Saturday, November 19, 2011

(Updated) Highly mixed reviews of Kindle Fire

OK, I just got my Kindle Fire today, overseas to UK. And it's early days yet, but I felt I better report that I don't really see any of all that sluggishness, non-responsiveness, and bugginess that some of the reviewers below talk about. So far, it really seems like a nice Android experience. Main liability I note so far is the weight, 410 grams (14.5oz) is a bit on the heavy side for relaxed reading, especially in bed or when you want to read one-handedly for a while. In this aspect the Galaxy Note beats the pants off the Fire at 170 grams, although of course the Note is more expensive and smaller (but with a sharper screen).

Although it ostensibly works only in the US, it has no problem letting me read my Kindle library, or surf the web, and so on. So this was my main objectives for getting it, all is well.
When  try getting to videos, paid or included, it does not seem to realize "consciously" that I'm not in the US, but I do get an error message when I try to play a video. I had not expected to get away with that either.

OK, it's clear that I can't buy media on this one. I can buy books though, via the Amazon UK ebook store. Although oddly, so far I've only been able to make purchased books turn up on my iPad, not on the Kindle Fire itself. Don't know what's going on there, demands more investigating.

Original post:
The Fire Aside, Amazon’s Lower-Priced Kindles Also Shine, David Pogue in NYT.
Most problematic, though, the Fire does not have anything like the polish or speed of an iPad. You feel that $200 price tag with every swipe of your finger. Animations are sluggish and jerky — even the page turns that you’d think would be the pride of the Kindle team. Taps sometimes don’t register. There are no progress or “wait” indicators, so you frequently don’t know if the machine has even registered your touch commands. The momentum of the animations hasn’t been calculated right, so the whole thing feels ornery.

Walt Mossberg Reviews Kindle Fire, article.

This new $199 device is called the Kindle Fire, and after testing it for a week, I think it's a good—though not a great—product and a very good value. [...] 
To be clear, the Kindle Fire is much less capable and versatile than the entry-level $499 iPad 2. It has a fraction of the apps, a smaller screen, much weaker battery life, a slower Web browser, half the internal storage and no cameras or microphone. It also has a rigid and somewhat frustrating user interface far less fluid than Apple's.

A human review of the Kindle Fire, article from the maker of Instapaper.
I expected the Kindle Fire to be a compelling iPad alternative, but I can’t call it delightful, fun, or pleasant to use. Quite the opposite, actually: using the Fire is frustrating and unpleasant, and it feels like work.

Magazines are a special beast on the Fire. They can either be custom apps, like on the iPad, or they can provide their content in a split “Page View”/”Text View” interface provided by Amazon.
The “Page View” is unusable. It’s literally just a big image of the magazine pages, like someone scanned them in. There’s nothing modern about it — the table of contents, being just an image, doesn’t even link to the articles. The Fire’s screen is so much smaller than a magazine that you need to zoom and pan constantly, and the zooming and panning is frustratingly sluggish, jerky, and clumsy. Even when zoomed in, my example issue of The Economist didn’t even have sharp text.

This is a great pity, and very different from Zinio's usability, it has working links, and if you zoom in all the way, the text stays pin-sharp, it's real text, not just an image.
Marco also replies to one of those who say that the negative reviews of the Fire are wrong because they compare it to the much more expensive iPad:

As an aside, I need to argue with Steve in good fun about his car analogy:

"Complaining that the Fire is less thrilling or compelling than an iPad is a bit like grumbling that a Honda Civic is less fun and exciting than an Audi A6. Both do what they are intended to do very well (though their intended functions are a lot more alike than the Fire and the iPad.)
The Civic is a great car. It’s not the fastest, the most fun, or the must luxurious, but it’s smooth, comfortable, versatile, and extremely reliable. It does what it’s supposed to do exceptionally."

The Kindle Fire is not a great tablet. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do well. That’s the difference. If Amazon had made a “Civic of tablets”, it would have been a much better product. Maybe, someday, they will.

Maybe Amazon really over-reached in wanting to beat the market to death with a super-low-priced color Kindle?
But then the original Kindle also had lots of problem, poor usability and frailty for example, and it still succeeded and got better in later generations. And of course, with Amazon's sheer momentum, it will take some huge problems to make the Fire anything like a failure.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How to make a full Android tablet of a Kindle Fire

How to make a full Android tablet of a Kindle Fire.
I knew this would happen, but this was fast! Only a couple of days.

The article and video also explains about doing similar things to the new Nook Tablet.

And it mentions how to get a regular Android browser if you don't like Amazon's fancy "cover flow" one (to use Apple's term).
I did something similar a couple days ago: I updated the software on my Dell Streak which I bought a year ago (neat little 5-inch tablette). And after I had done so, the home screen/launcer had been replaced by a horrible interface called "Dell Stage". What it basically did was place the icons on a little stage on the screen, and the net (and so far I could see, only) effect was to reduce useable screen space to under one third! Most idiotic thing I ever saw. So I googled "remove Dell Stage" and I found out I merely had to download a free app launcher from the Market, and I was back to a sensible use of the screen again.

Now we're cooking. iPad is still missing real competition in the full-sized tablet space, but it has very tough competition now in the 7-inch space, the Fire is only 40% of the iPad's price! And it would surprise me if Amazon does not follow up next year with a larger model. Their magazine and video services pretty much demand it.

Talking about the Kindle: the fact that it's running an old version (2.3) of Android which was not meant for tablets (only phones) does not exactly help with the problem of fragmentation of Android. Developers will have to make special versions of their apps if they want in on this popular device.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dangers of assuming Amazon will destroy B&N

Dangers of assuming Amazon will destroy B&N, article.

This is some of the stuff B&N pulled off in the last year -
Released a Reading Tablet a year before Amazon.
Released a touch-screen eReader months before Amazon. Almost eliminated the page-turn problem.
Turned Nook Color into the #2 selling Tablet after iPad. You can argue technicalities, but the bottom line is that Nook Color has sold more than any other non-iPad tablet.
Showed that there is a market for non-iPad Tablets. This is a HUGE thing. It has given everyone else hope and will lead to the end of the iPad’s domination in Tablets. The biggest lesson it has taught everyone is – Don’t compete on your enemy’s strengths. A lesson that Amazon has learnt very well.
Released a Nook Tablet that pulls off some impressive things – 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB RAM, HD support, IPS screen, 16 GB memory. That’s a LOT of goodness for $249 – Tablets and smartphones with comparable specifications retail for $400 to $500.
Built up a very interesting Nook Color App Store. 1,100 Apps aimed at Tablets.
Added Email support and lots of other features to Nook Color and morphed it from a Reading Tablet to an almost full-fledged Tablet.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Got my Galaxy Note

Just got my Samsung Galaxy Note (N7000) today. First impressions: wow, this may be the most impressive "BigPhone" yet. (Let's see if that term catches on.) Apple really needs to make a larger iPhone or Touch, stat. This screen blows the iPhone 4(S) away. It is almost the same sharpness (pixel size etc) and color quality, but it's twice the size, area-wise, and that puts it into another ballpark when we talk enjoying reading and video on the go.

On the downside so far I notice that it does not always have the "instant app change" that iOS has, if I leave the Zinio app (which Samsung use for magazines in their "Reader's Hub"), it has to start up again when I come back to it, this is unfortunate. Also I have so far a bit of trouble with it losing Net connection, on both my wifi networks, let's see how that plays out, it really should not be common.

(iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Note, both displaying American Photo on Zinio.) 
(Note, in the Zinio app you can zoom in to your heart's content, I think it works pretty well even on a 5.3-inch screen. I won't hesitate to read on it when I don't have my iPad around.)

I'd say that apart from the price, this is currently the portable ereader to have, unless eyesight is an issue, or one prefers a non-backlit screen (I don't care for the Kindle's passive, grey screen, but some do). The Note weighs only 180 grams and is very thin. And it is easily held in one hand from behind, you don't have to try and find space for the finger on the bezel as with a 7-inch or 10-inch device.

On another note, the Kindle Fire started shipping today, so we should get early reviews soon. I'm starting to lean a little towards thinking that it may be the 7-inch tablet/reader which is the "tweener" though, and five inches right for pockets, and ten inches or larger right for stands and bookholders. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Holy Fire, Advertising, and Android’s Fragmentation

Android’s Fragmentation Mess–and How to Fix It, article.

Even when Android handsets do get updates, it can take eons. Sprint’s Epic 4G, for instance, just got Gingerbread, almost a year after the software shipped. For Epic owners, Gingerbread finally showing up was less a happy event than a brusque reminder that they shouldn’t count on seeing Ice Cream Sandwich any time soon.

A funny thing is that this article itself suffers from fragmentation. In this case, page fragmentation. A cool thing about the web is that space is infinite, so you don't have to have "pages" except to organize things. And yet many web sites split articles up into several pages for no reason. Except: to get more page counts for their advertisers. They try to earn more money by irritating their customers, which is classic advertising strategy, it's no wonder it's in trouble.

I think advertising in general is an aesthetic and perhaps even ethical blight upon our culture. In Bruce Sterling's excellent book Holy Fire* there's a brief line which tells us that in the book's time, about 60 years from now, advertising has been outlawed globally for years. I like that thought. But I don't consider it likely, simply because advertising is big money, and anything pulling in big money simply can't be suppressed in human society, just take street drugs for example, despite seemingly universal opposition and illegality, it's a huge business.

And I guess if advertising were actually to be outlawed, it would be forced underground, and become an even bigger problem because we would never know to which degree a book or film is art or advertising, and for me that would spoil them a lot. This is already partly so with "product placement".

*Holy Fire is about a very old and careful and well-preserved woman who gets a highly experimental youth-treatment, which is very successful. But her inner "holy fire" is so strong that she runs away from her medical monitors and goes to Europe (from the US). It's a sprawling adventure, but what impresses me is the subtle, underlying feeling of this "holy fire" which the woman regains, the "lust for life" as the classic van Gogh bio expresses it. It is so very undefinable, and yet it's there, and we can lose it, and possibly regain it.

Kobo in UK

Wow, I just found out (via a TV commercial of all things) that you *can* actually buy Kobo readers in the UK, via WH Smith. I could have saved over a hundred pounds in shipping and import tax (why do we still have import taxes in the third millennium?)!       :-)
I guess I'd gotten too used to the thought that if I can't find something on Amazon UK, it just ain't for sale in this country. It works for 99% of the things I look for, but just occasionally, nope. I guess in this case it's due to it competing with the Kindle. Although you *can* buy the Kobo on Amazon US, so I dunno why it's different.

And WH Smith now has a substantial-looking ebook store, very smart of them.

I guess if I was forced to choose, I'd still go with the Kindle though. Perhaps just for the reason that "nobody ever got fired by buying IBM". Or in other words, safety in the established, the devil you know, and all that jazz.

But it's a close race, the Kobo is very good, it has more typeface and size options and things like that, and it looks and feels good.
The interface might be better though. It only has two buttons, on/off and Home. It would be better with a menu button and such, or at least make it clear on the screen what you have to do to pull up a menu or go where you want to go.

screen candy

There's an odd lack of "screen candy" apps for the iPad, but one I like is Magic Picture. Another one is Magic Window, which also now exists for the Mac.

If anybody knows other apps to make the screen do pretty things when one is not using the iPad, do tell.