Never in my life have I seen myself as the owner of a tablet; I always, and by "always" I mean "within the last couple of years," believed that if I needed that much hardware at hand, I should probably get off my dead ass and buy an actual smartphone, or at least a phone less dumb than the one I have. (Then again, the one I have has enough suds to send Twitter messages from the darkest, coldest room, which may be why I'm still alive.) That said, when I opened up my little swag bag from the office Christmas party and discovered an actual tablet, low-end and sandboxed as it is, I wasn't about to complain; this would be an opportunity to learn these gizmos at minimum cost to myself.

The bottom-of-the-line Amazon Fire tablet, which has been selling lately for a shade under $50, is actually a pretty smart device, once you get around the fact that while it's clearly an Android-based device, running a version of Android's Lollipop (version 5) operating system, it's mostly limited to the apps you can actually get from Amazon's store, unless you sneak out of the sandbox and jailbreak it. I'm not averse to jailbreaking — I have a little music player which now dual-boots into my choice of two different operating systems — but this gizmo strikes me as maybe a hair beyond my technical pay grade. I did find a file manager that works, simply because it's clunky to connect the tablet to a PC and do the manipulations there. (And I can't seem to connect it at the right time to enable Windows to find its driver; often as not, Windows can't, or won't, see it.)

This particular Fire will take Micro SD cards to expand its storage beyond the 8 GB provided; I bolted a 64-GB card into the slot. However, if you're using the tablet as a glorified Kindle, which is not far from what I'm actually doing, you can't store purchased books on the card. (Music and movies, yes. I have no idea why it makes a difference, but evidently it makes a difference.) I had acquired two Kindle-format books earlier, and read them online, but the tablet noticed they were out there and offered to fetch them. In that first weekend, I wound up buying nine more books. And apparently it takes a pretty fair-sized book to take up much more than a megabyte or two, so there's room for literally hundreds of them even without the SD card. Meanwhile, the DOCS folder (on the SD card), I am loading with ebooks I've acquired in PDF format; Amazon does not let such things coexist with its own Kindle files.

This device, of course, is not the be-all and end-all of tablets by any means. I seriously underestimated the amount of grunge I would leave on the screen by way of swipes. This is, I think, an argument for a Bluetooth keyboard, which the gizmo supports; Amazon is currently selling a case-plus-keyboard for $43. At the very least, though, I want a stylus. I am told that these are just above party-favor status at places like Walmart: we're talking under $4 or so, about half what Amazon asks for its Official Pointy Thing.

But perhaps more important, since this tablet's connectivity is Wi-Fi only, if the power ever goes out — as it did for 36 hours during the last ice storm, with the next ice storm perhaps only 36 hours away — my router won't last long, even on a UPS, which means I still should go looking for a smartphone and a suitable data plan. The farther I go, it seems, the behinder I get.

The Vent

  25 December 2015

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 Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Hill