The past few months have been interesting for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. While the former has been enjoying record success in both their eReading efforts and the new Kindle Fire tablet sales however, B&N seems to be having some trouble keeping up with things related to their Nook line. There has even been talk of them spinning off the whole Nook endeavor into its own company due to the high expense of keeping pace in a competitive market. Despite all of this though, and regardless of how it plays out in the larger scheme of things, a lot has been happening that should keep the Nook line a definite consideration for consumers.
Probably the most important factor would be what’s new with the Nook Tablet. While it was always somewhat superior to the Kindle Fire on paper, the experience of using it has generally failed to impress by comparison and certain restrictions on how the end user could manage their data caused a great deal of upset. Recently this has all changed with the announcement of a simple method for rooting the tablet and gaining much greater control over it as a result. All you need now is a MicroSD Card and some freely available software from the guys over at XDA. While for most people’s general uses this still will not necessarily make the Nook Tablet superior to its Kindle competition, it does open up the possibility of finally making the use of the better hardware for those who want to get maximum performance for their money.
The eReader side of things has hardly been left to sit around unnoticed either, of course. There are currently two major bits of information going around specific to this. First, word is out that Barnes & Noble will shortly be announcing the release of their eReaders outside the US for the first time. Most likely this will be in a partnership with UK bookseller Waterstones, if the rumors are to be believed. Some might remember the same company expressing interest in creating its own eReader to compete with the Kindle some months back, so this partnership would be completely in character.
There is also word of a new generation of the Nook already getting set to hit the shelves. It would be difficult to imagine what significant improvements they could have planned over the Nook Simple Touch already given how well it stacks up against the competition (I would argue that if you ignore the differences in integrated stores it is noticeably superior to any of the latest Kindles), but could be an effort to either reduce prices or spring something entirely new on the market. Either way, for the most part these rumors are tied up in claims regarding the Waterstones partnership and should both come to fruition they will likely appear on a similar timeline.
Possibly not the best time in the world to be the company that runs the Nook line, given how heavily Amazon is investing in making the Kindle Fire and Kindle eReaders successful. They’ve done a great job of stepping up to the plate and providing good products despite this, however, and offering superior hardware for the money is always going to serve to draw the attention.
Amazon has just released the updated 6.2.2 firmware update for the Kindle Fire. While the documentation for this update has not yet hit their support pages, customers will find it being downloaded to their device in the near future, should they not have made the effort to turn off automatic updating of the software. Until patch notes are released or a more thorough exploration of the new features can be made we know very little, but there are a few clear things going on.
First and most obvious, users will find that the Kindle Fire’s Silk browser now has the ability to take up your entire screen. This is a huge improvement in many situations and more than welcome, even if the patch did nothing else. The 7″ screen tends to tread the line between too large for mobile sites and too small for standard sites in a way that makes this new feature extremely appealing. More options is almost always better.
Aside from that, the patch does break any rooting that has been done on the device so far. There are conflicting reports at this time regarding the potential to immediately re-root with an updated BurritoRoot, but right now it seems likely that at least a few days will be needed to let the dust settle and new solutions arise. Should you be interested in trying what some people say is a working root method for 6.2.2, look up Justin Case’s “BurritoRoot 2”. It is already quite simple to find and appears to be equally simple to use, though I have not yet had a chance to attempt it myself and as such can’t advocate one way or the other.
This facet of the update seems especially strange given how disinterested Amazon has claimed to be regarding the potential for rooting their device around the time of launch, but it is hardly the first time. Given how quickly reports have come in that indicate rooting is again possible, obviously they are not trying too hard. I tend to see it as a nod to convention rather than a serious effort to lock off the Kindle Fire, but I also freely admit that I have no direct knowledge of the process that is being used to unlock it and as such can’t speak to the difficulty involved.
We’ll get back to you with more information as it becomes available. There appears to be no visible negative impact on any of the normal every day uses for the Kindle Fire, so aside from those who have rooted the device there is no reason to try to avoid it.
Should you want to manually update your device rather than waiting to be picked up automatically, you can download from this link. Just connect your device to a computer and copy the downloaded file to the “kindleupdates” folder. On your Kindle‘s screen, open the Settings menu and choose Device > Update your Kindle. That’s all there is to it. Enjoy the new browsing capabilities!
Despite the relative technical differences between the new Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the Amazon Kindle Fire, I think that it is fair to say that Amazon’s product offers more right out of the box. For the layman user, somebody with no stake in a particular platform and no desire to have to jump through hoops to pull the greatest possible performance out of their electronics, the available content and overall experience of the Fire is immediately superior.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are not that user. Even more, let’s assume that you are considering buying one of the new $200 Tablet PCs being released by these eReading giants with the sole intention of rooting it and making it into an all purpose generic Android Tablet. It doesn’t take huge amounts of work under most circumstances. Andrei already posted instructions to this Blog on how to root the Kindle Fire and there is a great deal of headway being made on the Nook Tablet. Custom Android ROMs are sure to follow in the near future. In the end, chances are good that the only prerequisite will be a willingness to spend the time and effort to go through a list of instructions.
Under these circumstances, the most important factor is the hardware. Here, the Nook Tablet is the way to go. It has twice the RAM of the Kindle Fire, as well as twice the internal storage space. The expandable memory slot is a big incentive as well, of course. Other than those bits, the processors, screens, size, and weight are all either exactly equivalent or so close that it won’t factor in much. Probably the only other relevant difference is the fact that the Nook has some external volume controls that come in handy from time to time. Before making any real decisions on this matter, however, I recommend taking both devices for a test drive.
While the Nook Tablet‘s initial setup has some major flaws, from locking up the majority of the storage space to simply lacking a halfway decent app store, it is still pretty smooth and comes equipped to take on most third-party video purchases. You also get the added advantage of easily accessible support at every Barnes & Noble location nationwide.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, offers deep Amazon integration. At a glance this is troublesome and a blatant attempt to lock customers in, but they have gone out of their way to keep the platform pretty open. Competitor apps are in their Appstore (itself less well populated than the Google Marketplace but far better policed) and it isn’t hard to install things acquired elsewhere. Even the Nook reader app has no trouble. The interface is smooth, looks good, and performs better than most people would expect. Really the only complaint here is the lack of video format compatibility, which is why it was worth mentioning for the Nook.
Either way you’re getting a good device, but keep in mind what is being bought. These are not really intended to be all purpose tablets the way the iPad is and to treat them as such will likely disappoint. If you do decide to break away from the cultivated experiences provided then the minimal hardware might be more apparent than it otherwise would be. Personally, I had intended to ditch the Amazon firmware on the Kindle Fire after testing it out just enough to write about it knowledgeably. It was good enough to change my mind and might do the same for you.
As has been noted a few times in the past, Amazon didn’t really put any effort into securing their tablet against modification. The Kindle Fire was bound to be rooted and they knew that would be the case well before it was even officially announced, I’m sure. Since it started arriving in the mail, there have been quick results along these lines. Andrei, here on our site, has posted instructions on how to root your own Kindle Fire for easy access to things like the Android Marketplace. What many have been waiting for, though, is the announcement that custom ROMs were available to replace the default Kindle Fire OS.
This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with what Amazon has done in their release. It’s a great one and serves to highlight the capabilities of the tablet quite well. For those who prefer to avoid being attached permanently to a company like Amazon for whatever reason, however, it is nice to have the option to make use of their affordable yet powerful hardware without the attached software. That’s where developments from the XDA-Developers forum come in.
One of their users has been able to get a basic installation of Google’s latest Android release, Ice Cream Sandwich, working on the Kindle Fire. So far, “working” is a relative term since at the time of this writing it still lacked the ability to use the audio, WiFi, accelerometer, or light sensor (yes, the Kindle Fire has a light sensor, they have just got it disabled at the moment since it was overly sensitive at the time of launch). This is a big step in the right direction, however, and once some of the bugs and deficiencies are ironed out will likely result in making the Kindle Fire a great option for Android fans who might otherwise be put off by Amazon’s proprietary build.
While this will definitely open up the user options in a few ways, specifically by allowing a greater degree of configurability and better integrating the Android Marketplace (as compared to simply rooting and installing it), there are a couple down sides. Most importantly, you lose access to the Amazon service integration. While most people considering this option are likely looking for exactly that, the Kindle Fire’s limited storage space can make the Cloud Storage a vital part of daily use and the streaming options for music and movies provide an experience that many find superior to their general app equivalencies. The freedom to install anything you want will also lead to the opportunity to pick up apps that are not optimized for the Kindle Fire’s specs in any way. This can lead to poor performance at best and complete waste of a purchase if you aren’t careful.
While I wouldn’t advise anybody to jump up and grab the current working build of ICS for the Kindle Fire, given its incompleteness, you may want to keep an eye on it. Personally I love the interface that Amazon has come up with, but that doesn’t mean somebody else won’t manage to improve on it. The best performing option will always be the preferable one in the end, and there is a great community of Android developers out there that can’t wait to get the Kindle Fire working just the way they like it.
The video demonstrating a working ICS build from the dev who got it working:
So, Amazon knows that some of you will be rooting the Kindle Fire by now. It’s hard to imagine otherwise at this point, given the state of the competition and the community of Android enthusiasts who love to unlock the full functionality of the OS. What’s fairly unusual about Amazon’s approach to this, though, is that they don’t really seem to care and won’t be making any major moves to prevent it.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “rooting” a device means gaining unrestricted access to the device’s software in order to, among other things, install a fresh or custom version of the operating system that is more in line with what you are personally interested in. The Nook Color, for example, was widely regarded to be an impressive budget tablet after rooting despite its less than impressive default feature set at release. Rooting is common practice on Android devices, especially when by default these devices prevent users from accessing the Android Marketplace or when manufacturers stop supporting software updates for older devices. This is essentially the same process as Jailbreaking your iOS devices and the results are comparable.
Amazon representative Jon Jenkins, director of the Silk browser project for the Kindle Fire, admitted “It’s going to get rooted, and what you do after you root it is up to you.” In the same interview he admitted to not even being sure if the bootloader was locked, which is just one of the many ways that Android is closed off to potential hackers. This doesn’t mean that Amazon will offer any special support for such endeavors, and indeed it will still most likely result in a breach of warranty for anybody who chooses to go this route, but they don’t seem to see much profit in staying on top of any potential exploits and holes in the security.
It’s a novel approach for a major developer. For the most part companies tend to overreact to what they view as a threat, often to the point of forcing normal users into less enjoyable experiences as a result. It also implies a certain level of confidence in the experience being delivered.
Amazon is essentially gambling on the idea that the Kindle Fire’s unique interface and distinctness from the generic Android experience will be enough to keep users locked in. They have spent a great deal of time and effort, by most accounts, in creating something distinct that customers will feel worth investing in. Of course it will probably help that without the Kindle Fire‘s OS it will likely be difficult to make use of Amazon’s cloud services. If the Silk Browser is genuinely faster than the competition as it claims to be then that alone would be enough to make you hesitate to switch.
Basically, if all you want is the hardware then you’re in luck. Grab it, root it, play with normal Android all you want. It provides a decent amount of power for the $199 price. What many of us are hoping for though, and what I think Amazon is banking on, is that they have done a good enough job to make it not even worth the effort.