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

Barnes & Noble Announces Nook Tablet

Today during their press event, mega-bookstore chain Barnes & Noble announced the successor to their Nook Color. It’s called the Nook Tablet and it’s set to take on Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Just like any successor device, the Nook Tablet picks up where the Nook Color left off. Underneath the 7-inch LG 1024×600 IPS display is a 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP4 processor and 1GB of RAM, as well as 16GB of built-in memory with a microSD slot for more space if desired. The whole package weighs less than a pound and can last for 11.5 hours on battery.

The Nook Tablet runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but just like the Kindle Fire, it uses a custom UI. This means that it’s not an all-purpose tablet that can run any app from the Android Market, but rather a tablet that’s geared towards specific functions such as books, magazines, email, web browsing, video, etc. However, B&N has partnered with a handful developers to create specialized apps and games for the device.

The company says that millions of books and over 250 magazines will be available at launch through Nook Books and Nook Newsstand services, as well as a large selection of Marvel comics and graphic novels. The device will also have Netflix, Hulu and Pandora integration.

You’ll also get free cloud storage service with the Nook Tablet, which will store your purchases and downloads. This way, you’ll be able to delete and re-download content whenever you want, if you have a WiFi connection.

Barnes and Noble claims that their new tablet has a better screen, more RAM and storage, and is lighter than the Kindle Fire. However, all that comes with a higher price. The Nook Tablet will cost $249, which is $50 more than the Kindle Fire.

Pre-orders are starting now, with the device actually shipping out to customers on November 17th. The Nook Color has been discounted to $199.

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.

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!

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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Holiday Gift Guide: Something For The Whole Family Edition

For some, holiday shopping is a joyous and fun task, but for others it’s a difficult one. A lot of the difficulty stems from not knowing what to get someone. Being a person that loves shopping, let me give you a little guidance for buying gifts for the whole family.

Gift Ideas for Grandparents

My grandparents live down south, but they love to keep in touch with me and the rest of my family. If I had lots of money to spend this holiday season, I know exactly what I would purchase them – Cisco Umi.

Webcams/Video Conferencing

Cisco Umi is a consumer-focused telecommunications system that offers the ability to connect with people via videoconferencing on HDTVs. Cisco Umi comes with a high-definition camera embedded with a microphone, a set-top box, and a remote. In order to use it, however, you must possess internet service and an HDTV – if you are really feeling generous this holiday season you could buy them an HDTV as well, just in case they don’t have one.

In essence, Cisco Umi is a product that offers extremely high-quality videoconferencing.  It can bring your grandparents into your living room and vice versa. (Note: in order to use Cisco Umi, both parties must possess it.)

Cisco Umi retails for around $599.00 plus a $24.00 monthly fee.

If you aren’t interested in spending that much money on your grandparents, I have a few other suggestions:

  • Buy them a webcam and tell them about the magic of Skype.
  • Buy them a notebook, laptop, or computer with a built in webcam and then tell about the magic of Skype.
  • Or buy them a plane ticket to come visit.

Digital Picture Frames

A much cheaper gift idea that would bring you guys closer is a digital picture frame. Digital picture frames are picture frames that digitally display pictures – for this they generally use a memory card to store the pictures. They have been on the market for a few years now, but have dropped significantly in price so that they are more affordable.

When they digital picture frames first came out they cost a few hundred dollars, but now you can purchase one for around $50 dollars. I actually bought my grandparents and my mom one for Christmas this year (hope they aren’t reading this). I bought them on Black Friday for only $40.

They can be purchased in assorted sizes (from 6” to 26″), assorted colors, styles, and brands. There are even have digital photo frames available now that connect to the internet so you can post your favorite pictures to the web, or even print pictures off using a built in picture printer.

Gift Ideas for Parents

Electronic Book Readers

Being huge fans of reading and books in general, I think a perfect gift for any parent that likes to read would be an electronic reader. Electronic readers are a great gift idea because in the long run it will cost you less money since eBooks are much cheaper than print books, it saves on paper (yay! for the saving the environment) and it will clear up some clutter in your parents’ house (my dad has books everywhere).

Electronic readers (eReaders) read electronic books (eBooks). They also do much more than just allowing you to read. They allow you to take notes and look up definitions. Some allow you to access the internet, play music, and even watch movies.

eReaders have only been around for the past five years or so, but have really caught on. A lot of colleges and classrooms have adopted eReaders, opting out of traditional books. When looking for eReaders, you will come across brands including Sony, the Nook by Barnes and Noble, The Cruise Tablet by Borders, The Kindle by Amazon and the Apple iPad (more of a tablet computer, but does have the iBook app), among other brands. Each one has their advantages and disadvantages, but I will leave the brand choosing up to you. I will say that The Kindle remains the most purchased and highest rated eReader on the market.

eReaders retails for as little as $80 and go as high as $600. The average, however, is right around the $200 mark.

Gift Ideas for Teens

Smartphones

There are so many great gift ideas for teenagers, today more than ever, thanks to the tech-savvy world we live in.

Even though cell phones have become a staple in our society, I think they are still a great gift – especially now that so many great smartphones have hit the market. Connecting with each other has become such a large past time thanks to texting, emailing, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. With a smartphone, you can get all that in one device.

When shopping for a smartphone, I highly suggest looking into an Android smartphone. Some of Android’s biggest advantages over other smartphones (dare I say the Apple iPhone?) is the ability to multitask (yes this can be done on iPhone 4), upgrade to new versions of Android, choose carriers (iPhone is locked into AT&T), an open market (consumers drive the app store, not the producers – store also isn’t censored as heavily as the Apple Store), customizable home screens, integrated with Google, and there is a larger selection of phones (this comes in handy when shopping with a budget).

Android smartphones range in price and availability depending on the carrier.

Apple iPad

If your teen already has a smartphone, then why not splurge a little and get them an Apple iPad? I was against it at first, because I have a computer and an iPod Touch and an iPad is basically those two things combined. It is those two things combined, but it’s a really slick device. There is so much you can do with it – listen to music, surf the web, watch movies, play games, study, write papers, etc. It’s a great item for travel and great to use while lounging around the house.

I love sitting on the couch and playing with the iPad, whether it’s reading a good book, playing a game, or connecting with people on Facebook and Twitter. It’s really a universal item that makes a great gift because it does so much!

Gift Ideas for Preteens

Gaming Systems

What better gift to give a preteen than a gaming system?

I would recommend getting them any of the major gaming systems: Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3. Those are great gifts because they are fairly universal as well. By universal, I mean you can do such much more with them than just playing games. They act as DVD players (excluding Wii), a Blu-Ray player (if you get the PS3), connect to the internet, and so much more.

If you purchase an Xbox 360 make sure to also purchase Kinect, and if you purchase a PS3 make sure to purchase Playstation Move. They provide the game with a more interactive experience by using motion, and gets kids active. Long gone are the days where you just sit down and play video games, now people of all ages can be active while playing – even exercising. It’s really a great gift for the entire family because it’s something that can bring the family together. Game nights have never been so much fun!

Gift Ideas for Kids

Educational Gifts

In my opinion, one of the best gifts you can give a kid is the gift of education. Sounds boring right? Not necessarily. Last year I bought my niece a LeapFrog Tag Reader for Christmas. It’s a special pen, that when used with LeapFrog Tag Books, will read the story out loud to the child. With each touch of the pen, words are read out, pictures come alive, and overall the book becomes interactive. It redefines the reading and learning experience for kids.

My niece uses it constantly and it really improves a kid’s reading skills. LeapFrog has a library of over 40 books, including story books, game books, and map books that contain kids’ favorite characters (SpongeBob, Toy Story, Disney Princess, etc). The LeapFrog Tag Reader Pen retails for around $30, with the books costing anywhere from $10 to $20 (most of them are $13.99).

Art Gifts

Another great gift idea is the Color Wonder Magic Light Brush from Crayola. This is one of the gifts under my tree  for my niece already, and I’m excited for her to open it on Christmas because I really want to play with it. The product uses specially coated paper and a fiber-optic brush. It only works on the right type of paper – making it mess free. It retails for right around $20.

Another cool product from Crayola that’s worth checking out is the new Crayola Glow Station Day and Night. With the set, kids can create images in either light or the dark. In the light, the drawing turn out bright purple; in the dark, they magically appear to be bright green. This one retails a little higher at $25.

These are two products that are great gift ideas for kids because they are mess free (no more writing on the walls) and encourage kid’s imaginations and creativity.

Gift Ideas for the Whole Family

Google TV

I thought a good way to finish up this gift guide would be to suggest a gift that the whole family can use. Seeing that the TV is an item that generally brings the family together, I thought a great gift for the family would be the Google TV. Google TV combines television and internet into a seamless entertainment experience. It allows you to search your TV so that you can find exactly what you want to watch, and adds perhaps one of the best channels ever – the internet. You can also download hundreds of apps from the app store including some of the most popular apps: Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, Weather, News, etc. Your Android smartphone, iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad can even be used as a universal remote to control the TV.

There are three products when it comes to the technology of Google TV. There is the Sony Internet TV (an HDTV with internet built in) which starts at $599. There is the Sony Internet TV Blu-Ray Player (which is a Blu-Ray player with internet built in that connects to your existing HDTV and retails for $399. Finally, there is the Logitech Revue (which is just a set-box, running Google TV, that connects to your existing HDTV and retails at $299).

With hundreds of dollar differences in the price tags, one wonders how the products differ. In essence, the main difference between them is that one is a TV, one is Blu-Ray player, and one is a set-box. If you already own an HDTV, then I recommend going for the Sony Internet TV Blu-Ray Player, because from reviews it seems run faster and have a cleaner interface than the Logitech Revue, and it’s a Blu-Ray player.

Conclusion

I hope by reading through this guide you got some ideas for Christmas presents. Happy Shopping!

Five Great Gift Ideas for Public Transportation Commuters

At my previous job, I took the train from the suburbs straight to Union Station in downtown Chicago. The train ride would leave me with about 2 hours each day to do whatever I please, as long as it could be done on a train. Thankfully, technology has drastically increased the number of entertainment options the typical day-commuter has for the boring trips to and from the office. Whether your loved ones take the train, bus, or carpool with others, here are five great gift ideas that they are sure to love.

5) Amazon Kindle

Reading is probably the most old-school of activities one could do during a commute to work, or any time, for that matter. Old-school or not, people still enjoy reading during their free time more than any other pastime. Thankfully, with technology, it is no longer necessary to drag along your library books.

An entire book can be loaded on to this device, which is much smaller than your standard paperback novel. When you finish one book, there is no need to go to the library or the store to find a new book; one can browse for and download a new book from the Kindle Store, straight to the device itself. They even come equipped with 3G and WiFi, so the busy individual can acquire new reading material on the go. Available for purchase from Amazon.com, this gift is perfect for any commuter on your list that enjoys reading.

4) MP3 Player

There are all kinds of MP3 players on the market, most of which are quite capable of playing a large collection of music on the go. Perhaps the fact that there are so many options out there is what makes this such an attractive gift. But buyer beware, not all MP3 players are created equal. The right gift for that special someone can vary greatly based upon their own personal tastes.

Personally, I still love my iPod Classic, but I know many people that prefer their iPod Shuffles, iPod Touches, or even the iPhone. In my mind, the iPod Classic plays my music, and plays it well. I don’t personally care about the other features and apps of newer MP3 players, but many do, so it is important to take that into consideration when shopping for the audiophile on your holiday shopping list.

3) Netbook

How could one possibly go wrong with a laptop? They can do simple word processing, browse the internet, send email, watch video, and a seemingly countless amount of other tasks, all from one device. Add a 3G or 4G mobile device, and all of this can be done on the go. It’s literally the gift that can do it all.

Sure, it’s quite a bit larger than an iPad or similar tablet device, but personally, I wouldn’t trade in my laptop for anything. During my long commutes, I would actually write code and design websites, which would be much more difficult, if not unfeasible, to do on an iPad. A netbook or laptop is the perfect gift for the IT nerd on your list, or for the individual that wishes to perform many tasks from one device.

2) Android Smartphone

The single greatest advantage to the Android smartphone platform is the variety of different options available to the consumer. If you go with the undoubtedly solid iPhone, that is more or less your only option. Apple has a monopoly over the iOS, so you get whatever Steve Jobs says you’re getting.

Android, however, has many different flavors, and is available on many different networks, including the most dominant carriers, Verizon and AT&T. Consumer choice is the ultimate benefit of the Android platform, providing the perfect smartphone for anyone on your list, no matter their tastes.

1) Sony PSP Go!

This device is my personal favorite. I spent countless hours playing games such as Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, LittleBigPlanet, and even some PlayStation Minis. All of the games are downloadable from the PlayStation store, which features hundreds of titles spanning every genre known to man.

The PSP Go!‘s small size makes it easy to fit in your pocket, or backpack, or even your lunch bag. The possibilities are virtually endless, perfect for the avid gamer on your holiday list.

Images courtesy of Amazon.com

Amazon Releases Kindle for Android App

In another big step towards expanding their grip on the E-Book market, Amazon recently released a version of their Kindle software for Android.  The Kindle was originally a hardware device for reading digital books, and Amazon has since made the software available on other devices like the iPhone and iPad.

The Kindle software is free and gives you access to Amazon’s library of 600,000+ digital books, which typically cost $9.99 each.

The Kindle for Android app is my first experience with E-Books; even though I read a lot, I just haven’t been able to give up my printed-on-paper books yet.  Since the Kindle software has been expanding to other devices, though, I’ve been much more eager to check it out, and I like the idea of having my entire library available digitally on a single device.

I’m impressed with Kindle for Android, which I’m told is almost identical to the Kindle app for iPhone/iPad.  I was extremely leery about using it on a small screen (I use the app on a Motorola Droid with a 3.7″ screen), but I was pleasantly surprised to find a good balance between readable text size and keeping as much text as possible on the screen at once.

Upcoming Android devices like the Motorola Droid X will offer much larger screens (the Droid X has a 4.3″ screen), which will dramatically improve your reading experience.

Kindle books can be downloaded pseudo-directly from the application.  A mobile version of the Kindle book store opens in your browser where you can view the Kindle library and purchase books.  Those books are then instantly sent to your device, and I was very impressed with how seamless the process was.

If you already have purchased Kindle books, you can view your personal library directly from the application.

You can also check out a free sample of Kindle books before making a purchase, which is great to see how the book translates to a small screen.

Now like I said, I’m pretty new to the whole E-Book thing.  If you’re a little more serious, you should check out what Kevin has to say about why the Kindle sucks (regarding the copy protection Amazon uses on their books) and his review of the Aldiko E-Book reader for Android, which gives access to a huge library of DRM-free books.

To download Kindle for Android, search the Android Market for “Kindle” or scan the QR code on the right with the Barcode Scanner app.