Using a Kindle Fire in New Zealand

The Kindle Fire was released in the US at the end of November 2011. The 7" multi-touch tablet received standing ovations from most critics and was THE must-have gadget in the US over Christmas.
At half the price of an iPad it is amazing value. Some are for sale in New Zealand, imported from the US and on this page we'll explore what you can and can't do with it in New Zealand.
gadgetimportsIf you are buying through TradeMe, and find the information on this page useful, please show your appreciation by buying the Kindle Fire from us (gadgetimports). Various other traders have now linked their auctions to this page, but they have not invested any time in helping you out. Thank you!

UPDATE Jun-2013: Great news! Amazon have finally started selling the Kindle Fire internationally. You can now have a Kindle Fire or Kindle Fire HD shipped to you in New Zealand, straight from Amazon. Of course we still appreciate you showing your appreciation by buying any other gadgets in our TradeMe store...


Awaiting a NZ release of the Kindle Fire

It is unclear if and when the device will be released in New Zealand. Amazon is not making any official statements, but it is unlikely to be in the near future for a number of reasons

  • Amazon's focus is on the US, where its watched very closely to see if it made a dent this Xmas in the iPad's dominant market share
  • It's very tightly integreated with the amazon.com website. That's perfect in the United States where basically everyone uses amazon.com for day to day purchases from DVDs to diapers. Not so much in other countries, like New Zealand.
  • Amazon have worked out international distribution for books, but not yet video. Legal frameworks have to be set up country by country, and for each movie studio. As Apple has shown with iTunes and it's video library, these things can take a long time to sort out.
  • The tyrany of a small market means NZ will be at the bottom of the priority list for international expansion


Unboxing the Kindle Fire

Not quite as slick as unpacking an iPad, but the bulk-carton feel of Amazon's "frustration free packaging" has something almost retro-cool about it. The tablet looks beautiful, feels a little heavier than it looks, and has an overal high-quality feel to it. It's small, almost half the size of an iPad. It looks quite similar to RIM's playbook, that was up for show on some displays on Queens Wharf outside the Cloud, during the rugby world cup.


Registering the Kindle Fire

Registering is easy. Just connect it to your Wi-Fi network and then either enter your existing amazon.com account or create a new one.



Books

If you've already got eBooks registered under your amazon.com account, they will automatically show up. Just click on them and they will download. Or you can buy books, either directly on the Kindle Fire itself or on the Kindle Bookstore on amazon.com. Due to the agreements that amazon has with publishers there are some geographical differences. This seems to be largely driven by the Country Settings in your amazon.com account. Set it to New Zealand and you'll usually get better pricing on eBooks (e.g. USD10 for the Steve Jobs biography, which at the moment is costing USD15 if you've got it set as United States). Not all eBooks are available for New Zealand however, so for those you may have to take a mini-trip to the US and change your country settings temporarily.


Web browsing

The Kindle Fire has a fairly advanced web-browser, called Silk. It optimizes speed by handling a lot of the processing on Amazon's cloud servers. Amazon Silk also has the ability to learn about traffic patterns on individual sites over time, allowing it to begin fetching the next page that users may wish to visit. As there will not that many Kindle Fire users in New Zealand, the advantages may not be that noticeable over here. You'll probably have to try the sites you visit most often, both with accelearation turned ON and turned OFF and see what works best for you.
The option is a little bit hidden. While in the Silk Browser, select the set-of-drawers icon at the bottom of the screen and then the "Settings" icon. All the way at the bottom is the option called "Accelerate page loading".
Common NZ sites like the NZ Herald and TradeMe look great and feel very responsive, both with and without the acceleration option.


TV on demand

One of the frustrations of owning an iPad is that you cannot watch TVNZ on demand or TV3 on demand. That's because both sites are based on Adobe Flash. Apple has deemed that as 20th century technology and refuses to support it. And our tv websites have invested too much in their current websites and refuse to upgrade to modern HTML5 technology.
The Kindle Fire does supports Adobe Flash, so you can watch TV-on-demand. It works reasonably well. TVNZ's full screen mode is struggling a bit with the very wide-screen ratio of the Kindle and leaves a little strip of grey on the right hand side. And the progress bar does not seem to hide itself. TV3's site has similar issues with full-screen mode. This shouldn't be too hard to fix if the guys at TVNZ and TV3 get their hands on a Kindle Fire and create some specific media queries to deal with the resolution of the Kindle display.


Apps

Like Apple with iTunes and the iOS devices (iPod, iPad, iPhone), Amazon is running a closed ecosystem for the Kindle Fire and their other devices like the Kindle and Kindle Touch.
There's nothing wrong with that per-se. It guarantees a level of quality control and usually enhances the user experience. As long, that is, you are happy to consume/buy all of your content from amazon. For apps, that means buying them from the Amazon App Store. Many users in the US are not completely happy with that, as it does not contain many of their favorite apps.

For Kiwis there is the added complication that Amazon's App Store checks your ip-address. At the moment, this means that a warning message comes up saying "The Amazon Appstore is not yet available in your region". It is unclear when that international expansion will happen, so for now you will either have to subscribe to a VPN service to "pretend" you're based in the US or use one of the workarounds.

UPDATE Jun-2013: Great news! The Amazon App Store has finally opened up to the rest of the world. You can now buy all your apps straight from the Amazon App Store. If you're in New Zealand, you'll now have access to a much wider range of apps, and there is no longer a need for the work-arounds listed below.

Amazon AppStore workarounds

The first workaround is sideloading apps, more on that later. The second is getting your apps from an alternative App Store. For both you need to make sure you allow your Kindle Fire to install apps from outside the Amazon Store. To do that follow these steps:

  • Tap on the navigation bar at the top of the screen (where you see the gear icon)
  • Tap "More"
  • Tap "Device"
  • Switch "Allow Installation Of Applications From Unknown Sources" to ON.

The most obvious alternative App Store would be the official Android Market. Unfortunately Amazon has blocked access to it. If you enter market.android.com in your Silk Browser, it automatically redirects to the Amazon App Store. Some people have suggested installing a different browser, like the popular "Dolphin Browser HD" but even then your Kindle will intercept the address and redirect you. Rooting your Kindle Fire will remove that hurdle, allowing you to install the normal Android Market and open up more functionality on your Kindle, but for now that's a step too far.

So instead we'll visit another popular App Store: GetJar. It has it's own Application Manager and once you've got that installed it's very easy to install other apps.
To install the GetJar application manager:

  • browse to m.getjar.com on your Kindle Fire
  • the first time you do this it will probably ask you what device you are. enter Kindle Fire and the slect the icon for it
  • at the bottom of the webpage, click "quick download"
  • enter 16914 in the code box (this is the short code for the GetJar Apps app)
  • it will show a warning and ask you to install the GetJar Apps app
  • click download and after a few seconds you will see "download complete" at the top of your screen
  • click the notification bar and you should see an entry for GetJar.apk
  • click on that, the "do you want to install this application" screen will show. make sure you're happy with what you're allowing and click "Install"
  • after it's installed, click "Open" or open the GetJar icon from your bookshelf
Now you can search for apps in the GetJar store. App installations are very simple now, just click the download button and the application manager will handle the installation for you.

A second popular App Store option is SlideME. This also has its own application manager and this one is a little easier to install. Enter slideme.org in your Silk Browser. On the homepage of that website find the "Download SAM" button. Click on that to download, and once it's downloaded, it will show a "Save As" dialog screen. Either save it as the long-name that comes up or to something more descriptive. It should automatically install and then you'll have the SlideME Application Manager from where it's very easy to search for and install apps.


Side-Loading

The other option of gettings apps on you Kindle Fire without using the Amazon Store is referred to as SideLoading and the apps you install this way are referred to as SideLoaded Apps. Amazon would prefer you didn't, but it's perfectly legal, there is nothing they can or will do about this and it does not affect how your Kindle Fire otherwise works or behaves. The process involves getting a package file of the application you want to install (a file with the .apk extension), connecting your Kindle to a PC or Mac and then copying the .apk file to your Kindle.

A safe and easy-to-use place to get hold of these .APK files is Orkitra. Files there come straight from the official Android App Store and they have a great selection. Just search for the app you need, download the .apk file and copy it to your Kindle Fire using these four steps.

  • From the GetJar appstore (see above) search for and install an application called "Operate Files" (a simple file manager, free).
  • Connect your Kindle Fire to your Mac or PC
  • Copy the .apk files to your Kindle Fire (the root folder is fine)
  • On your Kindle Fire, open "Operate Files" and at the bottom of the list you should see the .apk files. Just click on the file to install it. The apps will now show up on your bookshelf.

This way it's easy to find apps like the Angry Birds games, NZ Herald, BBC News, USA Today and Google Maps.
There are various other ways of getting .apk files, but note that you will have to be a bit careful with where you get the files from as not all sources are trustworthy.

If you have already got another Android device, like an Android phone, and have previously bought apps for it, you can easily copy those apps to your Kindle Fire. Based on orignal instructions from PCMag here's the steps to follow (tested using a HTC Magic as host device):

  • Make sure your phone has a MicroSD card installed.
  • Go to Android Market on your phone, search for and install "App Backup & Restore" (free).
  • Within "App Backup & Restore" click the apps you want to use and click "Backup Selected Apps"
  • Either remove the SD card and insert it in a SD card reader or connect your Android phone to your PC or Mac
  • Copy the .apk files (they will be in the "App_Backup_Restore" folder) to your PC or Mac.
  • Then follow the four steps above to copy the .apk files to your kindle
This works for both free and bought apps, but may not work for all apps.


Email

Email is easy and works without any issues. If you've got a gmail or hotmail account, all you have to do is enter your email-address and password and the Kindle will work out the various POP/IMAP/SMTP settings. If you're still on an @extra.co.nz account you'll have to manually enter those settings, but that's no different then setting up email in say Microsoft Outlook. The email app is well-designed and works well.


Movies / TV-shows

After books, and to compete will Apple, amazon.com is now also moving into the on-line video business. You can rent or buy movies at very reasonable prices and they will show instantly on your PC, Mac, Roku Player or Kindle Fire through Amazon Instant Video. And if you subscribe to their Prime membership (USD79/year) you get free access to a back-catelogue of older TV-shows and movies. Access to the Movie-store is geographically restricted. If you click on a movie or tv-show while working of an NZ-based ip-address a warning will show: "This video cannot be downloaded at this time. Please try again.". This will have to do with distribution rights and legal frameworks. Eventually Amazon will set up international availability for this, but as with Apple and iTunes Movies, it will take a while for them to sort this out with the movie studios and TV-networks.

So for now we'll have to find a way of making our Kindle Fire look like it's in the United States. A VPN service will do that trick, but can be a bit difficult to set up. Fortunately the people at unblock-us have found a very clever solution that's a little easier to set up.


Unblock-Us

There are many on-line services in the US that are only available within the US. Most have some sort of basic protection mechanism to block devices that are not based in the US. But bring a few clever developers together and they'll find a way around it. The exact workings are a trade-secret, but UnblockUs have come up with a DNS based solution that allows them to offer a monthly subscription service for unblocking various services including Amazon Instant Video. Best of all is that you can easily configure it on your Kindle Fire itself, without having to do complicated procedures on your router or other PCs. Another advantage is that it does not seem to affect your download speeds, which can be a problem with VPN services, especially when coming from NZ.

This is a paid-for service (CAN 4.99/ month, 49.99/year), but you get a free 7-day trial so you can check if this is the right service for you. To set it up, follow these steps:

  • on the SlideME marketplace (see above on how to set that up) search for and install an application called "WiFi File Explorer"
  • open WiFi File Explorer. You now have an application that will allow you to explore the file on your Kindle. Also you can see what ip-address is assigned to your Kindle Fire. It will show up under "file explorer web url" and is usually something like 10.1.1.x or 192.168.1.x. Note this down as you will need it later.
  • On your Kindle Fire or any PC/Mac go to the UnblockUs website, enter your email-address on the front page of the website and click the "Start Trial" button
  • Wait a few minutes for the email to come trough and in that email click on the link to the "Setup page"
  • On the setup page, click on the "Android" link. Take note of the DNS1 and DNS2 values that are listed
  • On your Kindle Fire click settings (top right of the screen), then WiFi and in the list of wireless networks scroll down to "Advanced Settings"
  • Click "Static IP Settings" (this is the bit where we tell your Kindle Fire to use the unblock-us DNS servers for DNS look-ups)
  • turn "Use static IP" to ON
  • Enter your ip-address (the address we obtained from WiFi File Explorer earlier)
  • Enter your router ip (usually that means changing the last digit from your ip-address to a "1", but there are some exceptions. So if your ip-address is something like 10.1.1.x, enter 10.1.1.1. Or if it's something like 192.168.1.x, enter 192.168.1.1)
  • Enter 255.255.255.0 as the subnet mask (there are some exceptions, but you should know if that's the case).
  • Enter DNS1 and DNS2 as provided by the setup page
  • Save the settings and reboot your Kindle Fire
  • Click Movies on your Kindle Fire and enjoy!

Amazon Instant Video works very well within New Zealand, videos start instantly, streaming quality is very good and you don't get any of the stalls and pauses that are so common with sites like youtube. Another step closer to unlocking the full potential of your Kindle Fire!


VPN

One of the ways of avoiding regional restrictions is by masking your origin and pretending that you are located in the US. This can be done by using an ip-proxy or VPN. By doing this your ip-address will show up on the receiving end as a US-based ip-address. This works for the Kindle Fire, but also for many other services that require a US location like the ABC tv website (full episodes of their popular tv-shows), Netflix and Roku (on-line movie streaming services where you pay a fee for unlimited access to the latest movies). VPNs seem to work better than ip-proxies, and usually give better performances, but you will have to sign up to a VPN provider like StrongVPN at a cost of around $10 a month. We'll try this out using our Kindle Fire and post results here soon.


Kindle in NZ - Conclusion

So, there are some limitations, but overall the Kindle Fire is very useable in New Zealand. It looks and feels like a high-quality device, and at about half the price of an iPad, it is great value. Amazon.com integration is really well done, and will become more useful in NZ once Amazon lifts some of it's geographical restrictions. As millions of Kindle Fires have already been sold in the US, it is now the dominant Android tablet and more and more apps will become available optimized for it's widescreen form factor.


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