The lack of intricate parental control options has been a popular complaint about the Kindle Fire since about the time it was released. Amazon has made some moves to address the most pressing issues. We haven’t heard any horror stories about people going into debt over Smurfberry purchases, for example. Still, until Amazon comes up with more options that allow parents to manage how these devices are used, there is going to be a steady stream of complaints. Funamo has stepped up to handle that need in the meantime, for a small fee.
At $20, this is not a cheap application. Not only that, Funamo is not yet available in the Amazon Appstore for Android. This means that it needs to be purchased through the developer’s website. The hassle and expense may be worth it considering what can be accomplished by having it around.
The default settings are fairly straightforward. You install Funamo and log in, after which the device settings will be completely locked out. It comes with its own web browser, which has all the usual things one would expect parents to want to keep blocked already cut off, and encourages users to put the Silk browser onto the “Protected Apps” list. Besides that, everything else is up to the user.
This isn’t just a matter of locking out certain content, either. Yes, it is likely that many parents would approve of the ability to block porn viewing from their child’s tablet. Using Funamo, it is also possible to say that the same child’s favorite games will only be available between 9am and 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Parents can set limits on everything from media viewing time to reading. Many will even be quite encouraged to note that it is possible to block the Kindle Fire’s access to the Appstore entirely when desired.
Any of these settings can, of course, be overridden with a password. You never know when exceptions to the normal rules might be in order. They can also be changed on short notice as well, and not only from the Kindle Fire itself. Nightly syncing allows parents to maintain control through any internet-connected browser.
Through this web interface, it is possible to add, change, or remove access restrictions. It is also possible to view a detailed history of everything that has been done on the tablet recently. If a child does something unexpected that the parent never thought would come up, it is a simple matter to adapt the rules to cover the new situation. While the Kindle Fire does not support Push updates, Funamo is set to sync up nightly by default.
At a glance, this seems to be slightly overprotective. Users are encouraged to take control of literally every aspect of their kid’s tablet experience. That sort of control is precisely what many parents are looking for, however, and if this allows the child to enjoy ownership of their own Kindle Fire where it would otherwise not be allowed, it is probably worth the hassle for everybody involved.
The Kindle Fire is a powerful device for the price and as a result many people are eager to get the greatest possible return on their investment. It can definitely do more than what the default UI brings to the user’s attention, given the de-emphasis on apps in favor of media consumption. This has led to an ongoing complaint that the Kindle Fire’s custom launcher is a bar to purchasing because of its break from the general Android experience.
People generally understand, from a financial perspective at least, why Amazon felt the need to cut their tablet off from the Google Marketplace (now Google Play) in favor of the Amazon Appstore for Android. The building a visually distinct user experience tends to be more troubling.
Having had more experience with Android smartphones than tablets, I have generally been inclined to favor the Kindle Fire UI on a personal level. It handles everything I feel the tablet is good for and doesn’t bother me with anything else unless I put it on the Favorites bar. When I got an email from a reader here recently about an app called Go Launcher EX that would change everything around to a more general Android tablet experience without all the trouble of rooting, though, I felt I had to give it a try.
The program is available in the Amazon Appstore, but it is listed as incompatible with the Kindle Fire. This is not entirely the case. If you download the .apk from the developer’s website (making sure to enable side-loading in your Kindle’s settings), it will install with no trouble. The app is freely available.
What you get for the effort is a great deal of customization. Multiple pages of customizable screen space are opened up by default. Widgets are included that will keep you up to date on everything from the weather to your device’s battery life and more are available with little trouble through a built-in store. Technically the backgrounds for the desktop screens are configurable, though that isn’t entirely functional alongside the Kindle Fire’s password screen for some reason. In general, while far more complicated than the default launcher, Go Launcher EX did bring a great deal of the tablet versatility that might be what people want.
Unfortunately, while using the new launcher I found the Kindle to be noticeably slower to react. Even when making use of the included utilities to completely free up active memory in every safe way possible, the experience included stuttering from time to time that reminded me of the Kindle Fire’s state before the first major firmware patch.
On top of this, the shift in emphasis to favor apps over Amazon’s integrated services seems to open up new possibilities at the expense of clarity and intuitive design. For a good half hour I was near to believing it might be impossible to gain access to cloud-stored apps and documents, for example. Overall I can’t really recommend for or against changing your launcher. I think the Kindle Fire shipped with a UI that is fast, intuitive, and plays to the hardware’s strengths. That doesn’t mean it is perfect or that you won’t find things you wish it would do better.
I will probably want to try something like Go Launcher again on a larger tablet, but for now I’m still finding the best uses of such a small device are exactly where they have always been. Apps can help with the consumption focus, but I’ll never need to have half a dozen screens full of them on the Kindle Fire like I do on my phone.
The Kindle eReader has long come with unrestricted 3G access on its more expensive models. This has been such an expected option that when Amazon stopped offering the feature on the newer Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch models it shocked many of us. Fortunately, for those who are still interested in the service, there is always still the Kindle Keyboard 3G. While they aren’t really being pushed as a current product any longer, Amazon still seems to have plenty of the older model with its unrestricted access available on their site.
The biggest problems with taking advantage of this feature for anything besides simply purchasing from Amazon have been tied to the shortcomings of the eReader itself. The Kindle Keyboard’s 5-Way directional controller is nice enough, but can be incredibly tedious to use. The web browser is extremely basic at best, and will almost certainly enough fail to load important pages or crash completely from time to time under regular use. Still, it is a free lifetime 3G connection that accomplishes the goal of keeping you connected to the Kindle Store no matter where you happen to be. It is hard to complain about that.
What was once just a convenience for people willing to spend some extra money on their initial Kindle purchase might now be a valid thing to keep around for emergencies, however. You see, somebody has finally worked out a way to make this free 3G coverage available to more generally useful devices via a tethering hack. While I won’t go into the details here (this is absolutely warranty-voiding and quite possibly illegal enough for action is abused), hacker Andrew D’Angelo has posted the complete method on his easily searchable personal web site. Using this method, you can now get your PC or laptop onto the internet via the Kindle Keyboard’s cellular connection.
I say that this is an emergency tool specifically because every bit of data sent through this connection runs through Amazon’s proxy servers. You are tagged with a unique ID number that can easily trace unusual activity back to your personal account. Since this is, as mentioned above, rather blatantly in violation of the Terms & Conditions for Kindle 3G use, chances are good that both the connection and the associated account will be shut down before too long at the very least.
This could be great to have around for those situations where a storm takes out the local communications, and I can think of some flooding a while back that I would have loved to have it available for, but it is not a tool for daily use. Still, it might be worth considering the 3G option on any new Kindle purchase now even if you have no interest in it as an aid to your eReader experience. $40 added to the purchase price for a cell connection with no monthly fee running through a device that only runs out of batteries once every month or two is great by itself, but being able to use that connection so fully when you really need to have that available is invaluable.
Earlier this month the Kindle for Android app got a bit of an update. While nothing huge, it did finally bring the Real Page Numbers to Android users. In addition to this, they managed to pare down the size of the download required to use the Kindle platform from 10+mb to a more manageable 8mb. This might seem rather minor, but considering the lack of space on many Android devices as well as the fact that some users have reported sizes of up to 25mb (can’t reproduce that, but the claim has circulated), this is a definite improvement.
Much as I like the Kindle app however, and I do, there are some things that I would like to be able to do that it does not provide. Real Page Numbers are nice, but situational at best given that they still only exist in a fraction of the available Kindle Editions. Now, I have posted here before about the ability to download and install the Nook app through non-Amazon sources and this works quite well. Sadly I believe that the specific method I mentioned several months ago has been blocked off, though. This difficulty became a non-issue thanks to Good E-Reader being kind enough to open up their own free app store.
While you can find a fair selection of general purpose apps present that they felt were worth keeping around for people, the folks over at Good E-Reader are concentrating mostly on reading. This covers books, magazines, comics, and all such things along those lines. There are only free apps, but this allows the site to operate without adding in any of the inconvenient restrictions that currently plague locked-in Android device owners wishing to pick up something useful. It is definitely worth checking out.
In terms of reading on your Kindle Fire, for example, some people find it more convenient to have access to the Nook app’s extra level of brightness control than to be able to simply invert the contrast of the page. Others will appreciate the level of social media integration offered by the Kobo app. In either case, at least you will be able to open EPUB formatted eBooks, which the Kindle Fire lacks any form of native support for at the moment. You won’t have luck with everything (Google Books, for example is still not working in my experience) but for the most part they’re doing a good job of making the latest popular selections available without all the hassle.
Overall Amazon has done a good job of giving customers what they want, both in terms of the software they provide and the hardware they sell. I can understand the urge to retain control over what gets installed on Kindle Fire devices, especially since if anything goes wrong it is likely to be Amazon’s Customer Service that gets the call. They have left the door pretty wide open to install most things, though, provided you know how to find them. In some cases, it’s more than worth the effort it takes to get the most out of your experience. Kindle Fire software updates do not remove any apps when they occur, so it shouldn’t be an ongoing hassle.
While it can be a bit of a pain that the Kindle Fire, despite being highly video-centric, offers users little in the way of video format compatibility, for the most part it probably won’t come up for just anybody. The storage space on board the tablet is small enough that streaming video is obviously going to be the most successful regular viewing method anyway. There are always those occasions when it is important to be able to load something for later though, when you expect to be without WiFi access or are simply unable to find a reasonable way to stream a title.
Admittedly there are also less conventional, free avenues for movie acquisition, but we won’t go into that here. For these times when you have a movie that you need to load onto your Kindle Fire, it’s important to be aware of the best way to go about it. Let’s assume that, through whatever avenue might have worked for you (third party purchase, DVD rip via freely available software like DVDFab, etc.) you have acquired some DRM-free video.
Since it’s what I’m familiar with and because it is freely available, I’m going to use a video conversion tool called Handbrake for Windows. In the end what matters most is choosing the right settings, so most any video conversion software will do.
- Install and Run Handbrake (Free software available for most computers at handbrake.fr)
- Find your Source Video
- Large button labeled “Source” will drop down and offer you the choice of either one file or a whole folder. The whole folder option is important is converting raw DVD data.
- Assuming you want the whole video, nothing more should be required. If you are trying to convert just a section, you can cut that out either by chapter, frame, or time period in the obvious menus provided.
- Choose your Destination
- Since you will be putting this onto the Kindle Fire, it is often best to have it output somewhere obvious like the desktop unless you are planning to retain converted video for storage.
- Do not output directly to the Kindle Fire at this stage.
- Under Presets, on the right side of the screen, choose “iPad” (Kindle Fire will use the same format) and check the settings that appear to make sure they match this:
- Container: MP4
- Uncheck “Large File Size”, “Web optimized”, and iPod 5G Support”
- Width: 720
- Cropping: Automatic
- Anamorphic: Loose
- Modulus: 16
Note for those not using Handbrake: Video Codec is H.264, Audio Codec is AAC
Not claiming these are the only working settings, merely what I recommend based on personal use.
- Click on the Start button at the top of the window
- Conversion will take between 15 and 45 minutes, on average, for a full length movie.
- Connect your Kindle Fire via USB
- Copy New Video File to Kindle Fire
- Folder: Video
- Can take 3-5mins for most USB transfers.
- Open Gallery App on your Kindle Fire
- User video will not show up under the Video tab at this time, but the Gallery comes pre-installed on your device.
Hope that helps a bit. The process is a bit tedious, but considering how little can be held on the Kindle Fire at a given time it should not be too much of a chore to pack it fill of whatever you want when this proves necessary. For a larger variety of options you can always root your Kindle, but understand that doing so will require a slightly greater initial time investment and could prove annoying as the step will have to be repeated with each Amazon software patch.
I’ve recently gotten a series of emails, and seen a small number of comments around the site here, from people confused or misinformed about what is and is not possible for the Kindle Fire at this point. Mostly, as I mentioned previously, the result of misinformation still floating around the net from the state of things when it first launched. Regardless of the reason, however, it seems worth going into some tips for getting the most out of your new Kindle Fire‘s potential.
Remove Apps From The Kindle Fire
It has always been possible to just delete the local data that an app installs on your Kindle. Just press and hold on the app’s icon and choose “Remove From Device”. What if you want it gone entirely though, even from the Cloud tab of your App selection?
- Go to Amazon.com
- Go to Kindle > Manage Your Kindle
- Sign in now if prompted
- Select Manage Your Apps from the menu bar on the left
- Find the App or Apps that you want gone in this list
- Select “Delete This App” from the drop down menu next to each one
- When prompted, choose “Delete”
Now, don’t be too upset when it does not disappear from the device’s menus immediately. I found that it usually takes an overnight wait to get results right now. Not sure why Syncing and such don’t do it immediately, but they don’t. Regardless, now that Kindle Fire app is gone.
Return Library Book
I’ll start this out by mentioning that this advice may not complete the whole process. Consult with your librarian in case it doesn’t, as some libraries have their own individual proceedures.
- Go to Amazon.com
- Go to Kindle > Manage your Kindle
- Sign in now if Prompted
- In your Kindle Library, find the book you want to return
- From the drop down menu next to it, choose “Return This Book”
- Do NOT choose “Delete”, as that will not return the book to the library system early
For the most part that is all that’s required. Since all of the OverDrive software seems to be routed through the Amazon.com page when dealing with Kindle Book borrowing, it makes sense that this is the way you have to return.
Access All Magazine Issues
While the Kindle Fire might appear to only allow you to read the most recent edition of a magazine, but fear not! All of your subscription should still be hanging around. Simply navigate to the most recent issue, press and hold. An option will appear to view back issues.
Obviously these are far from all of the useful things that one needs to be aware of when using a Kindle Fire, but there’s only so much room to work with here. Let me know either here or in my email what you are interested in finding out and I will do the research and follow up! No point in waiting and wondering how things work.
Having discovered an already functional jailbreak for the Kindle Touch recently thanks to independent developer Yifan Lu, I was also pleased to note that there is a way to get your older Kindle devices somewhat more up to date. It turns out that the hardware improvements in the Kindle 3 as compared to the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX, particularly the processors, were not significant enough to make it impossible to run the newer version.
To get this update installed, you will need a few things. The most important, and possibly the hardest to get in some cases, is a working Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) that has been jailbroken. Assuming you have a spare Kindle 3 laying around, the same site linked in the instructions to follow contains detailed instructions on the jailbreaking process under the “Projects” tab. You will also need a minimum of 900mb free on your Kindle 2/Kindle DX and 720mb free on your Kindle 3. Naturally a USB transfer cable will be important as well.
Assuming you have all of these things, check out this page on Yifan Lu’s site. The included instructions are simple to follow and while it will probably take you anywhere from one to three hours to complete the entire process, there is little room for error if you follow the order of operations correctly.
There are several things that you must be aware of before starting in on this:
- Should you allow either of your Kindles to lose power while they are in use, it is likely to cause some major problems. Charge them before you begin.
- Once completed, you will have to repeat the process for any future firmware updates. The Kindle 2 or Kindle DX will not be able to automatically access the files released for the Kindle 3.
- While the hardware difference between these Kindles is not large enough to make the process inadvisable, as it would be if going from the Kindle 4 to the Kindle 3, there is a difference. You will experience slight lag as the downside of your improved functionality.
- Active content such as Kindle games will not work as a result of the update. The developer of this update process doesn’t know exactly why, nor does there seem to be any major fix for this. Be aware.
- Sound/Music playback on the newly updated device will be flawed. Since it will have been jailbroken it is possible to install an alternate music player to fix this, but it is an additional step for people who make much use of the eReader’s audio playback abilities.
- There have been some unconfirmed reports that extremely large PDF files have issues on devices updated in this fashion. This is likely the result of slightly inferior hardware and will probably not be an issue compared to the greatly improved PDF handling, but it is worth noting.
We can’t quite say why Amazon chose not to update these older Kindles, although it has been speculated that they were consciously abandoned to drum up business for the Kindle 3. Also possible is the idea that faster processing simply opens more doors to new features that couldn’t be productively implemented otherwise. Either way, at least now it is possible for owners of older Kindles to get the most out of their devices.
While the newer Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are great, eReaders are made to last and there is no reason for a satisfied owner to throw away their perfectly good Kindle 2. With the Kindle DX it’s an even more obvious choice, since there is yet to be a hardware update to the larger form and it looks increasingly like there never will be. This update makes it even more desirable for those who need the 9.7″ screen.
There’s been some trouble since the launch of the Kindle Fire. While responses have been overwhelmingly positive on most fronts, there is a substantial crowd that has been unable to get themselves online with their new tablet at all. As any amount of hands-on experience will quickly demonstrate, a Kindle Fire without internet access loses a lot of its potential usefulness. No video streaming, no app store, no store whatsoever for that matter…it isn’t isn’t as much fun!
So what’s the problem, and how do you fix it? Well, that’s a bit complicated as it turns out. There are a number of possible issues, so we’ll start with the simplest fixes. I’ll assume that you’ve already tried rebooting your device, just in case.
Update Your Kindle Fire’s Firmware
While it doesn’t help everybody who tries, the 6.2 update for the Kindle Fire seems to have resolved a lot of connectivity problems. This is especially true of instances where connections are intermittent and hard/impossible to maintain.
The simplest way to update is to just get online through another network. If that is not an option, just head over to the Kindle Fire Support page and follow the instructions under “Kindle Resources > Software Update”.
Reset and Update Router Firmware
Pretty much any wireless router you are likely to have will have the option to reset the on-board firmware to factory settings. If at all possible, follow the instructions included in your manual. The hardware is too varied to make it worth trying to walk you through it here.
Once that is accomplished, some users have experienced no further troubles. In general it is recommended that you update to the most recent firmware to have been released by your manufacturer. This seems to fix even more Kindle Fire issues.
Alternatively, some have had luck installing alternate firmware such as DD-WRT to their router. If you have a supported device, this would definitely be my own personal choice. It is simple enough to do by following directions and tends to offer greater control than what most manufacturers provide. Use only at your own risk, of course.
Change Your Network Settings
In some rare instances, it can simply be a matter of problems with basic details not working with the tablet. Extremely long SSIDs, for example, have been known to prevent connection entirely. Setting a Static IP for the Kindle Fire sometimes helps as well. As a last resort, forcing Wireless N broadcasting and manually setting the Channel sometimes seems to do some good.
If none of this works for you, or it simply isn’t an option, the best option is probably to get in touch with Amazon. They have been compiling details on ongoing problems and will hopefully begin having more luck the more information they have available. Some routers have proven to be completely incompatible so far, for example.
Remember that as a last resort (and I believe that the vast majority of problems can be solved by taking these troubleshooting steps) Amazon very rarely balks at accepting returns from dissatisfied customers. There’s no real motivation to keep around something that can’t perform the basic tasks you purchased it for. Wait on further firmware updates and try again later.
I was browsing through some random reviews, recommendations, and complaints about the Kindle Fire a bit earlier, trying to get a feel for the reactions as people get used to them, when I came across the truly unbelievable claim that the Kindle Fire‘s major flaw as a family device was its lack of parental controls. Now, there are a few reasons to get something besides the Kindle Fire for use with kids, such as some games not yet being available through the Amazon App Store or wanting to avoid the guilt of competing with your own children over the use of a favorite toy, but Parental Controls just don’t make the list. In an effort to help people better understand their device, let’s go over how this works.
How to Turn On Parental Controls
- Open the App tab on your Kindle Fire
- Load the integrated Appstore
- From the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, select “Settings”
- Edit settings under both “Parental Controls” and “In-App Purchasing” as desired
What Parental Controls Do
By enabling Parental Controls on your Kindle Fire, you can prevent unauthorized purchasing. This works in two ways. Simply switching the setting to “On” will require entry of your Amazon account password before any purchase of anything in an App. There is a second setting in the same menu tree that blocks in-app purchases entirely. You also get the option to set a four digit PIN that can be used in lieu of your password, which can be convenient and is always going to be faster than entering a really secure password.
What Parental Controls Can’t Do
The most important things that the basic settings will fail to do are prevent purchasing and prevent app access. The former is simple enough. You can disable Mobile 1-Click Purchasing from the “Your Apps & Devices” settings on Amazon.com.
- Under the main drop-down menu, select Appstore for Android>Your Apps and Devices
- From there, select 1-Click Settings
- Your primary payment method will be displayed. Click “Edit” to the right of it
- You will then see a button saying “Turn off 1-Click” under the heading “Mobile 1-Click: Kindle Fire”
Simple enough, you just can’t do it easily from directly inside the Kindle Fire‘s menu system.
As far as the app access goes, to the best of my knowledge there is no work-around. If you have an app that doesn’t require a password, anybody can use it.
Why Bother With Parental Controls?
There was a great deal of controversy over some of the iPad’s apps earlier this year when their micro-transaction model, coupled with an emphasis on entertaining small children, resulted in ridiculously large charges being run up without parental consent. There are always going to be games on the Appstore, of course, and it would be silly for us to expect them to avoid something as profitable and tempting as micro-transactions, so it’s probably best to be prepared. Amazon admittedly seems to be doing great at keeping on top of all of their potential customer service disasters so far, but something is going to slip through eventually. Don’t be the one to find out too late that you owe $10,000 over digital Smurf accessories after leaving a child alone with your Kindle Fire.
When it comes to deciding which eReader to buy, the biggest consideration is usually going to be whether you want to use a Nook or a Kindle forever. Because sadly, it is difficult at best to change between the two platforms without losing access to every eBook you own. While it is nice to dream of a day with no restrictive DRM, where you can move what you buy to whatever device you want, we have yet to reach that point. Fortunately there are now some options that don’t require learning to tear out the DRM from every one of your eBooks, assuming you don’t mind reading on an LCD.
Naturally, whether you buy a Kindle Fire or a Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet (or Nook Color), there is always the option to root your device to install the competitor’s reading app. That process can be a pain for a few reasons, more so with the Nook in my experience since Amazon didn’t really try to prevent their customers from doing whatever they want with the Fire. Despite the complications, this is a great option for the Nook Tablet. It adds a load of functionality and removes some of the rather silly restrictions on usage that B&N felt the need to include. With the Kindle Fire, however, taking advantage of rooting causes you to lose access to the wonderfully streamlines interface that Amazon came up with in favor of a default Android OS. Maybe that works for some people, but personally I prefer what the device shipped with for once.
If you’re of the same opinion, hope is not lost. While you cannot access the Android Marketplace through your Kindle Fire, you are still able to download third party apps. Amusingly this includes the Nook App if you know where to look.
As a fan of the original Nook, I jumped at the chance to get easy access to my old purchases again. You can find the app at m.getjar.com, using the Kindle Fire‘s browser. While some have indicated that you need to download the GetJar app to proceed from here, I had no trouble without it. Just search for “Nook”, download the app, and install from the downloads menu (Pull up the list by tapping on the number next to your tablet’s name on the status bar). It will show up under the Apps tab.
The only complication in using the Nook App this way is that it is unable to download all of my books. Since some of them work fine and new purchases come through smoothly, I’m guessing these particular titles are the freebies I picked out early on that have been moved or replaced with better free copies, but it’s been long enough now that I honestly can’t recall. It’s got a couple features that might be preferable to the Kindle’s normal reading app for some people. Small things like a dimmer brightness setting, or a different animated page turn. For the most part they are practically identical.
To me, this increases the usefulness of the Kindle Fire significantly. If nothing else, it is great to finally have all of my eBooks available on the same device at the same time. While I would love to be able to do the same on an E INK reader, this works as the next best thing for now. There’s no real downside and it takes just moments to get this installed. Give it a try.