A few months ago I was given a first generation Kindle Fire, Amazon's tablet version of their popular ebook reader. Since it was a heavily Amazonified build of Android (which by itself is not a bad thing) and their own application store is only available to the USA, I decided to load a custom Android distribution called Jandycane from a developer on the XDA forums.
A few months later and I can confirm that it was a good decision. I can buy and install apps from the Google Play store, I can still read Kindle books via the Kindle app for Android, and overall I have more control over my tablet.
When I first got my Kindle I was a little disappointed with its size, compared to a friend's 10 inch Galaxy Tab, but as I continued to use it I realised how awesome the 7 inch form factor is. I'm writing this blog post on my Kindle, and I can hold it in portrait orientation with my hands on each of the bottom corners leaving my thumbs free to type. With such a large surface (compared to a phone's small screen) swipe does not work well and it is essential to type instead. The size of the tablet means that it is small enough to hold and type, something my friend cannot do with his large tablet.
From a hardware perspective, the Kindle is a solid piece of electronics, which is not to say that it is heavy but that it is fairly hardy, having taken a few falls thanks to my 3 year old son. It also has a raised rubber rim around the screen which has prevented the screen from sustaining any damage when it was dropped face down.
The Kindle doesn't have any 3g or Bluetooth capabilities but this has not hindered my use of the device. Most games work perfectly well without an Internet connection and writing is easy due to the lack of distractions (as long as I keep away from the games). In addition to this, most of the times I'm using my Kindle I'm already in the vicinity of a wireless network that I have access to.
Jandycane itself is good as far as a community custom build goes. It is stable, battery life is decent and comparable to other tablets, and there are occasional updates with bug fixes and Android updates. The only bug I still see is that when I mute my sound, the phone application constantly crashes and then restarts itself only to crash again. I'm not sure why the phone application is part of the distro but I'm not an expert on the Android system either.
Of course having loaded a custom Android system means that I lost all the Amazon Kindle specific software. This is not actually a big problem since pretty much everything requires a US credit card, which I don't have. Fortunately for me, Amazon decided to tap into the greater Android ecosystem and wrote an Android version of their Kindle software. So with the Kindle app I can still read my Kindle books.
I recently read a really interesting blog post about how the blogger took his Macbook Air to a coffee shop and was joined by an elderly man by the name of Russell Kirsch who is the inventor of the modern programmable computer. Russell Kirsch criticized tablets, accusing them of making people consumers rather than creators. When I got my Kindle, his words echoed in my ears, and so I set about seeing how I could be creative with my Kindle.
I knew that programming was likely out of the question, especially since it would be difficult to get Python running on a Java-based system, but I endeavoured to find something else. With a lengthy train ride to and from work every day (45 minutes each way), I have a great opportunity to do something that does not require an Internet connection.
Blogging came to mind as I have a couple of blogs but I never find the time at home to write for them. After searching and trying out a few free writing apps, I came across a recommendation for Write. I was hesitant to get it at first, because it is only available for purchase and I had already been disappointed by a number of free apps, but I went ahead and bought it, and I'm pleased to say that it has worked quite well for me. As you might have figured out, I'm using Write to write this blog post.
Further than that, at this stage I have a bunch of games installed, and I found a number of toddler games for my 3 year old son. Sadly there are very few well made toddler games that are free, or even have a free version. If your free version sucks, there's no way I'll want to buy the full version. My 3 year old son is also somewhat between phases right now, so some of the educational games are a little bit beyond him, and the other games are too simple.
Speaking of my 3 year old son, he has mastered navigation of my Kindle with very little instruction. He has managed to figure out how to turn the brightness and volume up all by himself. He knows which games are his and which are mine, even though he still tries to play mine.
I don't think it needs to be said that I'm really enjoying my Kindle. I don't have an Android phone (I have a freedom-loving Nokia N900), so while I used to use my phone a lot for IRC and blogging, these days I don't even use my phone for IRC as I'm too busy blogging on my Kindle.
Do you have an Android tablet?