The Kindle Fire HD is a cracking little tablet, but it’s very much Amazon’s way or the highway (the highway in this case being the Google Nexus 7) — you’re stuck with Amazon’s customized interface, Amazon’s choice of apps, and Amazon’s favorite services (like Lovefilm and the Amazon Cloud Player). If you want to install other apps and use Android as it was meant to be used, you’ll need to root your device.
If you’re new to rooting, it gives you advanced control over your tablet. While your Kindle Fire HD won’t seem much different after you’ve completed the process, you can then do all kinds of tweaks and customizations — remove the adverts, run the stock version of Android, install apps from Google Play, and so on.
It’s not all sweetness and light, though. You will void your warranty, so you need to be extra careful about what apps you install in future. Many users happily run rooted Android devices, and I worked through the following steps without any major issues, but as you’re turning off the official Amazon-approved main road, CNET can’t take responsibility for where you end up.
If you’re ready to supercharge your Kindle Fire HD and give it the life it’s always dreamed of, read on.
Before you start: this process has been tested on a Kindle Fire HD running the newest 7.2.3 firmware (check your version by visiting Device/ About in Settings). For help upgrading to this version, see the official Amazon page.
You’ll also need a decent level of battery left on your tablet (at least 60-70 per cent is recommended). Finally, make sure everything precious on your Kindle Fire HD is safely backed up, should the worst happen.
1. Download the rooting tools
You’ll need a selection of rooting tools first of all, some available from official sources and some put together by Android enthusiasts. Make a new folder on your desktop to hold these files, called ‘rooting’ or similar.
Download the ADB Drivers (debugging tools) for the Kindle Fire HD and Bin4ry’s Root Tool listed on the first post from this thread on the Phandroid forums. Run the Kindle Fire ADB drivers.exe executable first, clicking through any warnings or security alerts you see. If the drivers fail to install correctly, try switching to the alternative driver download link from the forum post I just mentioned. Once this is done, extract the contents of Root_with_Restore_by_Bin4ry_v17.zip to the same folder.
Now a fiddly bit. Go to your Windows user account folder (eg C:\Users\Dave) and create a new folder called ‘.android.’ — Windows will remove the final dot, but you must include it to begin with. Save a plain text file into this folder called ‘adb_usb.ini’ containing just the line ‘0x1949’. This informs the rooting tool what device you’re working with. Once that’s done, your software is ready to go.
2. Prepare your Kindle Fire HD
Next, turn your attention to your Kindle Fire HD and say goodbye to it in its unrooted state. Open the Settings screen (tap ‘More’ on the notification bar) then go into Device and ensure ‘Allow Installation of Applications’ is set to ‘On’. In the Security section tap the ‘On’ button next to ‘Enable ADB’ (you’ll receive another security alert, which you can dismiss). These two settings let the rooting tools do their stuff.
3. Root your device
Now for the rooting proper. Connect the Kindle Fire HD to your computer using a USB cable and give it a few moments to be successfully detected. Open up a command prompt window (type: cmd in the Start screen on Windows 8, or click Start and type: cmd in Windows 7 or Vista, then press Enter).
Switch to the folder containing your root files (type: cd desktop\rooting, where ‘rooting’ is the name of the file you created earlier, then press Enter). Then type the following command: stuff\adb devices and hit Enter.
You should see that an Android device has been detected (under ‘List of devices attached’). If it isn’t, there’s likely to be a problem with your drivers — try uninstalling and reinstalling them, or visiting Device Manager in Control Panel and updating the Kindle drivers from there (right-click on the Kindle entry and choose ‘Update Driver Software’). Ideally you should see two entries for your Kindle in Device Manager. With the device detected successfully, type: RunMe and press Enter.
This batch file contains the instructions needed to root your Kindle Fire HD. Check the device is unlocked, then press ‘1’ (on your computer’s keyboard) and Enter. Keep an eye on the Kindle’s screen and choose ‘Restore’ when you get the option to.
The device will reboot and may run slowly during the rooting process, but keep your eye on the command prompt window for further instructions. Unlock your Kindle each time it reboots, and when you see the confirmation message on your computer, the tablet has been successfully rooted. Your customizations can begin!
The Kindle Fire HD is more difficult to root than many other Android devices, and the procedure doesn’t always run smoothly — the plethora of forum threads across the Web on the topic are testament to this.
If you’re experiencing problems I’d recommend this excellent thread on Phandroid, which I’m indebted to for helping with this guide. After the initial post you’ll find a list of issues and potential troubleshooting fixes.
In some cases it may be necessary to download the full Android SDK from Google; in other cases running a factory reset on your Kindle Fire HD before attempting the above steps may resolve your problem. I wouldn’t want to put you off, however — I managed the job in an hour with only a couple of minor hiccups.
Take a stroll down its digital aisles and you’ll find the selection somewhat underwhelming — there’s no Gmail, no Dropbox, no Instagram.
The good news is you can get access to Google Play and everything within it, as long as you don’t mind a little bit of hacking. When I say a little bit, I mean it will instantly void your warranty with Amazon.
As with any advanced customization of this type, CNET can’t be held responsible for your exploits. Nevertheless, the changes aren’t difficult to make and you shouldn’t run into any problems that can’t be solved with a quick Google query and some poking around on Android forums.
First and foremost you’re going to need a rooted Kindle Fire HD, otherwise Google Play won’t be able to access the key system files that it needs. Once that’s done, you can press on.
1. Collect your files
Google Play interacts with your device on a pretty fundamental level — it needs to know who you are, which apps you’ve installed and how you’re going to pay for them, for instance. With this in mind you’ll need to copy some essential files over to your Kindle before installing the Play Store app itself.
Not for the first time, I’m indebted to the Android community for the files required — visit this thread and download the archive package listed in step 2 of the first post. Extract these files to a folder on your system that you can easily access.
If you’ve not already done so, install ES File Explorer on your device. This is available from the Amazon App Store and enables you to easily transfer files and launch applications. You’ll also need to make sure two key Kindle settings are turned to ‘On’ in the Settings — ‘Allow Installation of Applications’ (on the Device screen) and ‘Enable ADB’ (on the Security screen). Everything should now be ready to install Google Play.
2. Transfer and prepare
Connect your Kindle Fire HD to your computer and it should appear as two separate entries in the Device Manager section of Control Panel (see the screenshot below). If it doesn’t, return to my earlier article and retrace your steps. If you didn’t use this guide to root your device, pay particular attention to the USB drivers section.
Using Windows, copy the three files we downloaded earlier — namely Vending.apk, GoogleServicesFramework.apk and Gplay3.8.17.apk — over to the Download folder on your Kindle.
Next, launch ES File Explorer on your Kindle Fire HD. Tap the menu icon and choose ‘Settings’ then ‘Root Settings’. Tap the check box by ‘Root Explorer’, then ‘Yes’ and ‘Grant’ on the dialogue boxes that appear. Tick all of the boxes on screen, if they’re not already — Root Explorer, Up to Root, Mount File System, Backup System App and (un)install apk automatically. If you cannot follow these steps as described, it’s possible your device hasn’t been properly rooted.
3. Go go Google Play
Return to the file view in ES File Explorer and head to the Download folder, where we copied the APK files earlier. Tap GoogleServicesFramework.apk to install it (you’ll see a brief confirmation message), then tap the ‘Select’ icon to enable you to select files rather than launch them. Tap Vending.apk, then tap the ‘Copy’ icon. Navigate to the /system/app folder (you’ll need to go up to the root folder first) and paste Vending.apk in. Reboot your Kindle Fire HD.
Back in ES File Explorer, long press on Vending.apk in /system/app. Choose ‘Properties’ then tap the ‘Change’ button — make sure read and write are checked for User, and read is checked for Group and Other. Tap ‘OK’ twice to clear the dialogues, then tap Vending.apk to install it.
Exit ES File Explorer and launch the main Apps link from the Kindle Fire HD home screen. Tap the new Market app and sign in using your Google Account credentials. It’s important that you sign in using the older Market app first — if you encounter a ‘Can’t establish a reliable data connection to the server’ message, try rebooting the Kindle and/or disconnecting and reconnecting to your Wi-Fi signal.
If you’ve activated two-step verification on your Google Account (and you really should), you’ll need to visit your account security page on the Web to generate a specific one-use password for the Market app, rather than using your standard Google password.
If everything has worked, you should be met with an old-fashioned Android Market screen. To upgrade to the latest version of Google Play, head back to the Download folder in ES File Explorer and launch the last APK file, Gplay3.8.17.apk. Google Play can then be launched from the Apps page on your Kindle Fire HD. Happy downloading!
A few footnotes: the steps above should work with the latest versions of Windows (7 and 8) and the most up-to-date Kindle Fire HD firmware, but this is not an exact science. Some apps may not install because they think they’re incompatible with your Kindle Fire HD — you can still load them using another Android device or an emulator (this forum thread is a useful guide).