Review of the BUILT Kindle Sleeve

built_kindle_caseI was a big fan of Amazon’s Lighted Leather Kindle Cover, but whenever I took my Kindle out of the case, I was always amazed by how light the device is, and how much weight the lighted case adds to it. One of the advantages of reading on a Kindle (as opposed to a tablet) is that the Kindle is far lighter than either my Xoom or my iPad. So I finally decided to ditch the cover and go with a sleeve, instead.

I’ve had dozens of neoprene gadget cases in the past, so I decided to try the BUILT Neoprene Kindle Sleeve. It’s extremely lightweight, very well cushioned, and shaped perfectly. Now my Kindle is well protected when I’m not using it (I’ve already dropped it while in the case on a hardwood floor, and it was perfectly fine), but I can pull it out and enjoy the lightness and form-factor of the Kindle the way it is was designed to be enjoyed.

The only problem is that the case is a little pricey. At $29.99, I was hesitant, but although I would have liked a cheaper alternative, I’ve been very happy with it.

Review of the Galaxy Tab: the Good and the Bad

samsung_galaxy_tabNow that I’ve put a lot of hours into using the Galaxy Tab, here’s what I think: Samsung is very much on to something with this form factor and the build quality of the Tab, but they need to work out the bugs and get the price down by at least a couple hundred dollars. If the Galaxy Tab were, say, $300, I would recommend it without hesitation to almost everyone I know. At $600, however, I would still recommend it to gadget lovers, but to the proverbial mom, I would say wait for the next generation which should be more polished, and hopefully significantly cheaper.

But just to be clear: I really love this device, and have found myself completely attached to it. Although it doesn’t have the fit and finish (from a software perspective) of an iPad, it’s definitely much closer to what I’ve been looking for in a tablet: very portable, great battery life, and a data plan that I can mostly live with.

What I like about the Samsung Galaxy Tab

  • The size is perfect, in my opinion. There’s definitely a place for 10″ tablets, but the 7″ screen is the right size for me. It’s small enough that I can easily carry it around (I’ve had the Galaxy Tab with me since the moment I bought it), but big enough that I almost always reach for it rather than my phone now. In fact, if it had real voice capabilities, I could see it actually replacing a phone in some circumstances (with a headset, naturally — and only because the thing I do least on my phone is make voice calls). I’m also looking forward to getting a car dock which will give me the absolute best GPS in the world, and nice big controls which are easy to read and tap on while driving.
  • The keyboard. This is really a function of the device’s size, but it’s important enough that I wanted it to have its own bullet point. If you like thumb typing (as you BlackBerry and old Sidekick users out there invariably do), you’ll love typing on the Galaxy Tab. Although I can touch type on the virtual keyboard on my iPad, I find it far less accurate and far more annoying than thumb typing on some devices. Since I’ve been using the Tab, my email responses have gotten prompter, and my text messages have gotten longer.
  • The hardware. The build quality of the Galaxy Tab seems to be very high. It’s definitely not nicer than my iPad, but I would say that it’s not in any way obviously inferior (which, to be honest, I was kind of expecting). The screen is bright and apparently tough enough to shoot BBs at, and the case feels well-made. I would say the buttons are a tad on the soft side, and the power button should have been placed on the top rather than the side since it’s easy to inadvertently turn on or off while picking up by the edges. And power buttons on the top have become the standard for phones and devices, so it was an odd decision not to follow the trend for seemingly no good reason.
  • Battery life. The battery life this thing gets is amazing, and if you check out the iFixit tear down, you’ll see why. The majority of the bulk and weight of this Galaxy Tab is battery. With moderate use, you can easily go two days without charging it — maybe even three.
  • The data plan. First, let it be known that I basically unequivocally dislike mobile phone carriers. If you read my post entitled The Free Market Paradox, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how I think mobile phone carriers victimize customers and essentially collude in order to provide the worst service they can get away with at the highest prices. In most cases, I prefer the experience of buying a new car to buying a new mobile phone. But for the first time ever, I feel like I’m actually paying something close to a fair price for a service from a mobile phone carrier. I’m paying $20 per month for 1GB of data with no contract which means I can cancel anytime, and I can use the device for tethering. Now, to be clear, I really should be paying $9.99 for 1GB, or $19.99 for unlimited, but considering the fact that I bought the plan without muttering curses under my breath, I guess I feel like I’m finally getting something almost approaching a reasonable value out of my carrier.

What I Don’t Like About the Samsung Galaxy Tab

  • It’s buggy. Although the Tab is certainly usable, it does have several bugs which, if I’d been the Product Manager, I would have not shipped without fixing. For instance, the fact that the screen dims whenever I go to the browser is inexcusable. And things like the occasional (temporary) freezes, and the tendency for taps to sometimes be interpreted as swipe gestures is annoying. And my least favorite bug: I uninstalled the “Let’s Golf!” game that shipped with the device only to find that it’s only partially uninstalled; the icon is still there, and the app still seems to be taking up space, but it doesn’t launch, and the uninstall option is now disabled. Looks like I’ll have to root the device to remove the application entirely which is pretty sad. The bugginess of the Tab is really evident whenever I put it down and pick up my Droid X which feels much faster and more robust — kind of like a finished product.
  • Bloatware. This is one of the things I really love about Apple products, and I may find that I love about Microsoft’s new phones, as well. The bloatware on the last couple of Android devices I’ve gotten has been extremely disappointing. I can deal with a few pre-installed apps shipping on a device. Fine. But to disable uninstalling those apps is positively unforgiveable. This is something that Apple really got right in their dealings with AT&T, and something that has gone terribly wrong with Android. The fact that you can buy an Android phone with the default search configured to be Bing is an indication that there is something seriously wrong with the world. (Note that the search option on the Galaxy Tab is Google, not Bing. Note also that I don’t have anything against Bing — it’s just the irony that I’m pointing out.) I can only hope that market pressure from the iPhone and eventually Windows Mobile Phone 7 will eventually help to reduce this horrendous practice.
  • No notification light. I can’t believe the Galaxy Tab doesn’t have a notification light like every other Android device I’ve used. The little green light that blinks indicating that you have unread messages is hugely valuable, and one of the things I like about Android over the iPhone. Very strange that it was left off the Galaxy Tab, and another example of the lack of standards around Android devices.
  • No voice capabilities. Of course, mobile phone carriers don’t have plans that would really have supported adding a voice-capable device to your plan at a reasonable rate, but it would be great if the Galaxy Tab should share your mobile phone’s number (which it could with Google Voice), and you could occasionally carry just your Tab and leave your phone at home. It certainly isn’t a replacement for a phone, but with voice capabilities, I could see attending a conference with nothing more than a Tab. No laptop, and no phone. Just your Tab, a bluetooth headset, and a big cup of coffee.
  • Non-USB cable. The last thing in the world I need is another type of cable to worry about. Now I need iOS device cables, USB cables for Android devices, and this third kind of cable which seems to be an inversion of the iPhone cable. Why didn’t they just use USB? Perhaps it would have been too slow the charge the battery (which is already pretty slow)? I don’t know, but it was a bad decision.
  • Price. Although I really like this device and plan on taking it everywhere, $600 is still a significant investment. $399 is the right price for the Galaxy Tab at this point, and $299 makes it a complete no-brainer impulse buy. I’m hoping we’ll see the prices come down on 7″ Android tablets as we see more competition, and as components become cheaper.

To Summarize

The overall feeling I get from the Samsung Galaxy Tab is that it’s a really good indication of things to come. It feels very much like the original iPhone to me: a breath of fresh air, but destined to be quickly replaced with more refined models at much more realistic prices. Although I’m very attached to the Galaxy Tab, something tells me that in 6 to 12 months — and certainly no more than 18 — I’ll look back on the Tab as nothing more than a gateway into real 7″ Android tablets. Until then, however, I’m going to enjoy it.

Review of the Logitech Revue with Google TV

logitech_google_tvConclusion: It’s not ready.

Having gotten rid of my Verizon FiOS television service some time ago, I’ve been eager to try out the new TV solutions from Apple and Google. I reviewed the new Apple TV about a month ago, and really liked it. Last night, I spent the evening with the Logitech Revue with Google TV, and all I can say is that it’s really not ready yet.

Here’s a summary of my experience so far:

  • The first thing I had to do was go through a 12-step setup process which probably took about 15 minutes. I didn’t have any trouble with it, but I’m guessing the proverbial mom might have called her son or daughter to come over and help.
  • The good thing about the setup process was that it gave me time to read the manual on the keyboard. I actually had to look at the included documentation in order to understand all its functionality. To be fair, the keyboard does make Google TV potentially very powerful, and if you’re going to do things like surf the web, it’s actually a great accessory to have. I got used to it very quickly, and as soon as I accepted it as a powerful universal remote rather than an additional clumsy remote, I actually liked it.
  • Once my Google TV was all set up, the first thing I did was go to Hulu only to find that it doesn’t work with Google TV. Thinking I was more clever than Hulu, I changed my user agent to spoof a Chrome browser on Mac. That got me further into the site, but when I tried to play to a video, I was presented with yet another error message which essentially said: “Hulu is for computers, not for TVs. Nice try, though.” (The Flash Hulu player seems to be using some property from the Flash Capabilities class to determine that the client is a Google TV — huge bummer.) So after 15 minutes of setup and a remote control learning curve, the very first thing I was hoping to do was a complete wash. This isn’t Google’s or Logitech’s fault, of course — this is just Hulu (and the television networks) continuing to protect their traditional television advertising revenue.
  • I then decided to do ultimate test: I wanted to see how easy it was to go from a search for a television show to actually watching that show, so I brought up the search box and typed in “The Office”. I got results from NBC’s site (which claimed I could watch full episodes), and for Amazon Video On Demand. The NBC site refused to work with Google TV just like Hulu, and Amazon wanted to charge me $2.99 for one 20-minute episode. Conclusion: test failed. (I did get to watch some very funny previews, though.)
  • Realizing that I wasn’t going to be watching much TV with my Google TV, I decided to surf the web instead. I decided with a keyboard, mouse, and a 52″ monitor, the Google TV might be a great way to kick back on my couch and read some news and check out some blogs. Unfortunately, the hardware is so inadequate that surfing the web is actually much better on my phone. Pages load slowly, and any page with Flash content not only has rendering issues, but scrolling is painfully laggy.
  • The last hope for my Google TV was BBC news. BBC is probably the only thing I miss after having canceled my Verizon FiOS service, so I figured if I could catch some video clips on BBC’s site, my Google TV would still add some value. The problem was that navigating the site was way too painful (primarily because Flash content made it so slow), and every time I watched a video clip, I had to sit through an advertisement before the actual news began. I don’t mind some ads (I don’t expect content to be free — just reasonable), but to watch 15 short video clips (which is about what it would take to get a good sense of the day’s news), I would have to sit through 15 ads over the course of about 20 to 30 minutes, most of which would be the very same ad. (I watched about four video clips, and got the same ad three out of four times). Again, not Google’s fault, but a clear indication of technologies and business models not being aligned yet.

That’s about when it occurred to me that the Google TV was creating what was probably the worst TV watching experience I’d ever had. So I turned it off and picked up my laptop.

To be fair, I should point out two very important things:

  1. I don’t have a TV service, and part of the magic of Google TV is probably integrating it with a paid TV service. That said, even if I still had FiOS, the only thing Google TV could do for me is put a better interface on top of it. That’s not necessarily a small thing (both Comcast’s and Verizon’s DVRs are atrocious examples user experience), but it’s still probably not compelling enough to add another box to my living room setup. And to be frank, I’m looking for an alternative to traditional TV service — not another piece of hardware to augment it.
  2. It’s not Google’s fault that Hulu and NBC don’t allow access from Google TV. Of course, as a consumer, I don’t really care whose fault it is — I only care about the fact that my new (and not inexpensive) device isn’t very useful.

In summary, the Logitech Revue with Google TV feels like an early prototype to me. The hardware is way too slow and the partnerships and business models aren’t in place to make it even remotely useful yet (for me, anyway). Until one or both of these things change, I recommend the following:

  • The Apple TV. It actually has less functionality, but it’s cheaper, smaller, faster, and as of right now, I would say it’s generally more useful.
  • A Mac Mini and a bluetooth keyboard (or the equivalent in the Windows world). I may end up going this route yet.
  • A laptop or even a phone. You probably don’t want to cuddle up with your friends on your couch and watch something on a small screen, but with a significant other or by yourself, it’s fine.
  • Do something else with your time other than watch TV. Permit me to recommend some good science fiction.

Update: Richard’s comment has inspired me to make a quick update. First, just because Google TV isn’t working out for me, it is working well for others. If you’re thinking of getting one, analyze your particular TV watching needs and habits, and you might find that it works great for you. Second, I actually have very high hopes for Google TV in the future. I believe in what Google is trying to do — I just don’t think the hardware, software, and the partnerships are there yet. As the various pieces fall into place, I will continue to experiment with Google TV, and I will work it into my TV-watching routine as its features and functionality permit.

Review of the New Apple TV

apple_tvI recently got rid of my Verizon FiOS television service (a topic for another post), so when Apple announced the new Apple TV, I ordered one straightaway. At $99, I felt like I had nothing to lose.

I’ve only been using it for a few days, but so far, I’m very happy with it. We’ve used it almost exclusively for Netflix streaming, and to confirm what Steve Jobs said during Apple’s press event, the Apple TV is probably the best Netflix steaming client. As far an I’m concerned, if I only use it for Netflix and for browsing my Flickr stream, it was well worth the $99.

We haven’t “rented” anything yet, and I’m not sure I’ll get into the habit of paying 99¢ for a single viewing of a television show, but I’m not ready to discount the business model yet. Although it still doesn’t feel quite right, I think it might actually make sense. I only watch a handful of television shows, so even if I pay 99¢ for every one of them, I’ll still be way ahead of where I was with FiOS. And most importantly, I’d only be paying for the content I watch rather than the thousands of hours of programming that I don’t watch which, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with the traditional television subscription model.

I will probably pay a movie now and then, however as Netflix streaming becomes more comprehensive (which I assume it will), there will less of a need to pay per film. That said, I do think $3.99 is a reasonable price for low-end HD content, so I’m not opposed to the occasional movie rental.

I don’t know how successful the Apple TV will be, but I do know that I want to support new business models around media. I’m perfectly willing to buy content, and in fact, I think it’s important to back business models you believe in by buying into them, but the models simply have to make sense, and they have to represent good values. Apple TV certainly isn’t 100% there yet, but in my opinion, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Things I really like about the Apple TV:

  • Very compact. As usual, Apple really knew what it was doing when it designed this thing. It sits next to my PS3, and is next to invisible. Adding an Apple TV to your collection of consoles and set-top boxes will not require you to rearrange your entire component cabinet. It doesn’t even have a power brick, so it won’t add much to the jungle of cords and cables behind your screen.
  • Great remote. Aside from the battery (see below), I really like the Apple TV remote. Apple knows that the remote is the part of the device that you interface with, so it feels very high-quality and works well.
  • Great UI. Traditional television service providers have always had something against simple and intuitive user interfaces. Once again, Apple to the rescue.
  • Very responsive. My old Verizon FiOS set-top box was buggy, slow, and unstable. Although the Apple TV’s software isn’t flawless (see below), it’s far more robust and responsive than the FiOS box I just sent back to Verizon. It’s also far faster and more robust than the OS and applications built into my Sony Bravia. (Sometimes I wonder why Sony even bothered.)
  • Built-in WiFi. To get my TV online (it has built-in services like Netflix streaming, Amazon on-demand, etc.), I had to set up a wireless bridge which cost extra money, time (in configuration), and precious space. The Apple TV is basically self-sufficient, as devices today should be.
  • No Netflix activation. For some reason, when I set up Netflix streaming on other clients (like my PS3 or my Sony Bravia), I had to go through a horrible registration/activation process which required having a computer nearby, creating an account with Sony, copying codes and URLs back and forth, etc. Every time I set up a new device, I always wonder why I can’t just enter my Netflix credentials and be done with it. That’s exactly how it works on the Apple TV. I’m pretty certain Apple wouldn’t have shipped a device with the same experience you have to go through activating something like a PlayStation.
  • It’s cheap. At $99, there’s almost no reason not to try it. If you’re a Netflix user, you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Some issues to watch out for:

  • It doesn’t come with an HDMI cable. I know Apple likes small packaging, and I know they were trying to keep the price down, but I was disappointed that I had to poach an HDMI cable off another device. Replacing it will add at least another $20 to the price of the Apple TV — a cost which I think it’s fair to call “hidden.”
  • The remote is great (nice and simple, and very high-quality), but it uses a CR2032 button cell battery. I just recently got every toy, remote, sensor, and peripheral in the house using rechargeable batteries, and now I have to worry about keeping a CR2032 handy (since you can’t use the Apple TV without it, you don’t want to wait until the battery actually dies to buy a replacement). I’d like to see a rechargeable option, like PS3 controllers.
  • The Apple TV remote also controls the MacBook I keep near my TV and use primarily as a stereo. This isn’t horrible since I mostly use the Remote application to control iTunes, but I did have to stop the Apple TV setup process to disable the remote on my MacBook. If this happens to you, open System Preferences, then go into Security, and check the “Disable remote control infrared receiver” box.
  • I’ve gotten a couple of errors claiming that my HDMI cable doesn’t support HDCP (a digital copy protection protocol) which made the Apple TV inoperable. After rebooting, it worked fine. I imagine this is a bug that will be fixed in a future software upgrade, and really nothing to worry about.

Review of the New Kindle 3

I’ve been a big fan of the Amazon Kindle since its initial release, and I’ve faithfully upgraded with every new generation. The Kindle 2 was a huge improvement over the first model, and the newest third generation Kindle appears to be a worthy and worthwhile successor, as well.

The biggest differences between the Kindle 2 and the Kindle 3 are:


The very compact Kindle 3 on top of the larger Kindle 2.

  • Better screen. Amazon claims that the Kindle 3 has 50% better contrast than any other e-reader. I’m not exactly sure how contrast is quantified, but I can say that the Kindle 3’s screen is much better than the Kindle 2’s. In fact, the first thing I noticed about the Kindle 3 after unpacking it was how much whiter the background looked.
  • Smaller form factor. The Kindle 3 is 21% smaller than the Kindle 2 and 17% lighter. In terms of dimensions, that’s about half an inch smaller in both width and height. Note that the 6″ screen remains the same size.
  • Wi-Fi version. Amazon is now selling a Wi-Fi version for $139 and a 3G version for $189. I decided to go with the Wi-Fi version and save the $50.
  • Better battery. I haven’t really been able to test the battery thoroughly yet, but Amazon claims that the Kindle 3’s battery will last up to a month (with wireless turned off). Based on the battery performance of my other Kindles, I would say that’s probably accurate.
  • More storage. My Mac reports the size of the Kindle 2 as 1.59GB, and the size of the Kindle 3 as 3.33GB. Amazon says that’s enough to store 3,500 books.
  • Faster page turns. Amazon says the page turns on the Kindle 3 are 20% faster. Honestly, that seems low to me. I would say the Kindle 3 is at least 50% faster if not even more, but I’m not doing actual benchmarks. Let’s just say that the Kindle 3 is noticeably and significantly faster.
  • Better fonts. The fonts on the Kindle 3 appear thicker and darker.
  • No joystick. The Kindle 3 replaces the navigation joystick of the Kindle 2 with a D-pad. So far, I think I prefer the new D-pad.
  • Rubberized backing. The Kindle 2 has a brushed metal backing and the Kindle 3 has a nice soft rubberized coating on the back.
  • Better PDF reader. The new PDF reader on the Kindle 3 supports looking up words in the dictionary, notes, and highlighting. I don’t find the Kindle particularly useful for PDF viewing because PDF text gets scaled rather than reflowing, but if PDF viewing is important to you, the Kindle 3’s improvements will probably be a welcomed upgrade.
  • WebKit-based browser. WebKit is the standard for mobile browsers now, and Amazon has built it into the the Kindle 3. I don’t consider this a very important feature, however; frankly, I think you’d be crazy to browse the web on any Kindle. The Kindle 3’s browser works much better than previous Kindle’s, but if you have a computer, smart phone, or tablet anywhere nearby, you’re always going to reach for it over your Kindle when you need to look something up on the web. That said, in a pinch — when you’re out at the pool and your phone and your iPad are both up in the room — it’s serviceable.
  • New color. I bought the graphite version which is the only Wi-Fi option available, but the 3G version comes in graphite or white.

The three features that mean the most to me are the higher contrast screen, smaller size, and faster page turns. These are the things that you will notice right away, and that you will appreciate throughout the entire life of the product. The new lower prices are nice, as well. The cheaper the Kindle gets, the more places and situations you’re willing to expose it to, and hence, the more useful it becomes. I still don’t think we’ve hit that magical price point where purchasing a Kindle and keeping it with you at all times is a no-brainer, but we’re definitely one step closer.

Review of the Magic Mouse

I’ve been pretty critical of Apple’s mice over the years, primarily due to Apple’s refusal to embrace the right mouse button. Technically, this changed with the Mighty Mouse in 2005, though I never found the right-click to work particularly well on all four (two wired, two Bluetooth) that I had over the years. Hence my skepticism when Apple announced yet another attempt at the device that they themselves were responsible for introducing to the computing mainstream with the Apple Macintosh all the way back in 1984.

What intrigued me about the Magic Mouse initially was the gesture support. I’ve been doing a lot of work with gestures in Adobe AIR 2 and I’d started using my MacBook’s multi-touch trackpad full-time in order to really try to incorporate gestures into my workflow. The Magic Mouse seemed like a good way to keep using (some) gestures while having the advantages of an external pointing device.

Enough background. On to the facts:

What’s good about the Magic Mouse:

  • Right-click support finally works great. I don’t think I’ve had any missed right-clicks yet (which happened probably 20% of the time with the Mighty Mouse).
  • Swiping also works great. I adapted to the swipe gesture instantly. It’s entirely intuitive, and works exactly like it should. And it works with all applications (at least all I’ve tried it with), and not just Apple apps (in other words, the momentum effect is implemented at the OS level, so it works everywhere).
  • The movement is very smooth. It seems to glide better than the Mighty Mouse, and better than my Logitech optical mouse (though it might just be that it hasn’t had time to accumulate dust and lint yet).

What’s not good about the Magic Mouse:

  • It’s not very ergonomic. I find it a bit on the small side and not as comfortable to use for long periods of time as my Logitech. Although the gestures are very practical and usable, the shape of the mouse is not. I think Apple focused just a little too much on the aesthetics of this device and not enough on the functionality. (Even the old Mighty Mouse is slightly more comfortable for me to use, though not nearly as fun.)
  • It’s all white. I happen to be a frequent hand-washer, so I’ve never had a problem with my keyboards or trackpads getting dirty, but before you buy a Magic Mouse, look down at your computer. If your laptop, keyboard, or mouse has accumulated grime from petting the dog, reading the newspaper, or eating sandwiches, consider getting a good black Logitech optical mouse rather than the pure white Magic Mouse.
  • Price. $69 + tax is a lot to drop on a mouse. I wanted to buy two — one for home, and one for the office — but I didn’t want to spend all that money. I was also hoping to buy a corded USB version, but as of right now, the only version available is the Bluetooth model. In general, I prefer USB mice because they are cheaper, and I don’t have to worry about battery life (I switched to rechargeable batteries a while back, but it’s still much easier just to plug in and forget about it).

I can’t really recommend or advise against the Magic Mouse. I’ll keep using mine on one computer, but I don’t think I’m going to make a special effort to replace all my mice with Magic Mice. Now if Apple came out with an ergonomic USB version, I would happily retire all my Logitech mice to the plastic hardware bin in the basement, but that time has not yet come. I actually think it’s more likely that Logitech will incorporate gesture support and deliver the options that many of us want.

Review of the Amazon Kindle 2

I bought the first Kindle the second it was available (and gave it a thorough review, naturally), but sold it to a fanatical Oprah watcher the moment I saw leaked pictures of the Kindle 2. I liked my Kindle, but I found I was still more likely to reach for paper books for several reasons:

  • The battery life was really bad, probably because I kept the wireless on all the time, but having to remember to activate it in order to receive daily content kind of defeated the purpose of the incognito "Whispernet."
  • The famously poorly designed buttons were very annoying. Amazon says they want the Kindle to disappear in your hands, but when you’re always worried about accidentally hitting the wrong button, it’s hard to relax and let your guard down.
  • It was slow. I didn’t mind the refresh rate of turning a page since you can get into a good rhythm, but otherwise navigating the device was cumbersome.
  • Most of the books I wanted to read weren’t available, and despite the Kindle’s versatile capabilities, it really is designed much more for books than magazines, newspapers, or anything that comes from the web or is accompanied by images.
  • The first book I read on the Kindle (1984 — George Bush and our impending economic situation inspired me to reread several such classics) was full of OCR mistakes — so much so that it was distracting. Fortunately, the more modern books I read didn’t have the same issue.
  • The case and the way it attached to the Kindle was just plain strange. The two often came apart, and the power and network switches in the back were obscured by the back of the cover. Very curious design.

But all that’s in the past. Here are my thoughts on the Kindle 2 so far:

  • The new form factor is a huge improvement. The action of the buttons has been reversed so they need to be pressed on the inside rather than on the outside which is where you tend to grasp the device. The metal back makes it feel more substantial, and the keyboard has been dramatically improved. It’s also thinner which is a bonus when traveling.
  • The 5-way button is a significant improvement over the LCD "gutter" of the old model. It allows for much more efficient navigation which will, in turn, make some of the great features of the Kindle (dictionary, notes, etc.) far more accessible.
  • It didn’t come with a case which bummed me out. I guess I should have realized that, but in my haste to purchase one before they sold out, I didn’t read about everything that comes in the box. The first Kindle came with a basic case (poor as it was), so I assumed the second one would have a case or a sleeve, too. But in a tribute to the iPod, the Kindle 2 comes with nothing but the device itself, and a cable. Cases and other accessories are additional revenue streams.
  • The Kindle 2 does away with the external network switch. The single power switch is on the top of the device (where it won’t be covered by your case or sleeve), and control of the network is now done through a software menu. Very smart change.
  • Despite some criticism I’ve seen online, the Kindle 2 is definitely faster than the first. It’s still e-ink, so it’s not instantaneous, but there’s a noticeable improvement over the first version.
  • All my books from my first Kindle experience were waiting for me on my Kindle 2. I just had to select them from the archive section, and they immediately downloaded for free. This is an important reminder that, like the iPhone, the Kindle isn’t a standalone device. It’s part of an ecosystem which is clearly greater than the sum of its parts.
  • I haven’t been able to put the battery through its paces yet, but it’s supposed to be 25% better. I don’t think I’ll have any battery problems this time, though, because I don’t think I’m going to buy any subscriptions which means I won’t have to leave the wireless on. I’m so accustomed to reading the news on my phone or in a feed reader now that I think I’ll use the Kindle exclusively for books.
  • Amazon still charges to email documents to yourself ($0.10 each), and to aggregate blogs (about $1.99 each). I understand why Amazon does this (the cost of the wireless connection is paid for every time you buy a book, but not when you wirelessly transfer documents or aggregate blogs), but I just can’t imagine doing this when you can easily connect your Kindle via USB (on Mac and Windows), and there are so many better ways to read blogs. But just because these features don’t appeal to me doesn’t mean they aren’t useful to others, so I officially reserve judgment.

Other features of the Kindle 2 that I haven’t mentioned yet:

  • More storage. The Kindle 2 will hold over 1,500 books.
  • A new text-to-speech feature allows the Kindle to read to you. I wasn’t expecting much out of this feature, but it actually works surprisingly well. The voice and the flow are quite natural.
  • Better selection. Amazon claims there are over 240,000 books available now. I did a quick search for the next four or five books I intend to read, and they were all available which already puts me off to a better start than with the first Kindle.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with my upgrade thus far, and would recommend the Kindle 2 both to original Kindle owners, and to anyone who thought the first Kindle wasn’t ready for prime time yet. I think this time, I’m going to stick with it — at least until I see leaked photos of the Kindle 3.

Review of the Apple aluminum keyboard

Apple’s newest keyboards are very sexy. They are almost impossibly thin with Chiclet-like keys and an anodized aluminum housing. I bought the full-sized USB version (actually, I bought two — one for the office and one for home), but there’s also a smaller Bluetooth version available.

After several months of use, I’ve determined that Apple’s emphasis was definitely on aesthetics when designing this keyboard rather than function. It’s certainly the most beautiful keyboard I’ve ever used, but it’s also one of the least comfortable and "accurate". By accurate, I don’t mean that it literally makes mistakes, but there’s something about its design that encourages me to make more mistakes than I typically make with other keyboards. In particular, I have problems with capitalization.

My other complaint is ergonomics. Even though Steve Jobs bragged about its good ergonomics during its world debut, I find it relatively uncomfortable to use. It probably isn’t any less ergonomic than its predecessor, however it’s much flatter which forces me to bend my wrists slightly further forward in order to meet it. According to Steve, this is a good thing, but occasionally, he and I don’t see eye to eye.

The new aluminum Apple keyboard looks and sounds better than any keyboard Apple has ever created, but when it comes to comfort and pure WPM, I much prefer my big ugly Goldtouch.

Update: I appreciate all the feedback I’ve gotten on this article. In fact, I’ve decided to give the keyboard another chance. I’m really going to work on ergonomics and see if that makes a difference. I’ll let you guys know what happens.

Update 2 (2/27/2009): All this time later, and I’m using two Apple aluminum keyboards — one at home, and one at work. I guess it just took time to get used to.

Review of the Amazon Kindle

I’ve been waiting roughly 10 years for a good eBook reader. In fact, I’ve even tried several times to make them myself out of ultra-mobile PCs, tablet PCs, various Linux-based devices, phones, and old disused laptops. Once I accepted that I would probably never come up with a solution that I could stick with for more than a few days, I started eyeing technology from Sony and Seiko. And then just as I came to the conclusion that the world simply wasn’t ready for eBooks yet, Amazon launched the Kindle. I had one in my cart and scheduled for next day delivery before I even fully knew what it was.

The Kindle is Amazon’s new wireless reading device. Interestingly, they don’t call it an eBook reader. They use the term "wireless reading device" which is actually very accurate, and much more descriptive. All marketing and buzzwords aside, Kindle is a device for wirelessly downloading and reading eBooks, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. It uses electronic ink for a high-contrast and power-thrifty display, and it even hints at music and web browser functionality, as well.

I’ve only been using my Kindle for about four hours, and most of that time has been spent reading, but here’s what I have to report so far:

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iFAQ: the complete iPhone question and answer

Below is a FAQ based on my first weekend of using an iPhone. It contains all the questions I had about the iPhone before I bought it, and everything that seemed worth mentioning after using it. If you have any additional questions, leave them in the comments, and I’ll get you answers as soon as I can.

Now let’s start with something easy:

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