CNET answers your Kindle Fire questions

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell answers your questions about the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet.

No matter how inexpensive Amazon.com makes its Kindle Fire tablet, it's no good to you if it doesn't do what you want.

In this blog post, I'm rounding up all the questions I've received from CNET readers about the Kindle Fire and answering them to the best of my knowledge. If you see something we missed, be sure to keep the conversation going in the comments section.

Should I be worried about how the Kindle's Silk Browser uses my data?

Not particularly. Amazon insists that all of the information it processes to make Silk work is kept completely anonymous, both coming and going. At no point is your browsing data linked to your personal Amazon account.

Furthermore, sites secured with SSL (such as banking sites or any URL prefixed by HTTPS) automatically bypass Amazon's cloud acceleration. If that's still not good enough for you, you can manually switch off Silk's cloud acceleration in the browser's settings menu.

More information can be found at the Electronic Frontier Foundation site.

Can I connect the Kindle Fire to my computer to transfer media?

Yes, the Kindle Fire can connect to any Mac or PC using a Micro-USB cable (no cable is included, though). The device mounts as a generic USB drive, prepopulated with folders for music, videos, photos, documents, and other content.

Do I need a paid Amazon Prime account?

Nope. You will need a general Amazon account to use the Kindle Fire, though. If you are new to Amazon and purchase the Kindle Fire at a retail store you'll be prompted to create an Amazon account during the initial device setup.

Whether you're new to Amazon or an existing customer, you'll be treated to a free month of membership in the Amazon Prime service. Members can enjoy borrowing free books from the Kindle Lending Library, streaming free Instant Video programming on the Kindle Fire or other compatible devices (such as the Roku), and free two-day shipping on millions of products sold through Amazon's Web store.

When your one-month trial runs out, nothing goes away. A one-time note will pop up on the home screen carousel stating that the Prime trial period has ended and offer you an opportunity to sign up for a membership ($79 per year). Even if you decline, you're still able to browse and purchase all of the same content, but previously free content will have to be purchased individually.

Is Amazon going to allow apps in its store that compete with its own services

Yes. There's no getting around the fact that Amazon's own stores for music, e-books, videos, digital magazines, and apps are fixed categories on the home screen, and woven into the tablet's DNA. Still, apps for competing services are included in the Amazon Appstore, including Pandora, Netflix, Rhapsody, Hulu Plus, and ComiXology.

That said, one app that's noticeably absent is the Barnes & Noble Nook app for Android. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.

Can I transfer media to the Kindle Fire using Amazon's Cloud Drive service?

Yes, though the integration isn't as tight as it could be. At launch, any music you upload to your personal Cloud Drive account is available for you to stream or download directly from the Kindle Fire's music menu. The same level of integration was not yet available for videos, documents, or photos (though that may have changed by the time you read this).

In any case, you can point the Kindle's browser to the Cloud Drive site and access your content that way. Using this technique, we successfully transferred a 1GB MPEG-4 movie file up to our Cloud Drive account from a laptop, and back down to the Kindle Fire.

Does the Android Marketplace work via the Kindle's browser or is it blocked outright?

The URL bounces you out of the browser and into Amazon's Appstore.

What is the OS on the Kindle Fire, officially, and is it a true Android OS or some other forked version?

It is not a skinned version of Android. It's a fork of Android 2.3 that has been gutted and overhauled to be optimized specifically for the Kindle Fire's lean hardware.

Can you run Android apps from unknown sources on the Kindle Fire?

In theory, yes. There is a check box under device settings that allows you to install apps from unknown sources. Finding and installing these apps, however, will take some work.

I saw people talking about side-loading apps not in the Market. Have you tried this? Is it just downloading packages and installing them?

We tried to download the Swype Android app directly from the developer's site, and were turned away when the site correctly noticed that we were not using an Android phone. You may have luck installing apps by sending them to yourself as e-mail attachments.

Is it a very region-locked device, as in are most of the services U.S.-only?

I suspect the answer is yes. The required mix of streaming media rights and Amazon's cloud technologies will likely restrict the Kindle Fire's international potential.

Does the Kindle Fire have EPUB compatibility?

Nope. As with all Kindle readers, Amazon has omitted direct support for the EPUB format on the Fire. There's always a chance that this functionality may be added via third-party apps, but if it's something you really want, you should consider a competing product, such as the Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, or Kobo Reader.

Where do users get help/support for the Kindle Fire? Online only? Return policy

You get online support, a one-year warranty, a 30-day return policy, and a direct toll-free number for Kindle Support issues 1-866-321-8851.

Will the form factor or hardware sustain daily abuse by elementary students?

Seems sturdy enough to us, especially considering that there are so few ports at risk of getting gummed up. The bigger issue is that there are no measures (yet) that you can take to disable the Web browser. With the iPad, Apple has taken great pains to allow parents and teachers to lock out the browser, purchasing, and age-restricted content. The Kindle Fire does not yet share these same controls.

Will there be either a larger 10-inch version or a 3G version?

There are rumors of a larger version in the works, but again, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Once you cross into the 10-inch tablet range, you really need apps optimized for that larger screen size or else they'll look awful. Amazon may be able to pull off a 10-inch tablet after Google introduces Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which could some of the app-scaling issues. Even then, for Amazon to pull off the same deep level of code and hardware optimization, it's going to need time. My guess is that we'll see a 10-inch version of the Kindle Fire this time next year.

As far as 3G goes, Amazon really pioneered the use of 3G on its e-ink Kindle readers. For those devices it makes sense--content is restricted to books and documents, files are small, the actual usage is minimal, and the device's battery life is measured in days.

It's a different story on a color tablet. For starters, the Kindle Fire's 8-hour battery life is already on the low end of things. You throw in 3G and the battery is going to take a hit. Then you run into the problem that all the files you're likely to download or stream are substantially bigger than the occasional black and white e-book. Streaming videos, color magazines, games, and music will all require giant chunks of data. If Amazon ever does make 3G an option for the Kindle Fire, it won't come cheap--and cheap is the name of the game.

How much of the 8GB of internal memory is user-accessible?

The device settings menu offers a running total of how much storage is available to you. Out of the box, we had around 6.5GB of storage available.

Will there be a "Special Offers" version of the Fire?

Who knows? It makes sense, though. I'm just speculating, but it seems likely that Amazon will use the same Special Offers formula it's used on its other Kindles in order to keep a low, competitive price for future models of the Kindle Fire. Because of the Kindle Fire's color screen and distinctly different platform, it would probably take some time to adapt the Special Offers program for the Kindle Fire. I wouldn't expect a version for 2011.

How is the app selection?

See for yourself. Amazon's content for its Appstore for Android is nearly identical to what's offered on the Kindle Fire. At launch, there will be some apps (including Netflix and Hulu Plus) available for the Kindle Fire, but not reflected in the Appstore.

 

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