Category Archives: Technology is cool

Hands-on with the Kindle 4

So amongst the usual stack of books I received this Christmas was a shiny new Kindle 4. I had reservations over ereaders for a long time and few who know me thought I would ever own, let alone enjoy, one. But were they right?

No.

I love my Kindle. It’s fab. Here’s why:

• It’s like reading a book; e-ink really is as good as the printed page. There’s no glare, no eyestrain, no headaches. Brilliant.

• It weighs less than a book; War and Peace will no longer break your wrists.

• It’s not a book; I don’t have to worry about breaking the spine (I’m the sort of person who makes a sound of agony when I see someone breaking the spine of a book. I figure it’s my way of helping the voiceless book express its pain.) It also means I can read with one hand and still turn the pages, allowing me to multi-task.

Downsides? I won’t lie, there are some. It is, of course, never going to be the same as reading a real book (for which I have a true love). If the book has a great cover, for instance, you don’t get to see it when you pick it up (this also means you can’t show off the oh-so-clever book you’re reading to your fellow commuters). You can’t flip back a hundred pages or so; flicking the pages involves finding a location (how the hell do I know what location the dining room scene was at?), and the real page numbers mean nothing on an ereader. And it’s a little hard to get attached to a digital file in the same way as a physical book. Although some might say I could do with a little less attachment to books.

But then an ereader shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for books any more than mp3s were a replacement for CDs. It’s an enhancement, and I’m thrilled to be able to expand my reading experience with a new tool.

A few tips for anyone thinking of picking up the Kindle 4:

• Registering is no picnic; the Kindle decided my username and password weren’t valid and forced me to register on the Amazon website using the serial number. If you need this, you can find it in Device Info, under Settings.

• The onscreen keyboard is pointless; you’ll use it if it’s an absolute necessity only. This makes buying ebooks on the Kindle itself a chore. I recommend using your computer or smartphone. If you’ve not got one or you want to buy books on the Kindle, pay extra for the Kindle Keyboard.

• The Kindle ships with a USB cable only. This means you can only charge it from your computer out of the box. If you want to charge it from a wall socket you’ll need to buy an adapter. You can use any USB adapter, though. I use the one for my iPhone.

The Ereader Wars Are Already Over

With Christmas galloping its way towards us at a frightening pace, a gift that’s guaranteed to be popular this year is an ereader. Even for us poor Brits, though, there’s plenty of choice out there. But I’m here to tell that there is no choice at all.

You’re probably already scoffing at me now. There’s plenty of choice, you may cry. iPad, Kobo, Android tablets, Kindle, Sony, Nook and many more! All viable ereaders with similar technology. And whilst this is true there is, to mind, only two things that matter.

E-ink and content.

Tablet computers use LCD displays which produce glare and chew up battery life. E-ink is like reading a physical page and consume so little power a single charge can last a month. For ereaders, e-ink is the only way forward.

Content, you might think, would boil down to how many books you can get on a particular device. Tablets actually win on this score because of their ability to offer different bookstores through apps. But, on the dedicated ereader, Amazon has launched a torpedo that struck true.

The .AZW format.

This is the format that all Amazon ebooks are sold in. It’s also a format that isn’t supported by any ereader other than the Kindle; it’s owned by Amazon and they won’t let anyone else play with it. That means that anyone who buys an Amazon book must have a Kindle or Kindle app to read it on.

Sure, you could just buy all your books elsewhere. But Amazon have 152 million customers who have already been lured in by the fact that Amazon sell almost everything. You’re probably one of them. And the odds are that most of those customers won’t go somewhere else to buy ebooks. It’s too much of a bother. And once you’ve bought that .AZW ebook, you’re stuck with a Kindle. And, as previously discussed, there’s only one real choice in that department.

So don’t let people convince you there’s an ereader war. There isn’t. Until Amazon open up support for .AZW ebooks, or adopt a more open format, there’s only one ereader that matters at all: the Kindle 4.

Don’t agree? Feel free to put me in my place.

5 Things You Need to Know About the iPhone 4S

1. Siri is very impressive, but it’s not 2001 yet.

Siri is a huge improvement on Apple’s old Voice Control software and it’s certainly worthy of the fuss people have made over it. It’s capable of stringing together a conversation (almost), in the sense you can ask, for example, “what’s the time in New York?” followed by “what’s the weather like there?”. A lot of speech recognition services I’ve seen seem to reset after each interaction. It’s also capable of remembering relationships, which is really impressive! But at times I’ve got carried away and spoken to it as if it’s intelligent. It isn’t. There’s room for improvement, but it’s still fun.

2. You can’t put it down. Literally.

Unlike the 3GS, the iPhone 4S (and, of course, the 4) has a smooth glass back. Put it down on anything other than a flat surface and you’ll find your new phone doing a lemming impression.

3. 3G is the only way to go.

The option to switch off the 3G and onto an Edge/GRPS network has been removed. This means battery life takes a hit. This is a stupid omission and an idiotic move on Apple’s part. Hopefully we’ll see this rectified soon.

4. The camera is on par with a dedicated digital camera.

Whilst a digital camera is always going to win in terms of functionality, the improved 8 megapixel camera and LED flash is excellent. I can see my camera sitting at home a lot now I have a 4S.

5. This is evolution, not revolution.

A number of people have told me I have no right to be so pleased with my phone as it’s like an iPhone 4 only better. This, to my mind, is like telling me I can’t be pleased with an Aston Martin DB9 because it’s like a Fiat Panda only better. The truth is that the upgrade from an iPhone 3GS is noticeable. Speed, storage space, camera and display are all improved. But, to my mind, there’s no point in upgrading from an iPhone 4. It’s not really worth it. Far better to wait and see what the iPhone 5 brings.

No Reason Not to Follow Your Heart

We woke up today to the news that Steve Jobs had passed away. I commented immediately that the world has become a less exciting place for his loss, and I’d like to clarify that.

My introduction to Apple was an “iLamp” iMac, so named because the computer sat in a semi-sphere base with the screen on a flexible arm on the top. I’d bought it because I’d heard they didn’t crash much and I’d owned a Toshiba laptop that started blue-screening after three months. That iMac was the coolest computer I’ve ever owned.

I became a big Apple fan and started watching Steve’s keynote speeches, even old ones. Part of me wanted to see what new revolution they were unveiling to the world. Part of me just enjoyed the performance.

Steve Jobs was a consumate salesman. Apple products were pushing the envelopes; iPods popularised the mp3 player, Macs were ditching the floppy drive (remember them?), iPhones effectively invented the consumer smartphone market. These products were so carefully designed, with Steve Jobs involved all the way down to, that they could sell themselves. But Steve would get up on a stage, with unbridled enthusiasm for the things they had made. You could see he was itching to get this cool new thing into the world. I heard rumours of the iPhone and confidently told everyone that I wouldn’t be buying one. Ater watching the Steve’s announcement, that changed.

I like my Apple products. I thank Steve for them and, while I know Apple has lost something great, I hope they’ll continue in his footsteps.

And I’m really going to miss the One More Things.

Where’s the Fire?

So unless you’ve been hiding under a log with your fingers in your ears this week, you’ll have heard that Amazon have announced a new bunch of Kindles. In fact, they announced three on Wednesday: the new Kindle, the Kindle Touch and the Kindle Fire. The old Kindle has been rebranded the Kindle Keyboard, which means there are now four Kindles on sale. That’s a lot of Kindles.

This, for me, raises two questions: why so many, and which is the best one to go for? A lot of people have also been asking, will the Kindle Fire topple the iPad? That’s a question for another day, though.

Why so many? Because Amazon want to capture as much of the market as they can. The new Kindle is cheaper than any Kindle has ever been, meaning that those who didn’t want to shell out £100+ for an ereader can now be tempted into the fold. The Kindle Touch is a direct competitor to the Nook and a reaction to the unarguable success of touch devices; Amazon wants in on that. And the Kindle Fire is a reaction to the equally unarguable success of tablets. For a company that sells books, films and music, to not offer a tablet device is just daft.

Which is the best to go for? That depends on what you want to do. To read books you now have three options (or, if you live in the UK, two; the Kindle Touch is, oddly, not being released here until next year). The new Kindle is the cheapest because it’s effectively the old Kindle Keyboard without the keyboard. It’s smaller and lighter, but it’s actually a step backwards in terms of functionality. If you want to type something on the new Kindle (say, if you want to look for a book on the Kindle store), you have to use a five way selector to pick out letters from an onscreen keyboard. Ugh. But, then, you’re paying a lot less, so it’s hard to complain when you’re saving $20 (or, in the UK, £20). The Kindle Keyboard and the Kindle Touch are the same price. The Keyboard is for those who don’t like touchscreens. Easy.

The Fire, though, is a different beast. It’s not a dedicated reading device. It’s a tablet. You can read on it, of course, but you can also read comics and illustrated books in colour, as well as watch movies, TV shows and listen to music. You can also do it for a very good price: just $199 (again, this won’t be available in the UK until next year, so the UK price is unknown). But, if you want to read books, this isn’t your best bet; the Fire has a colour LED screen, not an e-ink screen. This means it will be subject to screen glare, eye-strain and so on.

In the interests of disclosure, I think tablets are cool but haven’t yet been sold on their necessity, especially as I have an iPhone already (which is effectively a tiny tablet). So whilst the Fire is definitely cool, it’s still a tablet. If you want to read books, I would recommend looking at the e-ink models. And, amongst them, there’s really only two choices:

1) do I want an easy-to-use keyboard? If not, go for the new Kindle, otherwise go to choice 2.

2) Do I like touchscreens? If yes, go for the Kindle Touch (bad luck, UK). Otherwise, go for the Kindle Keyboard.

It’s that easy.