Audio & The Kindle Fire: Win Some, Lose Some

The Kindle Fire does a lot of things really well.  From the streaming video library to its many apps, there’s always something to do.  Despite all the effort at polish though, the majority of the sound playback abilities seem pretty much tacked on.  Admittedly this is not meant to be a portable MP3 player, as might be assumed based on the weight and slightly less than pocket compatible size.  There are a few things that could have been done to bring the level of functionality up a bit.  While it isn’t recommended that anybody pick up a Kindle Fire just for the auditory stimulation under most circumstances, it is definitely nice to know what the tablet is capable of to get the most out of your new toy.


The obvious sound function is listening to music.  The integration for this is easily as clean as that offered for Instant Video titles, allowing users to browse by album, artist, or song as well as produce, edit, or start playlists.  Downloading albums to local storage is simple enough, but streaming from the Amazon Cloud Player is excellent and the extra 5GB of storage for user uploads that were not purchased through Amazon will allow for a lot of music even if you don’t have any urge to pay for extra space.  The store isn’t obtrusive, but it does let you look up albums based on the usual factors or look up other albums by artists already in your collection with the touch of a button.


In most cases this will work exactly the same as Music playback, assuming you’re not using Audible.  If you are using Audible, things don’t get much different.  The Audible app comes pre-installed with every Kindle Fire.  Just pop over to the App page and you’ve got access to everything you own so far.  The internal store seems to be just a mobile skin over their website, but it does the job.  My only complaint is that if your audiobook is from Audible you can’t stream it.  The need to download can be a pain, given the size of some books and the Fire’s limited storage space.

Read to Me

Unlike every previous Kindle release with any form of audio output, this feature is missing.  Amazon hasn’t made any real comment on this so far, and it seems doubtful that they will.  Whether it’s an effort to push Audible to the front of things or a desire to break away from this feature, there is no indication whatsoever that this will change.  Annoying, but possibly predictable.


The most important concern in all these cases is probably how it will sound.  Sadly, this is where things come up short the most.  The Kindle Fire has stereo speakers built in, but they are about as mediocre as might be expected.  The headphone jack works just fine, and will probably be great for watching movies, but doesn’t seem as useful as it might be given the tablet’s lack of portability compared to an average MP3 player.  There also isn’t any way to output high quality audio to a stereo system, which would have been nice, or to hook up a bluetooth headset.  Overall, just good enough without impressing in any way.

Recommended Uses

The usefulness here will come from audiobooks and listening to music while reading.  Chances are good by now that you have a better, more portable MP3 player, so it would be silly to try to turn this into one unless you really need the streaming option.  The audio quality on the speakers is fine for listening to books while you do something out, and just about anything will do for listening to music while reading a book.  These are, at best, perks for Kindle Fire owners, but it’s the little things that add up.

Apple iCloud Fails To Impress In Light of Kindle Whispernet and Amazon Cloud Drive

There’s been a fair amount of interest lately in Apple’s recently announced iCloud service that brings greater attention to the cloud based storage options available to consumers today.  So far so good.  It doesn’t really seem much like innovation when Amazon has effectively been doing it with the Kindle on a small scale for a few years now though.  What new and exciting thing are they bringing to the table for their portable devices that isn’t available anywhere else?

The vision that we are given for the Apple iCloud is a service that just works.  It knows what you own, makes sure it is available on every device you own at all times, and generally makes your life better.  The focus is on music, of course.  On these points, I think a comparison with the Whispernet situation is relevant.  Your Amazon account will keep track of all your books, make sure that every registered device can access them (and thanks to the many Kindle apps, that means almost anything you own with a screen on it regardless of who makes it), and keep everything nice and consistent during transitions.  It’s the same concept in a lot of ways.

The one point where we have to give Apple loads of credit is on their iTunes Matching idea.  They actually found a way to make people want to pay money to listen to things they already either own or have pirated.  It’s impressive.  Your whole library is available whenever you want it so long as you keep up with your annual fee.  In spite of this, I don’t think they quite thought it through enough.  Sure, people will be willing to sync their music, but to really set themselves apart a streaming solution would have worked a lot better.  As it is, you end up having to download every song you own to every device you might want to listen to it on.  You might as well be just plugging in your iOS devices and syncing to a computer at that point. It isn’t that the iCloud is a bad idea, just that it doesn’t really do anything all that exciting for the money they are asking.

Amazon offers a similar cloud-based media service that also fails to offer streaming for now.  It doesn’t have the matching ability that Apple offers, but it does have a smaller sized free account option and pretty much everything else that the iCloud brings to the table.  If I had to guess, I would say that between the Amazon Cloud Drive and their Android App Store Amazon is getting into a position to do for their upcoming Kindle Tablet line, which will likely eventually compete with Apple in most slots including an iPod Touch equivalent, what the iCloud does for iOS.  The only differences would seem to be that Amazon doesn’t have Apple’s history of multiple failed efforts to push cloud storage and they do have at least one market specific experience with how to do it right, thanks to the Kindle.

Best of the Beatles and more Guitar Books for Kindle

To all of you Beatles fans out there, there is acoustic guitar lesson book available for Kindle with the new audio feature enabled.  It is called Best of the Beatles for Acoustic Guitar by Wolf Marshall.  The Kindle version is $9.99, which is the same as most bestsellers.  Since the audio and video feature is so new, there aren’t any reviews on it yet.  However, the paperback version has gotten great reviews with a few exceptions.

The reviewers note that this book is great for players who already know how to play the guitar, but the explanations and demonstrations included are very well documented.  The songs listed in the book are popular Beatles hits such as “Hey Jude,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Till There Was You” and more. The CD included with the paperback version has a demonstration played at a normal speed and slow speed which helps with understanding how to play the songs.  The Kindle audio feature should include the same demonstrations.

If you are interested in learning how to play the acoustic guitar elements for other bands such as Eric Clapton, Indigo Girls, John Mellencamp, the Rolling Stones and others in the same genre, then you should check out Acoustic Guitar, by Chad Johnson.  It also comes with the new Kindle audio feature.  The reviewers stressed that this book is not meant for beginners, but that it does include background on techniques and chords.

If you are a beginner who is interested in learning how to play the guitar, you should try Guitar 1 or Guitar Method Book 1 2nd Ed by Greg Koch.  Guitar Method has awesome reviews and includes clear, well paced instructions for beginners  The book included traditional songs such as “Amazing Grace” and “Greensleeves.”  As a piano and violin player who started out on simple books like these, I know they can get boring really fast, but its good to know the basics before you go for the challenging stuff.

For those of you who are interested in playing songs in other genres, there are several other books available for the Kindle with audio.  If you enjoy classical guitar music, check out Classical Guitar, or for country music fans, Country Guitar… by Greg Koch.

Musicals for Kindle

There are a lot of music books with sheet music available on Kindle now with the audio and video feature enabled.  If you are interested in musicals and play the piano, you should check out the Wicked book. It includes sheet music and a piano play along audio piece.  Wicked is about the unlikely friendship between the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch as young girls.  One was born with green skin and was a misfit in society. The other was charming, beautiful and popular.  It takes place long before Dorothy even landed in the Wizard of Oz.

The book includes songs from the popular Wicked musical such as “Dancing through Life,” “The Wizard and I,” “Defying Gravity” and more.  The audio includes a full performance and a “play along” performance that allows the pianist to play the melody.

I’ve read part of the book Wicked, but I hear the musical is a lot better.  I have also heard that the soundtrack is amazing.  So this book should be a great addition to the collection.  The reviews are good overall.

Mama Mia, the popular movie musical with Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried is also available on Kindle audio. This is a great movie set on a Greek island that is about a bride to be who searches for her father.  The music is from the popular 70’s band ABBA.  Some of the songs are: “Dancing Queen,” “Gimme Gimme Gimme” and “Honey Honey.”

Amazon does not include a very good description of this book and there are no reviews, but based on my own observations from the movie and from listening to the music associated with it, this book should be a fun, lighthearted one to play along with.

Since these books have sheet music in them, I would assume they would work best on the iPad since it is a larger device.  The iPhone and IPod Touch are fairly small.  However, the audio included should work well with all of these devices.

Sheet Music on the Kindle

The Kindle DX has a nice, big screen.  For the most part, the extra large screen is used to make newspapers and magazines easier to read.  But one of the cooler applications that Amazon offers is the ability to buy sheet music.

Amazon sells sheet music from the catalog of Novato Music Press.  While reading on a Kindle 2 is made a little difficult by the smaller screen, the Kindle DX does a great job of displaying full pages of music.  Plus, sheet music on the Kindle store is cheap: individual pieces can be as little as about $1.50.  The only real downside is the hassle of refreshing the Kindle whenever you need to turn the page, but this isn’t that different than regular sheet music. Amazon also a great service called Amazon Music where you can listen all kinds of music and get access to millions of songs. Amazon Music is available as part of Amazon Prime subscription. Cancelling Amazon Music is very easy and could be done at any time.

Are there any musicians who read this blog?  Have you tried reading sheet music off of the Kindle?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.