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!)

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. 

Review: Flote m2 Tablet Floor Stand

I was one of the first people in the world to buy a Flote tablet floor stand, and I still use it every day for hours, it's indispensable.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Usability, iOS versus Android

Nothing in this world is perfect. Heck, almost nothing even approaches it. This includes Apple and iOS, the operating system on iPhones and iPad. But let me tell you, you get some perspective when you try Android, and you learn to be thankful for what in comparison seems like a divinely inspired experience, iOS.
When I chose my first personal computer in 1995, I chose Apple because I heard that usability was better. It seems nothing has changed.

Latest example: I heard about the new "Kindle for Samsung" app.
I was thinking: why do we need a new app just for Samsung? Why not just use the normal Android Kindle app, and if that is lacking, why not just improve that one, Samsung hardware is not that different.

The answer, I guess, is pretty obvious: it's not for our advantage (gasp!!), but for Samsung's advantage it was made. Just more promotional tools, getting you to use a special Samsung app when reading Kindle books. (I wonder what they paid Amazon, it should be a lot.)

Interestingly, but perhaps typically, the promotion does not mention a single advantage to using the Kindle For Samsung App! It just says it includes a free book every month. (Which I couldn't care less about, what are the odds it is one I'd want?) But I was curious, because apparently the interface is different, and a screenshot showed a Search interface which did indeed seem to be an improvement upon the normal Kindle app's, which is not very clear.

So I set out to get this app. Sigh, I get tired just thinking about it, so lets just say that after 40 minutes of navigating, downloading, creating new accounts, signing in on web sites and apps again and again, complying with unusual demands (like there must be Special Characters in passwords), and so on, I still don't have the flipping' app.

The step I'm stuck on is that for some reason, despite having signed in on their web app store, I also had to sign in on Samsung's special app store app (sigh) before I could download the app. And I signed in, and to the message: "processing failed". When I changed the password, I got "Wrong Password", so clearly I have the right password, but there's simply a bug in the app or server so I can't sign in!

Because I've heard from bright people who like Android better than iOS, I just can't believe it can be this bad, so I keep trying, but every time I try it, it is like this. Just poor usability and buggy as hell.

Maybe there's a personality type who just likes things to be like this? There was an old Foxtrot cartoon; the geek kid disliked the (then new) iMac because it was easy. But then he heard how insanely hard it was to upgrade the RAM, and then he loved it, got very interested.
(By the way, this has not changed either, it is made virtually impossible for a layman to get into an iMac.)

This does not explain Android's big market share, though. I guess the rest, the majority, are all the people who just don't have the perceptions to distinguish between Good and Bad quality. Like they can't tell good ice cream from bad ice cream. So they buy only on price.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Finally, visible icons on the iPad

Tired of the thin icons on your iPad after iOS 7? I discovered if you go to settings/general/accessibility and select Bold Text, the icons will be bold too!

It is not enough that the user can see the icons, he should be able to do so without strain or irritation, even if he doesn't have eagle eyes. 
In art, form is king. In design, form has to follow function. 


Whoever designed these had good vision.
After setting Bold Text: ah, much better. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

SSD speed boost

I just got a SSD disk for my main Mac. Wow. At least as big a nimbleness boost as the last time I upgraded the whole machine!

It's no wonder Apple now has SSD (Solid State Disk, no rotating disc) at least as part of the main storage in all their machines, it makes a hell of a difference. Even the early Macbook Airs, despite weaker processors, felt very good because the SSD took care of the speed when changing between apps and all other operations which involves the disk.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cables which glow in the dark

I've ordered a couple of these very cool iOS cables. They are stronger, tangles less, and are easier to keep track of with the different colors.



Monday, March 24, 2014

Kindle Fire's "closed garden" system, and their low market share

Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire

It's a bit frustrating: outside of iPad, you can choose between full-featured general Android tablets (with almost any screen size you like), but which in my experience are buggy and frustrating; or the Kindle Fire, which works wonderfully well, but is quite limited in features and apps you can use.
Now, I just read that the KF's market share is surprisingly low: in 2012, about 6%, and in 2013, even lower, about 4.5%. Given the Amazon's strength and the very good quality/price ratio, I am surprised.

I wrote to Len of The Kindle Chronicles:

Since Kindle fire is easier to use and less buggy than a normal android tablet, from my observations anyway, the reason to get a Nexus Seven for example instead would be so you could get access to the full android marketplace of apps.

So maybe the falling KF market share (from 6% down to 4.5%) might convince Amazon to finally be more open to including a more inclusive system on the kindle fire. Sadly, I admit it does not sound like them, but I really hope so. Of course the question remains if they can do so without introducing the same bugginess and difficulties that plague normal android tablets.

Len:
Good point. I think Amazon's obsessive concern for frictionless customer experience is the driver of this walled garden approach, more than competitive positioning. It's like the heat they took for not using ePub and Adobe's DRM system. The reason they insisted on own proprietary standard was so they could control the customer experience. That's worked out pretty well for them so far. But pressure to be able to choose whatever content we want is also a customer driver, so the two conflict. Best, Len 

Me: 
I hadn't quite thought of that. 
Especially not the Adobe DRM angle. That is the stuff of nightmares.  The book apparently has to download every time you open it!  I can understand how they'd prefer  an in-house process, and actually that part works perfectly over many devices and publishers, it's impressive now I think about it. 

iPad has the best of both worlds, but it has a huge market share. I doubt the KF's market share can attract many app developers.