By Chuck Gray
Last updated 2/20/2013. The Kindle Fire HD really is a fine piece of mobile computing hardware. Everything from the high-definition screen to the staggering Dolby audio fidelity to the grip of the device has been well thought-out. It’s designed with media consumption in mind, with access not only to Amazon’s vast library of ebooks, music, movies, and TV, but also to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and more. And it’s cheap too, starting at $200 for a 16GB wifi variety. It's a shame then that such a great device is paired with Amazon’s App Store, whose offerings are laughably, pitifully lacking when compared to the Google Play store. What’s worse, you can’t put the Google Play store on the device without some serious Android hacking chops and voiding the warranty in the process. But, if you or a friend own another Android device with access to the Google Play store, like an Android smartphone, there is a way around this!
Recently I was helping a friend read her New York Times subscription on her Kindle Fire HD. Now, on an iPad or vanilla Android tablet you can simply go to the App Store or Google Play, search for and download a free New York Times app, log in with your subscription credentials, and blammo, you’ve got full access to the Times on your device. However, thanks to Amazon’s greed, if you want to read a full version of the New York Times on a Kindle, you have to buy a separate subscription through them. Similarly, I looked for a great magazine reading app, Zinio, on the Amazon App Store, but was disappointed to learn that while it IS available for regular Android devices from the Amazon App Store, Amazon does not let Kindle Fire users have access to it, presumably to force users to purchase their electronic magazine subscriptions through Amazon. This not-at-all-veiled cash-grab tactic has me and many other Kindle Fire users very upset.
Partially in response to this brand of legal thievery, there’s quite the black market for Android apps online, many of them pirated versions of paid apps, but many of them are just free apps that people want to install on their Kindle Fires. DO NOT DOWNLOAD THESE APPS. Since they are not being downloaded directly from the Google Play store, you have no guarantee that they are not infected with malware that will harm your Kindle Fire. Instead, here is a series of steps for copying Android apps from an unbranded Android device (essentially, any device that’s not a Kindle Fire HD or Nook HD that has access to the Google Play store) to a Kindle Fire. What we’re going to do here is back up the app from the regular Android device, upload it to a Dropbox account, download it onto the Kindle Fire from that Dropbox account and install it. It looks like a lot of steps, and I guess it is, but after you’ve done it the first time everything should fall into place for repeat performances. So, make certain your devices are connected to the Internet and get your index finger ready!
On the non-Kindle Fire Android Device
- Get a vanilla Android phone or tablet and make sure that it has access to the Google Play store.
- Download the app you want to eventually transfer to your Kindle Fire; in this instance, we’ll be downloading the Zinio magazine reader.
- Go to https://www.dropbox.com/ to sign-up for a free account with the file locker service Dropbox; make a note of the email address and password you use to create this account.
- On the vanilla Android device, download a free app called ASTRO File Manager from the Play store:
- On the same device, download the free app for Dropbox:
- Run the Dropbox app.
- Tap the button that reads I’m already a Dropbox user and sign-in with the email address and password used in step 3:
- On the Camera Upload screen, tap the Next button and then tap Skip.
- Now, exit out of Dropbox and go to your device's apps and run the ASTRO File Manager app; tap the Accept button:
- On the screen titled Connect your cloud accounts tap the continue button:
- If you use other file locker services like Google Drive or Microsoft Skydrive, feel free to keep them checked, but all that needs to be checked at this point is the option for Dropbox; tap the Continue button:
- On the screen that reads Astro File Manager wants access to your Dropbox click the green Allow button:
- Once on the main screen of the Astro File Manager, swipe from the middle of the screen to the left and tap Application Manager
- Find and tap the checkbox next to the app you want to transfer to your Kindle Fire; for this example, we’ll transfer the Zinio magazine reader app. Once you’ve tapped the checkbox, tap the Backup button at the top of the screen:
- Tap your device’s Back button to return to Astro’s main screen and then tap My Files.
- Tap the backups folder and then the apps folder inside that.
- Tap and hold your finger down on the icon that reads pkg.apk (the file name may be different depending on the app that was backed-up) until a menu of icons appears at the bottom of the screen; tap the one that reads Copy:
- Tap the device’s back button three or four times to find yourself back on the main screen.
- Tap the third option down with your name and the Dropbox logo.
- Tap the Paste button:
On the Kindle Fire
- On the home screen where the carousel is displayed, swipe down from the very top of the screen to bring up the settings menu and notification area; tap the icon that reads More . . .
- Scroll down to and tap on the section labeled Device:
- In the Device section, tap the On button next to the line that reads Allow Installation of Applications From unknown sources; when you get the warning message, tap OK:
- Tap the house icon to go to the home screen and tap Web at the top of the screen; in the address bar of the web browser, type in dropbox.com and tap the orange Go button:
- On the Dropbox home page, tap the Sign in link in the upper-right corner, input the email address and password associated with the Dropbox account you created previously and click Sign in:
- Tap the link labeled pkg.apk (or whatever the filename for the backed-up app is) and it should begin downloading:
- Swipe down from the top of the screen to display the settings menu and notification area; when the download is complete, the screen will read pkg.apk Download complete - tap this:
- On the app installation screen, tap the Install button at the bottom-right:
- When the installation is complete, you can either open the app or tap the Done button and find the app later in the Apps section of your Kindle Fire.
So yes, a lot of steps, but this is the single most reliable way I know of to get legal, malware-free apps onto your Kindle Fire that cannot be found in the Amazon App Store. It won’t work with all apps, particularly paid apps, but it’s a great way to have your cake and eat it too with the Kindle Fire. And an even greater way to thumb your nose at Amazon for having such lousy app selections . . . or maybe that's just me.