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Why the Fire Tablet Still Sucks for Reading eBooks – a Rant

In 2012 Marcello, the webmaster for Project Gutenberg, posted a review of the then new Kindle Fire HD tablet. His opinion, to put it simply, was that you should buy another similarly priced Android tablet to read on, because the Fire HD sucked for reading ebooks not bought from Amazon.

When I reported on his review way back when, I argued the counterpoint that one should read Epub in a third-party app on the Fire tablets, but over the past few months I have come around to Marcello’s viewpoint.

Like he wrote in 2012, Amazon has locked down the Fire to make it hard to get any content to it you didn’t buy from Amazon. It is a huge step back in freedom from the Kindle.

I have a 2014 Fire tablet, and it has at least a couple dozen ebooks on it right now. I know this because I sent the ebooks to this tablet via Amazon’s email service, but when I check the tablet it tells me that I have only three ebooks in the tablet’s storage:


The ebooks not shown above are hosted on Amazon’s servers, and I can push them to any of my Kindle apps or ereaders or Fire tablets from the Manage Your Kindle page.

But once they arrive, I cannot find them.


Because according to Amazon they are not ebooks. Even though the ebooks arrive in Kindle format, Amazon insists they are personal documents, and Amazon does its best to make sure users can’t find said docs and use them.

It used to be that you could select the "Docs" option in the menu bar, but with Fire OS 5 Amazon has removed that option and buried the Docs menu. Where before it was a nuisance to access that menu, now it is almost impossible to find. (It’s buried in the app icons on the "Home" home screen.)

It’s ridiculous how many road blocks Amazon has put in place to stop you from reading your own ebooks on the Fire tablet. Even Apple has not gone so far as Amazon in locking down their devices. You can easily download and read ebooks on iDevices using only the standard apps, including iBooks.

You simply can’t do that with the Fire tablet, but do you know the true irony?

It is easier to read these ebooks in the Kindle app on another Android device than it is to read the ebook on the Fire tablet. Yes, Amazon wants to capture your attention when you are holding someone else’s hardware, but when you’re holding a Fire device Amazon makes it damned difficult for you to use it to read anything you did not buy from them.

And that’s why in my experience the Fire tablet sucks for reading ebooks. I strongly urge you to read on other hardware.

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Chris Meadows July 2, 2016 um 9:50 am

Of course, you could just hack the Fire to let you put Google Play on it, then use any e-reader app you felt like. But I suppose that’s cheating.

Thomas July 2, 2016 um 11:04 am

If it’s like the newer Fire you don’t even need to hack anything. Just sideload another ereader app (I use FBReader, myself).

Timothy Wilhoit July 2, 2016 um 10:29 am

Between my updated tablet and my older un-updated HDX, I prefer the un-updated version. It looks the same after you finally figure out where the "Docs" icon is located. I agree with you on the "segregation" part. Ammy should give you an option when uploading whether it should appear as a book, a magazine, or a document. If you upload a song or album to Amazon Music, it isn’t segregated to that extent. There’s an "imported" tab but an imported song/album still appears with the purchased music when you search for a song or a particular artist. I would like for the Kindle area to work as well.

Randy Lea July 2, 2016 um 12:46 pm

I read books from Gutenberg, in EPUB format, as well as other books in EPUB and MOBI from sources not named Amazon.

A great tool for this is a PC app called Calibre. My normal file format is EPUB for use on my Fire, not MOBI, except for Amazon ebooks.

My secret is to place all my non-Amazon ebooks in Dropbox, Google Drive, or other cloud storage, from my PC. I then simply click on the book from one of the several file managers that provide access to cloud storage, some even offer the feature of accessing multiple accounts from the same vendor, I have 3 Google Drive accounts for example.

The file is then opened in my default EPUB reader, which is Overdrive, the app used for reading library ebooks.

I simply ignore the Amazon Books page on the home screen, unless I’m reading an Amazon book.

Nate Hoffelder July 2, 2016 um 1:36 pm

That’s more or less what I told Marcello four years ago.

Linus Blanketeer July 2, 2016 um 5:33 pm

My fire tablet has retired to duty as a bedside table clock and pandora player but using Calibre and Calibre companion I found it a snap to send epubs to the fire tablet/kindle account.

Since I’m now using a Samsung tablet, I’m surprised the the Kindle app is now my preferred reading app. The reason is the ease of syncing from device to device. If I’m unexpectedly stuck in a waiting room, I can read my current book on my phone picking up where I left off the evening before.

I prefer to download books in epub format and then use calibre to e-mail the book to my kindle account. Calibre takes care of the conversion and the book arrives in minutes.

Just as an aside, and not meant to be snarky, you know when you sideload or email books to your kindle account, they store in the document folder rather than books folder. Books are just the ones you purchased from Amazon – at least in my case.

Lola July 2, 2016 um 5:42 pm

But Calibre can’t handle DRM protected epubs.

Chris Meadows July 2, 2016 um 9:04 pm

Actually, it can, with the right plug-in.

Nate Hoffelder July 3, 2016 um 2:18 pm

I’m surprised the the Kindle app is now my preferred reading app.

One of the inspirations for this rant is the Kindle Android app. I like it a lot, and I am frustrated by how the Fire tablet comes up short.

carmen webster buxton July 2, 2016 um 1:24 pm

I have a Fire tablet, but frankly it’s not that great as a tablet, let alone as an ereader. The Silk "browser" sucks swamp water. Possibly the new ones are better, but I almost never use mine.

Ernst Enevoldsen July 2, 2016 um 2:22 pm

It is the same with the Cloud reader and the PC and Mac apps. Only books bought on amazon can be seen.
Amazon dont publish books in small countries in Europe. So to read books in our local language in the kindle universe, means IOS, Kindle e-ink or Android.

DavidW July 2, 2016 um 2:58 pm

I used to own the original Fire. What I didn’t like about it was that it was running Android but would only let you into a very small portion of apps that Amazon decided would be in their walled garden. It sounds like nothing has changed.

Lola July 2, 2016 um 3:52 pm

I thought the Fire tablet looked great need to the ipad because of price. Since I can’t download a VPN to it without standing on 1 hand and waving my feet in a series of complicated movements, it’s worthless to use outside my home firewall to access the internet. There is no easy way to read epubs. I can’t turn the sleep function off. For my music I can’t adjust how they play. All in all I wish I’d waited to have enough money to buy a new ipad. I will probably buy the new cheap Blu phone because I can use it for my audiobooks and music, and load Kindle ebooks on it, put it makes phone calls! But Fire devices suck for all around tablet functionality. The ipad has its limitations but it has much more versatility.

Thomas July 3, 2016 um 12:38 am

While reading epubs on a Fire isn’t quite as easy as buying from Amazon, it’s by no means rocket science. It takes about five minutes to sideload and install an e-reader app.

You should be able to adjust the sleep settings by going to settings/power/display settings and changing the time.

For music, the Amazon appstore has dozens of apps for playing music. You don’t have to stick with the default.

Lola July 3, 2016 um 12:55 am

I do appreciate your efforts to respond to my specific complaints.

I don’t want to have to side load anything. With my ipad I located their epub reading apps, downloaded one, and drag and dropped my epubs in. It was in itunes for me to do.

I can change my sleep setting to a max of 30 minutes. I can’t turn it OFF. At work I listen to music or audiobooks all day, plugged in to a power source. It’s a pain to have to turn it back on to pause it if someone comes by to talk to me. It’s even worse in my car. I have a 45-60 min drive each way. Having to hit a few extra buttons to turn my screen back on if I want to pause it is not only a pain, it’s dangerous. Again, in may car I have my device plugged into a power source. I turn turn sleep mode off on my ipad which was much nicer.

I will check for apps for my music, but since I already have uploaded 200 songs from my computer to Amazon, then downloaded them to my device I’m unlikely to re-do it. The ipad lets you tell it how how to play your music (rock, pop, acoustic, etc). The Fire tablet does not.

YMMV. I still wish I had saved up for a new ipad.

But again, thanks for your feedback.

BDR July 3, 2016 um 1:31 pm

"I don’t want to side load anything"?? Why not?? It’s not difficult and if the process is for some reason too difficult for you, Calibre can it automatically. Just select the books within Calibre and choose "send to device".

Lola July 3, 2016 um 1:43 pm

In case you failed to note it, my comments about sideloading on Fire were in comparison with downloading and using apps from itunes on the ipad. It’s not too difficult, it just shouldn’t be necessary. YMMV

Moriah July 5, 2016 um 1:20 am

“I don’t want to side load anything”?? Why not??

The point is, she shouldn’t have to. Period.

Mike Hall July 2, 2016 um 7:51 pm

My fire is still running OS 4.5 so I still have Docs on the menu bar but I don’t think I’ve ever used it as it has not proved necessary. I have everthing organised in collections and the cloud collections are, of course, synced onto the Fire. As long as I use the collection view on the Fire all my "documents" appear within the collection so there is no access problem (and if I didn’t use the collection view I’d never find anything but recent reads anyway). Is this not still the case for OS 5?

If I’m going to read on a tablet I must admit that I prefer the Fire to my Samsung – the Fire is smaller and lighter and easier to hold. For anything else the Samsung wins hands down. Who wants to use Silk as a browser? However, neither tablet gets much use as a reader as e-ink Kindles are so much better.

BDR July 3, 2016 um 1:25 pm

Of *course* you can sideload epub books onto a Kindle Fire and use any ereader app you choose.

Just connect the Fire to your PC via USB, create a folder somewhere on the Fire, then copy the books over. Start up Moon+ or any other of the dozen or so apps for reading, direct it to the folder you created and voila. You can get these apps from 1mobile or any of the other (many) alternative-to-Google-Play sites. You can also use Calibre’s wireless approach if you don’t want to connect with USB.

The Fire has a whole lot of problems but that’s not one of them. SHOULD you use one of Amazon’s current tablets for doing that? No, other than the HDX line which have been discontinued, they’re all terrible devices. That’s different than saying "You simply can’t do that with the Fire tablet" because anyone north of an idiot in IQ *can* do that … just like they can with ANY Android tablet.

Will Entrekin July 4, 2016 um 12:41 pm

Don’t all tablets suck for reading ebooks because of their LCD screens? I’ve found the iPad adequate if necessary, but definitely prefer the Paperwhite.

Nate Hoffelder July 4, 2016 um 2:35 pm

I don’t think so. I like reading on Android.

Thomas July 4, 2016 um 10:49 pm

Unless you’re reading in sunlight, a LCD screen works just fine. I use my Fire tablet for reading much more often than my old Sony e-ink reader.

Moriah July 5, 2016 um 1:22 am

I prefer reading on my Paperwhite. For hours-long mersive reading jags there’s no way I’m using an LCD screen.

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