Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ – favorite apps and troubleshooting tips

Vicki got me a Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ as a combined early birthday/Father’s Day present. I’ve had it for just a few days, and here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Favorite Apps

Certainly the one I’ve spent the most time in is ‘Comics’ by ComiXology (free). Image quality and ease of use are great. Holding the KF in portrait mode and swiping to flip pages, it’s easy to just get lost in reading and not think much about the interface, which is a high compliment. There are some fancy panel-by-panel reading modes I haven’t experimented with yet. Double-page spreads pop up small at first, because they fit the whole spread onto one screen, but it’s easy enough to pinch-and-spread zoom, and it’s nice not to lose any of the image along the center from the binding. The biggest downside so far is that AFAICT there is no higher-level navigation tool (like a TOC or maybe thumbnail display of all pages), so if you want to go back 30 pages to see what Nick Fury said to Cap, you gotta swipe 30 pages.

Other pluses:

  • Nothing is ever out of stock or out of print, and you don’t have to buy big collections to get that one back issue you really want. If you want Thor #337, you can just go buy it, for $1.99.
  • Prices are pretty good. So far all the graphic novels and collections I’ve checked have been a buck or two cheaper through Comixology than in dead-tree form. Current issues are typically $3.99, which is about what you’d pay at the newsstand, and most back issues are $0.99 or (more commonly) $1.99.
  • A decent number of free comics. A LOT of popular series give away the first issue for free so you can try ’em without dropping any coin, sorta like how you can get a free preview of most Kindle books.
  • Image quality is flawless. In zooming the images I have not found any scanning, image compression, or display artifacts. The comics just look damn good.
  • Good customer service. The one time I had a problem (see below), it was fixed in about 5 minutes.

In sum, ComiXology will probably kill my dead-tree comics reading even more thoroughly than the Kindle has depressed my dead-tree book reading. And no more $#@$&ing polybags!

Pocket (free)

This started out and is still advertised as a way to save webpages so you can read them offline. I use it for that, but also as a bookmarking tool and sort of DropBox-for-webpages. It’s one of two apps that I find myself using as much or more on my laptop and desktop machines as I do on the KF.

EverNote (free)

Very easy-to-use app for writing and saving notes (and other content) across machines. This is the other app I use about as much on my other computers. A lot of times when I want to compose, I don’t want to even have the option of futzing around with formatting–playing with formatting is a slippery slope into staying busy without really getting anything done. In the old days (before the last week) I’d open up a Gmail draft and do my writing there. Now I use EverNote. What I like best: a lot of programs sort of force you into either using folders or search, but not both. EverNote has full-featured folder organization and a good search tool. Why can’t more developers figure this out?

Solar Warfare (free)

Despite the silly name and unimpressive icon, this is a great fly-around-and-blow-stuff-up game. Back in the 90s I played a LOT of Terminal Velocity, and Solar Warfare delivers a pretty similar experience.


Deleted comics on ComiXology

I’ve had two hitches so far with the KF, and both got fixed pretty quickly, but not very intuitively, so I thought I’d post the stories in case anyone else has the same problems.

The first problem was with ComiXology. In the first hour that I had the app I downloaded close to two dozen free comics. Then I bought my first graphic novel, and I got a pop-up warning saying something like “To make room for this giant file we’re deleting some of your other files”. To this day, I have no idea why this happened:

  • the new file was only a few MB;
  • the minimum space setting for ComiXology is 250 MB;
  • the default space setting, which is what I was using, is unlimited (meaning about 25 gigs at the time).

My first thought was, “Well, that’s annoying, but I can just redownload the deleted comics from the cloud.” But when I went to ‘My Comics’, it only showed the new graphic novel and the two single issues that had survived the bogus space purge. One of the menu options is to restore deleted comics, and I tried that, to no avail. Rebooted and tried again, and still got nothing. So I clicked on the in-app support link and sent an email explaining the problem and everything I’d done to that point to fix it.

I sent the problem message at 11:57 PM. At 11:59, I got a personal response from a ComiXology tech support person, and I learned a little more about how ComiXology works. There are actually 2 places in the app where you can see your comics. The ‘My Comics’ tab only shows the comics currently on your device. To see all the comics you’ve ever purchased (or gotten for free), go to Featured > Purchases. From there I was able to redownload all of my deleted comics, and I haven’t had any problems since.

Vocals wouldn’t play over headphones

The second problem cropped up last night. I had transferred about 150 songs to the KF using Amazon cloud storage, and I bought a couple more through Amazon using the music store. They played just fine over the KF’s speakers, which are the best small device speakers I’ve ever heard. But when I tried to listen using headphones, I could hardly hear the vocals at all, they were just drowned out by everything else. Here’s what I tried to fix the problem, in order:

  • tried another set of headphones, didn’t work;
  • rebooted the KF, didn’t work;
  • downloaded another free music-player app and fiddled with the equalizer, that didn’t work either;
  • streamed part of a movie (Captain America and Thor are both free to Amazon Prime members!), and had the same problem: all the sound came through just fine, but the dialogue was suppressed to the point of being unintelligible.

At this point I was pretty unhappy. I have an iPod that I use for most of my music listening, and I doubt the KF will ever be my point music player. But sometimes it would be nice to put something on while I’m reading a book or doing other stuff on the KF. More seriously, I am going to be watching movies on this thing, and a working headphone jack is not negotiable. I’m sure Amazon would have replaced the KF if it was truly defective, but I’d already put a bunch of stuff on it and I did not relish the prospect of redownloading all of that crap and setting up the apps to play well together again.

Then this morning I accidentally discovered the problem. I was listening to Song A over the KF speakers and put in the headphones for one more test before I wrote to Amazon about the problem. When I put in the headphones, I started hearing recently-played Song B, even though Song A was still up in the player. I think the music player had some kind of hiccup wherein it was trying to play 2 songs at once, and it ‘solved’ this existential quandary by suppressing the vocals, both in the music player and on everything else. So, when you thumb the options menu for the music player, one of the options is ‘Clear player’. I did this, and the problem was instantly solved, both for the music player and for the streamed movie. So now I clear the player every time I exit, and I haven’t had any more problems.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

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2 Responses to Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ – favorite apps and troubleshooting tips

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    “I’ve had too hitches so far” <– How many?

  2. Matt Wedel says:

    And here I thought I’d proofed it. IWD!

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