Tag Archives: Amazon

The Latest on Amazon’s Drone Delivery System

droneAfter crushing the competition and creating a new standard of online shopping, mogul retail company Amazon continues to reach new heights. To keep up with their growing sales demand (and to cut back on delivery costs), the company announced it’s looking to drones, a flying delivery device. Rather than a delivery truck stopping from house to house, these small drones carry each package, cutting back on labor, manpower, and transportation resources. Money saved by Amazon, and quicker deliveries for customers – a win-win.

But drones? The devices, which will be known as Amazon Prime Air, are the same flying robot-types used in the military, only less deadly and programed to stop at your front door. Sure it’s creepy, but is it all that inefficient? Packages will likely show up quicker, a giant truck didn’t have to travel miles to deliver a single package, and no more awkward greetings from the delivery guys.

The Timeline

In theory, one could order a package and have it delivered to their door by these robotic devices. The technology is there, all it needs is a shove (and the equipment) to get it going. Legally, however, the plan is a different story. Unmanned aircraft systems – or UAS – are illegal for commercial use. The FAA currently hosts a universal ban across the country.

Thankfully for Amazon, it doesn’t look to stay that way. Just a few weeks ago, the FAA released its plan for allowing UAS for commercial use. By September of 2015, their laws must be put into place, which is a legally bound deadline. In theory, that leaves the world less than two years of computer-delivered goods. And considering those UAS rules apply to all businesses, other companies could enlist their help as well. Pizza deliveries, car parts to stranded motorists, locating lost hikers – the possibilities rely solely on the yet-to-be-determined rules.

For now, it seems as though Amazon has a few safety issues to work out. For instance, making sure their drones don’t land on peoples’ heads. Other areas, such as timelines, battery life (the eight-chopper design takes more power to run), etc. are also being looked at. Which is why they’re happy to have the head start.

Within just a few years, however, it seems as though drone delivery systems could be a reality. Flying boxes, quicker packages, and a giant leap into futuristic technologies.

Looking for an iTunes store replacement? Check out Amazon MP3

If you use a Mac, iPod, or iPad did you know that the iTunes Store is not the only place you can buy digital music for your device? In fact, Amazon.com has a great MP3 store which will work with those devices in a couple of ways. Basically, if you can get a DRM free music file compatible with iTunes, you can buy your music almost anywhere. This article, however, will be focusing on Amazon.com.

The old way: Download music to iTunes

Until recently, Amazon only had one way to get music onto your devices, which required you to download the music on your computer, then transfer it to your device. To use this method, you can download songs or albums from Amazon.com and using the Amazon MP3 Downloader, which you install on your computer. After the music has been downloaded, it will be instantly sent to iTunes with the names, artwork, etc.

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The new way: Use the Cloud Player App

As I said, this used to be the only way to get these tracks onto your devices. “Used to be” is the key there. Amazon recently released their Cloud Player and a Cloud Player app. The app allows you to have access to all of your purchases for streaming and/or downloading on your device when you log into your Amazon account. The only problem with this is that you can not mix and match tracks from iTunes. If you want to do that you will have to download the tracks to your computer and into iTunes using the downloader tool mentioned above.

Bottom Line: Price

You might be wondering what is the benefit of using Amazon if you have to go through all of this trouble? For me, the benefit is price. There are many time when Amazon will have a cheaper price on an MP3 album than iTunes. In some cases it is a lot cheaper. For me, it is worth the money to buy from Amazon and download the music to iTunes. Once it is in iTunes I don’t notice the difference, or care.

iTunes is great, and I buy most of my music in iTunes. However, it is nice to know there is another option out there for users.

Barnes & Noble releases 8GB Nook Tablet for $199

When Barnes & Noble first released the Nook Tablet in November, it had 16GB of storage and a microSD card slot, something that Amazon’s Kindle Fire lacked, but B&N’s slate was $50 more, making the Kindle Fire look a little more attractive, even with only 8GB and no memory card slot. However, Barnes & Noble finally got the memo and officially outed an 8GB version of its Nook Tablet, priced at the same $199 as Amazon’s offering.

The 8GB Nook Tablet still has the microSD slot that can be found on the 16GB version, but B&N decided to cut the RAM in half to 512MB, which matches the Kindle Fire.

B&N’s new version of their Nook Tablet makes the battle with the Kindle Fire much more of a fair fight, and it might turn the tables on which tablet looks the most tempting to buy. Both slates are now almost identical, but you have to admit that the SD card slot on the Nook Tablet is something that can’t be overlooked. With the prices of memory cards so low, 32GB of added storage space would be a great upgrade to any tablet. However, Amazon’s ecosystem is something that B&N will have a hard time replicating, especially with Amazon Prime being the forefront of that ecosystem.

The original $250 16GB (with 1GB of RAM) Nook Tablet will still be available if you’re wanting to spend $50 more to get B&N’s top tiered tablet. The original Nook Color is now selling for just $169. Although, just an extra $30 will bump you up to the new 8GB Nook Tablet.

If you had to choose between Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet and Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which one would get your $200?

Kindle Fire proves that reviews are meaningless

If you’re serious about purchasing a new piece of technology, do yourself a favor and try before you buy. Because relying on reviews, especially from just one or two people, is tantamount to gambling your money on one person’s opinion.

We’ve all looked at reviews online. We even write them here at Techerator. And they can make for fun reading, and writing. But their worth is up for debate. The thing which a lot of people seem to forget is that reviews are really nothing but opinion. Whether the product being reviewed is a website, an album, a video game, a movie, or a piece of consumer technology, that fact remains present and correct.

Kindle Fire Reviews

The Kindle Fire has garnered the most diverse range of opinions aimed that I have ever seen for a piece of consumer technology. You can read 10 reviews of the new Amazon tablet online and I guarantee none of them will agree with each other. On one end of the scale will be unmitigated praise, on the other, damning admonishment. And in-between are the more sensible, down-to-earth approaches which state the good and the bad in equal measure.

The best demonstration of this is on ZDNet, where the same writer, David Gewirtz, has been able to find seven reasons why the Kindle Fire is better than the iPad, and 12 things about the Kindle Fire which kinda suck. And even these facts are open to interpretation. If the cost of something isn’t an issue, then the low price of the Kindle Fire would not be an advantage. If you wouldn’t dream of adding a keyboard to a tablet then the Kindle Fire’s lack of Bluetooth support isn’t a downside in the slightest.

If that is a good example of looking at a product objectively then Marco Arment’s review of the Kindle Fire is a good example of ranting and raving against a product without looking at it in context. Arment is the creator of Instapaper, so his review spread virally across the interwebs. It was eventually lapped up by Apple fanboys extraordinaire such as John Gruber and MG Siegler. The question is why has Arment’s opinion been treated with higher regard than someone who isn’t well-known within the industry? Is his opinion worth more? Is it more likely to be correct?

Conclusions

The Kindle Fire isn’t an iPad. Amazon has never suggested it is. But the Kindle Fire is a $199 tablet which does many of the same things a $499 iPad does, and for that reason it will sell. If you can afford an iPad then get one of those. If not then the Kindle Fire is a good product at a good price.

As for reviews, they’re certainly better than buying blind, but take everything with a liberal pinch of salt. And also read a variety of opinions from across the spectrum of writers and reviewers. Amazon is always a good starting point, as these are ordinary consumers not spoiled by having reviewed every product on the market.

Image Credit: Striatic
Image Credit: Courtbean

Is More Amazon Hardware On The Way?

Amazon is a huge and hugely influential online retailer. But of late it has become something much more than that: a purveyor of hardware. Not just any old hardware, but well-made hardware that people actually want to own. The question is: after the Kindle eBook reader and the Kindle Fire tablet what hardware could be next on Amazon’s wish list?

Amazon Kindle

Amazon released its first Kindle in 2007, and while it wasn’t the first or only eBook reader on the market it was the device that brought eBooks into the mainstream. With ultra-competitive pricing Amazon was able to sell millions of Kindles and then make money from the sale of eBooks. There have been several iterations of the hardware since, with the new Kindle Touch being the latest.

Kindle Fire Tablet

Alongside the Kindle Touch Amazon also unveiled the Kindle Fire, a tablet in the mold of, but not competing with, the Apple iPad. Priced at just $199, the Kindle Fire is affordable to those millions of people who covet an iPad but simply cannot justify the price tag. Amazon is likely losing a small amount of money on each Kindle Fire sold, but like with the Kindle will make money from the sale of digital content after the hardware is in the hands of consumers.

Seesaw

Alongside the registration of trademarks for the Kindle Fire came a separate company name, with ‘Seesaw’ playing host to the Android tablet and its associated products. This could simply be a bookkeeping tactic, splitting the tablet business from the main Amazon brand in order to protect it and open up the possibility of selling it off in the future should things not go as well as hoped. Or it could be the start of a whole new business for Amazon, one in which the online retailer is a true hardware manufacturer.

Smartphones? Laptops? TVs?

With an eBook reader and tablet under its belt, it’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Amazon will produce more hardware in the future. Essentially any device which connects to the Web, and can handle the consumption of digital content, is ripe for Amazon to dabble in. A smartphone is the most obvious next step, with many people now using them to do much more than simply communicate with others. But laptops and netbooks are also a possibility. And how about an Amazon-branded television? On that score Jeff Bezos and Co. could even beat Apple to the punch.

The key for Amazon, whichever direction it heads in next in terms of hardware, is to keep prices low and quality high. If it can achieve that blend then it could become a true hardware giant.

Image Credit: Jonobacon
Image Credit: Paz.ca

Amazon Announces Slew of New Kindles

Today, Amazon hosted an event in New York City to announce and show off some new products. Sure enough, it was all about the Kindle brand.

Here’s what they unveiled:

Kindle Touch

The first device they announced was the Kindle Touch. As the  name implies, the Touch doesn’t have a physical keyboard or any buttons. Rather, it has an IR touch system that’s similar to the latest Nook and Kobo. Bezos says the E-Ink display on the Touch is one of the most advanced yet. The device is also smaller, thinner and lighter than the existing Kindle and while specifics about battery life weren’t revealed, we’re told it’s “extra long.”

The Kindle Touch will be priced at $99 with a 3G model available for $50 more. Both will be up for pre-order later today and will ship on November 11th.

Kindle

There’s no fancy name attached to the end of this one, but that’s because it’s just a normal Kindle. Amazon revealed an updated Kindle and it will only cost you a mere $79. It’s weighs just under six ounces and is 18 percent smaller than the third-gen Kindle. This one has buttons, but no physical keyboard and no touch screen. The interface is much faster than before, with lightning-quick page turns being one of the biggest improvements.

The new Kindle is out now and ready to ship!

Kindle Fire

Just when we thought we could never see a tablet under $200, Amazon makes it happen. Today they revealed their Kindle Fire tablet for $199, which has a 7-inch IPS display (with Gorilla Glass) and built-in WiFi (no 3G, though), as well as a 30-day trial to Amazon Prime (the $79-a-year service that includes streaming video and free two-day shipping). It also sports a dual-core processor and weighs just 14.6 ounces (lighter than the iPad). It doesn’t have any cameras or a microphone, but that’s expected with a sub-$200 tablet. You’ll also get access to the Amazon App Store, as well as movies, TV shows and Kindle books.

The Kindle Fire is running the Android OS, but Amazon heavily customized the interface so it looks nothing like Android, and we’re guessing you won’t be able to get the true Android experience without a little warranty-voiding.

Bezos says that the Kindle Fire can pose a real threat to Apple’s iPad, something that HP and RIM couldn’t manage to do. The price is definitely one way to get started on that. The Fire will begin shipping on November 15th. You can pre-order today.

3 Great Alternatives to Dropbox

Hard driveWhen it comes to sharing and syncing files, the most popular tool out there is arguably Dropbox. It’s a favorite among the folks here at Techerator and for good reason. Dropbox is easy to use and gives you a lot of flexibility.

But Dropbox isn’t the only file sharing/syncing program available on the web. There are other tools that are definitely worth a look. Let’s take peek at three of them.

SugarSync

Arguably the best alternative to Dropbox is SugarSync. It does everything that Dropbox does, and probably a little more too.

If you use a Windows computer or a Mac, you can install a client that will automatically sync files across all of your computers (well, as long as you have the client installed). You can selectively sync folders and even choose which ones you want to sync with other computers, and which ones you want to back up to SugarSync’s web interface. Using the web interface, you can create folders and upload or download files.

You’re not limited to the desktop or web, either. There are SugarSync clients for iOS devices, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Symbian.

You can get a free account which gives you 5 GB of storage. Or you can get 30, 60, 100, or 250 GB of storage for between $4.99 and $24.99 a month.

Uploading to SugarSync

Amazon Cloud Drive

Released in Spring 2011, Amazon Cloud Drive is something of a bare bones service. It’s purely storage; there’s no syncing. But as a storage solution it’s hard to beat.

You get a web interface (there’s no desktop or mobile client) that’s simple to use. Just log in, create a folder if you need one, and then upload your files. You can only upload files that are 2 GB or smaller, though. Once you’ve done that, you can access your files from anywhere using any web browser.

You get 5 GB of free storage, and you can get anywhere from 20 GB to 1,000 GB of storage for between $20 and $1,000 a year.

Amazon Cloud Drive

Ubuntu One

Part of the Ubuntu desktop for the last few releases, Ubuntu One lets you sync directories on your Ubuntu desktop with a web-based storage system. What’s that? Not an Ubuntu user? That’s OK. You can still upload you files using Ubuntu One’s web interface and access them on any computer.

Ubuntu One is easy to use and has a couple of interesting features. You can store your contacts and write and share notes online. You can also upload your music and stream it later. Ubuntu One provides 5 GB of storage free, or 20 GB for $2.99 a month. If you use an Android device, you can share and sync your files with the Ubuntu One Files app. On top of that, there’s a paid option that lets you upload and stream your music to your Android device or iPhone.

Ubuntu One web interface

Have a favorite alternative to Dropbox? If so,  share your pick by leaving a comment.

Photo credit: Szorstki

So You Got a New Kindle for Christmas, Now What?

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Like many of you lucky people out there, I got a new Kindle as a present this Christmas (thanks, Mom!).  I’m an avid reader so I know I’ll make good use of it, but I’ve come up with a few simple tips that can help you get the most out of your new toy.

Oh, and did I mention you can get many popular books on your Kindle for free?

Link your Kindle to your Amazon.com account

The Kindle Store in the Kindle is useful, but if you register your device (linking it with your Amazon.com account), you can instantly send books to your Kindle directly from a web browser.  To register your device, open up the Menu, select Settings, and locate the Registration field.  Click Register to link your Kindle to your Amazon account.

If you purchased your Kindle using your Amazon.com account, it’s allegedly supposed to be pre-registered, but mine was not.

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Download free Kindle books

So you have your new Kindle, but what good is it without any books?  Dozens of literary classics are available for free on the Kindle because they are available in the public domain.  Books like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – all free.  I’m reading Sherlock Holmes at the moment, which was converted to Kindle by a community of enthusiasts for our enjoyment.

To find more free Kindle books, check out Amazon’s Top 100 Free Kindle Books (updated hourly).  You can also check out user-created lists of free books (including much more than public domain books).

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Read the manual (RTFM)

I’m not usually a person that reads instructions, nor do I tell other smart people to read them.  But check this out, smart people: You should read the included digital documentation to get the most out of your Kindle.  The Kindle is straightforward enough, but because of its simple design, you can remain completely oblivious to many useful features.  Here are a few tips I picked up from the manual:

  • Press ALT + Enter to post selected text to Twitter or Facebook
  • Press the Left directional key on a selected item in your library to permanently delete it from your Kindle
  • Press ALT + Q to insert the number 1, ALT + W to insert the number 2, etc (they’re all available with the SYM key, but this is much faster if you’re just using numbers)

The Kindle User’s Guide is included with every Kindle and is right on your home screen when you turn it on.  It’s a bit lengthy, but definitely worth the time.

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Browse the internet

It might not be the fastest, but the Kindle includes a surprisingly nice web browser.  Don’t expect it to render websites perfectly, but if you want to do some surfing between reading sessions and you’re away from a computer, this will do just fine.

The Kindle browser is available under the Menu –> Experimental –> Web Browser.

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Irony, thy name is Kindle.

Turn off popular highlights

The Kindle lets you digitally highlight text in books by navigating to the selection with the directional pad and pressing the center button to start highlighting. Amazon then stores this information online, and uses it to identify which selections are the most popular among all Kindle users.

If you’re reading a book, you’ll notice that some paragraphs will be underlined and may say how many “highlighters” it has.  This is a feature Amazon enables by default to help you identify popular selections, but in my opinion, it’s distracting.

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To turn off popular highlights, press Menu from the home screen, select Settings, and navigate to page 2 of 3.  Locate the Popular Highlights option and disable it.

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Link your social networks

As I mentioned earlier, you can post excerpts you’ve enjoyed to Facebook and Twitter.  To add social networks, press Menu from the home screen, select Settings, and navigate to page 3 of 3.  Open the Social Networks option to link your accounts using the included web browser.

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Use the built-in dictionary

When you think about the advantages the Kindle has over printed books, don’t forget one of the most significant features: you can look up word definitions instantly without digging for a dictionary or using Google’s define: search.  Whenever you encounter a word you want to look up, simply move the cursor in front of it and a brief definition will appear on the screen.

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For a more detailed explanation, simply press the enter key and you’ll be taken to the full dictionary app.  While reading Sherlock Holmes, I had no idea how many different words were used to describe a horse carriage.

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Listen to Audiobooks

I have a 15-minute commute to the office every morning, so I make the most of that time by listening to audiobooks from Audible.com.  I started listening to audiobooks about 3 years ago to pass the time on long trips, and have been completely hooked ever since.

The Kindle can play (and download) Audible audiobooks as well as MP3s, so if you’re torn between carrying your Kindle or iPod, you can bring just one device.  Audible audiobooks you have purchased will appear under Archived Items on your home screen, and you can play MP3s under Menu –> Experimental –> MP3 Player.

Read with multiple devices, never lose your place

The Kindle will automatically store the last page you’ve read online so you’ll never lose your spot in a book.  Because you can read Kindle books on your PC, iPhone, iPad, and Android device, you will be automatically prompted to begin reading where you left off when you use another device.

Conclusion

There are many more great features on the Kindle, so take some time to play with your new device.  And if you find something I haven’t covered in this guide, how about posting it in the comments below?

Happy reading!

Why Buying Music Legally Still Kinda Sucks

For some reason, I take some small amount of pleasure in buying music legally.  It’s not just because most people my age have devalued digital media to such a point that they don’t even pause before downloading an entire album illegally – a friend of mine recently told me that she wanted to “preview a song to see if it was worth pirating the whole album”, sheesh – but it’s something more than that.  I guess it’s the same reason I liked buying albums on CD when I was a kid, I liked listening to new music that I had seemingly earned by saving the money to buy it (if that makes any sense at all).

The biggest incentive for me to buy music legally is that, nowadays, I can get it in the format I want (high quality digital MP3 downloads) and without some company’s DRM restricting what devices I can play it on.  This lets me grab new music on a whim, then put it on my iPod or phone and use it on my own terms.  Both Amazon and iTunes offer DRM-free music, and I’ve always considered us consumers to be very lucky to have these options available.

Even though many improvements have been made to give paying customers access to the content they want, there are still some pitfalls.  In fact, a recent experience using the Amazon MP3 store taught me something important: buying music legally still kinda sucks.

My story is pretty simple.  The Amazon MP3 store was running a deal on several 100-song classical music collections for under $5.00.  I jumped on the deal and bought three of them (hey, classical is great to listen to when doing homework, programming, or writing this article).  I started to notice some problems almost immediately, though.  Amazon requires that you use their MP3 dowloader application to retrieve your purchased music, and it apparently doesn’t handle large quantities of songs very well.

The first album I purchased downloaded completely, but the next two stalled and eventually failed after completing only about ten songs.  Thinking this was no big deal, I tried restarting the downloads, only to find that my download “ticket” expired after the download had been initiated. Dang.

I wrote to Amazon’s customer service explaining the situation, and they were quick to reply and re-enabled my downloads.  They also pointed me to a site where I could start downloading the album again.

There was just one problem: I couldn’t find the “Download All” link, and there were a lot of songs.

Hey, what do I have going on anyway?

So I wrote back to Amazon,

Thank you for the help with my recent Amazon MP3 downloading problem.

My concern is that I have to download each of these songs, track-by-track?  There are 200+ songs and I would much prefer not having to spend the next hour clicking, saving, and opening files.

Thanks,

Evan

To which I received the unfortunate reply,

I’m sorry, currently there is no feature to download all the tracks at one click on Your Media Library.

It is always important for us to hear how customers react to all aspects of shopping at Amazon.com. Strong customer feedback like yours helps us continue to improve the selection and service we provide, and we appreciate the time you took to write to us. I’ve passed your comments as a feedback to the Amazon MP3 Music team.

Thank you for your interest in Amazon MP3 Music Downloads.

I’m not complaining about Amazon’s customer service here, because they were fast and seemingly sympathetic.  But the fact that I have 200+ songs that I own but don’t have easy access to sitting in a huge list on some Amazon download page is ridiculously shortsighted of whoever is running the content management section of Amazon’s MP3 store.

I purchased these albums in June, and it’s now the end of September and I haven’t even made a dent in the list yet.  It’s not entirely because I’m lazy (well, kinda), but I’ve been patiently hoping that Amazon would simply add a Download All button to mitigate these problems in the future.

A nerd like me could just as well write a script in AutoHotkey or iMacros for Firefox to make fairly quick work of this problem, but what about the average consumer?  After all, those are the ones that truly need the most streamlined purchasing process possible to keep them away from piracy. Fiascoes like this only give them another reason to learn about BitTorrent.

Image credit: Shiv Shankar Menon Palat

Get Great Deals at Amazon.com Anywhere on the Web with Shopping Assistant

Google Chrome & Safari only: I’m a big fan of shopping online at Amazon.com (in fact, I usually check Amazon before even considering getting in the car and driving to a brick-and-mortar store).  If I’m checking out gadgets online at a different website, I almost always end up going back to Amazon to make the purchase because of their competitive prices and great selection.

Shopping Assistant is a new extension from the Ookong team (also responsible for another great extension bearing the same name that lets you track price history on Amazon).  When shopping online on popular shopping sites like eBay, BestBuy, Walmart, Newegg, Buy.com, and Sears, Shopping Assistant will automatically display similar products available at Amazon.com.

For example, if you go to BestBuy.com and search for “Halo Reach”, Shopping Assistant will display a useful list across the bottom of the product listing with all similar items at Amazon.com.

Shopping Assistant displayed below BestBuy.com Item

The best part about Shopping Assistant is that when you hold your mouse over a product in the list, it will show you price history information about that product.  This lets you make better decisions about when to make your purchase (and might even be able to stave off an impulsive purchase if you see the price is much higher than usual!).

Shopping Assitant shows price history.

The Shopping Assistant bar can easily be hidden by clicking the blue arrow in the top right of the Amazon listings, and you can disable the extension for specific websites by clicking the icon in the URL bar and selecting “Off for this site”.

Shopping Assistant controls in the URL bar.

In addition to most popular online retailers, Shopping Assistant can also be used at deal finding websites like Slickdeals.net and FatWallet.com.  Shopping Assistant is a free download for Google Chrome and Safari browsers.

Make sure to check out the rest of our articles about Google Chrome and web browsers for more great tips!

Image credit: Carl Malamud