My Amazon Kindle Fire arrived in the mail on Thursday, and I’ve been fiddling with it ever since. Got my Facebook going, read a whole lot of newspapers via the Pulse application, and downloaded a free edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. After several days of downloading and noodling with various apps, however, I’m inclined to agree with Casey Johnson over at Ars Technica. The Kindle Fire is not a tablet.
“As a vector for Amazon’s video and music stores and huge e-book selection, it’s great,” Johnson writes. “As an e-reader, it’s merely OK. As an Internet and app portal, it falls short of Amazon’s promises.”
But what I also discovered is that the Kindle Fire is almost perfect for my favorite kind of media: Internet radio. Its relatively small size, nice WiFi interface, attractive display, and simple speaker outlet make it a great dedicated broadband radio device.
The scaled down advantage
When most writers review general purpose broadband gadgets, they don’t say much about radio. This is understandable. What we look for in a computer or tablet are office tools, social networking apps, and live and prerecorded video. Because the iPad is so good at providing those features, it’s hard to imagine just setting it aside as an Internet radio machine. But the Kindle’s smaller dimensions (7.5″x4.7″) and comparatively smaller capabilities and cheaper price ($199) make it something a consumer can reserve for particular uses.
And the most popular radio apps display well on a Kindle Fire. In fact, Pandora looks much classier on the device than it does on either my Droid X or my desktop screen. Leaning the Kindle horizontally against a paper book (oh the irony) just above my keyboard gives me easy access to the standard Pandora choices: like, dislike, skip, pause, and next. There’s plenty of blank space across the screen—no visual crowding, even with the ads. And I can easily switch to Pulse or the web if I want to check the news, which makes my desktop computer experience less complicated and cluttered.
Ditto for TuneIn radio. The app that gives you access to thousands of radio stations across the United States and the world looks and sounds great on the Kindle Fire. For me, TuneIn’s desktop interface is too big and its smart phone interface is too small. But on Kindle Fire it looks just right—just like an Internet radio interface ought to display. I can easily switch between my preset radio stations and TuneIn’s browse categories: Local Radio, Recommended, Music, Talk, Sports, By Location, By Language, and Podcasts.
Last.fm and Turntable.fm
I don’t listen to Last.fm much on my mobile because it is now a pay application. But I have a few free selections left on my account, so I took a peek at the service on the Kindle Fire. Like Pandora and Tune In, Last looks very good on the device. Same for Rdio, which also offers you a limited glance at the mobile service for a limited period of time.
As for my favorite on line radio listening device, Turntable.fm, alas, it doesn’t entirely lend itself to the Kindle Fire environment. The turntable deck feels pretty scrunched. If you enlarge the type too much, the visual components collide into each other. If you reduce the type, the live chat rolls down just a bit too small for my comfort. The service certainly works, but I think that TT.fm is best enjoyed on a desktop or laptop screen.
If you’re wondering about Spotify and Grooveshark, I couldn’t find them in the Pandora app store. Hopefully they’ll turn up eventually. But with Pandora and Tune In working, I feel like my Kindle Fire is a full fledged Internet radio. Who knows, maybe I’ll even read a book on it from time to time.