Friday, August 15, 2014

Why are tablets/ereaders so important?

Sometimes I feel quite lonely in my feeling of just how gosh-durn important ebooks and devices are. Sometimes it seems that many still haven't gotten above the level of "an iPad is just a bigger iPod Touch". (That's total hogwash. Years ago I ditched my iPod Touch two minutes after trying to read web pages on it. But my iPad I use for everything, every day.)

I am not joking in the header when I say it's the most important thing to happen to reading since Gutenberg.

So.. why?
Because they are doing to long-form text and to long form video what the World Wide Web did to very short text and very short videos. Expand it, democratize it, take it to everybody, both as audience and as creators.

And that is damn important, because long form video and long form texts are our main carriers of knowledge and beauty, and so they are the main instruments for our mental and spiritual growth.

That may sound hyperbolic, but in the long run, decades, I really believe it to be true. I can feel it deep in my bones, and the logic is there too.

New devices soon

Very soon we will have new iPhones, then new iPads, then new Kindles and Kindle Fires. I can't wait. For some reason it feels like it has been soooo long this time. How long do I still have to read my books on a screen with a mere 324 pixels per inch?! How long do I have to suffer!?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Endorsement of the Fire Phone

"I am not embarrassed to say that it still seems like a good idea to have changed from the elegant iPhone 5s to this scrappy little new device." 

- Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles about his new Amazon Fire Phone

I just thought that was a typically charming, inscrutable, and funny comment from Len.
As to the Fire Phone... it seems to me that Amazon needed a phone, but were out of ideas for a Unique Selling Point. It seems if not a desperate, then at least an oddly lateral business move to have the phone's major feature be an expensively developed technology to let the phone know where your noggin is at. A feature which nobody, not even Amazon, knows what it may be good for some day besides a cool demo to your friends.

I'd hoped Amazon had done more to make the phone a good ereader. Especially a bigger screen is important. I've been riding that hobby horse to death for a long time, but these days I'm not alone anymore. Just today, the MacObserver once more jumps in there.
The idea that we could function these days with a 3.5 inch smartphone display seems entirely ridiculous. It was only relatively recently that Apple, with the iPhone 5, switched to a 4 inch display and stayed there with the iPhone 5c/5s. Many think Apple waited too long, and I agree.
Along the way, we smartphone customers started doing so much more. We navigate with Google maps in a sunlit car going 65 mph. We watch Netflix in the doctor's waiting room — or read a Kindle book. We take fantastic photos and want to appreciate them right away. We monitor the local weather with Doppler radar. We do online shopping and banking. And we can even create modest text documents. All that requires serious screen real estate

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Use your tablet as a magnifier

I bought the wonderful little Mikey Digital microphone. Nice, but like usually happens with small gadgets, the manual which comes with them is very tiny and with small text, which is no friend to middle-aged eyes.
With good light I could just about read it, but it was not pleasant.
Then I got an idea: use my iPad for magnification. (First I tried my iPhone, but like I say often, the screen is too small.     :-)

You simply, in good light, put or hold the little text by the iPad's back camera. Filling the whole screen, it's very easy to read indeed!
Depending on the position of things, you can just read it like that, or you can take photos for reading in a more comfortable position. (It's fully legal to photograph texts if it's for personal use only.)

You can see how small it is. And if you click on the pic,
you can also see how big and clear the text is!
(It takes decent light and a little practice with the focus
to get clear photos of such close-ups.)

A good ereader device also does audiobooks and text-to-speech

[You'll notice this does not include Amazon's current e-ink devices. They will have to do something about that if they want to stay competitive.]

I love audiobooks. I have consumed hundreds of them, I’m sure. (Maybe forty books by Terry Pratchett alone.)

Two kinds don’t work: too complex books, where you have to stop and think all the time. And too easy books, where you can read it much faster.

But those in the middle, it frees the body and the hands etc to do tasks, go for walks. Or the opposite, really relax. I always have issues with relaxing, so I cherish being able to go from super-relax to sleep mode by just hitting a button, instead of taking off my glasses, putting in a bookmark, turning off the light, turning over, and trying to get my brain relax from the tasks of running the eyes and enterpreting letters and sentences.

By now I almost consider audiobooks to be about the same as books read by text-to-speech, because of the Kindle Fire HDX, which is so good at this that I sometimes forget it's not a human reading to me.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Another example of iPad cases which are both good and cheap

[Example are for iPad, but you can find similarly good and cheap cases for Amazon Kindles, for example here and here. Really, it's a cornucopia!]

[Many products are made of "PU leather", which is made from the lower layers of skin (suede) and covered with polyurethane (advanced plastic products). They may be in some aspects superior to real leather, feel good, and often so close to real leather than even experts can have a hard time telling them apart.]

Finding these cheap and good cases have given me a new collectors habit (and a lot cheaper than cameras from eBay).

It gets wilder than last reported, by the way; yesterday I found a full, new, functional iPad case for *three* Pounds (five bucks! With free shipping! How does anybody make money on this?? I pay twice that for a pizza.

A different one, but one of my newest favorites, this croc pattern one. It's only ten bucks (six Sterling). A couple of years ago I paid six times as much for similar cases.
... Maybe some won't like the croc pattern, but seen abstractly (without thinking of $15,000 handbags) it is simply a beautiful pattern. (Most of the colors are too bright though, this goes for almost all the cases I've found. But they usually have some subtler ones too.)

And I wish you could see/feel the inside lining: like velour, rich, deep black, and soft. And the stand function works perfectly on it in any position, without the thick, ungainly ridges many cases/stands have. I don't know how they did that.
And like most cases today, it works with the magnetic closure, turns of the iPad when you close it, and vice-versa.

The iPad Air has a secondary little microphone on the back, which picks up background noise in order to counter-process it out when you're voice- or video-chatting. (And maybe it works opposite when filming.) And the case makers even made a hole for this too! And like the others, it's perfectly fitted over the mike.
Great function, good feel, aesthetics, pretty slim and light weight, and dead cheap, all in one package.

Comes in nine colors. They call this "blue"

The beautiful lining, with good friction for the stand function.

You can vary the angle as you like.
(For me the first iPad was "the birth of the ebook".)

Excellent simplicity.

[By the way, the pictures were taken indoors, hand-held, with my iPhone. Durn good quality, don't you think? Try double-clicking on the one above. It's better than most work I did with film cameras back in the day.]

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Good Night, Sweet Prince Paper

It's a bizarre thing, and a day I wouldn't have thought would come. But I think I have to say:

Good-bye to paperbooks.

It's sad, because I still love them, I'll bet I'll still have some around til my deathbed in fifty years if I live to be a hundred. (Predicting fifty years ahead? What a fool. This very post shows how I couldn't even predict five years ahead.)

But I just can't read them anymore. In the last years before the iPad came, I was reading markedly fewer, just because of the web. And I actually don't think I have finished one single one since my first iPad in May 2010! (As long time readers will recall, I loved the Kindle, but had great trouble with the grey screen, until the Paperwhite arrived.)

Recently, a very unusual occurrence these days, I wanted a book (On Photography by Susan Sontag), and it was not available in ebook format... So I bought a paperbook.

And I started reading it. Or I tried. First I had to arrange a lamp so lots of light hit the page. Then I had to position my body in just the right shape and place and distance from the lamp for the page to be well lit and not shaded by anything else. Then I had to squint and do the trombone thing, to try and find a good reading distance, because like with many books, it was printed in a font a bit smaller than I'd have set on a Kindle or tablet. Finally, believe it or not, most paperbooks actually have less clear text than we get on a current tablet screen! This is true except for a few very expensively printed books.

So I read a few pages in a couple of days. And now it's been a couple of weeks, and I have to face: I probably won't finish it. Not until I can get it as an ebook.

There's a turnout for the books, eh?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cases are now cheaper, and some are excellent too

(I care more about getting quality stuff which I can enjoy for years, than about getting the cheapest I can find. But when the two meet, so much the better!)
[Examples are for iPad, but you can find similarly good and cheap cases for Amazon Kindles, for example here and here.]

The good news is that along with tablets and ereaders getting much cheaper, so are cases, in the last year or two.
The "bad" news is that not all of them are great, you are still advised to read a few reviews before pressing Buy.

See this pretty case for example:

... Just from the picture and description and price, what's not to like?
But then when you check the reviews:

"This is the worst iPad case I have ever seen, covers the screen,can't see the home button, cover is to big, sleep magnet does not work, only good thing about this is the pen at least that works. Complete waste of money, it also smells of cheap plastic."

"Not the best case as it doesn't fit well especially around the home button which the cut out area doesn't seem big enough for. Makes it difficult to press home button. Also the magnetic catch on cover is. It strong enough so the sleep function didn't work. Colour nice and pen ok."

"Very flimsy case and auto lock function does not work as stated and case does not lie flush with iPad."

So... maybe skip this one. 
On the other hand, some are making quality at low prices, for example a new English company called JammyLizard (for some obscure reason) has me all agaga. They prices are rock bottom (cheaper at Amazon UK than at their own site), and yet they are some of the best cases I have tried. 

I own and love their Horizon case

It is precision-built, very light-weight (200 grams), looks good, and it cost only eight Pounds Sterling! (Say 12 bucks). 

These are not yet on Amazon USA, but it's easy to buy from Amazon UK, you can even use the login you're used to. And shipping is cheap these days too, and with these prices you may not even have to pay import tax! (At least not if you only buy one at a time.) 

I could not resist, I have also bought their "[faux] Leather Ultra Slim Full Body Smart Case": 

It looks and feel even better than the Horizon, and is about as cheap.
Only downsize I see so far is that it's about 400 grams.
JammyLizard also makes a wide variety of phone cases at similar prices.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Amazon: please make a pocket-sized Kindle

Open Letter To Amazon: Please make a Pocket Kindle Fire

I recently bought a Windows Phone with a 6-inch screen, with HD resolution. Even before I got it, I was more excited than the situation seemed to warrent, especially given that the number of Kindles and Kindle-compatible devices I have, including Android devices of similar size, makes me look like a spoiled brat. 
But really, I only got them in my relentless search for the ideal portable ereader.

And to my surprise, I think I have found it, in form at least. This phone ("phablet") is in most aspects giving me the best ereading experience I've ever had! 

The screen of this device is six inches (measured diagonally as usual), meaning a little smaller than the Kindle Fire 7-inch device (which I really like). But the outer form is significantly lighter and rather smaller, especially less wide, than the Kindle Fire, and this suddenly makes it significantly more pocketable. 

... As well as much more comfortable to hold in one hand when reading. 
And this is surely even more important. 

I am actually a bit shocked (Shocked, I tell you!) that this area, pocketable ereaders, has virtually been ignored by almost everybody, for some odd reason. Admittedly one maker has a nice 5-inch e-ink device, but it has no frontlight, so my interest in that one is low. 

Thinking more about it, I actually think that it's more important than we have realised. When did reading really take off? With the invention of the pocket book. A cheap book which you could stick in your pocket and take up and read on the bus, in your lunch hour, waiting in line, and so on. And I suspect that the current slowdown in the expansion of the ebook market is partly due to this un-noticed hole in the device lineup. 

Lacking this device, many people are reading on their smartphones. And for people with good eyesight this may seem sufficient. But for average eyesight and general purposes, we need a device of the "phablet" size, with a high-resolution 5.5-6 inch screen. And obviously it needs to be as light, cheap, and compact as possible. Current technology clearly allows this to a high degree. 

Why don't I just use the aforementioned phone, or one of the other Phablets on the market? Two reasons: A) Because they are phones, and as such, too expensive. B) I find Windows Phone and Android to be buggy and far from user-friendly. Amazon clearly has tamed Android though in their walled-garden version, which works well. 

Amazon is the most likely source of such a device. It could go two ways: it could be a high-end, phablet-sized Fire Phone. That could work well for those who would anyway use it as a phone and all-round device, but it would be more expensive than the second option: a smaller Kindle Fire. 

It does not have to be all that much smaller, just an inch smaller screen-wise. And I see no reason why Amazon couldn't emulate what others have done, and whittle such a device down to under 200 grams, and a size which lets it sit comfortable across any adult palm, thus enabling reading sessions of any length without hand discomfort. 

I really believe that a pocket-sized Kindle Fire would open up a new market which few seem to have imagined was even there. And even more important: make reading more comfortable and more attractive than ever before, including the years since the first Kindle, incredible as it sounds. 

Sincerely yours, Eolake Stobblehouse, July 2014

This one may make it looks not-so-huge,
as I have very large hands indeed. 

Kindle Fire HDX and the 6-inch phablet.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Windows in your pocket?!

I bought a Nokia Lumia 1520, when I found out it has a six-inch display!

It's like a Kindle Fire you can hold in one hand! 

(OK, you can hold a KF 7-inch in one hand, but not comfortably, and it's the rare pocket which will take it. The size difference in screen is small, but the size different on the whole is large.)

And the Kindle app seems to work fine on it, though the interface (phone based) is a bit confusing, at least at first (you click to download a book from your archive, it downloads... and disappears! Where did it go? How do I get at it?! So far I have been rebooting the app to find the local archive, but there must be a better way).

Sadly it is not just rumors that apps are really lacking in the Windows (Phone) OS 8. There doesn't even seem to be versions or equivalents of Flipboard, or worse, no versions of the Read-Later apps, Instapaper and my current fave, Pocket (oh, I found a compatible app, $2, called Read Later). These are important apps if you want to use your 'phablet' for what it is so incredibly well fitted: a pocket ereader.
(I'm still astounded that Amazon has never yet made a pocket-sized ereader, either in e-ink or in color. Such a huge missed opportunity.)

This 6-inch screen is colossal. It makes an iPhone look like a toy.
A perception I'm sure many share, and which I hope will soon shame Apple into action.

Oh, by the way, of course it's great for video also. But so far I've found no way to buy video and download it to to keep for offline viewing. Netflix does not seem to support that, and there does not seem to be any Amazon Video player, nor, of course, iTunes for Windows Phone 8 (different from Windows 8). Any tips?

I still haven't found out why phones are that much more expensive than tablets. But at least the Lumia 1520 is cheaper than most, possibly because of their small market share.

Sadly, but predictably, Windows Phone is not significantly less buggy or easy to use than Android. Sigh. I'm almost beginning to see merit in Steve Jobs' dictator mentality.

I found this cheap and (I think) beautiful faux-leather case for it:
(Link leads to Amazon UK. I've been banned on Am US for dirty pictures, oddly.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Keep It Simple, Silly

I just wrote to D. Cutler, inventor of the Flote tablet stand:

I always say “K.I.S.S.”. In a reasonable world, you wouldn’t have to.
For example, I almost never see anything like your wonderfully simple tablet grabber, which can hold tablets of almost any size. The others I see have very limited size options, or other downsides (like a suction cup I don’t trust).

The Flote family: One stand fits almost any tablet. A simple "jaw" grip with very wide variation.

The rest: One stand, one tablet: 
(This one can also hold the Mini if it's in a case... but then you have to adjust it with screws!)

Why is it so hard for humans to think simple?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Table easel as tall tablet stand

Affordable easel of solid quality, though it needs stabilizing

I've been frustrated in my search for an iPad stand designed to get the iPad lifted up a distance over the table, so one does not get "laptop-user's neck pain" when using it.
I think such a thing will be generally very useful, and not the least when writing with a keyboard.

I have found some nice-looking stands which can, via a flexible arm, lift the iPad up. But they seem to depend on a suction cup, which does not seem very secure. And perhaps worse, they weigh well over a pound and are little bit bulky, so not great for portable use.

I found a half-solution. I searched Amazon for Table Easel, and found a bunch of different things. A promising one at an amazing price was this one. (I even somehow got international shipping for free!)

As you can see, if one slides the holders up, one can get the tablet lifted about a full length. That makes a difference in neck tension.

Warning: the downside is that it's just designed to carry signs in restaurants, nothing valuable, and it is not stable. The legs have nothing to hold them in place, they swing loose when not in the outter position, so it's pretty easy to accidentally topple this thing when trying to move it, or if bumping it. I will try to find out a way to jam the legs in place when open, it should not be hard to do, even just some gaffer tape might do (though not while looking pretty).

But this instability comes only from a lack of locking mechanism. In itself, the easel is actually of really good quality, especially considering the price. If the feet are held in place, it is very stable, and the legs are very solid, I'm sure it would take a grown man to bend them.
The top also seems very strong. The main part at least, I can't judge the hinges.

It would also be a good idea to put some none-slip rubber on the holders and the side of the top.

Here is the hub seen from below:

As can be felt overall, this is a non-optimum solution. I have talked with the maker of the Roost laptop tall-stand, and he tells me he is working on an iPad version, something I am looking forward to. (If you would also like a tall tablet stand to exist, feel free to write him, he is friendly.)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Make watercolors on iPad

My Italian artist friend Umbra made these two watercolors, which I think are beautiful.

(Click for big pic)

Gorgeous art.
But wait... while Umbra actually is a gifted watercolor artist, these were done in record speed with the help of an iPad app called Waterlogue! It is amazing.

You may say it's cheating. But art is art. You may say this art is done in collaboration with the programmers of the app. The computer wouldn't have a clue how to do it alone.  And there are still many decisions involved in the process by the artist.
Also, if a computer can do it, why involve a human? And if a human can do it better, great.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Superslim compact keyboard Anker T320 (updated)

Despite the slimness, the keys have
a nice 'clicky' feel. 
Good keys on a small keyboard

The name is bigger than the product! "Anker® T320 Ultrathin (4mm) Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard for iOS (iPad Air, iPad Mini 2, iPad 2 / 3 / 4), Windows and Android 3.0 and above OS with Built-in lithium battery / Aluminum Body" hot diggity! But This little gem is far from as ungainly as its name, and it should work with pretty much any tablet or phone which has bluetooth. 

I am amazed that they sell this keyboard for only twenty Pounds Sterling (about $25). The Amazon Basics keyboard is 50% more, and that one is all plastic, it does not have the same nice feel that the Anker has. 

In fact the Anker is a beautiful product, especially for the price, and I think I'd have liked it even at twice the price. The keys are just plastic, but the back is a beautiful sheet of aluminium (not pronounced "aluminum" please ;-), and the top and edges are some hard-rubber like material with a pleasant feel. 

For me personally, the only downside is that it is only *almost* full sized. It is about one key-width smaller. Admittedly even with my manly large hands, I can still touch-type, but I think that when a keyboard is *almost* full sized, it would have been better to simply *make* it full sized and avoid the compromises*. One compromise, aside from the slight crampedness, is that in order to fit the arrow keys, they have moved the right shift key a step to the right, which takes some getting used to. But I suspect that once I have gotten used to it, I will be able to type on this at about full speed. I'm pretty close to it already, in the first hour, only hampered a bit by having to correct the typos caused by the slight differences from my usual keyboards.

But yes, it really is a beautiful little object, and I like it. It was a delightful surprise when unpacking it, to see how small and light and nice it really was. 

And surprisingly, despite it being only 4 milimeters thick, the keys have a very nice feel to them. They are not spongy like almost all economical keyboards, they even have some "clickiness" to them, which I love and feel contributes to the ease of touch-typing by a mile. And it only weighs 160 grams, which is really nice for the wandering writer. The key feel is only beaten (amongst portable keyboards) by the wonderful, but bigger Logitech Wired Keyboard for iPad (not as pretty but amazing key feel).

I will normally take the Logitech if I'm determined to write, but if it's less critical and I'd like to save even more space and weight, I have a suspicion that the Anker will be my go-to guy. This plus the iPad Mini are under 500 grams (about one American pound)! and are a very capable writing station. (Plus of course the myriad other things an iPad can do.) And together they fit in a very small bag indeed. (The Anker is a bit longer than the Mini, but that's good for touch-typists.)

Conclusion: At the price and for those who wants a compact and super-light keyboard for the bag, I warmly recommend this gem. 

*It turns out there is a full-sized brother to it, the T300. I'll have to get it, not the least since it's currently even cheaper than the T320! I just hope the keys are as good, because it seems these keyboards are not very close brothers; the T300 does not have the nice aluminium back, and it weighs over 50% more, over 300 grams, about the same as an iPad Mini. But if the size markedly increases the typing comfort for me, I think it may win me over. 

Update: I now got the bigger T300, and sadly it did not win me over. I am pretty sure it's an older model than the T320. It is not as nice quality, it is heavier, and the keys are not quite as nice or clicky as on the T320. At the current price, around twenty bucks, it's a good deal though, since it's not a bad keyboard at all. I suspect and hope that the very low price means that they are making room for a new and improved model.