Horse trading for an Nexus Android Tablet

July 7, 2012

At the Google I/O Conference it was announced that Google would be releasing their Nexus 7 Tablet (made by ASUS) this month. Going for a price of $199 US (8 GB storage) which is the same as the Amazon Kindle Fire, it would certainly be a big competitor to Amazon’s tablet. Both are roughly the same size with a 7″ screen, however, the Nexus 7 has updated hardware, quad core processor, higher resolution screen, and will run the latest revision of the Android OS (code name, “Jelly Bean”).

I noticed that the store called Gamestop will be selling the Nexus 7 tablet later this month, and you can pre-order this tablet either online at http://www.gamestop.com or in-person at their local brick store. One interesting offer by Gamestop, is that you can trade in specific electronic or gaming hardware for credit towards the purchase of a Nexus 7 tablet. And during the pre-order period, Gamestop will also give you an extra 30% on top of the value of your trade in hardware if you use it towards the purchase of the Nexus 7 tablet.

The specs on the Nexus 7 definitely beats out my current Kindle Fire (which I’ve rooted and installed a custom Android ROM), so I decided to look around my home office to see if I could trade in something to offset the purchase of the new Google tablet. As it turns out, I do have an Apple iPod Touch (64 GB) that I rarely use since purchasing my Kindle Fire last year. I also have a Blackberry Playbook Tablet that I received for free from RIM during a developer’s promotion. So I headed down to Gamestop to see what kind of deal I could make.

It seems Gamestop was not interested in my Playbook Android tablet at all, but they did have an eye on my Apple iPod Touch. In fact, my iPod Touch fetched a price of $203 US and with the extras 30% promotion the price rose to $265. I was amazed at the value of my little iPod Touch, but I guess Apple products really hold their value (worth their weight in gold!). Since Gamestop only sells the 16 GB version of the Nexus 7, the cost was $250 which was completely covered by my iPod Touch trade in (with extra to boot). So I made the deal and am waiting for my Nexus 7 tablet to ship later in August (in the 2nd wave of tablets for Gamestop).

The whole deal was really quick and painless, and Gamestop gave me the going rate for used iPod Touches (based on my research at ebay.com). So I’m very pleased with the transaction as it allows me to get the latest Google Tablet at no extra expense to me! If you’re in the market for a 7″ Android tablet, I highly suggest you go the same route I did at Gamestop. Now, I traded in an iPod, but you could certainly trade in an unused Nintendo Wii console, XBox, iPhone, iPad, or Sony game station.


Streaming Videos from Desktop System to Android Tablet

March 25, 2012

I own both an Acer Iconia A500 Tablet and an Amazon Kindle Fire, with both of them using the Android OS. I use both of them primarily for web browsing, but their secondary purpose is for watching videos. I have a Netflix account and I love streaming videos from the Internet to my two tablets while I’m home, often watching videos on the couch or in bed.  I also have an EyeTV HD device connected to my iMac and Cable set-top box for recording TV shows in mp4 format.

For watching my recorded videos, I usually use the WiFi-enabled app called WiFi Explorer that allows me to transfer files wirelessly from my iMac to my Android tablets via a web browser on my home wireless network. It works fine, but does take a while for the file transfer and requires me to manually do the transfer. Also, for my Kindle Fire I don’t have a lot of available storage space so I can only transfer a limited number of videos to local storage.

Luckily, I found a way to stream the videos directly from my iMac to my Android Tablets without having to transfer files. The method is described in this forum posting. Basically, I use an Android File Explorer app called ES Explorer (free) which allows me to access my shared files on my iMac (which is acting as a file server on my home network). I just to the folder where I have my mp4 video files, do a tap-n-hold on a desired video file to display the popup menu, and select “Open As”. I then tell it to use the built-in ES Video Player and away I go!  I’ve got my selected video streaming from my iMac’s shared folder, through my home WiFi Network to my Kindle Fire. I can do the same thing with my Acer Iconia Tablet and Samsung Smartphone.

The transfer speeds are very good, and I don’t see any lagging. I can also grab the scrub bar and move forward through the video to skip commercials. You just gotta love WiFi and file sharing!


Custom ROM for Kindle Fire

February 12, 2012

If you’re in to using custom ROMs for your Android devices, you probably already know there’s two Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) OS ROMs available for the Kindle Fire Tablet. Both are still very beta, and unusable for my purposes since I use Netflix and these beta ROMs don’t have video decoding working yet.

One alternative custom ROM that I found that seems “safe” is Paul O’Brien’s MoDaCo Kindle Fire ROM. I say that it is safe, since it is based on the stock Kindle Fire 6.2.2 ROM with some custom tweaks to increase performance. Another big plus (actually, a really big plus!) is the inclusion of the Android Market App in this custom ROM which allows you to access and download apps on the Android Market.

I’ve been using this custom ROM for the last few weeks and runs very stable on my KF. I’m also using a 3rd-party launcher called “Go Launcher” which replaces the Kindle’s bookshelf app launcher with something more similar to Ice Cream Sandwich’s App launcher.

The hardest part with installing a custom ROM on your KF is rooting it, but once you’ve done that and installed an app such as TWRP future ROM updates is a piece of cake. I suggest you check out this site for tips on rooting your Kindle Fire.


Sprint unfriendly Disneyland?

December 31, 2011

My family recently stayed at the Disney Grand California Hotel (adjacent to the California Adventures Disney Park) and we discovered why Disney only offers their official park app for the iPhone/Android phone on the Verizon network. The Sprint cellular service on the Disney hotel property and their two parks had really horrible coverage. It was so bad my wife and I couldn’t rely on our cell phones (iPhone 4S and Android Nexus S 4G) to make consistent calls or get good data connections. The Sprint coverage was so weak, that our cell phones kept searching for service to the point of draining our batteries dry after about 5 hours. Not very good.

Also, the Grand Calif Hotel had what appeared to be multiple routers with several overlapping signals, and as a result it made it hard for me to get a good, solid WiFi connection with my Android Phone. My wife also has some similar issues with her iPad 2 and her iPhone 4S. I brought along my Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, but it was essentially useless in the hotel since whenever I tried to make a connection the the hotel’s WiFi it would immediately reboot! I figure the problem might be that once you make a connection to the WiFi you need to bring up a browser and select “Accept” on the page that pops up, and that seemed to cause the Kindle Fire to reboot. I tried numerous times, but just couldn’t get it to work.

My next option was to set my Nexus S into “Hotspot mode” and try to connect to it from my Kindle Fire, but that wasn’t a good alternative since the Sprint Cell service was so bad. So in the end, both my Nexus cell phone and Kindle Fire tablet were useless during my trip to Disneyland. 😦


Side Loading Apps on your Kindle Fire

December 26, 2011

If you own an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, you’ve quickly learned that you only have access to the Amazon App Store for downloading and installing Android apps. The Android Market (which is used by all other Android phones and tablets) is not available for the Kindle Fire. Since most of the available apps are in the Android Market and not in the Amazon App Store, this is a real drag.

Some KF owners have rooted their tablets to gain access to the Android Market, but as you may have read in one of my previous postings I decide to not go down that route for a number of reasons (include voiding the warranty of your tablet). Instead, I’ve taken the “side loading” approach which allows me to install desired apps outside of the Amazon App Store.

If you do a Google search on “kindle fire side loading” you’ll come across many web sites and blogs that explain the process. Basically, you need to install a desired app on another Android device (like a different tablet or cell phone), then use a File Explorer app to make a “backup” of that app. Next, you copy the backup file of that app (which is a standard .apk Android installer file) over to your Kindle Fire and install it. It’s a multi-step process, but you don’t need root access to do this procedure.

In my case, I have an Acer Iconia 10″ Android Tablet that I use to install my desired apps. I then use the app called Astro which is a file explorer app on my Acer tablet to do a “backup” of selected installed apps to the internal SD Card. For convenience, I’ll then use the DropBox app on my Acer tablet to upload these apk files to my DropBox cloud account. Finally, I run the same DropBox app on my Kindle Fire to access my online account, and just tap on the apk files. They then automatically download and install themselves. Using Dropbox in the manner is convenient for me, but you can always transfer the apk files from your PC or Mac over to your Kindle Fire via a USB sync cable.

Note, that not all 3rd party apps will install on the Kindle Fire, as some required Google libraries are not present. For example, the Pageonce Travel app that runs fine on my Nexus S phone and Acer Tablet  won’t install on my KF (I think it’s because certain Google Location Libraries are not present on the KF). So be aware that not all apps can be loaded using this side-loading method.


On Vacation with my Kindle Fire

December 26, 2011

I’m headed off to Disneyland for a 1-week family vacation and of course I want to stay connected to the Internet during my travels. I also want to travel somewhat light, so I’ve decided to limit the number of electronic devices that I’m bring. Of all the items I could bring (Dell Laptop, Kindle Fire, Acer Iconia Tablet, Nexus S 4G cell phone, Apple iPod), I’ve decided only bring my Nexus S cell phone and Kindle Fire.

It was a toss up between my Acer Android Tablet and the Kindle Fire. I like the larger 10″ screen of my Acer Tablet for web page browsing, but the smaller Kindle Fire was much more portable for this trip. As such, I’m going with the Kindle Fire to really see if it’s suitable for my week long trip. Read the rest of this entry »


Should you root your Kindle Fire Tablet?

December 24, 2011

I received an Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet for my birthday last month, and it’s been a great device for most of my needs. Although I don’t read many digital books (in fact, none!), I do like to watch videos and movies, read news sites, checkup on weather, listen to music, etc. So far, the Kindle Fire can do all those things and more.

The one bad thing about the Kindle Fire, is that Amazon has tied it down so you can’t access or install apps from the Android Market. The only place you can download apps is from Amazon’s App Store which at this moment, has some what limited number of apps compared to the general Android Market. There is a way to circumvent this by using a technique called “side loading”, where you install 3rd party applications from an apk file (standard Android installation file), but getting the apk file for a specific Android application is a manual process (Do a Google search on “android side load app”).

Using the side loading method, I was able to install other apps not available on the Amazon App Store like Dropbox, Engadget, Evernote, jVault, Netflix, Mocha vNC Lite, Wunderlist, Twitter, etc.

Now, I’ve been reading in different forum postings and tech blogs that it is possible to “root” your Kindle Fire which would allow you access to more capabilities (like installing Android Market). As such, this prompted me to look into rooting my Kindle Fire.

After reading directions and tips from several different web sites and forum postings, I was able to root my Kindle Fire. Rooting basically gives me permissions as a user to make system changes. It can be a bit dangerous, and definitely voids your warranty. As I jumped through all the hoops to getting Android Market installed, I could never get it to work. I would always get a “Forced Closed” error when I tried to access the Market. I suspect that when Amazon upgraded the Fire’s OS from 2.6 to 2.6.1, the apk files that I downloaded and installed on my Fire for Android Market access just didn’t work any more. So, instead of fussing with my Kindle Fire further, I decided it just wasn’t worth it.

Therefore, I began the process of uninstalling all the “extra” apps I installed pertaining to Android Market and then un-rooted my Kindle Fire. So, now I’m back to my original system (but, still with my side loaded apps intact).

I’ve concluded that it wasn’t worth it to root my Kindle Fire for my needs. I’m sure others really like the freedom of having a rooted Fire tablet and being able to install many more apps, but I just found it to be a pain in the neck. Also, I’d be worried that when future OS updates or app updates came out, my tinkering with the OS and privileges would cause problems down the road.

If you’re interested in rooting the Kindle Fire, just do a Google search for several different sites with directions. But be warned: It’s not for the faint hearted..