An App By Any Other Name…Would Still Work Just As Well

Several months ago, I wrote a blog entry about an app called Read It Later.  (This is a bookmarking application capable of interfacing across multiple devices; I use it to share my bookmarks between the different operating systems on my computer, and between my computer, phone, and tablet.)  The web developer for Read It Later (also called Read It Later) recently released the app Pocket to replace it.  The application still runs on your computer exactly as it did prior to the name,

Click to save.

whether you’re surfing for links to save,

 

 

The website is now saved as a bookmark.

adding bookmarks,

New app, same look.

accessing your Reading List,

An unread bookmark.

editing your bookmarks,

 

 

 

 

A "Read" bookmark.

or marking your bookmarks as Read.

 

 

 

The mobile version of the app, however, has seen a few changes.

For starters, the app is now called “Pocket -formerly Read It Later”.  Before the change, users would only be able to access their first ten bookmarks at a time – to view more, they would have to purchase the full application.  Not so anymore.  Now the user has access to all of their bookmarks at any time, automatically downloaded to their device to be viewed online and offline.  Best of all, the app is still free!

If you are looking for a way to sync your bookmarks across multiple devices, Pocket is a good application to consider.  (I especially like to use it on my tablet: my Fire is not a 3G enabled device, so having the ability to access the bookmarks saved offline on my device via Pocket is convenient if I am not in an area with free WiFi.)  This app is available now for download both on the android and iPhone marketplaces.  Happy bookmarking!

There’s An App For That

My nephews are completely fascinated with my Kindle Fire tablet.  If I have it powered on within a five meter radius of their position, they are instantly at my side – demanding to “play” with their Tía’s “toy”.  As I hardly thought the apps I frequent most – Evernote or Color Note – would hold their attention, and I definitely did not want them to access my internet browser, I needed to find an application that would be both kid friendly and easy to use.  I found that app in Kids Doodle.

The default screen.

When you open the Kids Doodle application for the first time, the screen you are presented with (after the prerequisite introduction/information screen) is blank, except for the six button options across the bottom of the screen.

Click to change background colors and/or erase screen.

The option on the far left is the background changing button.  Every time you touch this option, the screen erases itself and changes background color – almost like ripping off a used piece of blue construction paper to find a fresh green sheet underneath it.  Repeated touches to this option allows the user to cycle through the background colors available: black, navy blue, pale green, green, lime green, white, purple, lavender, peach, bright green, mustard yellow, burnt orange, slate gray, ocean blue…the list goes on.

Click to change your "pen".

The second to last option on the bottom-left hand side of the screen is the pen changing option.  With every touch of this button, the user is presented with a different kind of “pen” to use – giving the child (or adult) different options to pursue while drawing free-hand (with fingers) or with a stylus.  As for the options – the lines can become thin, fat, neon, or faded, and can either show up on the screen as a solid color or continuously change colors the longer the “pen” is used.

The third option from the end on the lower-left hand side of the screen is the Undo button.

Click to undo last action.

Click to change your "pen" into an eraser.

The option to the immediate right of the Undo button is the erase option.  Simply touch this option to transform your “pen” into an eraser.  When finished erasing, touch the pen changing option once to reactivate your “pen” and continue drawing.

Click to watch your drawing come to life, step-by-step!

The option second to the end on the screen’s lower-right hand side is the media button.  From the first “stroke of the pen” to the last on every new “sheet”, the Kids Doodle application records the user’s progress.  Pressing the media button shows the user a video of the picture they have just drawn, step-by-step from start to finish.  The video can be paused, stopped, fast-forwarded, rewound, and played again.

Click to save your masterpiece.

Here you have the option to save your work or share it.

The last option on the bottom-right hand side of the screen is the save button.  Pressing this option will save your current masterpiece into the Kids Doodle folder on your device.  Pressing the menu button on your tablet/phone will also give you the option to save your drawing, as well as the ability to easily share it with friends via email.

If you are looking for an app for your Android device that is easy to use and capable of entertaining curious young minds longer than a few seconds, I would highly recommend this free application for either your phone or tablet.  To download, either click on this link to send the app to your phone via the Amazon app marketplace, or type “Kids Doodle” (created by Bejoy Mobile) into the search bar of the Amazon marketplace on your phone.

The Fire Burns On!

To wrap up my commentary on the noted “issues” of the Kindle Fire’s performance, I need to address two more problems: the audio being slightly off on videos streamed through Netflix, and its tendency to crash.  For the first issue,  a fix is available.  All the user needs to do is download the newest version of Netflix…that’s it!  The best way to ensure that your Netflix account works on your Kindle is to download the app from the Amazon App Store (do not side-load it).  That way, new updates are available to the user immediately, ensuring that any audio bugs are corrected as soon as possible.

As for crashing – not once has my Kindle Fire crashed on me.  In talking to a friend (who also owns a Fire) I discovered that their tablet had only crashed when they attempted to do too many things at once on it – such as viewing a graphic heavy website and attempting to click on too many media links at once.  Crashing seems to be more operator error than an actual problem, though I will post should I ever have this issue on my own tablet.  Overall, the Kindle Fire can keep on boasting about its great performance.  They have most certainly earned the right!

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

Today’s post is short…and not even about technology (although I am posting from my Kindle Fire). Instead, in honor of the half a foot of snow that has finally fallen here in Chicagoland, I am taking a break from posting for the day. Watching the snow fall always makes me crave hot chocolate, and I am going to indulge that craving…with marshmallows.

What’s Up With the Pens?

If you have ever looked at a Kindle device, you will have noticed that they come packaged with stock images.  On the Kindle eReader, these images appear as a screensaver whenever the device has been left to idle; on the Kindle Fire, they are the background you see when you run the Fire with a different launcher that the one it came pre-installed with.  The images themselves are no so bad to look at – maybe I would not have minded them so much, were I not such a customization fiend.  I wanted to replace these images with my own (I like my NASA photos much better than random pictures of pens).  Unfortunately, the Fire comes with a built-in protocol that prevents users from using their own images: you will look at these pens and you will like it!  Irritated, I began to look into this issue in hopes of discovering a resolution.

Let me take a minute and back it up for those who I may have lost after I mentioned the phrase “adding a different launcher” to my Kindle.  What do I mean by “a different launcher”?  The launcher (or start-up/home screen) that the Fire comes with is extremely user-friendly: this makes it easy to navigate, and very easy to understand how it works.  While I can appreciate it from a new user’s perspective, I could not feign the same appreciation when comparing it to what I am used to dealing with on my phone or even my laptop.  I like a clean home screen with maybe a widget or two (like a clock and/or weather widget), and a hidden drop-down menu – not a carousel featuring pictures of every single app on my device.  I hated the carousel; it needed to go.

I decided to run the Go Launcher Ex application (found here, or by typing “Go Launcher Ex” into your phone’s Android marketplace) instead.  This is only one of the various options available to the user in terms of launchers, and seemed to be the app of choice among other Fire owners…and it is free.  Before doing this, you need to go to Amazon’s App Store and download the app ES File Explorer (by EStrongs, Inc.) to your Fire.  This free application is essentially a file manager for your Kindle, much like Windows Explorer for PC’s and the Mac Finder window.  Unfortunately, the Amazon App Store does not have the Go Launcher Ex app available for download – you will need to side-load it (explanation in last paragraph of linked post) and install it that way.  In order to side-load, obtain the .apk file from the Go Launcher Ex application and send it to your Kindle via data cable or in an email.  (I use the app Astro File Manager to obtain .apk files for all of my apps – it is free and extremely easy to operate!)  The ES File Explorer (ESFE) app allows you to find your downloaded .apk file and install it.  (The default Fire launcher does not have that capability, hence the necessity behind downloading ESFE.)  Voila!  You now have a new launcher!

As for that pesky problem of not being able to customize your own wallpaper – there is a solution.  You will need to download the free application Rotating Wallpaper (found here or in your phone’s marketplace under the same name).  With this app, you are able to pick as many (or few) pictures as you want and set them as your wallpaper.  Once you have transferred this app’s .apk file over to the Fire and installed it with ES File Explorer, open it up and touch Add Set; make sure to give your new wallpaper set (folder) a name when it prompts.  After you name the Set, you will be allowed to choose the image/s you wish to have as your wallpaper.  When you are done modifying your Set, touch the back arrow and then touch Settings.  You need to set the Rotate Interval to either one or five minutes, and make sure there is a check mark next to the option Delay on Sleep.  (The reason you have to set such a short rotation for your wallpaper is this: just as soon as you turn your Kindle’s screen off, the wallpaper defaults right back to those stock images (the cursed pens, again).  The lower you set the rotation value, the quicker your images will “rotate” to replace Amazon’s – the quicker, the better!  If you do not want to have your wallpaper changing images every minute (or whatever value you chose), only select one picture for your Wallpaper Set.  That way, you will only ever see that one image.)

While you can never completely avoid the built-in Amazon wallpaper, Rotating Wallpaper will help you avoid those ever-present pens as much as physically possible.  Until Amazon decides to allow their customers’ more options when it comes to customizing their Kindle Fire, this way will have to suffice.  Amazon’s wallpaper, while annoying, is not insurmountable, making this issue less of an operational concern, and more operator choice.

**Disclaimer:  I am not encouraging readers to side-load or root their devices, only sharing information on a theoretical level.  What someone does with this information is completely up to them.

So I’m A Storage Junkie…Your Point?

I will admit the fact that the Kindle Fire did not come with an external memory card slot was, initially, a concern for me.  While I did not need my tablet to contain more than eight Gigabytes of storage space, the option to add more later was quite appealing.  In fact, the lack of optional storage was almost a deal breaker for me.

Why did I decide to go with the Kindle anyways?  Simple: I stopped and thought about it objectively.  What would I be putting on my Fire that would require so much space?  My music is hosted in the cloud, and my movies can always be compressed to save room and unzipped whenever I wish to watch them (which is not that often). That left documents and apps, and would I really put that many apps on my tablet?

When I look at the amount of storage space I have left on my Kindle, I see that I have well over a Gigabyte’s worth of room left – and I have not even compressed any of my videos yet!  I had been worrying for nothing.  A word (or two) of advice to anyone else out there stressing over storage inadequacy issues: you can either compress your files (a bit tedious, as you have to make sure there is enough room on the device to unzip the files to view them, and you have to repeat this process every time you wish to view said files) or store them in the cloud.  You can keep your movies, videos, pictures, and documents in Amazon’s cloud service, and there are several other websites who can offer you those same options (Google, Sugar Sync, Dropbox, and Mozy, to name a few).  Not having an external memory slot is not an operational concern for the Kindle – just operator complaint.

Operational Concern…Or Operator Error?

During the time period between the purchase of my Kindle Fire and today, I have had no genuine issues with its performance.  The reviews I have read about the Fire have painted it in a mostly positive light, with very few problems to trouble the user.  (This was another one of the reasons I purchased the Fire over some of the other tablets I looked at – problems resulting in the lack of a product’s efficacy are a definite turn-off for me when looking to purchase said product.)  When conducting my initial research into the Fire, I wanted to see what other users were saying about the Fire: both positive and negative.  The five biggest complaints I found consisted of the following: the power button being in a poor location, the lack of external memory slot, the inability to replace Kindle’s built-in rotating wallpaper, the audio being slightly off on videos streamed through Netflix, and that the Fire was prone to crashing.  I wanted to dedicate this and the next few posts to addressing these “issues”, and parsing out the differences between genuine problems and operator error.

The Kindle Fire is 4.7 inches across, 7.5 inches tall, and 0.45 inches thick – the perfect size for reading, surfing, or watching videos whether you are holding it vertically or horizontally.  The power button is located on the bottom of the Kindle to the right of the charging port, and is the only physical button the tablet features.

The power button is located to the right of the charging port.

Unless the user holds the Fire from the bottom when viewing it via its vertical orientation, there is no feasible way to reach this button.  If you prefer to view the screen from the horizontal orientation, you would still need to place your hand directly on the edge to access the power button.  Curious to test this “issue” out, I tried to “accidentally” power my tablet down – to see just how easy this would be.  It wasn’t.  (In fact, it was quite awkward to hold my Kindle that way – it did not feel at all natural or comfortable.)  While other users may claim the location of the power button to interfere with their usage of the product, I have never experienced the same issue with my Kindle.  Chalk one up to operator error!  (To be continued…)

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