Kindle Fire HD 8.9: An update

Three weeks ago, I slapped together a post about our very early experience acquiring a Kindle Fire HD 8.9 (on a one-day $249 sale that has yet to be repeated) to try out as a way of reading the San Francisco Chronicle for $71.88 a year instead of $559 a year (the current delivered print subscription price).

That early commentary was mostly positive.

I thought an update might be worthwhile–but I won’t repeat much of what I said earlier, so you’ll want to read that post first.

The cancellation

The last update to that post (which those of you who read it via RSS probably haven’t seen) said that we were happy enough with the Chronicle-on-Kindle experience to cancel the print paper.

We did. And I have to give the paper credit: the process took very little time, didn’t involve a lot of “can’t we get you to stick around?” stuff (especially since I pointed out that we were not dropping our Chronicle subscription, just shifting it to the Kindle), and was obviously processed rapidly: We didn’t see the paper the next day and haven’t since. And, after about two weeks, we got a check for the remainder of our current 5-week print subscription. Well handled all in all.

The device

We’re both happy with the device–and I think neither of us would be willing to deal with a lower-resolution display such as the Kindle Paperwhite or, in fact, most tablets other than the newest iPads, the Nook HD and HD+ and the Kindle Fire HDs. I’m guessing that 240-250dpi is about the point at which things become basically transparent–it’s just type, not pixels on a screen.

We figured out that turning it “off” to sleep mode, rather than fully powered down, only costs about 1% of battery life overnight and means the day’s paper is immediately available on an immediately-up device. Worth it–especially since we spend enough time on the paper so that its 10-11 hour battery life means recharging it twice a week anyway. (Yes, the 10-11 hour life appears to be accurate, at least for what we’re doing. We’re charging it on Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evening: the Sunday paper takes more time to read.)

I suspect there may be other gestures we don’t know about (there’s basically no tutorial), in addition to the touch, swipe, and pinch/spread gestures (the only multifinger gestures). But so far, I don’t know that we need any others. My wife has a little more trouble with screen insensitivity than I do (she’s frequently had trouble activating touch controls that rely on body chemistry, so this is nothing new) but seems to be getting along with it OK. Notably because she reads the comic strips on the Kindle (via the Seattle paper), she uses the pinch/spread gestures more than I do: I read the comics on my computer.

Being easier to read than a newspaper is, as already noted, a fairly low bar. If I had to guess, I’d guess that for me the Fire HD’s probably no more readable than a well-made trade paperback or hardcover book, maybe a little more than a really cheap mass market paperback–but for my wife, who sometimes wants enlarged type, she’s thinking the Fire may be a nice device for reading sometimes.

Other functions

This is still a device with a specific purpose for us. So far, neither of us has felt the desire to download or play games. I downloaded the free Complete Sherlock Holmes, but have yet to read any of it. We’ve tried Gmail…but until we start traveling again, the computer’s a whole lot easier to use than the Kindle. (And if I’m traveling separately, e.g. for the Washington/Oregon convention…well, with only one Kindle, it will probably stay at home. I’ll catch up with the paper via SFGate, as clumsy as that is.)

I’m sure the other functions work just fine. My wife listened to a sample piece of music; it was fine. But it’s not something we need at the moment: The use just isn’t there. Our limitation, not the device’s–we’re not so fascinated with it that we spend time trying out all the possibilities.

Work in progress

The Chronicle’s Kindle version still appears to be a work in progress. I’m hoping they’ll recognize a growing number of Fire users and add more pictures, restore the comics, etc. I’d be delighted if the story summaries were (at least optionally) in serif type (as the stories are).

But it works more than well enough. I continue to read more stories, read them faster, and get through the whole paper over breakfast rather than splitting it across the day.

It was unquestionably a good purchase. Yes, I’m pleased to see that the latest CR rates this device tops of the specialized tablets–but it doesn’t make much difference at this point. (If there was a Nook version–which there isn’t–I’d feel a little guilty about favoring the Amazon monolith over a competitor. But only a little.)

What’s next?

We’ll eventually choose a cover & stand (although my wife’s handcrafted cardboard stand is working remarkably well for now). We might get a stylus as part of such a deal. We might get a Bluetooth keyboard, but that’s less likely.

If we were both traveling separately to any degree, I suspect we’d get another one–and that it would be another Fire HD, albeit possibly the 7″ version.

Overall: It was a good decision, it’s a fine unit, we’re happy.

And, of course, I’m still reading mostly books in print form–partly because 90%+ of the books I read come from the library, and I find print books congenial enough not to seek a replacement. Again, lots of travel might change that.

Added Monday, January 14: We do use some other apps once in a while, although we have yet to add any. Specifically, we’ve used the IMDB app at times–and boy, is it more colorful and sleek than the web version. (Unfortunately, it’s also slower to use, but I think that’s inherent in the smaller space.) IMDB is, of course, Amazon…

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