’t give them access to the internet (if you’ve blocked that). They still can’t launch apps you haven’t allowed. Combining that with the Amazon Kindle app lets them select and read books you have put on the device (but not download new ones, either from your archives or from the store). They can still look at what is in your archives, though. I can absolutely see using this even if you don’t have kids. It’s nice to be able to see just the apps you want. There could still be some improvements (I’d like to be able to place individual books in the Kids Place, for example), but this is an incredible value enhancement for the Kindle Fire.
List Master Pro ****
I got this one as a Free App of the Day. I’ve certainly used it. You make lists with it, and you can check them off and add comments. It works fine for what it does. One nice touch is that, as you mark an item as completed, it can resort to the bottom of the list. That’s been handy doing holiday shopping. There are several types of lists as templates. You can export your list as CSV (Comma Separated Values), which can be imported easily into other programs (like Excel or Google Docs…I’ve tested both). You can also make sublists. Overall, it does what you want it to do.
Netflix (free) ***
This one only helps you if you have a Netflix account (which many people do, of course). I like the design of it…searching is easy, and I love that it shows me videos that I have already started (very helpful). However, I (and others) have encountered an issue with the video and audio not syncing properly on some titles. If they can get that straightened out, this would certainly deserve a higher rating. I have hopes that will happen in the future, and if you happen to pick videos that don’t have the issue (and you are already a Netflix member), you’ll probably love this.
Old Time Radio Player (free) ****
“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…” Before we had TV in our homes, we had radio programs. Sitcoms, adventure, drama, science fiction…very much like the TV choices that would follow (even reality shows, like Candid Microphone…which would become Candid Camera for TV). OTR Player lets you stream (only when connected to wi-fi) Old Time Radio shows (many of which have fallen into the public domain, so they are no longer under copyright protection). The sound quality is decent, and the controls are okay. There aren’t tons of choices here, but you can probably find something to try. If you’ve never listened to OTR (Old Time Radio) before, this is a good way to give it a try. It’s an ad-supported app, but they are fairly unobtrusive (no audio ads, just display adds on the player page). NOTE: since you can’t download the files from the app, this is not going to work for most people in the car. I do download OTR from other sources (see the Music and other audio section).
Pandora (free) ****
For music lovers, this has been a killer app on the internet. You suggest an artist or a song and Pandora builds radio stations of similar music for you. It’s actually quite a complicated process. They use musicians to classify characteristics of each song. That works: I often hear songs that I’ve never heard before that I like. You can thumbs up and thumbs down songs to improve selections. On the Fire, you do get the warning about how much data this is going to use…but since you are using wi-fi, that doesn’t really matter. You can buy songs from the app if you want to have them when you aren’t connected. It’s great to have playing while you are working on things (or at least, that’s how I work best). It can play in the background while you are using other features of your Fire (interestingly, you may hear both streams of audio if your other app has its own). What’s keeping it from being five stars? You do hear short ads on it (maybe after three songs or so), and (not that there is much they can do about this), it does use your battery relatively quickly. You can listen while plugged in (if you were having a party, for example).
Pool Bar HD ***
I got this as a Free App of the Day. The game play is nice, and there are quite a few options. You don’t actually see the players, although you do get to choose one. It doesn’t take long to figure out the basics, and you could play it for hours. It’s a good game to show off the graphic capabilities of your Kindle Fire. However, it is huge: installed on my Fire, it is 51.39MB. That’s considerably larger than any of my other apps, I think. Bonsai Blast is 7.10MB, Bocce is 424KB, Cross Court Tennis is 22.36MB (see above for all of those).
Pulse (pre-installed) *****
This has been amazing! It’s transformed the way I get information, and given me back the sense of discovery of a daily newspaper. You create pages and choose newsfeeds (from blogs and such) to put on there. I have a page just for Kindle news, for example. The navigation is slick: my blogs look better in Pulse than they do on the websites. I can generally read the stories offline (but some feeds are only previews). That means I always have something new to read at lunch at work. Pulse alone justifies the Kindle Fire for me. Yes, it could be a bit more configurable (I’d like to be able to change the order of the pages, and I haven’t found that). There may be equivalent programs on other tablets. For me, though, it makes my day.
Amazon Shop (pre-installed, not tested)
Actually, I’ve played around with a little bit…not enough to review it.
I got this as a Free App of the Day. It’s a much more sophisticated drawing tool than Drawing Pad (see above). You can do layers, choose different tools, and so on. It’s from Autodesk, the company that brought the world AutoCAD. I don’t find it very intuitive, but this is not my area of expertise. The lag when drawing with my finger is noticeable, but I think you’d adjust to it quickly. If you truly need to create art, this is probably a good bet. If you are just a casual user, I think it may be too complex. I also didn’t see an easy way to e-mail an image from the app.
TextPlus (free) **
I wanted to be able to text from my Fire. This one works for that, and even allows you to set up group texts, which is great. However, it has one major drawback, which I confirmed by seeing it listed at their website. The notification sounds don’t work on the Fire, so you don’t know when you are being texted! If they can fix that, this would move up considerably in my estimation. It has some very nice features. You can establish a conversation with several members…and it remembers it. That means you could use it in a hurry to send out a message to several people. Let’s say you have a group of coworkers who go to lunch together. You can enter their contact information once, and each day before lunch, text where you want to go. Everyone sees it and can respond. Now, if they’d just deal with those sounds!
Tiny Flashlight (free) ****
Geeky to have this? You bet. Has it helped me out? Many times. It turns your Fire (or your cellphone, which is where I had it first) into a flashlight. It has other features, too: you can do warning lights, a police-like flashing light, different colors. Super simple, but I find it effective. I assume it eats the battery some, but I’ve never turned it on long enough to test that. It is ad-supported. It’s not tiny at 2.3MB (but it is small), but I’m keeping it on my Fire…you never know. Hey, maybe they should have a “Firelight” setting…with flickering flames.
WiFi File Explorer PRO *****
Quite simply, you need this app. Well, you especially need it if you don’t already have a data cable to transfer files from your Fire to your computer. Those of us who had earlier Kindles already have those, but not everyone does. What does it do? When you open the app, it gives you an address to enter into the browser on your other device (such as a computer). The files on your Fire are then visible. You can upload to your Fire and download from it. You can do more sophisticated things, like creating directories and playlists. Obviously, don’t do this on a public network (or at least, don’t let people see the address), and don’t forget to exit using the menu. It appears to me it is only broadcasting to the network to which it is connected…I don’t think you need to worry about your neighbors seeing it (as long as you’ve protected your network). No need to carry a data cable (the computer doesn’t need any software installed). Your Kindle Fire is incomplete without this app, in my opinion.
Feel free to give me your opinion about any of these, or to suggest others…
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.