Archive for May 17th, 2012

Kindle Fire Configuration

Amazon obviously designed the Kindle Fire as an extension of their on-line store: they stripped everything out of Android that could possibly get in the way of buying stuff. Some functions seems obviously necessary, though, so here’s a short list of what I’ve added so far (in addition to the button protector and speaker seals, that is), with all the links collected for reference.

First and foremost, set a Lock Screen Password. Yes, that means that you must type the password every time the Fire lights up, which is a major nuisance. Remember that the Fire connects directly to your Amazon One-Click account and the browser has the rest of your userids & passwords on tap, so losing it could be a very, very expensive oversight.

I like 24 hour clocks, but there’s no clock configuration. Dropping a buck on 24 Hours solves that problem.

My old Zire 71 reminded me of my few appointments & things-to-do, but the Fire lacks the whole Android calendar infrastructure. The Calengoo app syncs with my (previously unused) Google Calendar & Contacts, which means that they now know my social network (such as it is) and what I’m up to. So it goes…

The system volume control exposes only the Media Volume sound channel. Calengoo produces reminders through the Notification sound channel and, under certain perverse conditions that took me about two days to encounter, can mute that channel and leave it muted forever more. The only way to get audible reminders again is by installing a separate mixer app and resetting the levels: Volume Manager Free.

Hint: to get dependable audible reminders when the Fire is asleep (which is most of the time), you must enable Pop-up Reminders and disable Pop-up windows, because the dialog box occasionally kills the sound. With that configuration, you’ll get a note in the status bar along the top of the display for each reminder. Set the reminder repeat interval to at least a minute to have enough time for password typing…

The main reason I got a Fire was to carry all my datasheets & manuals in my pocket, hence the need for color and a backlit screen. Although the Fire can handle PDFs without an app, the native interface leaves quite a bit to be desired. Dropping a few bucks on ezPDF Reader solves most of those problems. Choosing a single file from a collection of several hundred, using a selection browser that ignores the overlaid subdirectory structure, remains challenging.

File Expert helps a bit by presenting subdirectories and their contents. I think that might be the only way to find a specific PDF.

Engineering bears need an RPN calculator, of which NeoCal Lite seems to be the best of the bunch.

Passwords go in KeePassDroid, although it has a clunky clipboard interface to other apps. Of course, any Android app can root the Fire and steal my sensitive bits; that seems to not bother anybody else, so why should I worry? The advantage of using a unique password for each website seems to outweigh the disadvantage of having a single password controlling all of them.

Turn off the browser’s helpful “remember passwords” function, though…

Although I’m now using Dropbox to back up the KeePassDroid database file, that whole interface seems overly awkward and I’d rather have encryption applied to every Dropbox file.

Putting the KeePassDroid database file in the Dropbox folder requires a bit of intervention, as KeePassDroid provides no way to specify the database location. You must find the Dropbox folder using File Expert, slow-click the database file, then drill down through File Expert’s menus in order to specify that KeePassDroid should open the file. After that, KeePassDroid will remember its location. For future reference, it’s at:

/mnt/sdcard/Android/data/com.dropbox.android/files/scratch/keepass.kdb

The alert reader may wonder why a Kindle Fire, with a conspicuously missing SD Card slot, has an sdcard subdirectory structure hanging from /mnt: that’s just the way it is. I suppose that’s baked into the Android filesystem; hooray for hardware independence and futureproofing.

The built-in Silk browser runs slower (certainly, no faster) with Accelerate Page Loading turned on, so there seems no compelling reason to sluice my web content through Amazon’s servers. Not that turning it off improves privacy, of course.

The Maxthon Mobile Web Browser works reasonably well. The highly regarded Dolphin HD browser isn’t available from the Amazon App Store and sideloading apps from Google Play seems unreasonably difficult. The Firefox Aurora browser isn’t quite ready for prime time, but is the only browser to cover its password database with a master password.

For the occasional times when I need a stopwatch or timer, the aptly named Stopwatch and Timer app should suffice. It has a breathtakingly awkward UI compared to the Zire app, showing that re-invented wheels sometimes sport square corners…

ColorNote supports both checklists and text notes for my simple needs.

Sketch-n-Draw ably demonstrates the Fire’s huge latency between touch-pad input and LCD output; it’s impossible to actually draw anything meaningful. FWIW, the ancient Zire had no trouble doing that, adding Yet Another data point to the curve of software demanding more than the hardware can provide.

The WordPress blogging app is pretty much useless in comparison with their full web interface, not to mention that typing text on the Fire’s one-finger (or, for those with smaller hands, two thumbs) keyboard is agony, not to mention that the Fire lacks a camera, a microphone, and USB host support. It’s a media consumption device, not a media production device; I knew that when I bought it.

Although it’s awkward, a conductive-tip Acase stylus helps during extended screen-poking sessions. I have my doubts about the rubbery tip’s durability, though.

All in all, the Fire seems serviceable…

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