Amazon’s Kindle: eReader, internet device and cheese slicer

WP_20150113_22_49_26_ProFunny thing happens when you buy a piece of technology that, at the time, seems to be cutting edge. Yet, in just a few short years, it will become obsolete, regardless if it is still useful or not. Such a wonder is the original Amazon Kindle.

Introduced in 2007, the innovative Kindle eReader was an ugly and expensive device.  It languished a bit until Oprah Winfrey devoted an entire show to the device. Jeff Bezos came on and explained the device, Ms. Winfrey had a family explain how much they loved it and, best of all, the device was made available at a substantial discount if you used the magic code from the Oprah show. Each studio audience member also got one for free.  The device took off after that and so did the eReader category. Within a year or two, there dozens of devices available at a wide range of cost, from $99 to $500. 

The original Kindle was all white, used e-ink display technology and had a cell radio and something called Whispersync, which allowed for over the cell-air purchase and downloading of content. It would also keep your device in synch with other Kindle devices, be it a computer or another Kindle.  The cell radio was on the Sprint network and worked reasonably well. You could turn the radio off to conserve power.  Speaking of power, the device sipped the juice very conservatively. One could go weeks on a charge, as long as the radio was off.

The design of the device was unique.  Wedge shaped, it feature this funky ‘elevator’ controlWP_20150113_22_49_01_Pro that you would use to select lines or options. One would ‘click’ the wheel to make a selection.  There were lots of buttons, including a full but split qwerty keyboard and very large next and previous page buttons.

The on device software was fairly complete and featured a very crude web browser (something later Kindles would eschew) and a basic mp3 player that would play music while you read.  The browser, believe it or not, came in very handy during several storms and hurricanes. In fact, at one point during a hurricane in 2012, it was the only way we could get news while we were home. All of the cell phones had run out of battery power, and there was no internet so the iPad was kind of useless. I broke out the Kindle, which was about half charged, and not only caught up on the news, but was able to check the power company web site to see if restoration was near.

Amazon realized, by the time the Kindle 2 came out, that giving away life time service from Sprint was a costly thing to do and made the browser only work via Wi-Fi in later devices.  However, I’ve had my original Kindle since its introduction and STILL have the Whispersync service, even though another company services Amazon along with the grandfathered Sprint devices.

Overall, the original Kindle, while ugly, was a great device. It has since been made obsolete by newer and better devices from Amazon, Sony, Barnes and Noble, Samsung and others but this first device will always have a soft spot in my heart. 

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Kindles, iPods and crappy ear buds…high tech is not always best

LD-660If you’ve read a few of my posts here, you probably know how tech centric I am. I am a geek. A tech fan. A tech fanatic. I love technology. But…

I get tired of technology every now and again. And, just because I love technology, does not mean I loathe non-techie things. Like magazines. And books.  And things analog.

As much as I love my Kindles and iPad, I like to pick up a magazine, fresh from the newstand. The feel of the slick paper. The smell.  Having to actually, you know, drive to a store and walk inside, gander through the magazines and find the one I want. Yeah, I like doing that. I miss it. I subscribe to several magazines on my Kindle. One of them is no longer in PRINT, but still publishes a digital edition. While the publisher has done a fantastic job replicating the print edition in digital, the digital edition just isn’t the same.  Oh, sure, it has the same features, writers and even ads, it just is not the same thing. It is convenient to carry around and receive wirelessly, but I miss the paper edition.

Digital cameras have replaced film. Traditional film companies like Kodak and Fuji have abandoned film altogether. Digital seems to have won.  Now, don’t get wrong, I’m not a photographer and I love my digicams, but there is something missing from the photos I take. I’ve not been able to quite pinpoint it until recently while playing around with my HTC smartphone. I discovered that the camera app has settings to reproduce the LOOK OF FILM. Yep. All of the technology that went into the digital camera simply isn’t the same as film.  A friend of mine, recently, lamented the loss film saying that most digital photos lacked ‘life’.  I dismissed it (sorry) as being old fashioned. But, while playing with my phone, I discovered what my friend meant.  You can get really sharp photos with even a cheap digicam, but, without help, those photos look kind of lifeless. Take the same photo with a film camera and the photo takes on character.  My HTC phone replicates it via software. The color pops and the slight fuzziness all add up to a certain character that they would otherwise lack. It is hard to put into words, put I do understand now. I still love my digicams, but have a new respect for the old medium.

One thing I will not acquiesce on, however, is vinyl albums.  While they are still quaint and have a unique quality of sound, I rather enjoy the full range of digital audio. My complaint with modern albums (of the CD type) is the harsh and overly modulated sound and it is not a fault of the technology but of the producers.  More specifically, it is Apple’s fault. Those crappy little earbuds forced producers to play games with the audio so the tracks would sound better in those damned little cheap ear buds.  They, correctly, figured out that the majority of listeners use those crappy earbuds and NOT quality sound systems. iPods and other MP3 players are capable of decent quality audio (my Zune HD has superb output) but most of them will be used, solely, with those crappy ear buds.  Did I mention they were crappy?

Television. A medium that, in the United States, changed very little for nearly 50 years.  The last major change was color, and that took nearly 25 years. Then it was stereo and that took about five years. Then, digital came along.  After several false starts, it finally was real.  Only problem was that most stations still treated their broadcasts like it was 1980.  Most stations were slow to adopt high definition technology to enhance the digital broadcasts. Those expensive HD televisions were, for a while, nothing more than expensive standard definition monitors.  As more and more HD programming hit the air, stations converted to HD and such, I found myself wanting to watch my older stuff.  Like my LaserDisc and, wait for it, my VHS tapes. I have programs I recorded 25 years ago. I have LaserDiscs I bought in 1989. I have video games that I only play on the last remaining CRT television (a Zenith, at that!) What the hell is wrong here? Well, the HD programming, for the most part, is just as bad as its SD counterparts. The technology got better, but content did not.  Sigh. 

Other technology that I thought would be a great thing but did not turn out that way…

Digital picture frames.  When I first saw them, I was enamored with them.  They were cool. You could have a live slide show in your bedroom, living room or on your desk. They were expensive at first, but the price came down. When I finally got one, I was…well, less than than impressed. The one I got, a Pandigital, was mediocre.  The quality on most was just OK. And that was part of the problem. Quality devices were, and still are, ridiculously priced. And then you have to rotate pictures out. And there’s the power cord. The reality of them was that they were just a pain in the ass.  It is a product category that needs fixing.

Digital watches. A fad that came, went, came again and is going away.  I want a nice, quality digital watch but they are hard to find.  A nice analog watch is easier to find and cheaper, so that is what I use. And, yes, people still wear watches.  Oh, and no, I don’t want an iPod mini in a watch band with crappy ear buds.

In the end, I’m still a techie, a nerd, a geek, a lover of things high tech.  Still, that technology is not necessarily the best thing all the time. Sometimes, it is just better to sit back, un plug and read a book while listening to some good music. On a ‘hi-fi’. No crappy ear buds in site.

The New Kindle LIneup for 2012

Amazon announced new Kindles as well as updates to existing Kindles.  The current $79 Kindle will get a price reduction to $69 while the Touch and Touch 3G are being replaced by the Paperwhite line. Kindle Fire gets a reduction in price, a bump in performance and memory and several siblings. 

The 9 inch DX is history.

The Paperwhites

kindlePaperwhiteThe Paperwhites have a white background and are of higher resolution. They also are backlit, presumably to better compete with the Nook Glow from Barnes and Noble. The Paperwhites will come in two flavors: WiFi only and WiFi + 3G.  They are $119 and $179 each.

Features include:

  • built in light that is evenly distributed across the whole screen
  • 62% more pixels
  • eight week battery life, even with the backlight on
  • six fonts in 8 sizes
  • feature that will estimate your time to completion, based on your reading speed
  • 25% better contrast

As with the previous generation, the lower end versions have Amazon’s ‘special offers’ which are ads that display on the devices lock screen. For $20 more, you get the ad free version.

Kindle Fire Lineup

The original Fire gets a boost in speed from a faster processor, twice the memory and longer battery life. The processor is now a 1.2GHz processor and the device features 1GB of RAM, making it 40% faster than the original Fire.  Battery life is up to 9 hours as well.

The Kindle Fire HD comes in a 7 inch version and a 9.7 inch version. The HD features a 1280 by 800 hi-def display with a polarizing filter and anti glare technology. Audio has been beefed up and now includes built in stereo speakers, Dolby audio that gives an immersive, virtual surround sound feature. The processor is 1.2GHz with the Imagination PowerVR 3D graphics core.  This thing was, clearly, designed with gaming in mind.

A forward facing HD camera will allow for free Skype (included) video calls. You also get free unlimited cloud storage for your Amazon stuff. Like the Paperwhites, it also features the ‘special offers’ and sponsored screensavers. Unlike the cheaper devices, you cannot turn this off or pay more for ad-free.

kindlefireHDThe software that drives the Fire has been revamped as well. The bookshelf appears to be gone and a more XBOX like feature (From a few years ago) now makes the interface. Items are presented as a scrolling row icons.

Kindle Free Time, another new software feature, is a personalized experience just for the kids.  Essentially parental controls and customized interface, parents can set time limits and restrict the content they have available.

WiFi has been enhanced as well. Amazon offers up two antennae and MIMO, resulting in a 40% increase in performance.

Memory sizes are 16 and 32 gigabytes.There are no expansion slots, though they do include HDMI ports and BlueTooth.

A 4gLTE version is available for $499.

These new devices, coupled with the Surface and the Galaxy Nexus 7 are all sure to give Apple a run for the money. If I were not waiting for the Surface, I’d have to get me a Kindle Fire HD. These are some serious devices.