Tag 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 Bucking that trend and heading for a ten year lifespan are e-readers, proving that technology isn’t out of date as soon as the box is opened.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.


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.


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.


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.


My life so far with Amazon Echo



amazon logoA couple of months ago I received an Amazon Echo. It’s a unique device in many ways. Most interesting likely is the fact that it talks back to you — declines your requests in some cases. A disembodied voice coming from a strange device is odd enough on its own, but it gets much more complicated than that, as we aren’t factoring in what it can do.

So here’s what I use it for — I play music while I work, it’s a great speaker and Pandora works quite well with it. If you use iHeartRadio then you can set that up as well. Or you can just request a song, providing it’s available in Prime Music.

I’m also using it daily for cooking, Bad habits of leaving things on the stove or in the oven too long can be remedied by saying something along the lines of “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes”.

You can also ask it for the weather or a traffic report, among many other things. It’s an endless source of fascination for guests,

There is a darker side — quite literally, actually. It has nothing to do with Alexa (yes, that’s its name. They’re all named that). No this dark side comes from my experiment and is my own doing.

The Echo is compatible with a home automation hub, which in turn is compatible with GE Link light bulbs. The Amazon device is great, the bulbs are fine. The weak link lies in the middle. Most of the time when I ask it “Alexa, turn on/off living room lights” everything goes smoothly. Other times I get a reply along the lines of “That command doesn’t work with that device”. This means resetting the hub, no fun in the dark.

Do I recommend the Amazon Echo? Yes. Do I recommend the house of cards that is my lighting setup? No. Those cards can, and do, collapse. The home automation features will get better, but for now the setup is a major pain and not for the average user. However, the hub is working to improve all the time and I still love the product, I just wish I didn’t reset quite as often as I do.


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.