Weekend With a Kindle

This past weekend I was given a Kindle 2 to test.  For anyone that doesn’t know, the Kindle is Amazon’s e-book reader that has been getting a lot of attention lately for attempting to change the way we read books.  When I first received the Kindle, I had to register it.  If you already have an Amazon account this couldn’t be easier.  After a couple clicks and putting in my Username and password, the Kindle was synced with my account and ready to go.  I was able to do it all through the Kindle itself, I never had to go to my computer.

I received the Kindle, fully charged, on Thursday after work and did not have to charge it until Monday morning when I returned to work.  Downloading books (reading one in its entirety), browsing wikipedia, and having 3G on the entire time, I didn’t run out of battery (it probably could have made it through the rest of the day if I really wanted to push its limit).  One strange thing was even when the Kindle was “off” it still drained a little power.  Sliding the off button on the Kindle will generate the screen to go to a picture of a famous author with a message telling you to slide the power switch to turn the Kindle on.  The screen never completely went blank.  Not a big deal for a device that lasts days on a single charge, but if you want to conserve battery in a pinch it doesn’t help that there is no real way to turn it off completely.  *UPDATE* In the comments Paul mentioned that the screen does not require power to display an image, only to change the image.  So the screen is not what drains power when the device is switched off.

An added power saving feature, is if the device is not used for an extended period, it will power off automatically.  I haven’t found a setting to turn this on or off or to change the time it waits.

The device would also restart on random occasions.  I couldn’t find a good explaination for this other than a software glitch.  It only happened twice in the 4 days I used the device for testing.

Hardware

The Kindle has a very solid feel.  It seems a bit dense, and makes it feel heavier when you’re holding it than it actually is.  It feels heavier than your average book at first, but I got used to the weight pretty quickly.

The screen is amazing for reading.  Very clear and natural looking.  You forget you’re on an electronic device sometimes.  Page turning is a little slow due to the fact the entire screen has to refresh.  Its nothing really annoying though and you get used to it pretty fast.  The screen stays static though.  Whenever you move the curser or change the page, the screen needs to refresh.  This was really only a problem when browsing the Internet and sometimes on the Home Menu.  When reading an actual book though it wasn’t a factor.

Pictures were surprisingly clear.  The 16 shades of grey were able to get a good amount of detail into the images.  They were slow to load for the most part though, since it seemed to push the screen to its limit when they were displayed.  On my Kindle there was a light grey bar of discoloration that would show up on the images.  It wasn’t very distracting but went to show that the Kindle wasn’t made for images.  Its a text only device.  Don’t think you’re going to store a photo collection on there any time soon.  Any books with illustrations or diagrams run into the same problem.

The five-way controller was easy to use to navigate the Kindle menus.  I would have liked there to be a way to navigate with your left hand, since I am left handed, but you can’t have everything.  The Kindle has about 1.5gb of free space available for storing files.  This is more than enough if you are just doing books, when you start getting into pictures and music, its not much.  I wouldn’t plan on being able to use the kindle as and mp3 player even though it has this feature, the space is just to limited and there is no expansion card slot.

Software

Amazon says any book in under 60 seconds, in my experience the books took much less time.  10-20 seconds tops.  I downloaded a couple books from the Kindle Store.  I could see myself really using the store to find new books.  It was very easy to navigate and offered some good suggestions of books I wouldn’t have found on my own.  A drawback, I was surprised to find, is not all the books are formateed correctly.  I downloaded the book Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla by John J. O’Neill.  This  book appeared in a very different font than everything else on the Kindle.  The pages looked like scans directly from the book itself.  Some of the words were unreadable and overall made for an unenjoyable reading experience.  This was the only book I found that had this problem.  I downloaded several other books from the Kindle Store and they all displayed correctly.

A great feature I found, was the ease at which I could access public domain books and download them directly to the Kindle.  I opened up the browser to Google, typed in “free kindle books” and was taken to freekindlebooks.org, a site made for viewing on the Kindle browser.  I downloaded the classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  The book downloaded in a few seconds and appeared right in my home screen, same as a book purchased in the Kindle Store.  I download several free and public domain books from freekindlebooks.org and Project Gutenberg.  All the books worked perfectly with the Kindle.  I never had to attach the Kindle to the computer once to get books onto it.  Everything was done through the Kindle browser.

The Internet on the Kindle was very good considering the device.  It is not made for heavy internet use, but it is manageable in a pinch.  On the train ride home, I was able to browse imdb to settle an argument about a movie.  I also was able to get on Gmail to read a couple emails I had. I wouldn’t recommend extended use of the Kindle browser, but its there when you need it.

Miscellaneous Stuff

Some final notes about my experience with the Kindle 2.  The signal strength indicator fluctuated a lot.  According to the indicator I was going in and out of coverage pretty consistently.  However this never effect the actual use of the device.  I was always able to get online and download books at the same speed no matter what the signal strength said.  This could be just a quirk of the software, but it didn’t seem to have any real effect.

Amazon has been in the news for its text-to-speech functionality on the Kindle.  Many book publishers don’t like it.  It’s hidden in the Kindle’s experimental menu (along with the browser and mp3 player).  I played around with the feature.  It does exactly what it says, it reads the book to you over headphones or the Kindle’s speaker.  It’s a very metallic sounding voice though, nowhere near like the old Mac voice, but its not enjoyable for extended periods of time.  I couldn’t really use it.  I found it more annoying than helpful.

There is no clock on the device. Because the screen is static it makes sense that you can’t have an always changing thing like time be displayed constantly. I would have liked to see a keyboard shortcut to quickly display the time when I was reading. While on the train I had to check my phone for the time to make sure I didn’t miss my stop. Would have been convenient if I could look on the Kindle while I was reading. It’s a minor detail that would make the use a bit more enjoyable.

Overall the Kindle 2 is a great device for reading books. I highly recommend the device for anyone that enjoys reading. It makes getting books easy and cheap, and could even save you some money in the long run. Don’t get this device if you think its going to be an all-in-one device for you to carry. It can do multiple things in a pinch, but not reliable or easy enough to use regularly. Its not an mp3 player, not an internet device, and not for viewing pictures. This is an e-book reading with some nice added features to play around with.

If you’ve got any experience or opinions on the Kindle, leave a message in the comments.

4 Alternative Uses for Your Blog

Software list– I often blog about new software I find and use. When setting up a new computer you can use your blog to recall all the little programs you usually use. It much easier to find programs on your blog then searching the web, since you are the one that organized it all.

Tweaks and Tips- little tricks I’ve found and like, I blog about. Its often easier for me to show someone a how-to on my blog rather than explaining the whole process to them. It also saves me time with not having to explain the same thing to different people, everyone is able to view the blog.

Online Organization– a blog can be used as an online organizational tool. Its a central location to store any thoughts or ideas you write about for quick future in the access. Its much easier to have ideas on your blog rather than trying to remember every little things. Also the data is accessible from anywhere, so you don’t have to be at your own computer to access your data.

Digital Toolbox– I’ve done a couple posts on fixing problems that I’ve had with my computer, and cited programs that I use for cleaning up my computer. This information come in handy when I have to work on friends and family computers. I just got to my blog and get all the tools and information I need in one location.

With all these alternative uses for your blog, the more you blog, the more useful it is.

Follow Up to ‘The New Big Brother’

Kevin Ohannessian of Mansueto Digital, recently wrote a post on his blog at fastcompany.com in response to some things I said in my post “Apple: The New Big Brother.” His post agreed with my views on Apple but now of how I dragged Google into the same field. I see where he is coming from and I understand the differences he makes between Apple and Google. However, I agrue that they are similar in other aspects. Both companies have very different business strategies but they reach the same effect on the market. Apple looks to control mainly through their hardware and their closed system approach to software, where Google uses a very open system of trying to amass as much as possible quickly. Google’s software is mostly free and open to be used by anyone.

Google still creates great control through this method though. You can’t seem to do anything on the Internet without going through Google. Whether it’s you’re email, rss feed, calender, maps, searching, advertising, blogging (this blog), or media (youtube). Whatever you want to do, Google has a service for you. And everyone is using these services. Google creates a more open system at the moment but they still have all the control. They buy up new companies every month, and are constantly growing on all fronts, moving into every aspect of technology possible. Google has just as much control over consumers as Apple does.

They reach the same ends through different means. Both companies are trying to become the one stop shop for all consumer needs, and control the flow of media in the consumer’s life.

Resources for Post
Kevin Ohannessian- Not Quite Conversation

The New Big Brother

Apple has been gaining market share and momentum with every product they release. Apple used to be viewed as the windows alternative in a time when Microsoft controlled everything. Apple products were for the independent, non conformist in all of us, our way of sticking it to corporate America. But does this still hold true today?

Apple released this commercial to play during the Super Bowl. It was a direct shot at big brother of the time IBM, and showed how Apple wanted to bring down big brother. View on YouTube.

Microsoft used to be criticized for its closed system and its control over developers (the whole issue with the antitrust law suits in the 90’s), however Apple is now more of a closed system than Microsoft ever was. Apple is looking to control everything a person does with media. They want to be your computer (iMac, MacBook), your phone (iPhone), your mp3 and PMP device (iPod/Touch), where you buy your music and movies (iTunes), and effect how you interact with your TV (iTV). For almost any conceivable way you can use digital media, Apple has a product for you. And that product fits into they entire product line that Apple offers. Every product and software is designed in a closed system, meaning all these products work great with one another in their own system but not so great with product outside the system (non-Apple product). This is the reason most Apple shoppers are repeat customers. Its just easier to have a product that you know will work with all your other gadgets. But is this a good system? Albert Einstein claimed that “a closed system would become stagnant over time.” Has Apple figured out how to prove this wrong or is their system going to come to a crashing halt in the future.

Trying to control everything seems to be becoming more of a common trend for big technology companies. Google is another perfect example of this. If you wanted to, you could trust almost you’re entire digital or online life to Google. They have services for everything. Companies that do this create closed systems and ultimately hurt the consumer. It makes things easier as first, as long as you stay with a certain company or product line. But what if you want to branch out? What if you want to customize your experience? What if you want to add things that these big companies don’t offer? The overall effect of a closed system is bad, especially if it manages to squeeze out smaller companies. Once a company has a closed system and has their customers locked into that system, innovation will suffer. Products become good for the masses and not tailored to the individual, and that was one of the appeals of computers, you could customize you’re experience. This is the entire view of the Open Source movement (but that’s another topic entirely).

The one company that is actually taking a turn to become more of a open system is big brother himself, Microsoft. Microsoft is still a proprietary software system but they are becoming much more open. Programs such as DreamSpark are looking to put developer tools in the hands of younger generations so that they can develop their own software for the windows platform. Microsoft also has the CodePlex project. This is a community software development site. People are free to create, share, add, help, discuss, and anything else they want to do with various project postings for software that will run on the Windows platform. Microsoft has even begun to develop a new free operating system geared toward education and researchers, Singularity. This program is still in the beta stages and a long way off from being complete but it is a move in the right direction. Microsoft has been a close system in the past and seen how it limits growth and creativity. They have stepped out of the box and embraced the software community. Microsoft is by no means a brand new company, they are still out to make money and most of their top-line software still costs top-dollar, but they are becoming more open for new software developers, where other operating systems (i.e. Apple’s OSX) are taking steps in the opposite direction.

The future of technology is in the creation of a more open system. Where software can be used and developed freely in a community or personal environment. Technology should be a custom experience to the individual, and they should not be forced to conform to a particular company’s views on what the consumer needs in a closed system.

Resources Used for This Post
Fast Company- All Eyes On Apple
PC World- Microsoft Develops New OS From Scratch
Microsoft CodePlex