Resucitating a 1st-Gen Kindle Fire Tablet

July 5, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 10.53.39 AMWhen Amazon first released the Kindle Fire Tablet back in 2011, I purchased one since it was such a great deal. Amazon was apparently selling these tablets at a loss, hoping to make it up with owners making additional purchases with special offers, Amazon Prime subscriptions, etc. The only bad thing, is that it ran a forked version of the Android OS called “FireOS” which was severely handcuffed from the regular Google-Android world. For example, you could only officially install apps that were on the Amazon app store, and not from the Google Play Store.

Over the course of a few years, I ended purchasing a Google Nexus 7 tablet (I actually got it for free with a special iPod Touch trade-in offer atĀ GameStop) which had the full Android OS experience. As such, my Kindle Fire tablet became a dust collector sitting on my bookcase shelf for the next few years.

Fast forwarding to 2014, my Nexus 7 tablet is having some very common issues with the audio output through the headphone jack. I’ve tried the different remedies posted on the web, but I’m still having issues. I often have to twist the body of the Nexus 7 to get both headphone channels working at normal volumes. Really annoying.

So, I decided to resurrect my Kindle Fire and see if I can install a custom ROM to make it useful again. The least I could do is use it as a backup tablet if my Nexus 7 does finally crap out, or if the battery runs down and I need a substitute tablet. So, I spend a good half day researching the web to find that I could install the latest version of CyanogenMod 11 (Android Kitkat 4.4.2) on my Kindle Fire. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but do-able.

You’ll first need to root your Kindle Fire, then install a custom bootloader. After that, you can download the CyanogenMod OS installation and install it on the Kindle Fire. With a little luck, you’ll have a custom Android ROM running on your old Kindle Fire and have it as spare or primary tablet with the latest Android OS!

Note, that when I went through this procedure I did get some locked screens and had to do some researching on the web to resolve those issues. So don’t be surprised if you “brick” your tablet along the way and have to jump through some hoops to fix it. And remember, Google is a wonderful thing to help fix all issues! šŸ™‚

Media Server Not Serving Your Media?

June 29, 2014

I have the Plex Media Server running on my 27″ iMac Desktop System, and stream videos stored on my Mac to my Android Tablet through my home WiFi system. I usually do this at night while in bed, watching a TV show or part of a movie just before I go to sleep. I noticed a few months ago that while I was watching a streaming video, it would routinely just stop and hang. Pressing the pause button with the video player app on my tablet and then the play button would only play the video segment for about 2-3 seconds before it halted again.

Thinking this problem might be with the video player, I tried a few others available for my Android tablet– same thing happened. I also tried using a different media server as a test, switching from Plex to Universal Media Server but I still got the same stoppage of video playing.

After some Googling, I discovered that my iMac Desktop system might be going into sleep mode and possibly shutting down my WiFi connection. However, under my Mac’s Preferences for “Energy Saver” it was set to never sleepĀ for the computer and for the display to sleep after 45 minutes. Hmm, maybe the sleeping display setting did more than just turn off the display?

Well, something was stopping or preventing my media from streaming from my Mac, so I tried using a OSX command called caffinate to keep my Mac alive and awake when I was in bed watching my streaming videos. To do so, you would type in the UNIX command in a Terminal window,

caffeinate Ā -t Ā 10800

Here, I’m telling my Mac to stay awake for 10,800 seconds (3 hrs) beginning when I initiated that command. Since I wanted this command to happen automatically everyday at 9 pm, I added it to the Crontab file on my system (Crontab was actually replaced by a process called launchd on the Mac OSX, but you can still use crontab settings). To make this change easier, I used a GUI called CronniX which looks like this,

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 6.04.58 AM

Here you see that I’m having that command start at 21 hours (9:00 pm) and it occurs everyday. The “&” symbol at the end of the command statement had the process running in the background. So far, this seems to have fixed my streaming video stoppage, so hopefully this is a permanent solution to my problem.

Microsoft’s “Scroogled” Ad Campaign

December 7, 2013

Microsoft has a new ad campaign which specifically attacks Google, called “Scroogled”. You can buy coffee mugs and T-Shirts from the Microsoft store that say, “Don’t Get Scroogled” or “Keep Calm While We Steal Your Data” with the Google Chrome logo on the mug. I find it amusing that Microsoft says this, while they seem to charge high prices for their Windows OS upgrades and Surface tablets.

Microsoft also has some YouTube videos directly attacking Google: video 1 and video 2. In these videos Microsoft assumes most people want or need to run apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, or Microsoft Office (for Word, Excel, Outlook). Which, of course, the Google Chromebook cannot do. I can personally say that I don’t use Microsoft Office on my iMac at home, and I’m doing just fine. Instead, I’m using the Open Source freeware called ApacheOffice which works just as good as Microsoft’s Word/Office/Powerpoint and is compatible with the Microsoft counterpoints.

I own a Samsung Google Chromebook and I do have to admit I don’t use it much. Actually, I don’t use any laptop for personal use, but instead use my Nexus 7 and Acer A500 tablets at home and while on the go. I suppose I reserve all my serious typing activities for my home iMac and only need to web browse or view emails while being mobile.

What I do like about my Chromebook is that it was very inexpensive, has relatively long battery life, and boots up within 60 seconds. It also automatically downloads and upgrades the OS in the background without me having to deal with it (unlike Microsoft’s constant and annoying OS updates). Yes, the available Google Chrome apps are not as powerful as those designed for the Apple Macs or Windows PCs, but they are sufficient for my needs.

Aging iPads and Tablets

November 3, 2013

imgresMy son has been using my wife’s original first generation iPad for running games and watching Youtube videos, but this 1st gen iPad is showing its age since it cannot install certain games that require a gyro or front facing camera. As such, my wife suggested that she upgrade her iPad to the newest one and hand her current iPad 2 down to my son.

In a previous blog posting I talked about Ā AT&T excellent smartphone trade-in program which netted me $500 US by trading in some old used smartphones. I recently discovered this also works for tablets and iPads as well. When I checked how much a used 1st gen iPad would fetch, AT&T’s trade-in site gave a value of almost $200 US. That’s actually pretty good for an iPad that’s been around for a while. I also checked a pristine Blackberry Playbook tablet that I got free as a developer and it was only worth $10. My 1st gen Kindle Fire tablet also had a similar value of $12. Such a big contrast in value between the iPad and lower cost Android powered tablets.

AT&T also is offering $100 US if you sign up for a 2-year agreement for cellular data for Tablets, so I probably will do that to help defray the cost of a new iPad for my wife. Gotta love those trade-in programs, since it’s much less hassle trading your old devices than try to sell the on ebay or other used devices site.

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. Ā 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! Ā 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!

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. šŸ˜¦

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 andĀ privilegesĀ 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..