Maybe it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with e-reading, but there’s also something to be said for e-watching. As many movie and TV streaming services as there are, often optimized especially for mobile device viewing, the question of how they look on the Fire merits some discussion. After all, there are plenty of “cord-nevers” out there who want to have a handy screen for their personal shows—perhaps more than there are folks who would want to read e-books on them. I’ve mentioned that the Fire could widen the audience for indie videos on the web, but now it’s time to demonstrate how.
I’ve already discussed how you can slip the Google Play Store onto the Fire very easily, and install any video app from there you want—but the Fire is actually very good for video-watching even without them.
Not only does Amazon have its own Amazon Instant Video Android app, it also has Netflix, Hulu, and a number of apps from individual networks such as HBO or The CW available on the Amazon Appstore. Its so-called “Youtube” app might be a launcher shortcut to the mobile web site (presumably because it would have to include Google Play Services apps in order to get YouTube, and it doesn’t wanna), but as the above screenshot demonstrates, the Silk browser plays YouTube just fine.
Indeed, that’s not all it does just fine, either. Today is the day the new RWBY episode becomes publicly available on Rooster Teeth’s web site, and Silk plays that video just fine, too. This is especially noteworthy to me given that it wasn’t so very long ago that the videos on any website other than YouTube simply wouldn’t play on most mobile browsers, because they all ran on Flash and Flash wasn’t available for them. (Though, ironically, you used to have to install an unsupported version of Flash to be able to watch Amazon Instant Video on an Android tablet at all, before Amazon launched its own Android app.)
The above screencaps show the video as it displays at the Fire’s best resolution. They look sharp, clear, and really not that bad, especially in motion. (Of course, Rooster Teeth has its own Android app, and it’s even available on the Amazon Appstore—but not for the Fire).
These are about the only screencaps of video for you that I have from Amazon, though. If I try to screencap the Amazon Instant Video app, I just get a black screen (though it caps just fine on my Nexus 7!), but trying to screencap from Hulu or Netflix gives an error message saying that it couldn’t take a screencap due to disk space, organization permissions, or application permissions issues—the same message I get when I try it on the Nexus 7, so at least it’s consistent. It’s a little silly given that one can easily take screencaps on the desktop version, by print-screen if by no other method, but it is how it is. So I took some photos to show what it looks like on the Fire. At left, Macgyver on Amazon Instant Video. At right, Patlabor on Hulu.
And here’s The Flash on Netflix, quite coincidentally the only HD-quality show I tested the tablet with. I wish I could do screencaps, because I think the photo makes it look a little worse than it does when actually watching it on the device itself. The Fire screen isn’t high-definition, to be sure, but it does a good job of showing the video.
In fact, as an experiment, I took my Fire and my higher-resolution Nexus 7, loaded up the episode to roughly the same spot on both, and compared them, and I really couldn’t tell any difference, even when staring closely at them. (I include a photo to demonstrate this, though trying to compare them through the auspices of a photo that will probably be lower-resolution than both may not be all that useful.)
That standard-definition shows like MacGyver or Patlabor looked good on a Fire didn’t surprise me, given that the Fire has a better resolution than their native resolution. But as many people as I’ve read complaining about how “you can see the pixels” on the Fire screen, I honestly hadn’t expected that playing a high-definition video would actually look about the same on the Fire as on a higher-definition Nexus 7.
Of course, image quality is only one side of the equation. The other side is sound, and the sound quality you get from the Fire’s thumbnail-sized built-in speaker isn’t all that great. Either plug-in or Bluetooth headphones are highly recommended for the best enjoyment, especially in a noisy environment. (If you are going to be watching video using just the built-in speaker, hold the device with the power and volume buttons on the left; otherwise, you’ll probably cover it with your hand.)
There’s one more aspect of using the Fire with video—which has to do with the two built-in cameras. Android doesn’t have Apple’s Facetime video communication app, but Skype works well enough. I’ve been using Skype to communicate with publisher David Rothman, mainly via the PC, but we both gave it a try on our respective Fires and found it seemed to work reasonably well. I thought the speaker was entirely inadequate and I had to use headphones to hear anything at all, but David didn’t seem to have any problems.
All of these apply mainly to commercial and streaming video, of course, but the Fire also has a “My Videos” app which you can use to play videos you’ve taken with or side-loaded onto the tablet, or that you’ve backed up to Amazon as part of its photo backup program. They seem to work just fine, too. The one flaw is that, as with the Fire’s “Documents” app, it doesn’t notice anything you’ve put on your SD card. Even when I set its download folder to an SD card folder, it still wouldn’t read the videos that existed in it, and instead tried to get me to download the Cloud Drive Photos app for all my mobile devices. But on the bright side, launching the video from ES File Explorer worked just fine.
As a $50 almost-fully-functional Android tablet, the Fire is a great way for e-book users on a budget to read their favorite e-books and other Internet news sources portably and cheaply. But given that using mobile devices for video is much more popular altogether, I would say that it will have an even greater impact on video viewing—and especially on video communication.
While the camera quality isn’t on the same level as a more expensive iPad or smartphone’s, it nonetheless represents a device fully capable of two-way video communication with friends or loved ones that anyone can get for a low $50 price—or $41.67 if five of their friends and relatives want to buy one at the same time. (That’s certainly a lot less expensive than video calls used to be about fifty years ago!) Yes, you could get Chinese OEM devices that could probably do the same thing for about the same price—but not ones that are as well-made as the Fire is, or as well-supported by a reputable manufacturer. Mark my words—this is going to be a big deal.
Again, all of the above are things that people can do with a completely stock Fire, without having to go to the trouble of putting the Play Store on it. If you do that, too, then you can add some of the other video-capable apps that the Play Store has to offer but Amazon doesn’t. YouTube is even easier to watch via the YouTube app than the Silk browser, for example. And if you want to add Vudu, to be able to watch Ultraviolet titles you get from buying the Blu-ray, that’s your option. You can even install that Rooster Teeth app I mentioned above, too.
So, if your kids want to watch their shows without disturbing anybody else, now there’s a cheap way for them to do just that. If you want to watch a movie while your spouse wants to watch a game, there’s a cheap way for you to do that, too. Don’t be put off by the lower-than-HD resolution—on a screen this size, the picture looks just fine.