Video And Music: Amazon Prime Members Rejoice
Multimedia is what sets the Fire apart from Amazon's e-ink-based products. The Kindle Keyboard and Touch both support MP3 playback, but that isn't their core competency. Low capacity forgettable audio quality mean you'll probably look to products like the Fire for more a more enjoyable experience.
Amazon uses the stock music player from Android 2.3, which will make it familiar to those of you with a Gingerbread-based smartphone. The company tweaked its interface, though, so you can shop for music within the app. This works flawlessly, provided your ID3 tags are correct.
Video: On Demand
The Kindle Fire excels at video, with one small caveat. Amazon is really using the device to push its streaming Instant Video service. Unfortunately, this isn't free.
If you're a Prime member, you won't have to pay for content tagged as Prime Instant Video. However, not all movies and TV shows fall into this category, which is why you should check out the selection on Amazon before you spend on a Prime membership.
The playback interface is very simple. You can seek within a track, change the volume, rewind 10 seconds, pause, and play. The screenshots may seem a little dark, but that's only because the controls are overlaid on top of the video image. Second, there's a slight black gradient effect to provide better contrast.
Interestingly, all of the video-on-demand (VOD) content is HTML5. On a desktop computer, Amazon streams Flash video. Presumably, this is to save on battery life.
It's only possible to play video from Amazon's VOD service in landscape mode, which suits us just fine.
There is one quirk where flipping the orientation after starting a video results in an upside-down control interface. The only way to fix this is to completely stop playback by hitting the back button and resume playback.
Video: Local Files
Nothing prevents you from playing locally-stored video. However, the Fire only has 5 GiB of user-accessible space, some of which you'll have to set aside for the apps you want to install. Of course, there's also the matter of music and e-books. You might get one or two high-quality movie rips onto the Fire, tops.
Interestingly, there aren't any orientation issues during local video playback.
I haven't experimented much with specific codecs or file extensions. We only use H.264-encoded MP4 video files in the lab, simply because they're compatible across all platforms. With that said, you need to install a program like mVideoPlayer if you want MKV support (see Appendix B).
If you're a movie buff, be aware you can't play any video file larger than 2 GB. Oddly, we encountered a similar problem on HP's TouchPad. It's not clear if there's a link. Both tablets use a FAT32 file system architecture, so the maximum file size should be 4 GB. But, while our 2.8 GB Blu-ray rip is detected, it won't play back.