Category Archives: amazon

E-Readers Live On



When it comes to longevity, electronic gadgets aren’t known for their long lifespan. Manufacturer support, battery life, features and fashion all conspire to consign tech to an early grave. Bucking that trend and heading for a ten year lifespan are e-readers, proving that technology isn’t out of date as soon as the box is opened.

The original Amazon Kindle came out in the US in 2007, with limited availability until 2008, and there wasn’t an internation version until 2009. Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble‘s Nook e-reader appeared in late 2009, with devices coming to the UK in 2012. That’s the one that had the main e-Ink screen above a small colour touchscreen below.

I’ve always been a big e-book fan as I did a great deal of travel on business: I started out reading on a Palm III with books from PeanutPress. I didn’t get a Kindle immediately because I wasn’t fan of only being able to read content from Amazon but when the Nook appeared with more open software, I had one imported from the US to the UK as soon as I could, probably in 2010. I seem to recall that I had to buy pre-paid US-based credit cards to get books from the B&N store as it otherwise rejected my British credit card.

Mind you, the big benefit of the Nook is support from Adobe’s Digital Editions which is used by the library service here in Northern Ireland to lend out e-books. There’s a good selection and they’re all free to read.

Sadly, I received an email last month from Barnes and Noble to say that the first gen Nook was no longer supported from the end of the month. Frankly I was surprised it was still supported at all and on reflection I’ve had my Nook for eight years. Kudos to B&N for supporting the Nook for so long when most devices are obsolete in a few years. Having said that, the last software update was v1.7 in 2011 but you could still buy content through the device. I think Amazon still support the 3rd gen Kindle too so a thumbs up there as well.

Some might observe that the longevity of e-readers indicates that the rapid upgrade cycle of smartphones and tablets is driven by the hardware manufacturers to maximise profit. I would imagine that there’s some merit to this, as in contrast, the sellers of e-readers tend to be sellers of books and it’s the media that makes the money rather than the devices. Additionally, e-readers don’t suffer from feature bloat. They do one thing and they do it well. Why upgrade?

Hopefully I’ll be able to continue to use my Nook for many years while it remains supported by Adobe’s Digital Editions. Thanks Barnes and Noble.


The Plex Skill for Alexa has been Updated



The Plex Skill for Alexa has been updated to improve the way you listen to your music library by including support for Artist, Time Travel, and Library radio stations, recently introduced in Plexamp.

You can now make your very own radio stations out of your own music collection. Library radio plays popular songs from artists throughout your entire music library. Time Travel radio starts with the earliest released music and works forward. And the all-new Artist radio plays tracks inspired by your favorite artists.

It should be noted that Plex is offering free radio stations for a limited time. Radio stations will become a Plex Pass only feature at a later time.

Plex on Alexa has been available in the U.S. and U.K. It is now available for people who live in Canada, Australia, and India. With Plex on Alexa, explore all of these cool new features, totally hands-free, and fall in love with your music all over again!

The Plex website has more details about supported Alexa devices, voice commands you can give Alexa, officially supported Plex apps, and details about getting Plex for free.


Amazon Raised the Price of Prime Monthly Memberships



Amazon announced that it has raised the price of its monthly memberships. This change went into affect on January 19, 2018, for those who create an Amazon Prime membership after that date. For current Amazon Prime members, the monthly price will increase when your membership period ends.

The monthly membership fees for Amazon Prime and Prime Student changed on January 19, 2018. The new price change depends on the type of monthly membership. The Prime membership for new members has increased from $10.99 to $12.99. The Prime membership for the discounted Prime Student monthly plan for new sign-ups increased from $5.49 to $6.49.

If you already have a Prime account, or a Prime Student account, and want to continue making monthly payments, your membership price will change. The new price will take effect either at the end of your free trial, or at the end of your chosen membership period. At that time, your card will automatically be charged for the next membership period.

Prime Video membership is staying at $8.99 a month.

Amazon points out that if you don’t happen to like the new change to price of the monthly plan, you could choose to be charged on an annual basis instead. Annual memberships for Prime are $99. Annual Memberships for Prime Student are $49. I figure that people who wanted an annual payment would have picked that option instead of the monthly one.

Amazon has a special Prime membership for people who are eligible for government assistance programs. The price of this type of Amazon membership is $5.99 a month. Amazon is not raising that price.


Amazon – MSI Selling Refurbished Computers as New



My CIO at RawVoice / Blubrry ordered via our business account at Amazon a MSI MSI GS63 STEALTH-060 15.6 computer. When it arrived the packaging all appeared brand new with all stickers and shipping making it appear that this was a brand new computer But upon boot up, we could immediately tell this was a pre-owned machine. It booted straight to a login!

I am sure the company that owned it before us a professional photographers company in Florida called Codis will be happy to know this. I have reached out to them for comment and hope to update this article soon. Meanwhile, calls to MSI customer support were met with, “we will help you get the machines back to factory default”. Not an offer to replace the machine with a new machine. We purchased a brand new machine, not a factory refurbished unit. While I am sure the machine is nearly new, this raises real questions and while I will give them the benefit of the doubt but this is a pretty big deal! Someone really screwed up here and allowed this computer to get out the door as new instead of being marked as refurbished. How many computers is MSI selling that they are stating are new but actually refurbished machines.

Update: The Previous owner of the Laptop returned it for a defective trackpad in that it was loose around Thanksgiving making the turn around by MSI less than a month. They are a bit freaked out at the moment. Make sure you restore factory default before shipping.

We would have been none the wiser had they computer been factory reset. But this does raise a serious integrity issue with the folks at Amazon and MSI on the computers they are selling.

Continue reading Amazon – MSI Selling Refurbished Computers as New


Alexa and its Echo product line come to Japan



If you have not used an Amazon Echo, better known by the moniker of Alexa, then you’re missing out on countless cool things. Listen to music, find out when your favorite sports team plays next, check the weather, satisfy your curiosity by asking a trivia questions, you name it and Alexa can probably do it.

But, the Amazon line isn’t available everywhere, it has some geographical restrictions. One more place in this great big world has now made the list for availability of both the Alexa app and its associated devices.

That newest location takes the setup on a trip to the far east as the whole product line is debuting in Japan.

“Tens of millions of customers already love Alexa and we’re thrilled to introduce her to our customers in Japan today, with an all-new experience designed from the ground up for Japanese customers, including a new Japanese voice, local knowledge, and over 250 skills from Japanese developers”, says Tom Taylor, Senior Vice President, Amazon Alexa. “We’re also excited to expand the Alexa Skills Kit and the Alexa Voice Service, so developers and hardware makers around the world can create Alexa experiences for our Japanese customers”.

The Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus are all available now just waiting for your voice to bring them to life.


Amazon Reduces Cost of Prime for People on EBT



Amazon is offering Prime at a reduced cost for people who are receiving government assistance and who use an EBT card. Customers who qualify can get Prime benefits for $5.99 per month.  Amazon is doing this to make Prime more accessible.

Customers who have an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card can qualify for the discounted membership. Membership includes Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Reading, Prime Photos and unlimited fast, free shipping for $5.99 per month for one year, with the ability to cancel anytime.

Vice President of Amazon Prime, Greg Greeley, said “We designed this membership option for customers receiving government assistance to make our everyday selection and savings more accessible, including the many conveniences and entertainment benefits of Prime.”

At launch, customers will need to qualify with a valid EBT card. An EBT card is commonly used to disperse funds for several government assistance programs including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). EBT cannot be used to pay for membership.

Customers can qualify every 12 months up to 4 times. Amazon will add other ways to qualify in the future for customers participating in government assistance programs that do not utilize EBT. There is no annual commitment and members can cancel at any time.

Offering Prime for a discounted cost to people who use EBT is going to be very helpful for many reasons. Free shipping can help people who are elderly or disabled, and who have difficulty going to a store to shop for groceries and household items.

The free shipping can also help low-income people who live in rural areas and who do not have a grocery store nearby. Sometimes, the cost of the gas they burned to get to a grocery store overwhelms the discounts they would have gotten from coupons. Prime offers 20% off diaper subscriptions. This, combined with the free shipping, can help moms who are on WIC to afford to purchase a healthy amount of diapers for their babies.


HBO Dropping Shows from Amazon Video Streaming



HBO logoIf there’s one trend that’s become a focal point in the age of digital video streaming it’s exclusivity. This has become very apparent in the way established services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video have treated their original shows. Want to watch a show like Orange Is The New Black or The Man In The High Castle? You’ll have to pay for individual accounts on the services responsible for producing those shows. Otherwise, you’re going to miss something.

HBO was hardly on the cutting edge of video streaming when it launched its HBO Now service that allows users to watch HBO shows without a cable subscription. In fact, HBO is as close to a legacy provider as premium paid video gets, with its roots going all the way back to the earliest days of widespread cable television distribution. It was only a matter of time after launching HBO Now that the company would begin to circle the wagons around its own product. And with a recent announcement that HBO will be removing its shows from Amazon Prime Video, the company is doing just that.

If you’re currently getting your Game of Thrones or Sopranos fixes thru Amazon, don’t fret. The move won’t be made right away. HBO shows should still be available on Amazon’s platform until the middle of 2018. But once the change takes hold, the only places HBO shows will still be available will either be on paid satellite TV services or HBO’s official apps.


Amazon is Ending Support for Underground Actually Free Program



Amazon announced that they are going to discontinue the Underground Actually Free program, which began in August of 2015. Amazon didn’t really provide a specific reason why they are ending it.

Amazon will no longer accept new app and game submissions for the Underground Actually Free program as of May 31, 2017.

In the announcement, Amazon states that existing Amazon Underground developers can continue to get paid for every minute that customers spend in their Amazon Underground apps, as provided by their developer agreement. Amazon Underground developers can also continue to submit and publish updates to their existing apps until 2019.

Access to the Underground Actually Free store through Amazon’s Appstore for Android devices will end in the summer of 2017. All support for the program will end in 2019.

Until then, current Fire tablet customers can continue to enjoy previously installed Underground apps and access the Underground Actually Free store. There is a limitation, however. Fire tablet access to the Underground store will not extend beyond currently supported devices. Amazon customers will continue to have access to the Amazon Underground app to shop for physical goods and access Prime Video content, and can enjoy previously installed Underground Actually Free apps.


Brightech – SKY LED Torchiere Floor Lamp




I never thought I would see the day I’d find myself excited by lightbulbs. The LED lighting revolution has come of age.

After recently replacing every remaining incandescent bulb in my house with LED bulbs that perfectly mimic their respective incandescent counterparts, I decided it was time to get rid of a potentially dangerous halogen-powered torchiere floor lamp, and replace it with an LED-capable version of the up-firing ceiling bounce light of the same floor lamp style. After looking at torchiere style lamps for sale in local stores and not being happy with how top-heavy they were, I ended up ordering a Brightech – SKY LED Torchiere Floor Lamp from Amazon.

The lamp is extremely easy to assemble by simply screwing the parts together and plugging a couple of wires together. The heaviest part of the lamp assembly is the base that sits on the floor, which does a great job of stabilizing the lamp even on thick carpeting. The LED light array on the up-firing top disc produces a claimed 3,000 lumens on the brightest setting, one of four light levels. The light is controlled by tapping a touch surface about two-thirds the way up from the floor in about the same place that the old rotary on/off switch was on the old halogen floor lamp it replaced.

The lamp sells on Amazon for $89.50. I don’t know why local stores don’t have lamps like these. I do think they would sell them if they bothered to have them in stock. I wish that brick and mortar stores could somehow grasp that there are some really excellent, innovative products that people want. Unfortunately for the brick and mortars these products seem to be available online only. I don’t expect local stores to stock everything, but it seems to me they could become a bit more savvy about stocking products that forces shoppers to go online.

The touch surface is properly positioned and performs well when repeatedly touched, cycling through the various brightness levels as well as off. The transformer that plugs into the wall outlet gets slightly warm to the touch, coming in at 83 degrees Fahrenheit with an infrared thermometer in a 72 degree room. The top of the lamp generates a bit more heat, coming in at 96 degrees Fahrenheit.


Todoist is Now Integrated with Alexa



alexa-todoist-dialogueTodoist has announced that is is now integrated with Alexa. The new integration will enable Alexa to help you add and remember your Todoist tasks from any room in your house without you having to reach for your phone.

Alexa, as you may know, is the smart voice service that powers Amazon’s hands-free voice-controlled Echo and Echo Dot devices. It does not appear that Todoist has any plans to integrate with Siri or Cortana. There is potential that this could change in the future.

It is now possible to tell Alexia to add tasks to your to-do list. Todoist gives an example. Say something like “Alexa, add pick up the kids to my to-do list”. That task will be automatically added to your Todoist inbox with today’s due date. You can also have Alexa add reoccurring tasks to your to-do list. Those tasks will automatically appear on your to-do list each month.

You can tell Alexa what items to add to your shopping list, and those items will automatically appear on a shopping list in Todoist. Another thing you can do is say: “Alexa, what’s on my to-do list?” Alexa will respond by telling you what tasks are on your to-do list.

Todoist says that the first thing you need to do is to enable Todoist in the Alexa app available on iOS, Android, and Fire tablets. Next, link your Todoist account. Your Alexa To-do and Shopping lists will be automatically synced with your Todoist.

  • All the Todoist tasks you have due today will be added to your Alexa To-do list each morning.
  • All the tasks on your Alexa To-do list will be added to your Todoist inbox with today’s due date.
  • All the tasks in your Todoist “Alexa Shopping List” project will automatically be added to your Alexa Shopping list, and vice versa.
  • Any tasks you edit, complete, or delete in Todoist will be automatically updated on your Alexa To-do list, and vice versa.

Right now, Todoist is doing a giveaway of one Amazon Echo and two Amazon Echo Dots. For full details, check out the Todoist announcement.