Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Amazon Introduces AutoRip

Posted by JenThorpe at 2:07 AM on January 15, 2013

AudioRip logo Amazon has introduced a brand new service called AutoRip. This is a very different way of looking at music storage. In short, it takes the CD that you purchased from Amazon and puts it into your Amazon Cloud Player. It also will make that album available on your PC or Mac, Kindle Fire, Android phone, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Right now, this service is only available to customers in the United States.

This is a rather unexpected move in a time when record companies are screaming about pirating and copyright. Perhaps they aren’t complaining about AutoRip because it only allows users to put CDs that they really have purchased into the Amazon Cloud Player? I’m not sure.

It is clear that gifts of CDs that your friends or family purchased for you from Amazon are not eligible for AutoRip. There is also this interesting piece of “fine print”:

Some record companies require us (Amazon) to insert identifiers in the metadata that accompanies music when you download it from the Amazon MP3 Store or Cloud Player. This includes the music you have purchased from Amazon.com and matched music imported to Cloud Player from your device.

These identifies may include a random number Amazon assigns to your order or copy, purchase date and time, an indicator that the music was downloaded from Amazon, codes that identify the album or song (the UPC and ISRC), Amazon’s digital signature, an identifier that can be used to determine whether the audio has been modified, and an indicator whether the music was purchased from the MP3 store or imported to the Cloud Player.

Look for the AutoRip icon in search results and CD detail pages to find out if it is one you can use with this new service. The MP3 versions of your past AutoRip eligible CD purchases are already available in the Cloud Player, where they are being stored for free. CDs that you purchased through Amazon, from as far back as 1998, are eligible for AutoRip.

Amazon Prime Video announces move to stay ahead of stiffer competition

Posted by Alan at 8:54 AM on January 4, 2013

amazon prime logoAmazon today announced a new partnership to bring even more content to its Prime video service. Prime is, of course, more than just video — it is also free second-day shipping on all orders (which often arrive next day) and a lending library for Kindle customers, allowing for one free book per month.

Now, in the face of growing competition from rivals, the retail giant has snagged a deal with TV network A&E, which will bring “popular series from A&E, bio, HISTORY and Lifetime to the Prime Instant Video service.”

Amazon announces these deals fairly regularly, but there are a couple of reasons why this particular one is a bit more important. First of all, it is a slap in the face of rival Netflix, who previously had, and lost, this deal. Second, there is a looming problem on the horizon and it is, potentially, a big one.

Redbox, the company who brought us those irresistible kiosks, has teamed with Verizon and plans to launch a competitor in early 2013. I have been among the early beta testers for the service and, I must admit, it is compelling.

So, is this enough to keep Amazon ahead of the market? Certainly Netflix still seems to be the dominant player, but Amazon is moving steadily up and now Redbox is coming. Competition, of course, is good for all of us.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7” Inch Widescreen Tablet

Posted by tomwiles at 9:48 PM on January 3, 2013

Over the Christmas holiday my nephew showed up at my house with an Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7” Inch tablet. My Mom, who just turned 88, ended up playing with it and decided she wanted one. So, we stopped by Best Buy and picked one up.

I spent some time adding free apps from the Amazon Android Market that I knew my parents would like, such as Accuweather, News Hog, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, recipe apps, etc.

What followed over the next few days was surprising. Of course my Mom started using it right away, but what surprised me was that my 79-year-old Dad started using the Kindle as much as my Mom uses it. Mom has used a computer for a number of years. Dad has played around with computers but never did much with them. Dad made the observation that the Kindle was a lot easier to use than a regular computer.

I have had an iPad for a long while now and my parents have been around it, but they’ve never used it much. The Kindle is a different story. Perhaps they felt more at ease since they own the Kindle, but I think there’s more to it than that. I believe the Amazon Kindle Fire HD has a better, friendlier user interface than the iPad has. The Kindle Fire HD presents app icons in a very large format on a revolving carousel that the user simply swipes through. It didn’t take long at all for them to begin to remember which of these large icons start which apps.

Another advantage the Kindle Fire HD has over the iPad is better, much louder sound. My parents are a bit hard of hearing, yet the Kindle Fire HD is able to get plenty loud enough for them to be able to easily hear, even in a noisy environment. The iPad isn’t capable of getting nearly as loud.

The $199 Kindle Fire HD 16 gigabyte (as well as the larger 8.9” inch version) comes bundled with a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes Amazon Prime streaming videos. Mom ended up easily figuring out how to stream videos and liked it so well she went ahead and subscribed.

The 7” inch widescreen seems to be just the right size for them. It is easy for them to handle, yet large enough for them to be able to see and manipulate the multi-touch screen.

The Kindle Fire HD has a dual core processor and gives great battery life. The apps are very responsive and there is never any lag.

If I were going to buy a tablet today, I would give strong consideration to a Kindle Fire HD. For $199 for the 7” inch and $299 for the 8.9” inch, Amazon is giving a tremendous amount of value and performance for the money.

The only downside that I can see is that the Kindle Fire HD doesn’t have a built-in GPS chip, nor any native mapping apps, so mapping on it is currently limited. However, for $199, it’s easy to overlook the lack of GPS. The WiFi-only versions of the iPad don’t have built-in GPS either.

The Kindle Fire HD has a forward facing camera for use with apps such as Skype, but no rear-facing camera. That’s not much of an issue for me since I rarely use the rear-facing camera in my iPad, but it might be for other people.

Now, if I can just get my parents to give up their flip-phone for a smartphone…

Eason Fails to Sell eBooks via Billboard

Posted by Andrew at 2:05 AM on November 28, 2012

…or “Why DRM is killing ebook sales outside of Amazon or Barnes & Noble”.

Being a international superstar and global jetsetter*, I had the pleasure of passing through Dublin’s Connolly railway station today. In the atrium there was a billboard display of book covers complete with QR codes.

Billboard of Books

“Totally cool,” I thought. Scan the QR code, buy the ebook, download to my tablet and start reading. The bookstore, Eason, had helpfully included free wifi in the area to get on-line. (For those not familiar with Ireland, Eason would be the leading newsagent, stationers and bookstore, comparable to WHSmith in GB). I scanned this book:

Book cover

The QR code took me to this page. Strangely, the book offered was a paperback and not an ebook. Huh?

Book purchase

Then I looked at the original poster, “1. Choose your book 2. Scan your QR code 3. Make your purchase 4. Wait for the post 5. Enjoy your book!”

Seriously…”Wait for the post”. Have these guys actually heard of ebooks or did the Kindle completely pass them by? Sure enough, Eason does have a section for ebooks on their website. It says, “Eason eBooks are compatible with Sony, Iriver and Elonex eReaders, as well as all devices that support Adobe EPUB DRM eBooks. Our eBooks are not currently compatible with Apple iOS, Google Android or Amazon devices - this includes iPads, iPhones, iPods, Android phones and tablets, and Kindles.

So let me get this straight….Eason is appealing to a travelling customer, offering the QR codes to smartphones that will typically be iPhones or Android devices, but ebooks can’t be offered on these because of Adobe’s ePub DRM? Fail, fail, fail.

It’s both totally unbelievable yet completely expected. It’s no wonder Amazon and the Kindle are dominating the market because everyone else is fighting with one hand tied behind their back with DRM. Eason, I had a two hour train journey ahead of me and you had a 100% chance of an ebook sale but you blew it. I’ll turn on my tablet, fire up my Kindle or Nook app and buy directly from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Fail.

* This is completely untrue.

Will You Be Getting an eBook Refund?

Posted by JenThorpe at 2:38 AM on October 16, 2012

Those of you who have a Kindle might have a refund coming your way, eventually. This is a result of a recent antitrust lawsuit settlement between Amazon and the ebook publishers that were named in the lawsuit: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, and their many subsidiaries.

Amazon.com has started sending email to some of their customers to tell them that they may be eligible for a credit This specifically relates to ebooks that were purchased between April of 2010 and May of 2012 by the above mentioned publishers. Consumers might receive anywhere between $0.30 and $1.32 for each ebook they purchased during that time frame.

How much you get depends on a few things. First, you have to have purchased an ebook from Amazon during that time frame. The amount of refund you get depends upon if the book was on the New York Times Bestseller list when it was purchased. If so, you could be getting a $1.32 refund for that book. If not, you may be getting less, (as low as $0.30) as a refund for that particular book. If you bought a bunch of ebooks during the time frame the settlement specifies, you could be in for quite a refund.

Before you get too excited, realize that the refunds will not be made until after the courts approve of the settlements. That hearing is scheduled for February of 2013. In addition to Amazon.com, Apple and Barnes & Noble will also be issuing refunds (but the amount hasn’t been released as of yet). The refunds will come in the form of an account credit. It may also be possible for you to request your refund in the form of a check, instead.

It seems to me that most of the time, when lawsuits like these happen, consumers don’t end up receiving anything at all. It is interesting that this time, at least some people will be getting a credit.

Image: Stock Photo Young Woman Reading On eBook by BigStock

Whispersync for Voice Saves Your Place

Posted by JenThorpe at 9:58 PM on September 15, 2012

People who love to read will take the opportunity to squeeze in another chapter, or a few more pages, any chance they get. Today, many people are reading books on their Kindle, (or other tablet device). Or, they are listening to the audio version of a book that they got from Audible.com. Whispersync for Voice is something new that connects these two options in a unique and time-saving way.

In order to use Whispersync for Voice, you will need a Kindle. You also will need to get the free Audible app for the iPhone, iPod touch, or Android. As the name implies, Whispersync for Voice will sync up your audio book with your ebook. You can put one device down, pick up the other one, and the book will continue exactly where you left off. No more wasting time trying to figure out where one version left off when you switch to the other one.

Start by purchasing an ebook for your Kindle. There will be a button that allows you to “Add Narration” for a few dollars more. Making that purchase is what enables your Kindle and Audible app to sync up with each other. There are about 15,000 books at Audible.com that work with Whispersync for Voice right now.

The latest generation of Kindle Fire, and the Kindle Fire HD 7” and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” will let you do something called Immersion Reading. It will let you add the professional narration to your Kindle so you can read the book and listen to it at the same time.

Sources Confirming Kindle Fire Ads will Have an Opt-out

Posted by Alan at 5:24 AM on September 9, 2012

There has been lot of controversy the past couple of days surrounding the line of Kindle Fire tablets that Amazon announced on Thursday.  If you haven’t heard, the talk has been around the ads that Amazon will be displaying on the lock screen.  It was widely believed that there would be no way to prevent these ads from showing up, regardless of how intrusive some users seemed to think they would be.

Now, multiple sources, including very reliable ones like Ars Technica and Engadget, are reporting that Amazon has contacted them and explained that users would, in fact, be able to opt out of these ads.  The option isn’t free, however.  Users will be able to turn off the ads for a small one-time fee of $15.  In a message sent to Ars Technica, Amazon stated that “With Kindle Fire HD there will be a special offers opt-out option for $15. We know from our Kindle reader line that customers love our special offers and very few people choose to opt out. We’re happy to offer customers the choice.”

Will many users take advantage of this opt-out?  My guess would be no.  After all, we all shop on Amazon and having the chance to get a deal is a pretty good trade-off for having to see an ad.

Amazon Shows Off New Devices in TV Ad

Posted by Alan at 4:47 AM on September 6, 2012

Amazon is expected to release a new line of Kindle devices when they hold their big Santa Monica, California event later today.  Rumors seem to indicate not one, but two new Kindle Fire tablets, as well new versions of the Kindle e-reader.  All of this has been expected for a little while now, especially when Amazon mysteriously announced last week that the Kindle Fire was “sold out”.

What wasn’t expected was the ad that aired during last night’s NFL season-opener between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.  The ad, which was a full one minute in length, showed the new devices, but gave no information on what exactly they were.  However, on closer inspection, there appears to be a larger version of the Fire tablet, perhaps a 10 inch, shown.   That would be the biggest bombshell, since it has been reported that Amazon would announce two 7 inch tablets.

What appears to be a 10 inch tablet is shown around the :35 mark of the ad (posted below, and every geek should appreciate the inclusion of the George R. R. Martin book).  Amazon has been rumored to be working on a larger version ever since before the original 7 inch was announced, but we have been led to believe that they had deemed it not marketable enough for release.

There have also been some recent leaks of an updated Kindle Touch reader, with a higher-resolution screen.  Electonista reports that “The most important change, however, will be the integration of an LED backlight, supposedly combined with battery improvements that allow the unit to go for weeks on a charge, a major selling point over tablets for e-reading purists.”

We will find out later today how close any of this speculation has come to actual reality.  The Amazon event kicks off at 10:30 am PDT, 1:30 pm EDT and will be streamed live on the web.

Plants vs. Zombies Game Review

Posted by Andrew at 1:10 PM on September 4, 2012

PopCapPlants vs. Zombies was one of the first Free App of the Day games in the UK’s Amazon Appstore but if I’d known about it beforehand, I would have paid the full price as it’s a lot of fun and simple to play.

Published by PopCap, the premise is simple: stop hordes of marauding zombies from crossing your lawn by using a variety of vicious plants and vegetables. It’s a simplified riff on “Tower Defense” with the zombies and plants only acting in straight lines.

image

There are 50 levels with over 26 kinds of zombie and 49 killer plants. As you’d expect, the more advanced members of the armies of darkness appear in later level as do more evolved plants with greater killing potential. Triffids have nothing on these botanical beauties. The controls are straightforward with tapping on the screen being the only skill required. That and managing your resources of sunshine to grow your plants.

But enough of the dry features…this game is great fun. There’s absolutely nothing like setting up your garden to hurl flaming peas at the undead. The game’s difficulty progresses at the just the right level to keep the player challenged and the introduction of new zombies and complementary plants keeps the death-dealing interesting.  It’s all done with great humour in a cartoon fashion so there’s no blood’n’guts to worry about. And the game’s not complete without the inimicable groaning of “brains”.

According to PopCap’s website, Plants vs. Zombies is available for a multitude of platforms but I was playing on Android tablets. Presumably it was originally designed for smartphones, as some of the graphics aren’t as well-defined as they could be. Looks fine on a 7″ tablet but is more obvious on a 10″.

The game is available from the Amazon Appstore for £2.06 as Plants vs. Zombies doesn’t appear to be sold in Google Play.

Braaaainsssssss.

Amazon Set to Announce 2 Kindle Fire 7′s?

Posted by Alan at 6:06 AM on September 3, 2012

Rumors have been flying lately around the new Kindle Fire that everyone seems to know is coming, but has no proof of.  Those rumors were compounded last week when Amazon announced the the tablet was “sold out” and no longer available.  Many of the rumors have surrounded a 10 inch version of the tablet to complement the current 7 inch, but now c|net is reporting that, in fact, there will be 2 Kindle Fires, but both will be of the 7 inch variety.

2 tablets that are the same size may sound strange at first, but it really isn’t – after all, there are multiple versions of the iPad that are all the exact same size.  According to the report, Amazon will announce an updated version of the current model, along with a brand new, higher-end model.

The upgraded current model will likely have a new user interface, but it’s unclear if there will be any hardware changes.   On the other hand, the new higher-end model will (supposedly) contain a faster processor, camera, a physical volume control button and an HDMI port.  The Verge recently posted a possible image of the new tablet.

One rumor that has not yet surfaced is pricing.  It’s generally assumed that the updated current model will come with a new, lower price tag – perhaps as low as $149 to undercut the biggest competition, the Nexus 7.  There is no speculation for pricing on the high-end model.  An announcement from Amazon should be forthcoming this week.