The Kindle Fire is an unusual device with one of the most extensively modified Android skins available. Amazon might have hit some aspects of the device just right, like the integration with the Amazon cloud, but for every hit there is a miss like the sluggish Silk browser and or limited home screen. Amazon might have altered the look and feel of Android, but there is a lot of the core OS under the hood.
With very little setup, users can “sideload” apps from outside the Amazon Appstore to improve the device. Enough of the Kindle Fire’s software has been changed that many apps won’t work correctly, but with a little trial and error we’ve found some useful additions.How to install apps
To install apps from outside Amazon’s ecosystem, one need only to take a quick trip into the settings. Under Device, there is a toggle to allow the installation of apps from “Unknown Sources.” That needs to be set to “On.” once the device is ready to go, you need to find the apps.
Some Android apps can be obtained from their developer’s site, or from various alternative repositories online. This can be a risky proposition as malware is more common in this kind of gray market space. Anyone with an Android phone can download an app from the Android Market and extract the installation package, known as the APK, using apps like Astro File Explorer. Those without another Android device might consider asking around on forums for users to extract the files for them.
The APK files can be emailed to the device, and downloaded from the native email client, then installed from any file manager. There are several in the Amazon Appstore, but I’ve been using ES File Manager. This method is a little ungainly, but there’s an easy way to fix it that will pave the way for faster app installation and more functionality… and it’s actually our first app.Dropbox
Dropbox is a well-known cloud storage and sync tool that offers 2GB of free space. This is a good place to start because this handy bit of storage will make it very easy to push more apps to the Kindle Fire. Dropbox itself is also a highly useful service that is good to have around in general. Like everything else on this list, it’s not available on the Kindle Fire version of the Appstore.
The free Dropbox app from the Android Market works very well on the Fire. It is essentially a stretched phone interface, but it doesn’t have any controls at the bottom to be obscured by the Fire’s unique on-screen buttons. Both downloading and uploading to Dropbox worked as expected. Any APK files added to Dropbox on another system can be cached and installed with a single tap on the Fire.Dolphin Browser HD
The stock browser on the Kindle Fire has some issues with speed and page rendering. Luckily, you can sideload an alternative that performs better. Dolphin Browser HD isn’t in the Amazon Appstore, but it’s free and available elsewhere. This browser feels faster loading pages to us, and scales well to the Kindle Fire’s screen.
Dolphin is overall just a little better and smoother to use. The gesture system for navigating also makes more sense here than it does on smaller phones.1 of 2Next »
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