Kindle Fire: A Review

I swore to myself that I’d never get a tablet because they are a royal waste of money and are useless. A Kindle Fire is not a tablet, though, just like any Kindle is not an e-book reader. It’s a lot more than that. Which is why I couldn’t say no to a Kindle Fire when I got it as a wedding anniversary gift.

My Kindle Fire is a thing of beauty, people. It’s a fantastic little device that does everything any other tablet does but costs a lot less. One of the greatest things about Kindle Fire is that it’s very small and light. You have to be quite an athlete to be able to hold, say, an iPad in your hand for longer than two minutes. Kindle Fire, however, is very easy to hold. It also fits into any regular handbag.

What I use my Kindle Fire for:

1. When I got my Kindle Fire, I immediately disconnected my television. All of the shows I watch are available for free through Amazon Prime, so there is no need to maintain an expensive TV subscription. I’m a huge fan of shows like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Top Chef, America’s Next Top Model, and Project Runway. I also sometimes watch One Tree Hill (yes, nobody is perfect). Now I can watch them on my Kindle Fire whenever and wherever I want. I only watch TV shows when I grade and as the end of the semester is approaching, I will now watch a lot of these shows on my Kindle Fire.

2. I can listen to a multitude of radio stations from anywhere in the world on my Kindle Fire. Now I just turn it on whenever I’m in my office and listen to talk shows from Spain, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, etc.

3. The Amazon app store has apps for really amazing games (many of which are completely free). The games are colorful, complicated, and very entertaining. There are moments when one is so tired that even watching a TV show is too much of a strain. This is when playing a game on my Kindle Fire becomes a great way to relax.

4. There is also a free app that brings you all of your favorite newspapers for free. Kindle Fire is a tablet, which means that, unlike on other versions of the Kindle, you can read Cyrillic characters, so I can read papers in Russian and Ukrainian.

5. Kindle Fire doesn’t have a WordPress app which is available on an iPad. But it’s just as well because I find that app to be very useless. I can blog directly on my Kindle Fire from the Internet browser.

6. Since Kindle Fire is so small and light, I can bring it into the kitchen with me, turn on a video with a recipe I want to try, and watch it as I cook.

I’ve only had my Kindle Fire for a few days and already I discovered all these amazing ways to enjoy it. In the future, prepare yourselves to being bugged with more annoying gushings about how great my Kindle Fire is. 🙂

What I don’t use my Kindle Fire for:

This tablet is good for everything except reading books. For the purposes of reading, you should buy any other version of the Kindle. Kindle Fire has a backlit screen, which makes reading books impossible. It is as painful for the eyes as reading on a computer screen. Also, the screen rotates with every move. This is great for watching videos but very annoying when you are trying to read.

So my old and trusty Kindle 2 will still be with me. I now often find myself clutching a Kindle in each hand, smiling beatifically as I try to decide which one to use. I think we will now have to buy a bigger bed to accommodate two humans and two Kindles sleeping in it. If anybody is willing to make an argument that co-sleeping with Kindles is an instance of Kindle-abuse, I’m always willing to listen. I wouldn’t want to traumatize my Kindles for anything in the world. (For the excessively earnest among us, this was a joke.)

What’s Better, a Tampon or a Book?

There has been a veritable explosion of comments that people leave to my reviews on Amazon. Today, comments have been coming in a steady stream. Some of them are weird to the point of freakiness.

For instance, a male reader who is unhappy with a low rating I gave to a trashy novel investigated my other reviews and wrote with indignation how horrible it was that I gave such a low rating to the book while leaving a glowing review for Tampax tampons. Another male reader followed his lead, investigated the Tampax review, and also expressed his anger as to the shocking fact that a person might like a brand of tampons but dislike a book.

In case you are wondering, I did not criticize the novel in question for its low absorbency and an inconvenient applicator. So the male readers’ anger is very difficult for me to comprehend. Maybe they had some painful experiences with this brand of tampons and discovered that a book served their purposes better.

This isn’t even comparing apples to oranges. This is closer to comparing. . . well, no comparison that would be weirder than one between books and tampons actually comes to mind.

How do you decide what book to read next?

Joshua Kim’s article in Inside Higher Ed made me consider this question. Here is the answer Kim provides:

I always go first to . A good review attached to a subject that I’m interested in, or an author that I like, will almost always result in a purchase (as an Amazon Audible audiobook or a Kindle e-book). A middling or bad review – no sale. Sometimes I’ll do a Google search for “book review (book title)” – and read reviews from other sites – but rarely. If the book is reviewed on IHE, then I’m definitely buying. This book selection process has been seriously disrupted by the NYTimes paywall. Sure, it is easy to get around (just do a Google search with the headline of the article you want to read) – but this is an extra and unpleasant step.

I find this account very curious because it is so different from how I buy books. For me, the main – and I’d say the only – source of reading suggestions is the Amazon. I’ve spent so much time and money there that Amazon really knows me well and always recommends books that will interest me. I’m very familiar with Amazon’s structure and the different ways one can search for reading matter on it. I now try to avoid the site as much as possible because it’s hard for me to leave it without a purchase.

It’s strange to me that Joshua Kim relies on the NYTimes so much for his choice of books to read. I dislike NYTimes and discontinued my Kindle subscription to NYTimes Book Review because, for the most part, the books it reviewed were part of what I refer to as “reading for housewives”: cheesy, overly sentimental fare of the tearjerker variety. The reviews were always dedicated to retelling the plot in as much detail as possible, which is something that even the least bright among the Amazon reviewers know not to do.

In my opinion, Amazon reviews are always going to be more reliable than the ones that appear in print media for the same reason that independent bloggers will eventually destroy traditional newspapers. Amazon reviewers and bloggers can only rely on their own hard work and the reputation they manage to build for themselves among their readers. The NYTimes, however, can manage its affairs right into the ground and then rely upon somebody to bail it out. Besides, there is absolutely no reason to believe that newspaper journalists will offer their honest opinion about books. They don’t seem to offer honest opinions about anything else, so why trust them on this subject?

And how do you decide what book to read next?

P.S. If this passionate diatribe on what might seem like a pretty trivial subject surprised you, I have to confess that I’m one of Amazon’s popular reviewers.

Curious Statistics About Amazon’s Top Reviewers

A study has discovered what the majority of Amazon‘s top reviewers is like:

Seventy percent of the top reviewers are male, their median age is 51-60, and more than half hold a graduate degree. About 14 percent of those reviewers are professional writers.

As one of Amazon’s top reviewers, I’m glad to report that I’m quite exceptional in this area, too. I do have many graduate degrees but I’m neither male nor 51-60.

How to Become a Member of Amazon Vine?

Amazon provides the following definition of its Amazon Vine program:

Amazon Vine™ is a program that enables a select group of Amazon customers to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make educated purchase decisions. Customers are invited to become Amazon Vine™ Voices based on the trust they have earned in the Amazon community for writing accurate and insightful reviews. Amazon provides Amazon Vine™ members with free copies of products that have been submitted to the program by vendors. Amazon does not influence the opinions of Amazon Vine™ members, nor do we modify or edit their reviews.

As you can see, the only way to join the program is to be invited personally by Amazon. There is, however, a number of things you can do to maximize your chances of being invited. When I first heard about the program, I realized that, since I obviously write really great reviews (as witnessed by their popularity on this blog), there is no reason for me not to be in the program. People keep saying that the way Amazon selects its Vine Voices is completely arbitrary. I don’t know whether that’s true. I do know, however, that several months after I started working actively towards being included into the program, I got an invitation to it. The opportunity to get books by some of my favorite authors months before they appear in print is priceless. It is also pretty good to get the free products (sometimes, extremely expensive ones) through the program.

Sitting down and writing a huge bunch of reviews, though, is not going to help you get invited into the program. You need a strategy. The strategy should be aimed at giving you a very high Amazon reviewer ranking within a short period of time. This means that you need to get many positive votes on your Amazon reviews. In order to do that, you have to be the first or the second person to publish a review of a book that is going to be hugely popular. Reviews of such books appear extremely fast, and it will not help you in any way to be stuck at review #237. Nobody is likely to notice it and you will get no votes. So if the book already has over 20 reviews, don’t waste your time posting yours. Unless, of course, you are dying to express your opinion and don’t care about whether this will help your ratings or not.

After you have chosen a bestselling author who is planning to release a new book soon, you need to be among the first people who will get the book, read it and post a review. What I did was pre-order such books on my Kindle. New Kindle releases appear on your device at 3 am Eastern Time (or 2 am Central Time, which is my time zone.) The second you get the book, you need to read it. Reading in such a hurry and staying up all night, kind of spoils the enjoyment of reading. But everything in life comes at a price, and so does Amazon Vine membership. As soon as you get through the book, you need to force yourself to stay awake and write a review of it for Amazon. The good news is that if you choose your books right, you won’t need to go through this complex process more than a few times.

In order to receive good ratings, your reviews need to be fairly long and offer something of value to the readers. (Retelling the plot is obviously not one of such things.) Ask yourself what you would want to know if you were to consult a review before making a purchase.

It is a good idea to review a variety of products in many different categories. An object doesn’t have to be bought at Amazon to be reviewed there. Is there a particular piece of clothing or jewelry that you bought recently and can discuss in an interesting way in a review? A special gadget or a computer game? A favorite brand of cereal or raisins? All this stuff is sold on Amazon and can be reviewed.

The goal is to become one of the top 300-400 reviewers, and then you just have to sit tight and wait for your invitation. Of course, you have to be a resident of the US and it looks like it also helps if you don’t live in a huge city. Nobody is going to need thousands of Vine Voices from the same geographical area. This is where it finally becomes a good thing to live in a God-forsaken little town.

And once you get on Amazon Vine, the best piece of advice I can offer you is to keep as far away as possible from the community forum. It is populated by some really strange people who construct their entire identity around being a member of the program. There are, of course, many perfectly normal people there but the scary ones are too scary for the forum to make sense.

Have fun reviewing!