Category Archives: amazon

Amazon Fire TV



Amazon Fire TVAfter weeks of speculation, Amazon has finally shown its hand in the set-top box game with the Fire TV. It’s a $99 box with a Bluetooth remote control that connects to your HD TV and shows Amazon content plus media from partners, including Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Pandora.

Amazon Fire TV

Initially, this doesn’t sound terribly different from the Roku and Apple TV units, but when you get into the feature set, it’s pretty impressive. There’s voice search which helps you find the shows without the laborious letter selection that bedevils remote controls. ASAP is a predictive feature that pre-loads content so that shows start instantly without the buffering delay. WhisperSync synchronises watching and listening across multiple devices so you never lose a second, and X-Ray takes the movie experience further, showing film and character information on your second screen Kindle Fire HDX.

As you’d expect, the Fire TV is seamlessly integrated with Prime Instant Video, Amazon’s subscription streaming service, giving access to tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes. With Dolby Digital Plus, films and music will sound amazing and any media stored in Amazon’s Cloud Drive from photos to personal videos can be played through the Fire TV.

Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.

Amazon are definitely taking the fight to the competition as the Fire TV is a mini powerhouse, with a quad-core processor and 2 GB RAM, which lets the unit double as a gaming unit with over 100 games available at launch. Already available are Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush and Amazon has signed up EA, Disney, Gameloft, Ubisoft, Telltale, Mojang, 2K, and Sega to bring their games to Fire TV.  To complement the gaming, there’s an additional game controller that will set you back a penny shy of $40. The controller connects via Bluetooth too and will run for up to 55 hours on AA batteries.

Simplistically, it’s a desktop version of the Kindle Fire tablets and sure enough, Fire TV runs the latest version of Fire OS “Mojito,” which is based on Android. This means that apps should be easily ported over to the Fire TV (and Kindle Fires).

The Kindle Fire TV is available now in the US. No news on international availability yet.


Kingston MobileLite Wireless Review



Kingston Technology LogoLast week I reviewed Kingston’s microDuo which is a great solution if your smartphone or tablet supports OTG. Unfortunately, many devices don’t and if yours falls into this category, Kingston can still help you with both the MobileLite Wireless and the Wi-Drive. In this review, I’ll be checking out the MobileLite Wireless and will follow up with the Wi-Drive later in the week.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Box

The Kingston MobileLite Wireless  is described as “Reader – Media Streamer – Charger” and combines a USB reader, SD card reader, media streamer and USB charger all in one. Sounds impressive, so let’s take a look.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Left Side

As you’ll see from the picture, the MobileLite is a small rectangular unit, around 12.5 x 6 x 1.6 cm. It weighs 98g and it feels a little lighter than it should. On one end is the SD card slot and on the other two USB sockets; one USB2 and the other microUSB. There’s a power button on the side and couple of indicator LEDs on the top. As well as the instructions, a USB-to-microUSB cable and a microSD-to-SD card adaptor is included in the box.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Right Side

Taking each of the MobileLite Wireless features in turn and starting with “Reader”, the MobileLite can act as an SD card and USB reader. Simply connect the supplied cable from your PC’s USB port to the microUSB port on the device and two new drive letters or storage locations will appear on the desktop. Drag’n’drop, view photos, play movies, all the usual activities, no problem. Obviously it’s only USB2 but right now, that’s no big deal.

Moving to the “Charger” feature, swap over the cable so that the USB connector is plugged into the MobileLite Wireless and the other end into your smartphone or other power-sapping device. The battery is only 1800 mAh, so there’s really only one full charge of a smartphone in there.

Finally, it’s time for the “Media Streamer” feature, which lets up to three devices stream movies and other content from the MobileLite Wireless over WiFi. Which it does. Here’s Todd and the GNC show on three devices, all streaming from the one MobileLite Wireless.

Streaming To Three Devices

The tablets and smartphones have to load a Kingston app to access the media, but the app is available from Apple’s App Store, Google Play and Amazon’s Appstore.  The inclusion of Amazon is great as it means I can use the MobileLite Wireless with the Kindle Fire HDX – it’s the middle tablet in the shot above. However, the app is fairly basic and largely limited to navigating the folder hierarchy, selecting different content types, viewing and playing content plus operations such as email, copy and delete. It’s designed for smartphones rather than tablets so doesn’t take advantage of the larger screen real estate. Definitely room for improvement here. The app does have a couple of introductory pages to operative the MobileLite Wireless which have a cool hand-drawn feel to them.

App FIle Manager

The MobileLite Wireless also presents a web interface which can be used by PCs and Chromebooks to access the same files, though I didn’t seem to be able to upload content. The web interface has additional tools to adjust the wireless settings for greater security. One cool feature is that you can add the MobileLite Wireless to your main WiFi network and once connected up will pass on any requests onto the Internet, so you can browse the internet at the same time as listening to music coming from the MobileLite Wireless.

Wireless Settings

Battery life is “up to 5 hours of continuous use” and I managed a little under four hours playing a film continuously. Your mileage may vary but it’s enough to watch a couple of films.

In summing up, the MobileLite Wireless is a handy little device that I feel will appeal to those who frequently use SD cards and other removable storage. Obviously it would be great for photographers who want to review material on a larger screen but it’s also handy if you need to transfer material to a smartphone or tablet from a USB memory stick as outside of the Windows ecosystem, few tablets have full size USB ports. It certainly works well for streaming video and music too, but Kingston’s Wi-Drive might be a better solution for those who simply don’t have much space on their smartphone or tablet. The negatives are that the app could do with a refresh and a bigger battery would make the charger more effective, but other than that, there’s little to complain about.

The MobileLite Wireless is available on-line for around £35.

Thanks to Kingston for the review unit.

 


Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ Review



Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9Any seasoned tech watcher will have noticed that Amazon is quietly building a third mobile ecosystem, competing against Apple’s iTunes and Google’s Play. Starting with the original Kindle ereader, the environment has grown into tablets and currently the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ tablet sits at the top of the food chain. And very tasty it is too. Let’s take a look.

Kindle Fire HDX Front

On first inspection, the HDX is black and angular. It’s kind of like a stealth tablet, with radar-reflecting angles on the back and the sides. It’s very different from say, the curves of the Nexus 10, but it’s a refreshing changing and Amazon further plays on the theme with the Origami case. Giving the HDX a once over, there’s not much to poke at. The front has the main screen and a front-facing camera, on the sides there’s the micro-USB port and the headphone port, and on the back there’s the power button, volume rocker, rear camera with flash and stereo speakers. The rear camera will do 1080 and the front, 720p HD. There’s also a large Amazon logo emblazoned in the middle of the back.

HDX Rear

Taking hold of the HDX, it feels good in the hand weighing in at 374g, which is light enough to hold in one hand but heavy enough that it doesn’t feel cheap. The rubberised back is grippy too and  the buttons on the back of the HDX for power and volume come nicely to the hand – a good touch which makes the tablet feel designed for use rather than style. Not everyone will like the plastic back, but it’s largely a matter of personal taste.

On powering up, the HDX and Fire OS come into their own. The screen is absolutely stunning at 2560 x 1600 pixels, which is equivalent to 339 ppi. (The Nexus 10 has the same resolution but in a larger physical screen). Amazon’s Fire OS takes full advantage of the screen with a gloriously smooth “flow”-based interface. There are some great touches to the interface with the soft buttons moved to the right-hand side, conveniently under the hand, instead of at the bottom.

Flow

It’s all about the apps though, and at first I was a little concerned that there wouldn’t be the same range of apps available in the Amazon Store as would be in Google Play. In terms of sheer numbers, there are far fewer apps than in Google but if you are a mainstream user who rarely veers from the path of popularity, you are going to find all your apps here. I went through my commonly used apps and mostly they were there. Office Suite Pro – check; Feedly Reader – check; Netflix – check; Facebook – check; Guardian newspaper – check; Fitbit – check. Where an app was missing, it tended to be one from a competitor, so no Google+, no Zinio, no YouTube. Of course, you can still access these services via the web browser but it tends not to be an optimal experience.

Apps

Some of native apps are better than the equivalent Google versions. Calendar in particular is functionally better than the Google equivalent, and both Contacts and Email are a whole lot more attractive, although the later doesn’t haven’t the deep Gmail integration. Pure Android persists with a largely flat UI, whereas Fire OS has subtle shading and hinting that gives a lovely 3D effect without being distracting.

The 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor has plenty of power, and action games benefit from this. There are lots of good games, but action apps like Iron Man 3 or Asphalt 8 show off the HDX’s capabilities to best effect.

Iron Man 3

More than apps, Amazon is about content and here the Kindle Fire delivers in spades. Signing into the Kindle Fire 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. Audio playback is good and background noise is minimal, even when listening with earbuds in quiet environments.

Cover Art

For films and TV on demand, Amazon offers LoveFilm in the UK and there’s a 30-day free trial for all HDX owners. Playback of movies is as smooth as you’d expect, but the coolest feature is X-Ray, a link with IMDb which offers movie and actor information based on the film or programme being watched. It’s pretty slick and I think we can expect more of this kind of experience-enhancing app in the future.

The HDX has some other nice touches too. Kindle FreeTime is 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 the HDX to families.

Turning to price, this is not a budget tablet nor is it intended to be. This is a high-end device and the price reflects this: the base cost is GB £329 for the 16 GB wi-fi version with “Special Offers” aka adverts. The top-of-the range 64 GB 4G HDX without ads will set you back £489. For comparison, the larger 16 GB Nexus 10 is available widely for around £250 and the squarer iPad Air is £399.

I’ve been using the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ for a bit over a month now and I like it a great deal. Sometimes I’m frustrated by the non-Android way of doing things or the lack of a particular app, but other times I’m in love with it – Fire OS is very well presented. The animations are smooth, the touch-screen highly responsive and the layout of the soft buttons on the right is great design. If you are looking for something between the frontier that is Android and the closed confines of Apple, it’s a perfect match and if I was recommending a higher-end tablet to a non-geek friend or relative, the HDX would come high up the try-out list. And Google, you need to up your game.

Thanks to Amazon for the loan of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″.


Amazon Prime has record holiday sales



amazon prime logoThe holiday shopping season has drawn to a close and now Amazon is revealing a bit of information on what took place over the past month. The retailer experienced record sales through its popular Prime service, which offers free two-day shipping on all purchases, as well as streaming video and a Kindle lending library.

More than one million customers around the world became new Prime members in the third week of December. On Amazon’s peak shipping day, more Prime items were shipped worldwide than ever before. The entire 2013 holiday season was the best ever for Amazon, with more than 36.8 million items ordered worldwide on Cyber Monday, which is a record-breaking 426 items per second, and millions of customers unwrapped Kindle e-readers and Kindle Fire tablets this holiday season”, the company announced today.

Amazon also touted some of the numbers — digital media selection grew to more than 27 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, books, audiobooks, and popular apps and games in 2013, Prime Instant Video selection increased from 33,000 to more than 40,000 movies and TV episodes in 2013 and the first original series “Alpha House” and “Betas”.

Of course, thanks to woes experienced by UPS and FedEx, the company was also forced to offer apologies for packages not received on time, but his was not the fault of the retailer.


Amazon Prime continues new shows parade as Betas debuts



amazon prime logoLast week Amazon Prime debuted its first original series in the form Alpha House. Today, the trend continues as Betas becomes available to subscribers — no word on a potential Gamma show, yet.

The retail giant is following the formula put forth with the comedy series Alpha House. In other words, it is releasing the first three episodes all at once, and then doling them out one per week thereafter.

“Betas has been an incredibly fun show to create for customers. We have a stellar cast of comedians and actors, and we think customers are going to enjoy it”, said Roy Price, Director of Amazon Studios. “he chemistry these guys have on set definitely translates to the screen. While their characters are still very much underdogs, it’s easy to find yourself hoping they make it big in techland”.

Prime video is available via the web or through apps on Google TV, Roku, the Xbox, PlayStation and other set-top boxes. It is also tightly integrated with the company’s Kindle Fire tablets, of which two new HDX models are now available.


Podcast From an iPad



Podcasting has long been a multistep process for the majority of podcasters. There have been a few pieces of software written over the years that attempt to bring all of the podcasting tasks into single pieces of software, with varying results.

Most podcasters have a physical mixer to plug their mic(s) into, an application that records audio and can spit out an MP3 file, some way of editing the ID3 tags, an FTP program to upload the file to their server, and then post it to the back end web interface of a blog such as WordPress to generate their podcast RSS feed. None of these steps are really that hard, but because they are broken up they can be quite time-consuming. It reminds me of people who write paper checks to pay their bills each month and then send them off in the snail mail. The excuse is that it doesn’t take much time. The reality is that writing out checks to pay bills, putting them into the envelopes, making sure the envelopes are properly stamped and finally mailing them at the Post Office is quite time-consuming.

On the Mac I use a now-defunct podcasting application called “Ubercaster” that stopped being developed shortly after OS/X Lion came out. Ubercaster, which runs really well on non-updated Snow Leopard, can record audio with real-time audio effects, play interactive audio, record from Skype or other audio chat applications, edit and even upload via FTP. There is no other OS/X application I have found that can do all of these things the way Ubercaster can. Therefore my Macs will remain forever on Snow Leopard since Ubercaster will not run on newer versions of OS/X.

For some time now I’ve been periodically attempting to podcast from mobile devices, such as an iPad, a Nexus 7, and my Galaxy S3. While it is possible to record, edit and post from these devices, the process has been convoluted and more difficult than it needs to be. Also, the audio quality has been compromised.

I recently came up with a hardware and software combination that enables extremly high quality, no-compromise recordings on an iPad using a high-quality microphone like my Heil PR-40 that has an XLR connector. The piece of hardware is an iRig Pre and sells on Amazon for around $40 dollars. The iRig Pre (not to be confused with numerous other iRig models that offer other functions) runs on a 9-volt battery and can work with either dynamic microphones or microphones that require phantom power. The iRig Pre has a variable input gain that allows you to amplify its output signal so you can have more than adequate output volume. The iRig pre output plugs into a standard headset/microphone input jack on the iPad or even a smartphone such as the Samsung Galaxy S3. The audio quality coming out of the iRig Pre that records onto my iPad is excellent.

The iPad software app that I came up with to record podcasts with is called Bossjock Studio, a universal app for sale in the iOS App Store. It has the ability to load multiple carts, enabling interactive audio. It can render MP3 files. It works with many other apps including Dropbox. Bossjock even has built-in FTP functionality.

Bossjock’s audio quality is absolutely top-notch.

There is only one downside to Bossjock Studio — the MP3 file rendering process is slow. I contacted the developer about this and they say it renders slowly on the iPad because the MP3 rendering process cannot use the GPU and must use the regular processor. On an iPad 2 exporting to an MP3 file is pretty much real time. An hour long file will take about an hour to export to MP3.

However, the good news is on a new iPad Air the MP3 rendering time seems to be greatly sped up, likely due to the processing speed of the new A7 chip versus the A5 chip in the iPad 2. An hour long recording will render to an MP3 file on an iPad Air in about 15 minutes or so. That’s still slow compared to a tradtional computer, but easier to live with than real-time rendering on the slower A5 processor.

Getting a complex interactive MP3 file recorded and uploaded to the server is most of the battle. This leaves only the step of posting the file to a blog such as WordPress. If one is making the blog post via logging in to the backend of WordPress through a browser, posts can be made, but the process is way more clunky than it needs to be. Posting to WordPress through a touchscreen via a broswer is a rather torturous process. If only I could attach a mouse to my iPad… Sorry, not allowed by Apple.

So on the rare occasions I find myself going to a motel room, I leave the laptop behind in favor of increasingly-capable mobile devices that require only a fraction of the space. The process is much easier and more steamlined than it was, but still has some needlessly clunky aspects to it.

 


Free eBooks From Your Local Library



These are tough economic times and if you want to save yourself a few pennies, stop buying ebooks, join your local library and borrow ebooks for free. The OverDrive Media Console app lets you download and read ebooks offered by your local library for nothing, and if audiobooks are of more interest, the app can handle those as well. The OverDrive app is available for most common smartphones and tablets, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Kindle Fire and Nook tablets. If you have a Kobo, Sony or Nook ereader, you can still borrow books from your library but you’ll need to use Adobe’s Digital Editions to download via your PC. If you have a Kindle ereader, you’re out of luck.

The app can be downloaded from most app stores and directly from OverDrive if your device’s app store doesn’t host the app. In the first instance, the app asks you to find your local library via simple search. Poking around I was able to find libraries in UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, India and Japan, so it has worldwide coverage but I’ve no real idea of how extensive it is.

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For my library, I had enter my borrower number and again I assume it will be similar for most public libraries. Once you are in the system, you can browse for your favourite novels and authors, and then borrow the book you want. Before you can download the book, you’ll need to sign-up for an Adobe ID and put it into Overdrive’s settings. This is all part of the ePub DRM, but getting an ID is straightforward and free of charge.

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Obviously the range of books is entirely dependent on your library but I found a good selection of books available (several of which I already owned!) and once you’ve got your reading selection downloaded, you can swap to Overdrive’s bookshelf to see what’s available for reading.

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As a reader app, OverDrive Media Console is good. There’s a bit of delay when opening a book for the very first time, but after that it’s snappy. All the other usual features are there – typeface selection, font size, line spacing, colour schemes, animations, but overall it’s well done. Reading books is easy and a pleasure.

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So, if you don’t want pay for ebooks and you’ve a tablet or smartphone, download the OverDrive Media Console, join your local library and start saving money. It’s a no-brainer!


Kindle Matchbook is Launching in October



Kindle MatchbookAmazon has announced that it will be offering something innovative in October of this year. Kindle Matchbook will launch. It isn’t a new type of Kindle device. Instead, it is a very unique way of allowing people to access books.

The Kindle (and other ebook readers) are fairly new, especially when you consider how long mass produced printed books have been available. Typically, this means that people who are currently using a Kindle probably have shelves of “paper books” somewhere in their home. The majority (if not all) of those books were probably purchased before the person got a Kindle.

Kindle Matchbook, in essence, will help people “match” the books on their shelves with the ones in their Kindle. It works like this. You purchased a brand new book from Amazon sometime between today and 1995. If that title is part of the “qualifying books” offered through Kindle Matchbook, you will be able to pick up the Kindle edition of your print book for a low price. The Kindle versions will be offered for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or for free.

What if you bought the paper books that are currently cluttering your shelves from Barnes & Noble, or from a used book store, instead of from Amazon? Sorry, the Kindle Matchbook offer will not apply. The offer is only for new (not used) copies of (qualifying) books that you purchased from Amazon.

I find the Kindle Matchbook offer to be very interesting. It is going to make it less expensive to pick up the Kindle version of thousands of books (assuming you bought a new copy of the printed book from Amazon after 1995).

Amazon might have found a unique way to encourage customers to buy new copies of printed books from them, instead of another retailer, who cannot do the Kindle Matchbook offer. If you have been looking for a reason to transition from printed books to ebooks, it seems that Kindle Matchbook will help you to do that. It appears that fellow Geek News Central writer Andrew was right on track when he noted that the the paperback is an endangered species!


The Paperback is an Endangered Species



Nook ClassicPicture the scene….I’m on holiday, lying by the swimming pool, relaxing in the summer sun. It’s a 4-star hotel, nothing fancy, catering to families from all round Europe; Britain, France, Germany, Norway. As I look around my fellow guests, I notice that many of them are reading from ereaders – Kindles, Kobos and the odd Nook. A few people are reading celebrity magazines like Hello and Chat. What does surprise me is the total absence of paperbacks – in all the rows of sun loungers that I can see, there’s not a single paperback book. It’s as if the paperback became an endangered species from one year to the next.

In reality this shouldn’t be a surprise. Ebooks and ereaders have become popular and the continual reductions in weight allowances by the budget airlines have encouraged travellers to leave heavy paper at home. The result is children, parents and grandparents are all lying round the pool, electronics in hand. The paperback is on the verge of extinction.

And while the paperback is all but gone, this isn’t the death of the novel. By all evidence round the pool, the written word is still alive and well. Only the medium has changed from paper and ink to glass and eInk. I see a bright future for authors and novelists.

I’ve certainly no regrets myself, but it does make it very hard to see what your fellow sun-worshippers are reading.


Amazon website goes down Monday afternoon



amazon logoIt seems that some of the biggest players in the industry are suffering from a recent rash of problems. Last week Microsft’s Outlook.com  email service suffered a rather long downtime that lasted for a good portion of the day and into two more days. Then Google had a similar, but much shorter outage that resulted in a forty-percent dip in web traffic according to analytics firm GoSquared.

Today it is the turn of Amazon, as the site mysteriously went offline for thirty minutes. Visitors encountered a “Oops! We’re very sorry,” alongside a “500 Service Unavailable Error” report when attempting to access the online retailer. The outage apparently only affected the US and Canada sites.

Microsoft has since reported the Outlook.com problem was caused by a failure in its “caching” temporary storage service. It said this “resulted in a flood of traffic that our services did not handle properly”. It is still too early for any information on the cause for today’s Amazon failure.