Category Archives: amazon

Amazon Echo: I like it!

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When Amazon announced the Echo, I dutifully signed up for an invitation since I didn’t have to buy it then and had time to ponder the purchase. When I received the email notification that Echo was now available for purchase (still by invitation), I ordered nearly immediately. I wasn’t sure how handy I’d find Echo but figured there’s only one way to find out… to try it out.

Despite wintry weather the day before Thanksgiving, the Fedex guy arrived on time bearing my Echo (he said he likes driving in the snow and wants to move to Maine :-)). I set up the Echo in the lower shelf of a small side table where I’d previously had my Definitive Technology cube speaker (that I’d gotten for an amazing $180 at Best Buy… love that speaker). I was sad to disconnect my Definitive Technology cube speaker but 1) Needed a spot that would limit the chances the cats would knock over the Echo and 2) Really, just how many BT speakers does a person need in their living room?

Set up was quick and easy using the Echo app on my Blackberry Passport. After setting up the Echo, I paired my Blackberry to the speaker via Bluetooth, to stream Audible.com audiobooks to the Echo from my phone.

So far, my greatest use for the Echo has been to ask about the weather, stream music, and add items to my grocery list while in the kitchen. I’ve always longed to be able to add items to my grocery list from the kitchen as I realize they’re running out, rather than having to go back to the living room to retrieve my phone. Productivity nirvana!

As James Kendrick mentioned in his ZDNet Echo review (recommended reading), Echo makes it very easy to stream music of any genre at the spur of a moment. I like new age (ambient/chill) music and leave it streaming in the background.

The Echo app displays your Echo query history, including graphics when appropriate (e.g., forecast if you asked about weather, or album art when streaming music):

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So far, I’ve found Echo to be handy, easy to use, and inspiring. In fact, I’ve thought a lot about future enhancements I’d like to see and submitted them to Amazon for consideration:

  • Stream audiobooks from user’s Audible.com library (rather than need to download and then stream)
  • Sync with Google calendar, to play reminders already resident in my calendar. (Note: You can add reminders to Echo independently, and that functionality works very well.)
  • Adding single items to a list is super easy. I’d love to be able to ask Echo to extend her listening period, in order to add multiple items to a list. (Currently, you can use the Echo remote to make it faster to add multiple items to a list but it’d be very cool not to have to use the remote.) 

Echo is cool and one of the most innovative products I’ve seen in a while. I’ve reported a few minor bugs to Amazon. I figure some bugginess is to be expected considering it’s essentially in invite-only beta testing:

  • I have the Echo app set to play a confirmation tone whenever I say “Alexa” (this is called the “wake up sound”). The tone is hit or miss, and I’d love for it to play consistently.
  • The day before Thanksgiving, I asked Echo when the next holiday was… she replied with an April 2015 date 🙂

I’m enjoying Echo and it’s a great deal for Amazon prime members at $99. If you have questions, feel free to add a comment.

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My experience with Kindles released 9/2012 (includes Paperwhite)

I just wrote to Kindle Feedback (kindle-feedback@amazon.com) sharing my recent experience with Kindle devices released September 2012 (Kindle Fire HD, $69 Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite 3g). Here’s that Kindle feedback, in case it’s useful to others.

Dear Kindle Feedback –

I have owned each Kindle sold with the exception of last year’s $79 basic Kindle and the Kindle DX. I enjoy using Kindle products because Amazon offers the best selection, pricing and customer service around.

I want to share my recent experience –

Kindle Fire HD

  • Love, love, love it!
  • Bought the 16GB and found it too small (I’m a big audiobook fan), so returned it and am now awaiting the 32GB.
  • It’s the 1st tablet that offers equal support for audiobook listeners.
  • Immersion reading: I initially pooh poohed this as a marketing stunt but it’s fabulous! After a long day at work, I can read and listen to the book at the same time… it’s a lovely experience.
  • I can watch all my favorite videos on the HD via Amazon streaming (including instant prime), Netflix, Hulu Plus.
  • The volume is crazy loud. I’ve never had a tablet that was loud enough to watch a movie while giving the dog a bath… until the Fire HD!

Whispersync for Voice:

  • As an audiobook fan, I love that I can start listening to a book while out walking the dog and then come home and read the (text) book.
  • THANK YOU for your aggressive pricing on Whispersync deals: I’ve bought many Kindle books + the Audible.com audio version as part of a whispersync promotion for less than the price of the hardcover book! I really appreciate that, as someone who loves to read (and reads alot).

$69 Kindle (9/2012 release):

  • Fabulous device!
  • This Kindle is an amazing value.
  • It is unfortunately dismissed by some as “low end” but I think it’s the best Kindle Amazon has made.
  • It’s light and comfortable to hold. Even with the lighted cover, it’s still light and comfortable to use.
  • The control buttons at bottom are black so they fade into the device (not a distraction).
  • The text is very crisp and bold — easy to read.
  • The page buttons are comfortable and well placed.
  • This kindle is an absolute joy to use — it makes reading comfortable and the device itself doesn’t interfere with the experience — in fact, the $69 kindle hardware enhances the reading experience.
  • I only wish you offered a 3g version of the $69 Kindle, as well!

Kindle Paperwhite 3g: The good –

  • The form factor is lovely — perfect size and weight.
  • I love the textured screen, makes it seem more like reading paper pages.
  • The 3g works very well.
  • The Paperwhite cover is fantastic — love how it puts the device to sleep.

Kindle Paperwhite 3g: The not so good –

  • The 1st Paperwhite I received was clearly defective (the entire right side of the screen was much brighter than the left). I appreciate Amazon’s responsiveness and how quickly a replacement was sent to me.
  • Unfortunately, this is the 1st Kindle product I’ve felt disappointed in — I am assuming my replacement Paperwhite is “normal” but there is still variation in light intensity *within the text area*. If the lighting variations were just in the margins they’d be less distracting.
  • The variations in light intensity (within the text area) make the text on a given page appear uneven — some words appear bolder/clearer than others.
  • Rather than just settling in to read, I find myself fiddling with the light setting to get it bright enough to illuminate the text while trying to keep the light setting low enough to minimize light variations inherent in the screen.


There you have it, a wrap up of my experience with most Kindles released September 2012. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Samsung Galaxy Tab: Some favorite apps & resources

After picking up my Sprint Samsung Galaxy Tab last weekend (see my initial impressions post), I’ve had a chancesamsung-galaxy-tab to play and get some interesting apps loaded. Since I’ll primarily be using the Tab at home, you won’t see driving or navigation apps listed below. Also most apps are not specifically designed for tablet unless noted.

The first thing I did to customize my Tab was to install a new font (since Samsung’s TouchWiz UI allows font customization): Humana Sans ITC FlipFont ($0.99)

Then, I got busy installing apps…

News:

  • The Wall Street Journal: This app is specifically designed for Android tablet use. I’ve long had an online subscription to WSJ to keep up with business and financial news. I like the UI and how the app refreshes each morning at 4:30, so I can read news updates when I get up. Note that a $3.99 weekly subscription will apply after the trial period. (free during trial period)
  • Bloomberg: My favorite app for following stock prices & corresponding news. (free)
  • NY Times: A favorite news source made even better by making an Android tablet version available. To download, visit http://nytimes.com/androidtab from your Galaxy Tab. (free)
  • Financial Times: An excellent (and highly recommended) source for business and financial news. (free)
  • Mediafly for tablets: An interesting and varied source for news audio & video. I haven’t used this app much yet but so far find it interesting. (free)

Media (audio / video / ebook readers):

  • Radio 104.1 WMRQ: One of my favorite alternative rock radio stations. (free)
  • TuneIn Radio: A full-featured, free radio app that provides access to hundreds of radio stations. (free)
  • KCRW Radio: Probably my favorite NPR station – love their music and feature programming. (free)
  • Pandora Radio: I love Pandora’s “Spa Radio” enough to ante up the $36 annually. (free)
  • TV Flash: A work in progress app that provides ability to stream (over WIFI) a variety of TV stations  (U.S. & non-U.S.). (free)
  • Kindle: The Tab form factor makes it an excellent ebook reader, and I find the Kindle app pleasant to use. Another benefit of the Kindle app? Ability to download free ebooks from Amazon – some are basic fiction, but sometimes there are some nonfiction gems – list available here: Limited-Time Offer ebooks.
  • Aldiko Book Reader: If you’d prefer not to use the Kindle app or Amazon store, the Aldiko reader is well done. (free, paid version available)

Games:

  • Angry Birds: This fun and incredibly addictive game works well on the Tab. (free)
  • DroidWords: Looking for a Scrabble clone that doesn’t require other players? DroidWords is what you’re seeking. Get the  paid version to avoid the annoying ads inserted into the free version. ($2.99)
  • Sheep Run Beta: Another fun and addictive game. Not sure though if it’s still available in the market since, sadly, my search this morning didn’t find it. (free)
  • Droid Odyssey BETA: A fun side-scroller, the developer warns it’s has problems on the Galaxy Tablet. However, I’ve been able to play it on the Tab. (free)
  • Shortyz Crosswords: Perfect for folks who like to do crosswords and prefer free (vs. subscription) content. (free)

Other:

  • Palmary Weather Pro: In my opinion, the best weather app for Android. Widgets available, too. ($2.99)
  • Springpad: A great place to save stuff you want to remember – I like it better than Evernote. (free)
  • Touiteur Premium: My favorite mobile twitter client. I prefer the Premium version although a free version is available. (free. paid version: ~$2.73)
  • Beautiful Widgets: These are beautiful on the Tab, too. (paid: ~$2.04)
  • Dolphin HD Browser: Of all the browsers available on Android, this is the one I always return to based on ease of use and speed. (free)
  • Bookmarks to SD: After installing Dolphin HD, I use this add-on app to import my desktop bookmarks to my mobile device. (free)
  • WolframAlpha: A great reference tool. (free)
  • Dropbox: A great file archive tool. I frequently save nonmarket apps to Dropbox to put them onto my device for install. If you haven’t tried dropbox yet, here’s a referral link: https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTIxOTYzMDA5?src=global (free app)
  • Google Chrome to Phone: If you use Chrome as your desktop browser, this app is a no brainer… allows you to push urls from your desktop browser  to your Android device. (free)

Galaxy Tab enthusiast web sites & forums:

So, there you have it… my favorite Android apps & online resources for Tab to date. If you’ve found some good apps / references, please leave a comment to let me know!

Hulu Plus: Now cheaper

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I’ve used Hulu since it came out and love how it lets me catch up on recent episodes I’ve missed. However, it doesn’t help when I’ve found a show I like and want to catch up on a larger back catalogue of episodes:

  • Comcast pay per view sometimes only lists 4 – 5 recent episodes (like Hulu)
  • Often Netflix has the series available for streaming, but not every season
  • For seasons / episodes not available on Comcast pay per view or Netflix, I’d wind up going to iTunes or Amazon Video on Demand (VoD). Unfortunately, that approach can get expensive quickly.

I happened across an article yesterday that mentioned Hulu Plus recently had a price drop from $9.99 to $7.99. That price drop coupled with the week-long free trial convinced me to give Hulu Plus a shot.

Getting set up was easy. I entered my info onto the Hulu Plus web page and then added Hulu Plus as a channel on my Roku XR box. Roku directed me to a web page to activate my Hulu Plus subscription on that box, and I was able to start watching TV instantly.

If you don’t have a Roku box, there are other devices you can use to watch Hulu Plus, including iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and several other listed here.

From what I’ve seen so far, the biggest benefits to Hulu Plus are:

  • HD quality streaming (vs SD quality offered by the free Hulu subscription). Picture quality is very good, especially considering my Roku box is connected wirelessly to my router.
  • Large back catalogues for many shows, and in many cases, the full back catalogue (all episodes for all seasons)

And here are the downsides that I’ve noticed so far:

  • Not all U.S. TV series are available via Hulu Plus. My recent favorite, Sons of Anarchy, is nowhere to be found. But series such as The Office (both US & UK versions) are available, and there’s enough variety that I’ve been able to watch shows that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
  • Unlike Hulu, Hulu Plus lists only TV series. You won’t find movies listed in the Hulu Plus catalogue. EDIT: Actually, the previous sentence is incorrect — there are both TV series and movies available for viewing on Hulu Plus.

For me, being able to catch up on back catalogues of interesting TV series is worth $7.99/month and I’ll continue to pay for Hulu Plus after my trial ends.

Interested? Use this referral code for a free 2-week (vs only 1 week) trial: http://hulu.com/r/VD6hSw (Updated: Sorry, all the referral codes have now been used)

Netflix, how I adore thee…

Netflix

I confess, I was late to the party on Netflix — I only became a subscriber a few months ago. No matter, Netflix has changed my movie rental and purchase patterns irreparably.

I love movies. Aside from photography, catching a movie is my favorite way to relax. Up until now, time-shifting movies via my TiVo, Amazon video on demand rental, and the occasional blu-ray purchase has worked pretty well for me.

And then I learned about Netflix Watch Instantly streaming video feature…

Watch Instantly enables Netflix users subscribed to any unlimited plan (i.e., any Netflix plan except the $4.99/monthly) to stream any Watch Instantly movie on demand (via streaming video) with no limits and no additional charges. Free is a very good price!

Good-bye, Amazon video on demand. It’s been good amazonwhile it’s lasted but I’ve found a less expensive way to satisfy my urge for instant gratification when I want to see a specific movie.

Good-bye, Comcast premium movie channels and your corresponding monthly charges. With Watch Instantly, I no longer have to plan in advance and ensure comcast the TiVo is set to record a desired movie. Since IFC and Sundance channels are included in your digital package, I can still watch Indie films to my heart’s content.

So long, monthly blu-ray purchases. While I’ll still pick up a blu-ray disc here blu-ray and there, it’s far more convenient to stream films I want to see. And I can always use my 1-disc a month unlimited Netflix plan to satisfy my desire for blu-ray goodness.

Of course, Netflix Watch Instantly isn’t for everyone.

  • The movies tend to be at least a year old — if you prefer the most recent movies, you’ll likely be disappointed.
  • Also, you’ll most likely want to stream to your TV rather than only watching on your PC/Mac – my TiVo Series 3 supports Netflix Watch Instantly. I have also heard good things about the Roku box.

For movie fans like me who love movies of nearly any genre and release date, Netflix’s Watch Instantly is too good of a deal to pass up. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend subscribing to Netflix for a trial period to check it out. If you’re a movie lover, I’m betting you’ll like it!

I was wrong about the Kindle…. musings of a new Kindle 2 owner

B000FI73MA In June 2008, I posted an article entitled Kindle: Still too expensive at $359. I shunned the original Kindle as too expensive and frankly, too ugly. As much as I love books and reading, I couldn’t imagine spending $359 for a device that looked so dated.

There, I’ve said it. Even with my affection for shiny, new gadgets, what’s on the inside counts but what’s on the outside counts, too.

Flash forward eight months to February 2009, when the Kindle 2 was announced….kindle2

Suddenly, what I’d previously thought was overpriced became quite compelling. Was it the addition of text to speech? Was it the prettier design? Was it the influence of my Kindle-owning friends? Those answers and more below, in my initial impressions as a Kindle 2 owner.

What I like about the Kindle 2:
Solid, quality construction: My initial impression upon removing the Kindle from its shipping carton was, “Wow, this is really solid.” Of course, it requires the same care in handling as any electronic device. However, it’s thin but doesn’t feel fragile.

Text to speech: It doesn’t quite sound natural but yet isn’t so digitized as to be unlistenable. This feature will be handy for those times when my eyes are tired from gazing at a computer screen.

Intuitive navigation: I confess, I took a quick look at the user guide but didn’t pay attention to navigation instructions. I just picked up the Kindle 2, and started using it.159175-kindle2-350_188

The screen: Crisp and easy to read. It has a matte (not glossy) finish to reduce glare when reading outside. 

On board dictionary: What reader doesn’t at times encounter a word they’d like defined? With the on board New Oxford America Dictionary, one doesn’t even have to put down the book to look up a definition. Nice!

 

Amazon’s eBook selection: I’m a long-time Audible.com (audio book service) subscriber. As wonderful as Audible.com is, sometimes I want a book that’s just not available in audio format. Enter Amazon’s Kindle book store which offers great variety, and pricing (many at $9.99) is still far less than buying the physical book.

3G wireless connectivity without monthly subscription: Considering the cheapest cellular data plans cost an average of $20 to 30 per month, the Kindle’s always on wireless helps justify the device’s pricing. Of course, this always on wireless has its benefits for Amazon – it makes it incredibly easy to buy books.

What I’d like to see improved:
Variety of Kindle newspaper subscriptions is too limited and most are too expensive considering their digital format: I set up a Kindle subscription to The Irish Times since I love the perspective non-U.S. press offers and I thought the subscription pricing was reasonable at $5.99 per month. I love the Wall Street Journal but my current annual online subscription costs less than twelve times the Kindle WSJ $9.99 monthly subscription – I’ll keep my web-based version, thanks.

And, frankly, that’s all I can think of that I’d change. I am delighted with the Kindle 2, and very impressed with its quality and the attention to detail that has gone into its design and implementation.