Category Archives: amazon

Amazon Kindle (2016) Review



Amazon Kindle LogoEbooks and ereaders have come a long way since I first purchased novels from Peanut Press to read on my Palm III. Neither Peanut Press or Palm are in existence today – the former eventually disappeared into Barnes and Noble, and the latter was wasted by HP – but nearly two decades on, ebooks are part of everyday life, largely thanks to Amazon and the Kindle. On review here is Amazon‘s latest iteration of its entry level Kindle. Released back in June, this is the 8th generation of ereader but brings the much-missed white finish back to the family…and that’s what we have on review here. Let’s take a look.

 

The Kindle comes in Amazon’s easy-to-open packaging. In the box there’s only the Kindle and a USB-to-microUSB cable plus a few bits of paper. Taking the Kindle out of the clear plastic wrapper, it remains true to the form-factor. At 115 mm wide, 160 mm tall and only a smidge over 9 mm deep, there’s enough of a border round the 6″ screen to hold the ereader between thumb and forefinger. The case is a matt plastic with curved edges along with a microSD socket, power button and LED along the bottom edge. There’s some printing on the back and an embossed Amazon logo too. The matt finish helps with holding the Kindle as it’s not slippy at all.

Amazon Kindle with Box

Powering up the device, the Kindle takes the owner through the setup procedure, including connecting to wifi. The Kindle is usually preconfigured to the owner out-of-the-box so after running through a few pages of what’s on offer, his or her library will be on show on the home screen along with some “you might also likes”. There’s 4 GB of internal storage to keep books on the device which for an ereader is plenty of space.

The previous generation of Kindle introduced the touchscreen to the entry level model so there are no buttons to turn pages or go to the home screen. Tapping on a book or icon will open the selected thing but once in a book, the page is divided into three and tapping in the different areas generates different actions. Right side, next page; left side, previous page; top, menu options. The areas aren’t equal and the next page takes up around four-fifths of the page, from the bottom right. Generally the touching the screen works fine, but the back area on the left could do with being a little bigger – as man with fat fingers I did find that I needed to be fairly precise otherwise the book moved forward a page rather than back. It’s pity there’s not an option to adjust where the dividing line is on the page as I would prefer the split to more 50:50.

Amazon Kindle 2016

The eInk screen is the main differentiator between the entry level model and the next one up, the Paperwhite. To start with, the eInk screen is 167 ppi which is about half the 300 ppi of the Paperwhite, and more significantly, this Kindle is not backlit, so there’s no reading while the light’s out. As with all other ereaders, reading in sunlight is glare-free with the eInk screen. Page turns are nippy and the screen refreshes cleanly. As the screen is now a touchscreen, entering text is much easier with a tappable on-screen keyboard displayed whenever needed.

For the visually impaired, the Kindle supports VoiceView which will read books to the owner via a Bluetooth headset as there’s no headphone jack. It’s a bit convoluted to setup involving the power button and two fingers on the screen, which I understand might be easier for some who has a vision problem, but how hard would it have been to have an additional menu option for Bluetooth pairing? VoiceView is purely text-to-speech and won’t play music or audiobooks. Bah!

The Kindle software provides a number of “value-adds” over a paper book, including bookmarking and search features. Amazon’s X-Ray provides more information on the book, plot and people, and GoodReads book recommendations are prominent. Inevitably, social media now features with sharing to Facebook and Twitter.

Battery life is “weeks” and certainly in my use, it took a good deal of page-turning to bring the battery down. Not sure you’d get a whole week’s worth of holiday reading out of a single charge but if you’re bringing a charger for your mobile phone, it’s probably not a problem (unless you have an Apple iPhone).

As an Amazon product, the Kindle is designed to encourage purchases from the Amazon store so getting ebooks from other sources onto your Kindle can be tricky. If you want to borrow ebooks from your local library, check compatibility as I think Overdrive only supports Kindle books in the USA.

The 2016 and 8th generation of Kindle continues Amazon’s gradual refinement of the ereader. With the touchscreen introduced last time, there’s no big headline change over the previous model other than being neater and lighter, though the inclusion of Bluetooth perhaps hints at future features. And there’s a white version. At a penny under GB£60 with “Special Offers” and £70 without ads, the 2016 Kindle is an easy buy that’s unlikely to disappoint.

Thanks to Amazon for the loan of the Kindle.


Amazon Echo Coming To UK on 16 September 2016? No…



echoIs the Amazon Echo coming to the UK on 16 September 2016? Nothing official from Amazon but a Bing search throws up the following link to a pre-order page on Amazon.co.uk which currently doesn’t seem to be live.

Update: Nah…..looks like Bing actually picked up on the release date of a CD called Echoes by the Young Guns, not Amazon Echo. Sorry, that’s entirely my fault as I was so looking forward to getting Alexa.

Capture


Amazon Kindles Coming (Back) to Target



Kindle BackThere’s nothing like trying before buying. It’s the ultimate way to know for sure that the focus of your most recent gadget obsession is truly worth purchasing. Apple opened its own line of retail stores based on that very concept. And while it’s easy enough to order almost anything online and have it delivered quickly, there’s still no way to put your hands thru a computer display and actually hold something before pressing the “add to cart” button. And that may be why Amazon and Target have come to an agreement that’ll soon find Amazon’s Kindle line of products available to purchase on Target’s website and eventually at the massive chain’s many retail stores.

This isn’t the first time Target carried the Kindle line of products. But the retailer abruptly stopped selling the devices in 2012. No official reason was ever given for the change. But considering the fact that Amazon and Target are essentially in the same business (retail), perhaps there was some trepidation on Target’s part about selling something that directly supported its competition.

Regardless of the speculation, this development will be good news to buyers who’ve wanted to try out an Amazon Kindle, Amazon Paperwhite, Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, or an Amazon Fire TV before opening their wallets to buy one.


dreamGear Retro Arcade Gaming at 2016 CES



DreamGearNakia Mann interviews Oliver Tesoro, product manager for dreamGear, a manufacturer of a variety of video gaming accessories.

They discuss dreamGear’s latest retro plug and play 8-bit and 16-bit retro games that sell at a variety of prices for under $40. Some are designed to look like miniature versions of old-style video arcade games that used to eat quarters.

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Huion Digital Artist’s Glove



Huion Digital Artist GloveI recently purchased a Huion brand Digital Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet via Amazon for use when drawing and painting with my Surface Pro 3 using the Microsoft Pen digital stylus. The idea of a digital artist’s glove is to electrically isolate the parts of one’s hand that would normally rest on the surface of a glass capacitive touchscreen when drawing or painting. This allows the same relaxed natural hand posture that is used when writing or drawing directly on paper, allowing the side of the hand to rest directly on the surface of the glass without interfering at all with the drawing or painting process with the digital stylus.

I find that the Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet works perfectly to isolate the side of my hand from a glass capacitive touchscreen such as on my Surface Pro 3 and also my iPad Air. It provides a very natural, relaxed drawing experience. Normally one must hold one’s hand in a rather unnatural hovering position when drawing or writing with a stylus on a touchscreen surface. An artist’s glove neatly solves this problem. The Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet seems to be made of some sort of stretchy, smooth lycra material.

However, trying the same glove on my Lenovo C40 all-in-one touchscreen computer, curiously the glove does not work at all to isolate. I don’t know this to be a fact, however I suspect that the Lenovo C40 touchscreen is made out of some sort of plastic conductive material and not true glass. Tapping lightly on the Lenovo C40 touchscreen to my ears sounds more like tapping on a plastic material than it does tapping on true glass. If you decide to get one of these artist’s gloves, make sure that the capacitive touchscreen you intend to use it on is made out of glass and not a form of plastic material.

The Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet seems to be sized a bit small. Reading the Amazon reviews ahead of time, I ordered the large size. I’m glad I did. The glove fits my hand just fine, but it is certainly not what I would in any way consider a loose fit.

The Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet is constructed in such a way that it can fit either the right or the left hand. It completely covers the wrist, the little finger and the figner next to it; leaving the middle finger, index finger and thumb completely exposed since those are the fingers we typically use to hold a pen or pencil.

Even though my Surface Pro 3 has great palm rejection with included Microsoft applications such as OneNote, the palm rejection feature does not function in every application, especially third party drawing and painting applications such as Adobe Photoshop Elements. Using the digital artist’s glove gives me complete freedom to rest my hand on the screen as much as I want, especially useful when making delicate interactions with the stylus on the screen.

I suspect one using an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil stylus would enjoy similar benefits.

The Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet sells for $17.99 and is an Amazon Prime item. I highly recommend it to anyone that draws even casually on a glass capacitive touchscreen device. I would suggest going ahead and ordering the large size.

 


Amazon Cracks Down on Fake Customer Reviews



amazon logoAmazon has filed a lawsuit against more than 1,000 people who Amazon claims have offered to write fake reviews of products that are listed on Amazon. More specifically, Amazon is cracking down on those who sell a fake review writing service on Fiverr.

Years ago, I had an account on Fiverr. I was trying to use it to earn some money by writing short articles for people’s websites. Overall, I felt that I was unsuccessful there, so I closed my account and moved on. I hadn’t thought about Fiverr until I read about the Amazon lawsuit.

Amazon, however, has taken a close look at Fiverr, and was not pleased by what it saw. To be clear, Amazon has not sued Fiverr itself. Instead, Amazon has sued thousands of “John Does” who have used Fiverr.com as a way to sell fake positive or 5-star Amazon reviews.

Bloomberg Business reports that the lawsuit follows an extensive investigation done by Amazon in which it communicated with some of the people who were selling fake reviews. Every “gig” on Fiverr costs $5 (hence the name). Personally, I don’t see how making $5 is worth the risk of ending up in a lawsuit like this one.

In its court filing, Amazon wrote:

“Amazon is bringing this action to protect its consumers from this misconduct, by stopping defendants and uprooting the ecosystem in which they participate. Although Amazon has successfully requested removal of similar listings from Fiverr in the past, the removal of individual listings does not address the root cause of the issue or serve as a sufficient deterrent to the bad actors engaged in creating and purchasing fraudulent reviews.”

“This action is the next step in a long-term effort to ensure these providers of fraudulent reviews do not offer their illicit services through other channels and to take enforcement action against the dishonest sellers and manufacturers who use those services.”

Fiverr is working with Amazon to resolve this problem. These type of “gigs”, that involve violating a third party’s terms of service, (in this case, Amazon’s) actually break Fiverr’s terms of service. As a result, Fiverr has been doing take-downs of those kinds of “gigs”.

In short, about a thousand people, who broke the terms of service on both Fiverr and Amazon, are now seeing their gigs removed from Fiverr. These people have been sued by Amazon. Cheaters never prosper.


Handmade at Amazon Competes With Etsy



Handmade at AmazonAmazon has found a way to get into the market of handmade goods with Handmade at Amazon. It is obviously intended to compete with Etsy, a popular website where people go to buy and sell handmade products. Artisans who want to have their work appear at Handmade at Amazon can apply now.

People who request an invitation to Handmade at Amazon, and receive one, will be able to create their own Artisan Profile page (also called a storefront). Each artist’s storefront has its own custom URL. They also get to set up pages for each of their products. There is a listing tool that makes the process easier. Listings on Handmade at Amazon are free and they never expire.

Etsy charges $0.20 to list an item for 4 months (or until it sells). Once the items sells, Etsy collects a 3.5% fee on the sale price of the item.

It appears that this is where Handmade at Amazon has a significant advantage. The video below says that you can list as many products as you want for free, and that listings never expire. “So you can spend more time creating products and less time creating listings.”

I learned about Handmade at Amazon because I use the Amazon Affiliate program. Moments before posting this blog, I got an update that informed me that “A new Product Category has been added to the program; Handmade Products”.

However, if you visit the Amazon website, the Handmade category does not yet appear as a selection in their search box. Eventually, though, I (and others who use the Amazon Affiliate program) can link to the handmade products that are being sold via Amazon – and get that product in front of a few more eyes. This is something that Etsy cannot offer.


Amazon Kindle (2014) Review



Kindle LogoArriving in 2007 with its e-paper display, the Amazon Kindle revolutionised reading and has become almost synonymous with e-readers. Seven years on, there’s been a steady evolution of the Kindle, introducing whiter screens, backlights and touch. On review here is the Kindle, 2014 edition. This is the standard model – not the Paperwhite, not the Voyage – so let’s take a look at what Amazon has done this time round.

Kindle with Box

The headline news for the Kindle e-reader is that it now has a touch screen and the power button is the only moving part on the e-reader. This brings touch right across the Amazon range, and while some diehards may mourn the demise of the buttons, navigating round the Kindle is much easier. Besides, whenever I had anything go wrong with electronic devices, it was always the buttons.

Kindle Library

In other news, the Kindle has picked up the same design cues as the Fire tablets with a slightly chunkier look and the bevelled plastic back of its siblings. The new Kindle is perhaps not as svelte as previous iterations, it’s still light at 191 g. Reviewing the exterior, there’s not much to talk about – 6″ 800 x 600 Pearl e-paper screen, micro USB socket, power button and reset hole. That’s it, but that’s all you need. There’s no backlight on this model, so no reading in the dark.

Kindle Bottom

Speaking of what you need, potential purchasers should note that there’s only a charging cable in the box and there’s no charger. This has been the case with Kindles for some time now but I thought I’d mention it to avoid an unpleasant surprise.

Getting started with the Kindle is easy. Hook up to a wi-fi connection (b/g/n) and then enter Amazon credentials to see all the literature on the account. 3G is no longer an option but given the ubiquitous nature of wif-fi, I doubt anyone will miss it. As with the Fire tablets, there’s a clear distinction between content on device and content in the cloud but it’s a simple tap to switch views. There’s 4 GB of storage standing by for holiday reading and for ordinary novels, 4 GB goes a very long way.

Without the buttons, how does one navigate? At the “home” level, it’s a case of tapping on icons as if it were a full-blown tablet. Once in a book, it’s tap on the right to go forward, tap on the left to go back and tap at the top to get the menu bar up. From here you can leave the book or adjust settings. While taps are reliably recorded, the response time isn’t quite up there with a tablet but it’s still quick enough and it’s not unsurprising given the limitations of e-paper. The presentation of the books can be adjusted with six different typefaces, eight text sizes, three line spaces and three margin settings.

In addition to books, the Kindle brings into the hand much of the Amazon experience. It’s easy to shop for new books, especially now with the touch screen, and features such as Kindle for Kids and Household registration will be familiar to users of the Amazon Fire. X-Ray is present too, providing a ready reckoner for characters, plot points and referenced terms: it’s handy, especially when reading a new genre of book or hitting a series midway through. Kindle FreeTime helps parents set reading targets for children and rewards the children with badges when they hit their goals.

Shop Kindle

As with all previous Kindles, the e-reader is designed to work with ebooks bought from Amazon. Books from other on-line stores can’t usually be loaded unless they’re DRM-free and there’s no Overdrive app for library books.

Overall, the new Kindle is a satisfactory evolution of the entry level model and the touchscreen makes the e-reader easier to use, especially when browsing for books. Currently priced with a £10 discount for Mother’s Day, the Kindle is priced at GB£49 with special offers and £59 without ads. Even without the £10 offer, it’s a great value product.

Thanks to Amazon for the Kindle review unit.


Amazon Fire HD 7 Review



fire_hd7

Back in February 2014, I reviewed the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and I was impressed with Amazon’s top-of-the range tablet. Amazon has continued to push their Fire tablet range and the fourth generation of the Fire tablets came out in September 2014. Not only did Amazon bump the spec with the refresh, they bumped the Kindle moniker too, reserving that for the ereaders. On review here, is the Fire HD 7 tablet, Amazon’s offering in the 7″ market. Let’s take a look.

HD Fire 7

In the box there’s the tablet, a travel charger and a USB charging cable. This review unit (courtesy of Amazon) came with a US charger but I imagine that chargers will be supplied according to local requirements.

From the very start the Fire HD 7 is a little bit different from the average tablet with a choice of five different colours – black, white, cobalt, magenta and citron – and obviously this is the white version. I think it would be fair to call the Fire HD 7 as chunky – it’s a little over a 1 cm thick and weighs in at 337g, which specs it very closely to the Nexus 7 2012 but it looks a bit bigger – there’s a bit of trickery going on in that Google devices have narrow chrome bands with curved backs which make them look thinner than they are. Setting the figures to one side, the HD7 feels….fun.

Fire HD 7

Giving the HD 7 a once over, there’s not much to poke at. The front has the main screen and a front-facing camera, on the top side there’s the power button, micro-USB port and the headphone port, and on the left there’s a volume rocker. Round the back, there’s the rear camera and stereo speakers. The rear camera is 2 MP and the front camera is VGA, which seems a bit under-specced for a 2014 tablet but it does record HD video. There’s also a large Amazon logo emblazoned in the middle of the back and not everyone will like the plastic back, though it’s largely a matter of personal taste. Even though the back cover does have a matte texture, it’s not that grippy, so I’d be investing in some kind of case.

Fire HD 7 back

Geek Bench 3Performance-wise, the Fire HD 7 has a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, with two 1.5 GHz cores and two 1.2 GHz cores. As a result, it scores 766 in single core and 1483 for multicore in Geek Bench 3, putting its performance close to the 2013 Nexus 7 (and much better than the 2012 one). Regardless of what the benchmarks say, the HD 7’s performance in the hand was great.

On powering up, Fire OS looks as good as ever, even on the 7″ display. The screen is 1280 x 800 pixels, giving 216 ppi, which might not be as detailed as some, but the display is good and bright with rich colours that aren’t over-saturated. The carousel style interface works well with apps and media all mixed in together. As before, there are some great touches to the interface with the soft buttons moved to the right-hand side, conveniently under the hand in landscape view but still at the bottom when held in portrait. It’s tempting to review Fire OS but given this is the fourth generation of the tablet, it’s probably unnecessary.

FIre OS Screenshot

However, it’s still all about the apps though, and it’s good to see that the range of apps available in the Amazon Store has increased in the year since I reviewed the HDX. For example, Zinio is now available (though it didn’t want to load on the HD 7) and Mailbox has been released as well, so there’s a great email client too. For the average user, it’s hard to see app availability as an issue.

More than apps, Amazon is about content and as with all Amazon devices, the Fire delivers well. Signing into the Fire HD 7 with your Amazon credentials instantly accesses all your books, music and video content. It’s easy to switch between content that’s on the device and content that’s still in the cloud – there’s a simple toggle on the top right – so managing storage is less of an issue, even on 8 MB devices. Audio playback is good and background noise is minimal, even when listening with earbuds in quiet environments. The rear speakers are one of the highlights of the Fire HD 7, giving surprisingly good sound and add to the atmosphere when watching video.

Amazon Music

For films and TV on demand, Amazon offers its Instant Video – playback of movies is as smooth as you’d expect. I reviewed much of GNC’s CES coverage on the HD 7 and it handled all the video I threw at it.

Amazon Instant Video

As with other Fire tablets, Amazon offers FreeTime, a parental controls app that lets Mum and Dad add apps and content to a child’s profile. Access to the web browser and social networking apps is restricted and the amount of play time can be controlled as well. It’s well done and increases the appeal of Amazon Fire tablets to families.

Turning to price, the base cost is GB £119 for the 8 GB wi-fi version with “Special Offers” aka adverts. Taking the memory to 16 GB ups the cost to £139. Removing the adverts costs an additional £10 in both configurations.

I’ve been using the Fire HD 7 for over a month now and I like it a great deal. It’s fun, robust, inexpensive and with the parental controls, makes a good choice for a family tablet. The screen might not have the highest resolution but if I hadn’t read the spec sheet, I wouldn’t know or care as it looks great. I enjoyed having the HD 7 around and there were plenty of times when I picked up the HD 7 in preference to my Nexus 9. If you are into the Amazon ecosystem, this would appear to be a no-brainer buy…….

….but the Fire HDX 7 is currently reduced by £50 to £149 for the 16 GB versions albeit with ads. This has a 2.2 GHz CPU and 1920 x 1200 (323 ppi) screen, so personally, I think this is the one to get. Tell you what, buy the HDX for yourself and the HD for the kids. Perfect.

Thanks to Amazon for the loan of the Fire HD 7 tablet.


Pocket-Sized Big Screen TV



Lumex_Picomax_SmartpodPocket-Wouldn’t it be cool if you could carry around a big screen smart TV in your pocket?

Actually, that is now possible.

I recently purchased a Lumex Picomax Smartpod pocket pico projector via Amazon.Com. A pico projector is a miniature pocket-sized projector that typically has a built-in battery that can also be operated off of AC household current. Pico projectors can produce surprisingly bright, crisp projected images and traditionally have been handy for people who are traveling and need to give presentations.

What sets apart a “smart” projector from a regular projector is the same things that set a smartphone apart from a feature phone, or a smart TV apart from a regular TV. Smart projectors include not only connectivity such as WiFi and Bluetooth but also come with a built-in operating system such as Android that includes access to the Google Play Store. With the Google Play Store comes video streaming apps such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime Videos, YouTube, etc., etc.

 

Projected_80_inch_imageThis is a picture of a streaming movie projected onto an 80 inch screen in a darkened room. The photo was taken from about 25 to 30 feet from the projection screen.

I drive a truck over-the-road, so with the Lumex Picomax Spartpod projector I can easily connect it to my MiFi hotspot and project a 45 to 50 inch screen onto a blank wall area of my truck’s sleeper. I connect the projector to a high-quality Bluetooth speaker for excellent stereo sound. Watching a 45 to 50 inch image is a much nicer experience than watching the same material on a much smaller iPad Air screen. It also has the added advantage of extreme portability so I can easily carry it with me and use it in a motel room.

The projector is about the size of a Roku or Apple TV box. It also has a variety of other built-in connectors, such as mini HDMI, VGA, Micro SD Card and standard 4 pin USB port. It uses Texas Instruments DLP chip and the light source is a 20,000 hour LED lamp. The projector comes with a small remote control, and also has a touchpad built-in to the top of the unit itself.

The unit will run about an hour and a half to two hours on the built-in battery. It outputs a 70 lumens when running on battery power and automatically jumps up to 100 lumens when connected to the included AC adapter.

It produces a bright, colorful image. The native resolution is 800 x 480, so it is not 720p, but 480p widescreen.

The WiFi and Bluetooth connect and stream flawlessly.at the same time. While the integrated touchpad mouse works okay, I prefer to use a wireless three button mouse. I plug the mouse dongle into the standard USB port on the side of the unit and the mouse instantly connects. With this configuration along with a wireless keyboard it could easily be used as a computer. There is a small integrated fan that runs when the unit is running in order to keep things cool internally. The fan is actually very quiet and doesn’t produce much fan noise at all.

I do have a few criticisms of the unit. First, the manual focus seems a bit sloppy. It is easy to rotate the knob past the optimum focus. When rotating back the knob will rotate freely about half a turn before it starts moving the focus back in the opposite direction, making it difficult to zone in back and forth to obtain the maximum sharpness.

Also, the integrated touchpad does not include mouse buttons like an actual mouse does. It is possible to scroll vertically running your finger along the black vertical dotted line along the edge of the touchpad, but it takes a bit of getting used to. A wireless mouse makes for a much more fluid and satisfying experience.

The tiny integrated speaker doesn’t produce much sound, so it is close to being useless. I strongly suggest using a wired speaker or a Bluetooth speaker for an adequate sound experience. Stereo headphones or ear buds can also be used.

Despite my criticisms I am quite happy with my purchase. The Lumex Picomax Smartpod WiFi projector currently sells for $399.97 on Amazon. It really is like being able to carry around a big-screen smart TV in my pocket.