Tag Archives: amazon

Amazon Raises Minimum Wage to $15 for all U.S. Employees



I love when big companies do something that truly benefits their workers. Amazon announced that they are increasing the minimum wage to $15 for all full-time, part-time, temporary (including those hired by agencies) and seasonal employees across the United States. This raise will be effective on November 1, 2018.

Recode reported that Amazon said that workers who are already making $15 an hour would also see a pay bump. It is unclear how much that increase would be.

The $15 minimum wage will benefit more than 250,000 Amazon employees, as well as over 100,000 seasonal employees who will be hired at Amazon sites across the country this holiday. In other words, Amazon workers will get start to get more money right as the holiday season starts.

Even better – Amazon’s public policy team will begin advocating for an increase in the federal minimum wage. Senior Vice President of Amazon Global Corporate Affairs, Jay Carney, pointed out that the current rate of $7.25 was set nearly a decade ago.

The Economic Policy Institute supports a federal minimum wage of $15 by 2024. They point out that those who make the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour are making about 25 percent less per hour than their counterparts made 50 years ago (after adjusting for inflation).

I often find myself frustrated by big companies that fail to pay their workers a livable wage. Jeff Bezos, the founder, chairman and CEO of Amazon, has a net worth of $166.3 billion. It’s fantastic that he finally stepped up and decided to start paying his workers more money.

Image from Pixabay


Amazon Considers Opening Cashierless Stores



Would you like to shop in a store where there aren’t any cashiers? You might have the opportunity to do so in the next few years. Bloomberg reports that Amazon is considering a plan to open as many as 3,000 new AmazonGo cahsierless stores in the next few years.

The Bloomberg article says this information is “according to people familiar with the matter”. To me, the news of Amazon considering adding up to 3,000 new AmazonGo stores seems plausible. There currently are three AmazonGo stores in Seattle, Washington, and one in Chicago, Illinois.

In order to shop at an AmazonGo store, you need to have a smartphone and the free AmazonGo app. Shoppers use the the app to enter the store. Once inside, the person can pick up items off the shelf the same way they would usually shop. Sensors and computer-vision technology detect what shoppers take, and then automatically bills them.

For some, this may be a big convenience. But, this convenience comes at the expense of others. Older people, who don’t use smartphones, can’t shop at an AmazonGo store. Neither can low-income people who can’t afford a smartphone or who struggle to pay for a data plan.

That might not be a big issue while there are only four AmazonGo stores. It’s going to turn into a huge problem if and when the number of AmazonGo stores grows to 3,000. The Bloomberg article indicates that Amazon wants to compete with convenience stores and places where people can get lunch or dinner quickly.

In other words, AmazonGo could, potentially, push out stores like 7-Eleven, and some fast food places. It reminds me of the Bodega that was designed to only be accessible to people who had smartphones.

In my opinion, it is immoral to replace stores where low-income people can shop with stores that designed to exclude them. It is also troubling that the AmazonGo stores, which have no cashiers, won’t be able to offer jobs to local people.


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.


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.


Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote Review



Amazon Fire TVWhen it comes to media streaming via hardware, it’s a four way fight for your eyeballs between Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast. The most recent entrant, Amazon and the Fire TV, came to the UK in October 2014 and I reviewed one of the boxes back in January 2015. Over eighteen months later, Amazon’s Instant Video and Fire TV are more well known, with a large element of this courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the ex-Top Gear crew. To see what’s changed since then, Amazon kindly sent me a the updated Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote. Let’s take a look.

Fire TV Stick Box  Fire TV Stick in Box

The Fire TV stick comes in the usual flip open box used by Amazon for its electronics. Inside the box, there’s the Fire TV stick itself, the Voice Remote with batteries, USB power supply with cable, an HDMI gender changer and some slim instructions. As it’s generally expected that the Fire TV will connect straight into an HDMI socket, there’s no HDMI cable. There’s an unboxing video below if you’re interested.

Before getting started, my tip of the day would be to plug the microUSB end of the power cable into the Fire TV stick BEFORE you push the Fire TV into a spare HDMI socket. This saves too much faffing around the back (or side) of the TV and alerts you early to a potential problem. As the power connector is on the side of the stick and the cable comes out at right angles, it’s possible that this will foul against an adjacent HDMI connector. On my TV it was apparent that the Fire TV was always going to sit in the topmost socket. Alternatively, I could have used an HDMI cable along with the gender changer to locate the stick away from the sockets and avoid interference. YMMV, as they say.

The other end of the USB cable goes into the power supply and once all connected and powered up, it’s simply a case of switching to the right HDMI input and following the prompts. The setup begins with pairing the remote to the stick and then connecting to wifi. As with all devices bought from Amazon, it comes pre-configured with your account details.

Fire TV Stick Fire TV Stick Wireless

To make life even easier, there’s a set of cartoons to take you through some of the features of the Fire TV stick.

Fire TV Stick Cartoon Fire TV Stick Cartoon

With that all done, you’re dropped into Amazon’s Fire interface. It’s largely unchanged since I first reviewed the Fire TV but that’s not a bad thing given that it’s big, bright and intuitive. Click up and down with the remote to move between the media areas….TV shows, Movies, Games, Apps, Music and so on. Click right and left to scroll through the chosen area. The Home area summarises recent activity so it’s easy to get back to something that you recently viewed. The interface is generally responsive but there can be a little lag when going into a new area, such as Photos, where it’s checking to see if there are any new media. I assume that the lag will be inversely proportional to your network connection speed.

Fire TV Menu

There’s no doubt that the Fire TV is best used with Amazon Prime and other Amazon services – much of the promoted material is for Prime shows – but other media services like Netflix and Spotify are present via apps, and there’s a full range of catch-up services for UK’s terrestrial services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5). When I first reviewed the Fire TV a few of these were missing from the lineup so it’s good to see the extras. In addition to film and TV, the interface presents music purchased through Amazon as CDs and Amazon Music. If you use Amazon’s storage for photos, they’ll appear in a section too.

Amazon Fire TV StickVideo playback on the Fire TV can’t be faulted. I watched a number of shows through a variety of services, including Netflix, and the picture quality was unfailingly good. Programmes started quickly and got into HD picture quality within a few seconds. No problems here.

The Fire TV Stick supports apps as well, and these mostly offer other media services, such as YouTube, or games, such as…..well, loads including Crossy Road! It’s actually good fun playing mobile games on the big screen, though some require the Fire Game Controller (GB£44.99) rather than just the remote. Some games are tricky enough with just the remote, so if you are gamer, expect to stump up for the game controller. There’s something for everyone, as they say, and I played a fair bit of Lego Star Wars – The Yoda Chronicles. Overall, I felt there was a much greater range of games than last time and more of the headline titles were available.

While having loads of media is a good thing, it’s even better when there’s a search function to quickly find what you want to see. This is the Voice Remote version of the TV Stick and as such, the remote has a button at the top with a microphone symbol. When pressed and held, you can simply say what TV or film you are interested in, and the Stick will work it out and show you the options. Owners without the Voice Remote will have to laboriously type in the name of the programme. The voice recognition is accurate and the subsequent search recommendations are valid. Press the mic button, say “The Fall”, and the first programme it offers is the BBC drama (the one I wanted) followed by other films or TV programmes with the word “fall” in their title, such as “Downfall”.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like search has moved on too much. It is good at finding stuff but it still seems to only reference Amazon-hosted material. Take the above mentioned “The Fall”, which is currently showing the third series on BBC and aired episodes can be viewed for free on iPlayer. However, search on the Fire TV Stick would have you pay £2.49 for the HD version of episode 1 without mentioning the freebie option at all. More on this in a moment….

Amazon Fire TV ContentsBack in January 2015, I said, “Overall the Amazon Fire TV compares well with the competition and if you are into Amazon’s ecosystem, then the Fire TV is a no-brainer buy at the current price of £64 giving easy access to familiar photos, music, movies and games. Even if you aren’t a fully paid-up member of the Amazon fan club, there’s still plenty to recommend with the current selection of apps and games which will undoubtedly grow over time as more broadcasters and app developers get on-board.” Here in October 2016, there’s not much to add except that it’s even better now than it was then; there are more broadcasters on-board, there are more games and the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote is cheaper at £44.99. It drops to only £34.99 with the standard remote.

But….since starting the review of this Fire TV stick, a new version has been announced, at least in the US, which addresses some of the remaining deficiencies, namely cross-media search. Obviously it’s not clear right now when that will arrive in the UK or which apps will be searched in addition to Amazon media. Interestingly, the new Fire TV Stick comes with Alexa so the voice interaction won’t be limited to only search but other queries too. I’m looking forward to it already.

Thanks to Amazon UK for providing the Fire TV Stick for review.


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.