Why I decided to root my Amazon Kindle Fire

Published: November 28, 2011

From the time the Kindle Fire was announced by Amazon in September, I have questioned the exact purpose of the tablet. Even after spending nearly two weeks with it and reviewing it, I still question how the device will actually fit into my life. At which point will it fit into my routine? Will I actually ever use it? Or, like all of my other would-be awesome devices that I bought on high hopes, will it simply collect dust? I'm even more interested to learn what buyers and those who receive them as Christmas gifts will think of them as opposed to, say, a Galaxy Tab or iPad.

On the Fire, there is certainly no shortage of available content. It comes chock-full of Amazon's premium services: MP3, Cloud Player, Appstore, Newsstand, Books and Prime Instant Video. Between all of the different movies, television shows, books and magazines, there's surely something to keep users occupied. And in Amazon's Appstore for Android, you will find thousands of applications. But that's just it: thousands, not hundreds of thousands of applications.

Amazon's intentions are grand – grandiose, even. They have created an entire ecosystem within the existing Android ecosystem. In doing so, they have completely segmented their device from the rest, for better or worse. Unlike the Android devices we've grown to know and love, the Kindle Fire does not rely on Google's services. When you pull it out of the box, the Android Amazon tablet will not ask you to login to your Google account, you will not find Android Market and there are no other native services like Maps, Talk, Voice, etc.

For the average user, the Kindle Fire is (or will) serve just fine as a tablet and media consumption device. To the rest of us, however, these services are vital. If, like me, you are a weathered Android user who is vaguely familiar with what goes on behind the scenes with Android (in the development community), the Kindle Fire's software will seem rather ... drab and likely far to similar to Apple's walled garden for your liking. Luckily, the ability to side-load applications is there, and getting some of your favorite applications from Android Market on your tablet can be done with relative ease. It just isn't enough to win me over, though.

Applications that aren't designed specifically for the Kindle Fire, if they even work in the first place, are lackluster at best. They display inappropriately, in-app controls may be hidden by the navigation buttons on the Kindle's custom software and so on. In short, Amazon shot themselves in the foot by not skinning the Kindle software atop a tablet-optimized software version (which I understand may not have been an option at the time without agreeing to the Android Update Alliance since Honeycomb source was not available). Nonetheless, side-loading every application I need and using the Silk browser to check my email is far from efficient or enjoyable. This is where rooting comes in.

Now, I told myself when I bought the Fire that I did not buy it just to root it. For starters, some of Amazon's services (namely Prime Instant Video) will not continue to work once you gain root access. Instant Videos was one of my main reasons for grabbing a Fire in the first place, so rooting and losing access to those seems a bit counterintuitive, right? Not only that, but I did not want the Fire to simply become yet another device that I waste hours, days or weeks on hacking and modding to no end.

That was before. After two weeks of debating, I finally decided to pull out the USB cable, plug it into my Mac (for the first time) and root without regret. (I have no spine when it comes to Android and rooting, in case you haven't noticed already.) The whole process was extremely painless and only took me about two minutes. But why? What made me change my mind?

There are a couple answers to that question. I decided that as is, I would return or sell my Fire. I had barely used it since I finished the review and was contemplating selling it for something else. But it's a sweet piece of hardware and I didn't want to give it up on it so easily. With stock Ice Cream Sandwich instead of the Kindle software on the Fire, an okay tablet could be turned into a nifty little tool. On top of that, a workaround for getting Prime Instant Videos to play post-root was discovered. And with root access, you can quickly and easily (within a couple minutes) have all of Google's services and apps up and running (with a few hitches) alongside the Kindle software.

Personally, I no longer saw a reason not to root. It was a no-brainer. Having Android Market installed on the Fire makes a world of difference. I've replaced the stock Kindle software keyboard and loaded a third-party launcher to replace the default carousel launcher.

Is it perfect? No. Far from it, actually. But my experience is much better than before. And this should easily hold me over until someone comes forward with a working recovery and an Ice Cream Sandwich ROM for the Fire.

Am I saying you should go root your Kindle right now? No. Not unless you want to and feel comfortable with the process. (Oh, and PhoneDog is not responsible if you decide to root and something goes wrong during the process and your Kindle Fire becomes unusable or damaged in any way.) All I am saying is that with a little elbow grease and a few side-loaded applications, the Kindle Fire can be transformed from a nice toy to a snazzy little machine. (If you already feel the Fire is spectacular, you don't need to root.) Once Ice Cream Sandwich makes its way (unofficially) to the Fire, developers and ever-curious users will have a field day with this thing, which is the real reason I want to hang on to it.

I respect what Amazon was trying to do with the Kindle. They have created quite an astonishing device for a relatively small price. And they have already caused a ripple in the tablet industry, especially when it comes to pricing. But the out-of-box experience for me was a bit underwhelming. I felt boxed in and secluded from the apps and services I specifically look for in a tablet. For now, rooting will have to do.

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