For a long time I've been a fan of N2A Cards, which sells a simple plug-and-play way to turn Barnes & Noble's Nook tablets into full-blown Android tablets. After all, if you've got good hardware, why not unlock its maximum potential?
Now Kindle owners can get in on the action. N2A's new N2Aos service will install Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) on your first- or second-generation Kindle Fire, replacing Amazon's heavily customized -- and, some would say, limited -- operating system with the real deal.
There are, of course, a few important considerations. The first is that because Fires have no microSD slot, you can't just pop in a card and dual-boot the way you can with a Nook. Installing Android proper means downloading an installer to your PC and wiping the Kindle OS -- and all your downloaded content along with it.
Consequently, you'll lose access to Amazon Prime streaming video -- not a big deal if you're not a Prime subscriber, but unfortunately there's no Amazon Instant Video app available for Android. You can restore your books via the Kindle app, but that's it.
I took the service for a test-drive on a 2nd-gen Fire. (The developer will soon add support for HD models.) After connecting it to my PC and running N2A's compatibility checker, I downloaded the installer and watched it do its thing. The process took about 10 minutes (no touching!), after which my Fire was transformed to a Jelly Bean-powered tablet. That simple. Literally.
Update: N2Aos is now available for Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HD 8.9.
And you get the full Android experience here, including access to the Google Play store and all the other features offered by Android 4.2 (excepting what's not available via hardware, of course). I ran my usual stable of test apps -- Agent Dash, Flipboard, Netflix, USA Today -- and all of them worked flawlessly. I did frequently miss having physical volume-control buttons -- though N2A's Android build includes convenient virtual buttons on the home screen -- but that's Amazon's fault.
Tech-savvy users will note that you don't need to pay for the privilege of rooting a Kindle Fire and installing Android, that some fairly straightforward DIY options costing $0 can be found online. However, here you're getting the benefits of simplicity and technical support, both of which are important for users who might be nervous about tinkering with their Kindle's virtual innards.
In fact, N2A even offers a Pro-level support option that includes remote setup, meaning you let a tech access your PC remotely and handle all the installation steps for you -- including any troubleshooting that might be required. That option (good for one month of Pro service) adds just $7.99 to the price tag -- not bad for automation and peace of mind.
Speaking of which, if you decide you don't like the N2Aos or plan to sell your Kindle and want to restore the stock OS, N2A offers a free utility -- the aptly named Restore2Stock -- that will give you back Amazon's OS, good as new.
The N2Aos software costs $19.99. That's not a bad deal for breathing new life into an older Kindle Fire, freeing yourself from Amazon's special-offer ads, opening the door to a larger library of apps, and gaining access to e-books from other sources (Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and so on).