Category Archives: Gadgets

The Kindle Fire HD 8.9″

In which I review my newest device, even though it’s already obsolete.

A couple of weeks ago I spontaneously bought a fourth Kindle — a tablet upgrade. My previous Kindle Fire worked fine and I didn’t need a new one. I knew they were probably going to announce a new model soon anyway. (Which they did. The very next day.) Pretty much the worst time to upgrade, really.

Luckily I found Amazon Warehouse Deals, which is the interface through which Amazon sells damaged, refurbished, and/or remaindered stuff, so I got the 8.9″ HD for less than a new 7″ HD.

amazon-kindle-fire-hd-8.9

The device is pretty awesome. The screen is great and the on-board speakers really are as remarkable as the reviews say. The device is thin and elegant. The opsys is stable. There’s a shitload of great content, especially if you have Amazon Prime.

But I hate the location of the hardware buttons. The power switch is right next to the volume rocker switch and it infuriates me to find myself pushing things multiple times just to get the device to turn on or off. The ports and buttons are horribly laid out: in order to charge the device while watching video (which you absolutely have to because the thing is a battery drain) you have to turn the device upside down. Of course the screen reorients, but then the buttons are on the opposite side… basically every time I pick the thing up I have to search for the on/off switch.

Ultimately my inability to memorize button layout is my own fault, but it drives me nuts.

The device I bought was returned or refurbished — the description wasn’t terribly clear — but it arrived in factory packaging and looked brand new save a few tiny cosmetic scratches I didn’t even notice until I’d had the thing for several hours. I love those little scratches because they knocked over a hundred bucks off the prices of the device!

I still use my older Kindle device, the Kindle Keyboard, for real reading, though. While the Fire HD is an excellent media consumption device — great for everything from email to social media and HD movies — it’s not half as comfortable for reading. The Kindle Keyboard isn’t backlit, is half the size of the Fire HD 8.9″, and is wholly superior for sucking down long-form works of text. With its nearly infinite battery power and the leather case complete with built-in reading light it’s an ideal reading device. (I would upgrade to the Paperwhite except I dropped a lot of money on that leather case and am not ready to make it obsolete quite yet. Also the thing is still receiving software updates and works just fine.) The Kindle Fire models are adequate for reading, but the size, weight, battery drain, and lit screen are all non-trivial issues by comparison.

Anyway, I gave the Fire 7″ to my brother. He immediately rooted it. I probably would have kept it and done the same myself — sometimes you really want access to the Google market — but I tend toward generosity when wine drunk and excited about new electronic devices.

I’ve ordered a Bluetooth keyboard to use with the thing. I don’t really need it, but it will make using the device for emails and blogging while traveling much more comfortable.

Update: It’s the last day of the year and I LOVE this tablet. Use the shit out of it. Still hate the button locations, but otherwise it’s a great device.

Broken stuff + love

In which I break a couple of things and the long-distance relationship is great.

Yesterday, my 31 day-old phone died. Just up and goddamned failed, right in the middle of the afternoon. Six months ago, I probably wouldn’t have cared much about being phoneless for a day or three, but now my phone is my main source of communication with the Internet boyfriend so it really bummed me out.

In all my years of carrying various cell phones, I’ve never dropped nor broken nor drowned a phone, so I suppose it’s my turn for a catastrophic phone failure. The thing turns on but won’t boot, and it won’t turn off unless the battery is pulled. It occasionally boots into its version of BIOS or sometimes into a dialog that asks if I really want to install a non-standard operating system package, but other than that it’s just the blue TrackPhone screen. My brother looked at it and agreed: it’s fucking DEAD.

I need to get out to Walmart to exchange it; G’ma said she’d haul me out there this or tomorrow afternoon. I can’t find the receipt but I hope they replace it anyway.

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The day before yesterday I went out to the garage to hop on my bike and ride over to the store, but I discovered the front tire was completely flat. I aired it up — having a compressor fucking rocks — but it was pretty low yesterday morning. I dropped it at the shop after work.

Today, after making the newspaper, I trudged over there in the heat to pick it up but they hadn’t gotten to it yet. So I had to walk home in the heat. Again.

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Internet boyfriend is coming to visit in September. Soooo excited I could absolutely pop.

We’re smitten with each other. We spent ten hours in video chat last Sunday (not contiguous; there were trips to kitchens and stores and such, and I took a nap) and never got bored of looking at each other. This is par for the course. We text, we IM, we call, we video chat, we email. Constantly. The only time we’re out of touch is work and gigs, and even then we still text every few hours. I think we both agree it’s fortunate nobody else has to put up with us — well, except the NSA — because we’re in that really cutesy phase only charming if you’re in it.

He has a beard but it turns out there are dimples under there. DIMPLES. Y’all know how I feel about dimples.

Last night on Skype with him I spent a solid hour just crying with laughter. (He’s systematically destroying my refined left coast humor with his pedantic Midwestern humor. It’s a travesty. I cannot believe the shit I’ll laugh at if he says it.) I adore him. He also hits everything on the fairly negative and bitchy list I wrote a few years ago except for being a devotee part; interestingly enough Amma gave me double prasad at one of my darshans this year and I sent the extra to him; interestingly enough he’s keeping it in his freezer because he considers it sacred.

“Eat the chocolate, nerd, that’s what it’s for.”

“Oh, I will. But not now, bitch!”

Droid probs.

In which Gingerbread broke my camera app. And there’s a question for you to answer!

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] take the majority of my photographs with my cell phone. They’re spontaneous pictures and don’t have to be high quality, but on the other hand, they do need to not actively suck.

My phone is an LG Optimus S. In the beginning, it took acceptable pictures even though it has always sucked in low-light conditions. It worked for my needs. It’s a fucking phone, after all.

But since the update to Gingerbread, it takes pictures like this:

Lovely January morning

That picture was taken in broad daylight, in bright sunlight. It was not taken at dusk. It was taken at ten o’clock in the morning on a sunny day. But see how dark it is? And how blue everything is?

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Joining the tablet revolution.

In which I accidentally buy a Kindle Fire.

I did not need a new device. My Kindle 3 (the model now known as the “Kindle Keyboard”) isn’t even a year old yet, and it works just fine. After I sprung (sprang?) for the expensive but elegant and cleverly-designed OEM leather cover with the built-in light, I could even read in the dark. It’s eminently portable, wireless, holds 1500 books, and I’d hacked it to display custom screen savers. It did not need to be replaced.

It’s just that I have a job now, and therefore there was money in my account on the day my clicking finger went ahead and decided for me. And now I have the Kindle Fire!

Kindle Fire 1st gen

The Fire is a seriously great deal for two hundred bucks. The hardware is really nice for such a low price point — I hear they’re being sold at a loss (Amazon’s favorite market-cornering trick, see: the entire ebook industry). The device is fast, responsive, and has very nice screen resolution. It’s many, many times more elegant than that knock-off tablet I had briefly last year.

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Why the iPad doesn't matter.

In which I may be talkin’ shit about the iPad, but I still totally want one.

There are these awesome people I’m friends with on Twitter. Right now they’re all pissed off at me because I don’t agree with them that the iPad is the Bestest Thing Evar And Proof That Apple is Ascendant In All Ways, and I have to quit discussing it with them or they’ll all quit following me. One of them’s pissed because I called him an Apple fanboi, and another told me that the iPad is a “cultural phenomenon.”

Well, the iPad is not a cultural phenomenon. It’s a boutique social networking device for university-educated white people who can’t be arsed to carry their 17″ laptops all the way to the couch so they can check their Facebook during True Blood.

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Christmas loot.

In which I tell you about the gifts I received.

For Christmas I got a Kindle gift certificate (yay moar ebooks!), a red goblet, candy (some of it filled with tequila, I kid you not!), a hand-made tote bag, cash, and a little herb garden kit.

I really wanna buy myself some sort of shiny new electronic device for Christmas (a new phone, Kindle, or iPod) but I’ll need to buy school books next week. After I’ve done that, I’ll be able to get myself something fun. I think it might have to be a phone, though, since mine now shuts itself off at random.

Last night, my brother and I walked over to Amity’s and stood around the fire on her patio and drank beer and talked to people. It was nice. I love having a friend five blocks away; it makes me feel like I really live here now. Continue reading

Amazon and DRM.

In which I’m torn between really liking a device that works well, and feeling like I should never use it again.

Last December, I bought myself an Amazon Kindle as a Christmas-slash-layoff present.

Can has shiny new Kindle!

I bought it not because I didn’t already have a way to read ebooks (I have four separate ebook apps on my iPod Touch) but because I had device envy: the Kindle was a sleek little number with a 3G connection.

Plus, NLW said I’d like it, and she’s usually right.

The 3G connection was the kicker. I could buy books anywhere – in the car, at the store, in an airport! Imagine how great it would be to finish the second book in a trilogy and be able to download and begin reading the third book without even leaving your chair, man. That’s just plain hawt.

So now I have a Kindle, and it really is a slick little device. I carry it around with me more than I expected to. I currently have 77 items on it, from full-length books to short stories to today’s New York Times and this week’s Amritapuri news.

Since acquiring my Kindle, I’ve changed the Amazon bookmark in my browser to take me to the Kindle store instead of the main page. I have 31 items in my Kindle account, which means that Amazon got much more money out of me then they ever did when all of my ebook money went to Fictionwise and Baen and Mobipocket.

My Kindle works really well. It recently received an operating system update that made it even cooler than it already was. For the first time in all my years as an Amazon customer I started a second Wish List, so I could track the Kindle books and accessories I’m lusting over.

But then there’s Amazon’s party line:

Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate without notice from Amazon if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement. In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Software and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Service or to Digital Content without notice to you and without refund of any fees.

- Amazon, Kindle Terms of Service

Which means, in a nutshell, that Amazon can brick your Kindle remotely whenever it likes. Which means you don’t own your ebooks, you’re just licensing them. (They’ve already mass-erased books from lots of devices.) If you decide to break the DRM and read a Kindle book on another device, you’re breaking the agreement and possibly even the law as well.

Cory Doctorow refuses to sell his works in Kindle format – you can get them for free from his website, but you can’t buy them from Amazon.com: he’s that against DRM and all it implies. He says that book ownership predates even the publishing industry itself, and he’s right. The ideas in a book might belong to the author, but the book itself belongs to its owner.

In the olden days, after you bought a book it was yours. You could read it, burn it, loan it, re-read it, let 11 family members read it, and then sell it: it was YOURS.

Now I’m giving money to a company who can brick my device if they merely think I’m acting funny. I have to back up all my Amazon ebook purchases and DRM-strip them just in case, or I risk the possibility of having rented rather than purchased the works in my account.

All of this pisses me off. I want to use my cool new technology, and they make it really easy for me to do so, but I don’t want Amazon thinking they’re getting away with this. They probably think the majority of their Kindle users are morons, and the more we use our Kindles and the more we accept their crappy licence agreements the more proof they have that we really are.

Yes, I still buy books from the other sites, but it’s just so much easier (and often cheaper, because Amazon sells the majority of their ebooks at a loss) to buy them directly from the Kindle itself.

Read The Future of Reading. It’s short and sweet and says most of what needs to be said.

I’m wondering if I shouldn’t abandon ebook reading on both the Kindle and the iPod Touch and find some other way of doing it. Isn’t it my duty to vote with my money?

Dear Book Publishers: a Treatise on Ebook Insanity

In which publishers and sellers alike seem to be on the verge of losing their minds.

kindle2iFirst off, let me just say that I’ve been reading ebooks since 1994. They’re not new. This whole ebook thing has been coming for a long, long time, and I can’t figure out why the big book publishers can’t figure out how to monetize ebooks without acting like morons.

Second off, I’ve been buying ebooks for a long time too, and I’ve read a lot of ebooks on a lot of platforms. Those are my creds as an ebook reader, so I kinda know what I’m talking about here, from a customer’s point of view. Seriously, I only know one person who has been reading ebooks as long as I have (this means you, NLW).

Third off, what the fuck is going on over at Amazon? They’ve pulled literally every Macmillan title due to some kind of “pricing dispute.” Apparently, Macmillan, after learning that the Apple ebook store will let them charge more than $9.99 per title, has decided that Amazon should do the same. Since Amazon sells virtually all of its ebooks at the $9.99 pricepoint, they pulled the Macmillan titles! (My beloved Tor is a Macmillan imprint, BTW.) It’s a freakin’ mess, and you know who’s getting hurt?

The authors. Because their BOOKS AREN’T SELLING.

A lot of treeware publishers are doing a terrible job embracing the ebook format. They’re running around carrying on about DRM and sounding like idiot RIAA executives from the 90′s. It’s a mess. They should all go read Eric Flint’s brilliant argument for loss leaders and against DRM, written a decade ago, posted at the Baen Free Library.

Here are some truths:

1. DRM DOES NOT PROTECT YOUR CONTENT! EVER!
2. PIRACY IS NOT THAT BIG OF A GODDAMNED PROBLEM!
3. THE BIGGEST PROBLEM FOR AUTHORS IS EXPOSURE!

1. I have never given anyone an ebook that I have purchased. NEVER. Not once. (Well, maybe once or twice, but if so I don’t remember it.) But if I wanted to give someone an ebook, the file format wouldn’t matter – any secure format can be broken. Back when the iTunes store was still selling music with DRM, all you had to do to break it was burn your songs to disc and then rip them back into your library! Duh! I have software on my computer right now that will break DRM on music, video, and certain ebook formats. Why? Because sometimes I want to use my content on hardware other than the hardware the seller wants me to use it on. Since I PAID FOR IT, I feel completely fine about breaking the DRM for my own ends, just as I feel fine tearing a blank page out of a treeware book to write a note on.

2. I’ve read absurd projections by some publishers; they claim they would lose a huge amount of money if they distributed new book releases in non-secure ebook format. WTF, over? They sound just like the record companies. I can’t believe these people didn’t pay attention to electronic formats in the music industry! Where the hell were they? Yes, some content gets pirated, but so what? It’s free advertisement! A truly heartening percentage of the ebook reading public is made up of moral people who will, if they can, pay for things they’ve enjoyed. Piracy does not “lose” you money. You can’t lose money you never had in the first place.

3. And, as they say so well over at Baen, loss leaders WORK. If you have a trilogy, give the first book away for free in ebook format. It’s cheap because all you have to do is format it once and host it; there are no manufacturing costs involved. You’ll find (if the book doesn’t suck) that the entire trilogy’s sales will increase: win/win for publisher and author.

Hey big publishers, the electronics are coming! You gotta get ready! It used to be a sub-market of weirdos like me with rare hardware, but now we’ve got the Kindle and the iPad and by the end of this decade the ebook format is going to be ubiquitous. You need to figure this out tout de suite. You are going to have to embrace the ebook format. You are going to have to take a smaller cut on electronic books, and you are going to have to change your product release cycle to quit holding ebook versions for ten months and then overcharging for them.

We, your audience, know perfectly well that the cost of producing a treeware book is SIGNIFICANTLY LARGER than the cost of releasing an ebook, and it pisses us off when you set ebook price points at hardcover levels. (I didn’t buy the a particular Guy Gavriel Kay book for over five years because it was nearly thirty bucks. THIRTY BUCKS FOR AN EBOOK? I waited until it came down to proper ebook range before I bought it.) It also pisses us off when we learn that between you and the ebook vendor, authors are making pennies off of ebooks – that’s why we buy them, when we can, directly from the author’s website, or from ebook sellers who are known to pay higher percentages.

With the paper, printing, and shipping out of the equation, all a publisher does is select, edit, and promote. That pretty much makes you an agent, which lowers your take pretty significantly. Which is okay, because the book market is huge. Readers tend to read a lot, and ebook readers will continue to make it easier and easier to read (and buy) a lot of content.

You have got to change.

Please, do it more gracefully than the music industry did, mmm’kay? You need to get ebooks to market alongside the treeware versions, and yes, you have to charge less for them. You have to select industry-standard formats; don’t bring yet another format to the table because there are already dozens. Forget about stupid DRM, too, because it DOESN’T DO ANYTHING BUT ANNOY EVERYONE. Design and implement appropriate sales tracking, so that you can see for yourself that ebooks can actually increase treeware sales. (Look at Cory Doctorow! He releases all his books in ebook format… for free! And he’s a success. Go figure!)

Believe me. This doesn’t have to be scary, and you don’t have to look stupid. Mellow out, there, big fellas. It’ll be okay.

The Kindle

In which I review the new device!

For Christmas, I bought myself a Kindle. (It probably wasn’t particularly clever to spend nearly three hundred bucks on an unnecessary electronic device the very week I got laid off, but whatever. This may be why I never had kids. Moving on!)

Can has shiny new Kindle!

The form factor is nice. It’s light, thin, and sleek. It’s comfortable to hold. The screen is, surprisingly, quite easy to read, even in fairly low light situations – though I’ll still be buying a clip-on light since I happen to like to read in no-light situations. A lot. (Side effect of having read ebooks on backlit devices for the past twelve years is that I expect to be able to read in the dark: cars at night, unlit rooms, pubs, etc.)

I think the ‘NEXT PAGE’ buttons are placed too low. I have monstrously long thumbs and I’m pretty sure the button placement would be annoying to men or other persons with large hands. The 5-way mouse thingy could have been a little more elegantly designed, but for a second-generation device it’s fairly well thought out. It’s attractive-looking. (I never in a million years would have purchased the original Kindle. OMG that thing was hideously ugly.)

I don’t know why it’s white, except that maybe they were going for a clean, upwardly mobile Apple thing. I wish it came in grey or black, because I think the white case makes the screen look dingy.

Kindle

The keyboard is almost entirely useless, but at least it’s there. The ‘experimental’ browser is the same because it can’t display a lot of common web content, not just because I have a slow Whispernet connection.

It’s really, really easy to browse Amazon.com and buy ebooks, though. Wow. They totally got that part right! Instant delivery! I can already imagine the joy of this feature when finishing book 2 of a trilogy and being able to get book 3 immediately no matter where I am.

The ‘HOME’ layout is stupid and needs to incorporate tags or genres or folders or something, to save one from having to page through 1,500 titles at a mere 10 titles per page. I’m still digging around in various Kindle superuser forums to see if there’s a hack for that.

The battery life is astonishingly good. I’ve seen some complaints in various forums that leaving the wireless on will drain the battery faster, but my device hasn’t been charged since the day I got it and has used only 25% of its charge. I’ve left wireless on the whole time.

Another wonderful feature is native PDF support. This is freakin’ awesome! I currently have my résumé and a sock pattern – both PDFs – on my Kindle just because I can.

Two of my favorite ebook stores, Fictionwise and Baen, support Kindle. All of my non-DRM Mobi format ebooks can be read on the device.

My particular Kindle is a K2i, which means “Kindle 2 International,” which means it’s an AT&T device (rather than a Sprint device like the U.S. version). I mention this because, well. Here’s a map of the AT&T coverage where I happen to live:

Kindle Coverage Map

Dark purple is 3G, lavender is lower-speed EDGE, and the red box in the middle is Walla Walla. I only get one bar most of the time; two if I’m standing in the yard.

Still, although book downloads don’t take place “in under a minute” for me, I signed up for free 14-day free trials of The New York Times and Blog Kindle, and it’s pretty cool when they’re both there when I wake up in the morning. It would be an especially trick freature for those with long bus or train commutes, because they wouldn’t have to do anything like sync the device to get their news each day.

Each Kindle comes with its own @kindle.com email address, so you or designated others – maybe people at the office – can email ebooks to your device. Neat! (Oh, but Amazon charges you a dime or more every time you do so. Boo! Hiss!)

I discovered Calibre, an iTunes-like ebook application (it’ll even download cover art) that syncs with a variety of ebook readers including the Kindle. I told it where all my ebooks were, and it organized them like iTunes organizes music. It will even convert ebooks from one format to another so that they can be read on different device types. Best of all, it aggregates feeds and either syncs them to the Kindle over USB, or emails them at a particular time every day, neatly solving the $12 per month fee one has to pay Amazon for daily delivery of each blog or newspaper. (Calibre looks like this.)

Apparently, Mobipocket Reader software can also be used to manage one’s Kindle and news feeds.

I had to hack my Kindle, of course, to take custom wallpapers, because… well, I just had to. (Here are the wallpapers I made.)

Kindle

I’m pretty happy with my Kindle. We’ll see if I’m still in love with it in six months. It’s not half as portable as the iPod Touch, on which I have three different ebook reading apps installed (including Amazon’s Kindle for iPhone, which syncs furthest-read with the Kindle so I can switch back and forth easily).

I suspect that my Kindle will live at home, and I’ll use it primarily for long novels and news while continuing to carry the iPod Touch literally everywhere with me and reading short stories on it.

Total: 4 out of 5 stars

The Kindle is everything Amazon says it is, I just don’t know if I’m the right user for this particular device. I’m so used to having my ebook reader be a single application on a device that does a variety of other things that a dedicated ebook device seems a little stunted. I think if I’d magically received a Kindle DX I might have thought, “Now here’s a proper dedicated ebook reader!” because honestly the screen real estate on this device doesn’t pack the punch I’d need to see. The Kindle is a joy to interact with, and while my functional needs might be otherwise, intellectually I like the simplicity of a dedicated device that does only one thing, and does it well.


Update: A few weeks after I got my Kindle, AT&T rolled out better coverage in the Walla Walla valley. Yay!