December 22, 2011, 8:54 AM — Yesterday I talked about the Kindle Fire 6.2.1 update that Amazon was pushing out. I focused on the fact that the update un-rooted Fires and made rooting impossible, at least for now. This is bad news for geeks but mostly irrelevant for regular users.
Today I'd like to dig a little deeper into the more beneficial aspects of the update, and honestly do a bit of cheerleading for the Fire in general. When Amazon first launched the device there was a lot of cheering, but the tech media is a fickle beast and it didn't take long for the herd to change course and start tearing the Fire apart. Heck, even late-night buffoon Conan O'Brian got in on the act. Of course he had to make up issues (like overheating) in a failed attempt at being funny. (I'll embed the skit at the bottom of this post so you can see for yourself.) With (I suspect) so many Kindle Fires waiting under holiday trees I wanted to reassure gift buyers that they've made a good choice.
I pre-ordered a pair of Fires for my partner and I, got them on release day and we've been using them every day since. She uses hers primarily as an ebook reader and to play games. I read ebooks on mine too, and love it for reading web articles via Read It Later. During the work day if I see something non-work related that I'd like to read, I send it to Read It Later and then enjoy it, nicely formatted, on the Fire later in the evening when I'm relaxing. I've also been using Pulse for consuming RSS feeds, and have even read a few comics on it. I can do all this on an iPad too, of course, but I actually prefer the Kindle form factor for reading.
Conan O'Brian (and others) keep comparing the Fire to the iPad 2. Not me. I enjoy the Fire for what it is. Comparing it to a $500 iPad 2 seems dumb. You don't expect a $20,000 car to perform like a $50,000 car, right? Some of the complaints, like the screen being too small, are purely subjective and certainly no one should've been surprised by the size of the screen; it's the size Amazon has always said it is! And I still see complaints about the positioning of the power button when all you have to do is turn the Fire over and voila, power button is now on top. I understand a few apps don't honor the orientation of the device and while using those apps the power button is in a bad place, but generally speaking the power button is where you want the power button to be.
Anyway, some of the more serious concerns I've heard are sluggish scrolling and an unresponsive screen. I honestly haven't noticed these issues; maybe I'm just more tolerant than most people? Amazon admits there were some issues and the new update is supposed to fix them so I'm not disputing that these issues existed. I'm just saying they haven't impacted my enjoyment of the device. But then I haven't been "testing" the Kindle Fire, I've been using it, and I think that's part of the issue.
Let me give you an example. Casey Johnston at Ars Technica wrote about the update and one of the things he said was this: Turning pages in a book still stutters a bit at the beginning of an animation, and we sometimes get a loading screen between pages if we turn them fast, which is baffling. I'd never seen that happening and said as much in the comments, but later in the day I tried to duplicate the problem. I couldn't duplicate the stuttering, but if I flipped pages as fast as I could then yes, I'd see a 'loading screen' (a blank screen with a small circle gauge that fills up) for about a tenth of a second.
So yes this 'flaw' exists and Johnston, in testing the device, found it. However in a month of using the device normally, I have never even noticed that loading screen and it certainly won't impact anyone's enjoyment of the Fire, unless they're determined to be disappointed (we all know people like that).
In another example, Joanna Stern over at The Verge did a before and after video of the update, and watching her use their Fire, I can see a distinct difference after the patch.
If I could easily roll back the patch on my Fire, I'd do it just to see if the difference is as noticeable on mine. At one point in the video Stern tries three times to get a page to scroll and I've certainly never seen an issue like that. In any case, faster is better and we'll give the new firmware a thumbs up for better scrolling, eh?
What I do really like about the update are the changes to the carousel. Removing items is very welcome and the thing doesn't seem as overly sensitive as it used to be. So that's a big win.
Also video playback seems to be improved. I found video kind of choppy before the update, whether it was Amazon Prime video or Netflix. Both seem improved to me, which suggests that the improvements are just from an overall speedup of the device. Also, Amazon Video now has a volume slider right on the viewing screen when you tap it. I can't swear that hasn't always been there (I use Netflix more often than Prime Video) but in any case it's most welcome. I really haven't used the Fire a lot for watching videos because of the choppiness, but that will change now.
As I mentioned yesterday, you can now password protect WiFi access; that's not something I'll use but I understand how important it can be for parents.
In general I liked the Fire before the update and I like it a little bit more after. Amazon will continue to iterate on the software in this thing, I'm sure, and I expect the performance will continue to improve.
So if you bought someone a Kindle Fire for the holiday and you've been reading all the negative buzz about the device, please don't let it concern you. It's a solid device and should bring your friend or loved one lots of enjoyment.
Here's that O'Brian skit. I can't believe people stay up late for material this bad:
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.