One of the most significant departures in Amazon’s new Kindle Fire lineup from previous iterations of the brand – and one rather lost in all the hoo-hah over pricing – is the inclusion of a slot for “a microSD card for up to 128 GB of additional storage,” as well as the internal storage – 8 GB on the new basic Kindle Fire 7. Obviously, Amazon’s bid to push Kindle buyers to move to the “free unlimited cloud storage for all Amazon content and photos taken with Fire devices” as their default storage option wasn’t 100 percent successful, and the shift to external microSD storage acknowledges the fact.
“No more worrying about storage space” proclaims the blurb for the new Kindle Fires – so yes, Amazon is admitting that users were worrying prior to this? Bear in mind that people have been pushing out ideas for expanding previous Kindle Fires’ onboard storage for some time, including wifi-accessible hard drives such as the Kingston Wi-Drive or SanDisk wireless flash drive, which have their own dedicated Kindle Fire apps. (I’m not a user of this technology myself, but it seems both fast and robust, and doesn’t need a wifi network to connect over.) People have also been asking for microSD in the Kindle Fires for a long time.
What you will actually be able to do with the microSD storage once the new devices arrive is still somewhat open to conjecture for now, but obviously, books and other Amazon-vended content should be downloadable to the card. On Android at least, the current Kindle app creates and uses a folder on the device’s microSD card as its storage destination – which can be a massive annoyance when the Android device has an onboard virtual “microSD” memory partition, and the Kindle app can’t access the physical external microSD card. Hopefully, the new Fire OS 5 “Bellini” on the new Kindle Fires will allow users to choose the storage destination – there doesn’t seem much point to the microSD card slot otherwise.
Amazon is also hyping a new feature in the OS called On Deck, which “only uses the available storage on your tablet, opportunistically in a special shadow mode. When you download something, On Deck automatically makes room for your selected content – there’s no hassle of needing to clear out space yourself.” So presumably, On Deck will be automatically sending content to the microSD card.
What may not be quite so easy in every case is sideloading and swapping of Amazon content to the microSD card. Options for sideloading unprotected ebook files, whether Mobi or other formats, to Kindles have been standard for ages – and will hopefully continue into the new devices and new OS. Plus, currently you can back up your downloaded Kindle books to a computer or other external storage. Will you be able to swap those files onto the new microSD card and still read them, though? Hopefully, yes, since the current solutions allow you to read the books, so long as you have the appropriate Kindle app installed on your device and your own account logged in – though bear in mind Amazon’s limit on the total number of devices you can access a book on.
Kindle users also have struggled in the past with options to sideload their own videos on to their Kindle Fires, with some solutions involving uploading the videos to the Amazon cloud first. If Fire OS 5 allows a simple cut-and-paste of video files to the Kindle Fire’s external microSD card, then great – one certainly hopes so.
Also, according to Amazon’s own developer preview microsite, Fire OS 5 “starts with Android Lollipop, and improves upon it by deeply integrating Amazon’s hardware, platform, software, content, and cloud.” That’s all well and good, but the previous Android OS, Android KitKat, included some annoying restrictions on file copying to the microSD card, supposedly introduced at the behest of content companies. Basically, apps could only save to and access their own folders on the microSD card, not all available storage. Android Lollipop was supposed to have fixed this, but I’ve struggled myself with file explorer programs that can no longer paste to the microSD card without involved workarounds. Will Fire OS 5 have the same problem? That’s an interesting open question right now.
Previous generations of Kindle Fires have had the welcome – albeit semi-official – option of sideloading apps from Android APKs that aren’t available on the Amazon app store itself, using apps like Easy Installer or ES File Explorer. For anyone wanting to try this, there’s a tutorial here. Will the new Fire tablets with Fire OS 5 enable you to sideload Android APKs onto the microSD card and run programs from there? Or to install your official Amazon apps on to the microSD card when your internal storage is maxing out? Wait and see …