Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting the MOST from Kindle Fire and new Advanced Nexus eReader/Tablets

Note 9-19-2012:
For the record, the easiest way to get free audiobooks for the Kindle Fire is to browse to websites, search, download, and open in DocumentsToGo, i.e.: and
Last fall Amazon introduced the innovative Kindle Fire. This new eReader had the potential of a much larger computer. Here this discussion is about getting the most out of the Fire and a new wave of newer, unfettered and more advanced devices.
But let’s not think of these as just computers. Consider them a natural evolution of the printed book into a device to keep you connected. A book,-radio,-tv,-music players , -all-round media machine, in addition to being a computer.
What makes the new devices new? The physical characteristics of a device greatly affect its functionality. The size of a device is crucial and Amazon picked it right. Amazon as a bookseller adopted the familiar book size most proven over the centuries. Size is crucial.
This was the first thin, light-weight, normal book-sized device to use the basic hardware of a full-fledged computer. That system had the potential capability of doing everything any other computer can do in a small space. The system software (Android from Google) was made freely usable by any computer maker. Amazon then started the new wave of eBook reader devices from it.
You can hold the device in one hand and use it easily anywhere like a smartphone. All you need is Wi-Fi access, and much of the time not even Wi-Fi . Out of the box, the Kindle Fire, however, did not make use of its full potential. (Hopefully Amazon will unfetter it.) Fortunately, it can be expanded.
This summer things evolved to the point where anyone can get a far more capable descendant of the Kindle Fire for $200 as new lookalikes are being introduced.
Google itself has come out with the Nexus 7, and Apple is reputed to have one in development using Apple’s iPad proprietary IOS system software. Samsung came out with one (Android) earlier this year.
The Fire can be brought more up to speed too, with some “doing”, even using a few voice applications, (and even more with “hacking” and “sideloading”). Much is easily done, though.
I venture to say we will have these devices everywhere, like radios and clocks. After all, we do not need radios and clocks all over but we have them. And these devices ARE also radios and clocks. Imagine one at your bedside, at your favorite chair, not just at your desk. Ladies, in your pocketbook.
. Prices will fall further.
(I envisioned a similar growth in the early days of computers. I wrote a piece entitled: ”How soon will computers outnumber telephones? (Kilobaud Microcomputing, Vol., 5, 1981 “Perspectives” under “Changing Times” ).
How do you make the Kindle Fire and its successors into more capable all-round computers?
Simple. You just add apps. With the Kindle, The result may not be to create as capable device as the new Kindle “killers” but nonetheless will vastly increase the Fire’s utility. With the Google Nexus, the result will all-round usefulness.
What are apps? Apps are a simple way to get things done, as opposed to complex hunting thru websites. They were initially developed for smartphones, where you need to get something done quickly and simply. Apps are replacing webpages as better ways to get things done. They are very specific task oriented tools, easy to tap and use from a small device. Their explosion on phones attests to their functionality and their popularity.
Apps are the secret to easy computing and media access. Amazon included just 10 apps.
An app might be a music player, a weather report, or an internet browser. There are 600,000 of them, of which I use about a hundred. Specialized apps can organize news, read a paper, keep your calendar, contacts or task list, organize your photos, watch a movie, and a whole lot more.
It is these apps that can turn the small Google Nexus into a full-fledged computer.
Although the Fire may come with just ten apps, many more are available from the Kindle online store.
It is easy to get them Here is how to get started. Go to the online market, tap, then search, then install. Simple. That’s it.
Most apps are free. But which apps? This has not been well enough documented.
Below I have listed the apps most of seniors will want. Get them one at a time.
Kindle included its small library of apps which can be downloaded with just a tap, a portion of the huge Google library of apps, but Amazon also excluded most apps easily available from Google.
These Kindle friendly apps are marked below with an asterisk (don’t hold me to this---all this may change). With some extra effort, the Kindle Fire can be made to run many more apps, however.
The Kindle Fire lookalikes and successors which have been introduced run many more apps and install them without such extra effort. These devices include both the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 and the Google Nexus 7. Both add apps with a single screen tap from the Google Play online store. Both are easily transformed into full-fledged computers. Newly they can even create documents, such as in Word or Excel, or PowerPoint, best with an external keyboard. They look like the Fire but constitute a whole new generation.
There will be more devices, such as from Apple, which ushered in the smartphone and iPad tablet, after which Amazon then introduced the book-like Fire. Apple itself may be coming out with a similar-sized eReader/tablet . Although the apps mentioned below are apps for Fire, Samsung, and Google Nexus, the iPad has at least as many, of which a large number are available on both iPad and 7” platforms, as well as most smartphones.
Again, the descendants of the Fire, appearing now for the same price or a little more, can run almost all of the huge Google library of apps developed for cell phones and tablets, with little effort, directly accessible from the devices.
Bringing the Kindle Fire Up to Speed
As indicated, out of the box the Kindle Fire introduced last fall had a limited number of apps (10), which can then be augmented with many more from the Amazon Store---these last are all marked below with an asterisk.
Sometimes the Amazon store reports that an app is incompatible when, in fact, it is compatible and may be downloaded directly on the Fire by going the website on the browser and downloading it. Examples: Aldiko and Mantano, which read digital books that Kindle cannot handle without conversion. Then, using a file manager tool (below) installs them by tapping on the name.
For others it is essential with the Kindle Fire to find the “apk” (spelling is OK) files by Googling for them elsewhere: I download them on another computer, Email them to myself as an attachment, open that Email on the Fire, save in Documents To Go or ES File Manage (both from the Amazon store), where I just tap to install them.
There are other online ways to get apps. Some reliable sources are 1Mobile, GeJar, Mediafire and so on---if you have any concern about the security of these, install the anti-virus software from the Kindle Fire store, such as Norton. Or just keep to the asterisked items below. Finally, you can or go to another other device to download them from the Google Play online store and Email or “sideload” them.
Newer Android eBook readers, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 or Google Nexus 7 will install almost all of them quickly and safely directly from Google Play Market, as safe as it gets. They will also install apps from the Amazon store. If you have an iPad or are awaiting the Microsoft eReader/tablet this fall, you will want similar apps.)
What Apps do you Need?
The next question is what apps seniors need. This is the big question.
I have long promised a posting about apps. I have been busy getting familiar with apps for some time and have realized that I am shifting more and more away from Windows as I use portable devices, a smartphone, older netbooks, and most recently a very new device I am just testing which turns a TV into a computer.
I really had to absorb a new way of doing things to see what was important.
So contrary to many commentaries about apps, this posting is not about a half dozen apps you might like, but ALL the apps you need to shift much of your activity over and away from the old systems of the past to access anywhere you go.
On the Fire, to view and install the ten apps which come with the Fire, tap on Apps, then the app to install. Help, Audible (books), Contacts, Email, FaceBook, Gallery (photos), IMDB (movie and TV guide),Pulse (news), Quick Office, and Shop Amazon.
Here is how to get the rest of your apps.
For the Fire, try to download those with asterisks from the Amazon online Market accessible right from the device. For the Samsung and Google eReaders, download almost all from the Google online store, also accessible right from the device. To get those for the Fire which are not marked with an asterisk for the Fire as available from Amazon, Google them to try to find a compatible download for the apk, and then follow the instructions above.
I should make the point add here that apps now even include access to Windows as licensed by Microsoft. That tells me that apps can do anything I need to do. Also, eBook apps are now spreading to larger computers.
The iPad was the first larger tablet to use apps. There are iPad apps much like those below
Important Apps
What would be most important of all apps?
Well, start thinking about what why we are going to tablets.
Without a doubt tablets are media access devices. Why not just use books or radios or TVs or newspapers, and older media?
The answer is that tablets give us access to vast media wherever we are instantly, and more easily, while also enlarging type or even reading to us out loud.. The most important apps you need are reader apps. Close behind are organizers.
Some tablets, notably the iPad and newly the Google Nexus, are extending into photography and voice systems: voice input and output. Some have GPS, and Bluetooth, and 4g, and so on. Some have broader access to apps. Creating documents is quite new and mandates a keyboard. Such apps include Kingsoft*, Quick*, etc. Cloudon and Onlive give you Windows Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.
The most important app is the eBook reader “app” right in your eReader device. These access one particular online “store” or library. The Fire uses the Kindle app, and the others the Google Books app. Each has its own library.
There are more reader apps, not built-in, but enabling us to access more libraries (and digital formats) for eBooks. For example, the Kindle Fire can access the Nook reader app. I found the Nook apk here:
Then there are other reader apps not included as basic for any given hardware reader. FBReader is the oldest, Mantano* the most advanced, Google Books the most exhaustive library, Aldiko* the all-round app. Google Books may be accessed directly from browser, using the mobile app: or here:
OverdriveMediaConsole, importantly, gets you library books directly from the devices.
On newer eBook readers (not the Kindle Fire), also, install CalibreLibrary. Calibre finds and converts books and news and magazines. Calibre also needs to be run from a PC or Mac to send books to a device. Calibre will take some learning, yet is extremely useful.
Next are browser apps. One is built into your eReader. You need others. Dolphin is popular. For readers with the latest eBook reader hardware systems software, Android 4.0, Chrome is the choice, simply because you share it across all other devices and it syncs easily, such as for bookmarks. Another one, Opera, is fastest.
The next group are reader organizer apps. These give you the ability to use the computer to help you read more selectively and better, with more choices. Consider them also aggregators. Top of the list is Flipboard*, which simply combines your choice of media into a simple magazine format. Especially, it takes cryptic Twitter feeds, if you have them, and converts them into readable format. I got FlipBoard* for Android from the Flipboard website.
Still, Google News comes first with the latest and most. gReader for Fire makes it possible to access Google News. Yahoo* and YahooNews* a new source many computer users have used for a long time.
Then there is NewsRepublic*.
Others are Taptu* and Pulse*. These read across and up and down over various sources of your choice, showing expandable squares of stories. Good for checking out a lot of sources quickly and up to date.
Then there are the actual individual older printed media sources, like USAToday*, WashingonPost, and Wall Street Journal. Good for a quick overview. Subscribe on Amazon for the New York Times or WSJ. The Times has a cheap app with limited but up-to-date news (every 4 hours) but may not continue it.
There are apps for the news services, like AP*, MSNBC* CBSNewYork*, and CNNGO*, and the elegant BBC app (don’t miss it). Some have video.
Next are “feeds”. These channel many articles from all over into one simple listing. gReader* above is the most prominent and my #1 choice. I use it for favorite sources quickly, such as Lifehacker, which has its own engaging app. Liliputing is also high on my list---you can imagine why from the name.
There are apps which read out loud about, specifically: FBReader and Mantano* do so with supporting voice apps The benefit is to have them read the latest out loud as you walk or exercise or just relax, as in nap. I use wireless earbuds.
What to read? Goodreads* will suggest based on what you have read before. Valuable to find books you might life.
Elsewhere you will find my posting on finding books. The Internet archive is the main website, along with openlibrary.
That covers printed media.
Next is Email. Your reader will have its own app. To that add Gmail. Other email apps simply make it easier to read, such as by listing to the left and displaying one at a time to the right. The device will have its Email app.
There are then apps which take dictation and send it out as Email. More about voice input later, though. Yes, the Fire will do some of this with an Apple mic/headset. One such app is Speaktoit Assistant*. This is an undocumented capability which requires the mic/headset to be plugged in to install and use.
We now shift to audio media, books first. Audiobooks is free for human read books, volunteer read---you can volunteer, too. This is a good source. Jagamaga* is like it. Audible* is an audiobook ($$$) store. All these supplant the old cassette readers. Install them all.
A major set of apps is for radio listening (and podcast listening). I put Tunein* at the top, but there are others, and any one app may not get the particular station you want, so you need more than one. Tunein records, but not on a schedule, just when started live, MediaU is next, Live365*for music, then public radio NPR, PBS, PRI etc..
Going to music, Pandora* offers custom stations, tailored to your known likes. Pandora is a major MAJOR app. Spotify (also Rdio*) give access to a huge library of major music providers. I use it every day, but it costs $10 a month. Mediafly covers podcasts, especially, TWIT*and TWITTV* (This week in Tech). IHeartradio* gets Coast to Coast network stations, such as KFI in LA.
TV and video are mainly recorded, although TIVO is introducing a device the stream it, and there is XFinity for Comcast.
I put TED* at the top of the list for its scholarly talks.
Some TV is now available in the aggregators above. Weather apps include TV: these are Accuweather* and the Weatherchannel*.
Other apps are for the networks, including abroad, such as NTV German CNN, NHK (Japan-English), Al Jazeera (English). Sometimes you cannot get coverage on TV.
These video apps are changing and may require fast wireless for the most part, although often you can download and watch later without interruptions, if need be, from balky or slow internet.
For movies, the IMDB movie database is an absolute must to avoid watching bad movies and shows on your TV. If you like bad movies, you don’t need it.
TIVO* and iMediaShare* and PEEL control your TV and/or TIVO. iMediaShare streams out to an AppleTV, a huge bunch of media not otherwise available, also in HD. LocateTV searches and finds shows. In time these small devices will probably stream direct to TV .
Voice (get the Apple mic/phone cable or generic)
Now to voice apps, growing fast in popularity. One such as DragonGo*. Voiceactions* also works for the Fire, as does Speaktoit Assistant* , also Skyvi for extended voice actions. The Fire does not support Skype, the others do, as with Google Voice. GrooveIP and Tango make a Wi-Fi phone out of the newer devices.
We now turn to utilities, with file utilities the most important. When you get comfortable with files (if not, get someone to help), you just click on one to read books with a number of choices of reader. Some read out loud, such as FBreader and Mantano*, of course, though they require SVOX speech engine app, which I was able to use on the Fire.
Documents toGo is the leader for using files, followed by ESFileExplorer* and StorageAnalyzer. WifiDrive connects external drive ($$) and Wirelessdatacable connects to your computer to avoid clumsy USB cables. Softwaredata Cable does that, too. All these come in useful for backup. The there is simply Backup and AppBackup*. Then, the popular Astro for files and backup.
There are auto app launchers which let you organize apps like in a manila folder file: AppManager* to organize apps, also AutoAppOrganizer. These greatly ease finding apps. I have about 100-150 apps. By the way, do not get them all at once, but as you need them.
I did not mention anti-virus apps You will find some in the Kindle Fire online store. Please use one of them if at all uncomfortable. The system is that of smartphones, and I have never had a problem and have only seen one ever documented on internet. Android, unlike Windows, sandboxes each app. That means that it tells you what the app has access to, and you can control that bat installation time.
Files and the Cloud
Next, cloud storage: DropBox, Box*, and Google Drive. I use them all. I also use Picfoliio* for photos and AmazonMP3* cloud Player for music (built-in for the Fire). These put your files in a universally accessible place. I think safer, too, as compared to your device or computer.
Turning to cloud apps, you may need a calendar, of which Calengoo* may be your only good Fire choice, but GoogleCalendar works well with other readers. Sorry about the funny name for Calengoo.
I will not cover photography apps. If you are a camera buff, you probably need an IPad 3 and it will have its own proprietary apps not available elsewhere. If you need a big device, the iPad is it for the moment.
You will need utilities: AlarmClock*, Battery*. There are many others to choose from. Just search in the online store.
I leave document creation to last, although Evernote * keeps and tracks your notes I also use Readability* and Pocket* to save stuff to read later.
I was late on the bandwagon for the last two, but now I use them almost daily. I could not figure out why I needed them, but as I more and more carry an eReader around and read it in short time slots, I do need to save stuff to read later, and I DO read it later.
Document creation is in its infancy for Tablets, but it is coming on quickly. I cannot give you the best choice. They all look good to me, such as CloudOn or OnLive, both of which are a bit slow. These get you access to Windows. But here is the thing. You really need a keyboard and the device may oir mat not support it.
Some keyboards are good and some bad. The tiny wireless iPazzport Touchpad is a small one. The discontinued HP external wireless is a good one. Combo cases with keyboards are available. Or you could buy a “transformer” (clamshell laptop and tablet replacement). These last are in development. Touch typists will need whatever keyboard which works for them best---go try them out in a store or read comments when shopping online. You can get a full-sized rollup rubber keyboard for $10 which should work with the Nexus (only). The Nexus should accept most keyboards.
Strangely, a few old laptops with keyboard may run the basic system software, especially Asus EEE PCs. My EEE PC notebook computer runs virtually all of the apps mentioned. It has a built-in keyboard. It never ran Windows well. It was slow on XP, lightning fast on Android 4.0.
Also essential for writing would be larger displays than 10”, and there are new choices emerging. The mini $74 PC-stick gives you the tablet system on a big screen. Here you can plug in a wired or wireless keyboard and mouse. But this is cutting edge stuff, though in rapid development.
For most tablets printing is best handled with Google Print, which I have used exclusively since its inception, more than a year . Printershare* will print to a wireless printer. I like it. Google Print sends your stuff up to the cloud, from where bit prints to any printer you have set up on your PC or Mac.
If your small tablet has GPS, you have some good choices: CoPilot, GoogleMaps, Mapquest*and WAZE*, the last with local traffic reports---the most practical and useable use of social networking I have yet witnessed. In the car WAZE requires data service via portable hotspot, such as some smartphones.
Now all of this will get outdate asd apps are updated daily. Keep tuned. And keep ME posted. Much of this is changing daily. Hopefully Amazon will unfetter the Fire to make most apps easy to install.
You doctor(s), pharmacy, or bank will have their own apps. Other apps will be accessed by photographing the bar code or QR if your tablet has a camera. The Nexus has something called near field communications (NFC) which recognizes nearby sources of information by proximity. It also as NOW, which gets to know you and help your remember things. Good potential for seniors.
Also important for seniors are tools to read aloud and use a larger computer for typing to the device: SoundGecko and Airdroid.
YouTube, widely used but also underused, accesses music, and tutorials. I use it when Google fails. Kahn accesses a new way of learning. Rotation locks portrait or landscape screen.
All this changes day to day, with many updates every day. Keep posted. Hopefully Amazon will open up the Fire to more easily installed apps so as to avoid obsolescence.