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

Why I’ll Never Use the Kindle Fire Tablet for Reading

I love my Kindle. I was hesitant to get one at first because I tricked myself into thinking that there was something to the “real book experience” that I couldn’t get from a Kindle. I was wrong — I tried the Kindle, became enamored by the size, portability, and battery life, and now I have hundreds of e-books. I’ll probably never buy a paperback book again… sure, the Kindle has some experience problems, like the hassle of quickly flipping back to reference something at the beginning of the book, but the good just vastly outweighs the bad.

I was pretty excited to see what the Kindle Fire tablet would offer me. I was positive I would upgrade, but now that I’ve seen what it’s all about, I am almost positive I won’t. Why? I’m going to do my best to show why I will not upgrade to a Fire with a picture.

See that? It’s Angry Birds, and it will prevent me from buying the Kindle Fire to read books.

I’ve had this conversation with a few friends that own iPads. I ask, “What is reading like on that thing?” They hand it over and give me a hack, and to be honest, it’s amazing. Beautiful even. There is absolutely nothing about the Kindle page-to-page experience that I prefer over that of the iPad. But how many of my friends use their iPad for reading?

Zero. Goose egg.

The problem is that the iPad has so many other features, so many other forms of quick entertainment that it becomes almost impossible to stay focused on a book! Internet browser, Twitter, frickin’ Angry Birds. While the reading experience on an iPad is quite nice, each of my friends admit that they pull out their Kindle (or *gasp* an actual book) if they want to do some serious reading.

The beauty of the Kindle, and the reason I will keep mine for a great long while, is that it is a one-purpose device for an activity that deserves 100% of your attention while engaged in it. I like the idea of a cheaper alternative to an iPad that runs on Android, but I almost disagree with attaching the Kindle name to it. It’s going to be an impressive device that almost nobody uses for reading, just like the iPad.

So, there you have it. I hope somebody from the Kindle development team stumbles across this article and bears in mind that some people want a Kindle that can only be used for reading. The Kindle Fire is going to be a really neat device (arguably better than the iPad), but I don’t see myself retiring my Kindle 3 any time in the near future.

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.

Review: Nook Color from Barnes & Noble

The market for small tablets and digital book readers can be fierce in its own ways.  The Nook Color from Barnes & Noble is a combination of these two devices – being an eReader and an Android tablet – but it doesn’t quite excel at either.

I am not a big book reader. I do, however, love magazines and web browsing. The Nook Color is a great multi-function device for both web and reading. The lack of an app store is a shame, but I hope to see one soon from Barnes & Noble.

The Nook Color is a good fit for me because I enjoy magazines (especially color images in magazines), which of course can’t be done on the black-and-white Amazon Kindle. To be fair, the Kindle can also handle magazines, just not in full color.

Is the Nook Color an Apple iPad killer? No! Is it a Kindle killer? That will depend on what you want to use it for.

Hardware

The device feels very solid and is built of high quality materials. The Nook Color is much heavier than the original Nook, but the heft is easily made up for with its ability to do more than just read.  The screen is glass and the back has a soft rubber texture that is both pleasing to hold and lends to good grip.

Display

The Nook Color’s touchscreen measures 7 inches diagonally and has a 1024×600 resolution (similar to a standard netbook). The touch is responsive at times and slow at others. The sensitivity issues seem to come from when my hands or the Nook is cold. At times it can seem unresponsive, which may be caused by the operating system slowing down under load.

Multi-touch is typically available in magazines and on the home screen for resizing the icons. Where it falls short is in the web browser. We have all become so accustomed to pinch-zooming in touch screen browsers, but the Nook browser uses a tap-to-zoom system that is not precise.

Audio

The built-in speaker is good, but not great. I personally have not heard the Galaxy Tab (Android Tablet) or an iPad to compare it to, but I have heard many Android phones and iPod Touches. The Nook Color has much better speakers than the iPod Touch, but not as good as the phones I have heard.

The headphone jack doesn’t seem to hold very well and I had trouble with my headphones becoming partially unplugged, causing the sound to switch back to its external speaker. I don’t think most people will listen to music on the Nook, even though it has a music player app and Pandora.

Battery

Battery life seems good so far. Barnes & Noble claims it will last 8 hours, and after my first weekend with it I’d say it can do that and longer. I charged my Nook on Tuesday night and was playing with it enough to consider it heavy use (with WiFi off and with the brightness at a reasonable level) and I did not have to charge until Friday afternoon.

Storage

The Nook Color has 8 GB of internal storage, but you only have access to 5 GB of it. The option to add a micro SD card is a nice touch for adding files and pictures of your own. From the library feature you can manage files put onto the device.

The Nook Color can read Microsoft documents and PDF files. I have not discovered if one can edit the documents yet. It’s a nice feature that may or may not serve your use.

Software & Operating System

Nook Color runs on an Android platform that is highly customized by Barnes & Noble. The Nook Color runs Android 2.1 VS 1.5 which also came with the original Nook. The Nook Color is speculated to be receiving Android 2.2 this January. As with all custom operating systems, it is tightly controlled by the creators.

The web browser is nice for both full and mobile sites. However, the pinch-to-zoom feature that many have grown used to over the years is not available in the Nook. The keyboard is good in portrait mode, but is too wide in landscape to use with thumbs.  The music player is not as intuitive as the native Android music player and will run simultaneously with Pandora.

Having an app for Pandora is very cool, but it is the only third-party software available on the Nook Color so far. Some free games such as chess, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles come pre-installed with the Nook Color. Nook also has the ability to link with your Facebook, Twitter, and Google contacts for social reading and the LendMe feature.

Store

The Barnes & Noble store on the Nook Color is smooth, fast, and easy to use. You can easily search for books, magazines, and newspapers. From the store you can read a review, see recommendations, and download samples. Some books are also capable of being loaned to and from friends for 15 days. Nook, along with other ePub readers, are capable of checking books out from libraries for a short time.

Your book collection can be managed from bn.com where you can buy and send books to the device from the computer. Books can also be deleted and returned from the internet.

Reading

The (obvious) primary function of the Nook is the ability to read books. With such a bright display, pictures, magazines, and children’s books are stunningly bright and wonderful to read. Books look great and the text is sharp and clear.

The display brightness can be changed to best fit the reading environment like at night when bright lights can be strenuous to the eyes. Reading in sunlight may be an issue, though, with its high-gloss screen which is definitely where the Kindle and original Nook do better.

Check out more pictures of the Barnes & Noble Nook Color below.

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Why the Kindle Sucks (and What Can Be Done About It)

Over the holiday season, Amazon’s Kindle became the most gifted item in Amazon’s history. On Christmas day, Amazon sold more Kindle copies of books than actual physical books.  Without a doubt, E-readers are the future of the book industry, and the Kindle is leading the way. Or is it?

Unfortunately, it isn’t.  The Kindle sucks.

The Kindle, which was one of the first mainstream E Ink readers and easily the most popular E-book reader out there, allows you to download digital copies of books, newspapers, and other publications for reading on an E-ink display. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, archaic DRM restrictions and totalitarian actions by Amazon have prevented the Kindle from becoming a worthy purchase.

What Exactly Is Wrong With the Kindle?

Since it’s impossible to have an article about the Kindle without talking about the 1984 debacle, we’ll get that out of the way. In July of 2009, Amazon remotely removed titles (including 1984, ironically) from consumer’s Kindles without their permission. Customers were refunded the purchase price, but no immediate explanation was given. It was later revealed that the publisher of the novels didn’t own the rights to publish, but does their mistake grant Amazon the right to digitally intrude into consumer’s devices to correct their mistake? If a bookstore sold paperbacks that were later found to be illegally sold, would they have the right to come into your home and take it back? Of course not, that’s ludicrous. However, Amazon had no problem doing the digital version of just that.

If you ever decide to move to a different company’s E-reader you’re out of luck, none of the books you bought through Amazon will work.Amazon sells E-books in their own proprietary DRM protected format, AZW. Much like the DRM protected music of days past it lets Amazon restrict how you use your purchased material. If you ever decide to move to a different company’s E-reader you’re out of luck. None of the books you bought through Amazon will work. If one day Amazon decides they don’t want you to own a book anymore, as in the 1984 incident, they can go ahead and take it from you. Similarly, the Kindle supports very few formats other than AZW. Of course you can convert from these formats to AZW using external tools, but then you run the risk of losing formatting.

In many ways, Amazon’s business model is similar to that of the digital distribution service Steam. Steam allows you to purchase video games and immediately download and play them. Purchases are tied to your Steam account, which means you can play them on any computer as long as you are logged in to Steam. Many people are fully rejecting Steam’s business model, arguing that Valve can pull the plug on Steam at any time, rendering all of your purchased games unplayable.  In my research I found claims that Valve has said they would release a patch allowing people to play their games offline, but I could find no official statement.

The same could happen for the Kindle, albeit slightly differently. If Amazon ever decides to change the format of their DRM protected books, or for some reason the Kindle stops being produced, your purchased titles are only good for as long as your Kindle lasts. I own books purchased 15+ years ago, but how many people who own Kindles today will still own one 15 years from now? Thanks to the DRM protected books Amazon sells, if anyone decides they want an E-reader other than the Kindle all of their purchased material will become unusable.

One of the advantages of E-books is that they can be sold at a cheaper price than their paperback or hardcover counterparts since there’s no overhead of printing costs. This works great when the E-book you’re buying is in an open format that you’ll be able to keep and use forever, but for something in Amazon’s AZW format it just doesn’t make sense. How long will Amazon support files in the AZW format? What happens to the E-books sold in this format if Amazon decides to move to a different format? As we’ve seen with DRM protected music, this can cause problems such as people not being able to access the content they’ve purchased. About a year ago iTunes finally stopped selling DRM protected music, how long will it take before E-book sellers see the light as well?

There’s Still Hope

Sony Reader

Thankfully, not every company shares Amazon’s archaic views. Sony’s Reader Store recently changed so all of the content sold by them is in the wonderfully open, DRM free EPUB format. Also, four leading magazine publishers are now trying to come up with a DRM free standard to distribute digital magazines.
(UPDATE 1-25-09 – It has come to my attention that the Sony Reader Store does not, in fact, sell their books DRM free. They use the EPUB format, but unfortunately are still protected by a DRM solution provided by Adobe. Looks like we’ll still have to wait for DRM free books.)

At least one author has even found success by selling his book DRM free. David Pogue offered one of his books for sale DRM free for a year and compared the sales of it to the previous year’s DRM protected book’s sales. While piracy of his book did increase, sales also rose over the previous year’s numbers. As was found in the music and PC gaming industries, you can make money even without DRM.

The Future

What does the future hold? What can we as consumers do? Amazon has dominated the E-book market up until now, but 2010 looks to be the year of the E-reader. Everyone is trying to get into the market, and we can only hope that pressure from competitors forces Amazon to rethink their current stance on distribution. Until then, the only thing we can do is purchase E-readers from companies who support open formats, and if you already own a Kindle, protect your investment by converting your legally purchased books into a DRM-free PDF file.

Author’s Note: If you find any factual errors in this article, please let me know in the comments. I did my best to research everything thoroughly, but the possibility for errors still exists.