Is it an iPad? Maybe a Xoom? NO, it’s a ViewSonic GTablet!

April 10, 2011

Over the past year or so, I have had considerable pressure to enter the Tablet market. Some is peer-induced, which I covered in my first iPad post, and some is self-induced, borne of the realization that we need a backup eReader to supplement the Kindle.

As I review my original iPad post and the use cases I proposed, I have the following updates:

Media-rich newspapers: Nothing has changed here. I still don’t make time for a national newspaper, and as far as I know, the local rag (Press-Democrat) hasn’t adopted the format.

Media-rich magazines: As it turns out, at least one of the niche magazines that comes to our house, Clean Run, has made a significant effort to delve into the digital world. They now have a digital edition which is available through any web browser, and their digital publisher has already launched an iPad app (can an Android app be far behind?). Hmm, this is getting more interesting.

Watching videos. This is still my most compelling use case, even with the streaming constraints of the cellular networks and the input constraints of the iPad. I have already ripped my dog-training DVDs so I can watch them on my iPod Nano and Blackberry. It goes without saying that the tablets beat the handhelds in screen size, plus they bring a 10-hour battery life which is unapproachable in the laptop world. Now it’s starting to get really interesting.

Kindle backup. Yep, we need something. I concluded in my Kindle update that the Blackberry Kindle Reader is quite adequate in a pinch but not suited for long reading sessions. And I can’t quite justify a second Kindle when weighed against the added value and features of the tablets.

Fortunately, the tablet market has evolved along with my needs and the iPad is no longer the only option. Google’s Android operating system, which has been so successful in the smartphone market, has been extended to tablets and several manufacturers have already responded. And HP, which bought Palm and rebranded it as webOS, has also announced a new tablet offering (although it may be too little too late). This changes everything in terms of tablet decisions. In some ways it’s easier (I’m not forced to drink the Apple iBorg kool-aid), but the added options also add to the complexity of the decision (Android vs. HP WebOS, WiFi-only vs 3G/4G, AT&T/Verizon/Sprint).

Based on the growth of the Android app market and the openness of the operating system (in contrast to the iBorg), I had already concluded that Android would be my platform of choice. I was well on my way down the path of the Motorola Xoom when I encountered two significant stumbling blocks:

  1. The $800 3G version is only available on Verizon, and the only way to buy it at the discounted price of $600 is to commit to a 2-year plan at a minimum of $20/month. Total cost: $1,280 plus tax and accessories. HUH??? I don’t think so.
  2. The WiFi-only version hasn’t been released yet and is expected to be priced at $600, not exactly a dip-your-toes-into-the-tablet-world price.

During my struggle with all of this data, my good friend Jason just happened to notice the Woot of the day at woot.com, a ViewSonic GTablet (Android-based, wi-fi only) for $280. Those of you with Woot experience know that the good stuff sells out quickly. But it was enough money that I wasn’t ready to push the button without doing a little more research. During the course of the day I was able to determine the following key pieces of information about this particular device:

  1. It is listed on Amazon for about $340 so the Woot price was righteous. It is now available on other sites for $310, but still, $280 was a darned good price.
  2. The hardware specs kick some serious butt
  3. The user interface (UI) provided by ViewSonic sucks (it’s called Tap ‘n Tap – seriously?)
  4. Because of the aforementioned openness of the Android operating system, #3 was easily overcome (OK, you have to be a bit of a geek…)
  5. Everything required to deal with #4 is (a) free, (b) well-documented on youtube and various forums, and (c) well-understood by Jason (who has been hacking his Droid phone for months)

By the time I had concluded that this Woot deal was a financially feasible way for me to experiment with both a tablet and the Android OS, I was sure that the opportunity would have been lost. NOT SO! I clicked “I Want One” and here I am, the proud new owner of an Android Wi-Fi Tablet!

I have now rooted it and replaced the ROM. Or for those of you who don’t speak geek, I have taken over the hardware and replaced the stock Tap ‘n Tap interface and in doing so, effectively voided the warranty – a leap of faith not for the faint of heart. But the result is a kick-ass tablet that I’m thrilled to have in my arsenal.

My videos are awesome, the web browsing experience is fantastic, the Google app store is great and the Amazon app store is even better, and it is much better than my Blackberry for reading Kindle books. Even so, I will reiterate that the Kindle (with its eInk technology) will continue to thrive – LCDs (including this one) are terrible in natural light.

There is a dark side to my decision – this thing came with Angry Birds. I had been SO determined to ignore and avoid it, if only to justify my reverse iPhone snobbery. But there it was … I was only going to try it once …¬† really … CRAP!!!!!!

Hi, my name is Holly and I’m an Angry-Bird-aholic.


Kindle Update – one year later

March 23, 2011

When I bought my Kindle last January, I published my initial impressions in Kindling a New Reading Option. Now that I’ve had it for over a year, I thought I’d take a look back at how the Kindle has met (and in most cases, exceeded) our needs. Here is a review of my original goals:

  1. Did the Kindle handle my primary use case? Yes. My original motivation for buying it was to eliminate hauling a 30-lb box of books up to the cabin during my multi-week summer jaunts. The Kindle provided 10-oz alternative with a 2-week battery life. It also offered car-charging and free 3G downloads of new material when I headed down the mountain to do laundry at Tahoe. Two Thumbs Up.
  2. Can two people share one Kindle? Maybe not everybody, but we certainly can. And that is enhanced by the free Kindle apps that are available on other platforms. If the Kindle is not available for whatever reason (Rich has it, the battery’s dead, I don’t know where it is at the moment), the reading experience on my Blackberry Torch is quite adequate. And because of the Sync to Furthest Page feature, the transition from device to device is seamless. Love It.

But wait, there’s more. As I have embraced the Kindle and explored the Kindle world, I have uncovered some features and resources that are worth sharing.

Free Sample Chapters

Perhaps the most under-appreciated feature of the Kindle store is the Free Sample Chapter link, which is available with a single-click for most of the offerings in the store. What makes this feature so great?

  • If you have read several print books by a favorite author, you might not remember which ones by the Title alone. By reviewing a Sample Chapter, you can quickly recognize if you have already read the book before you make a costly mistake and buy it again.
  • If a friend has recommended a new book or author, or you happen upon something vaguely interesting in the Amazon Recommendations, you can test them out and make your own choice with no financial commitment.
  • If you are browsing the book store, you can use Sample Chapters as a Wish List / bookmark / reminder for future purchases.

Although the Sample Chapter is a great feature, it is not without flaws and does have some room for improvement:

  • If you are reading a Sample Chapter and decide to buy the book, there is no correlation between the two. In other words, it doesn’t keep track of how far I got and sync that up with the actual book when I buy it. It should.
  • The Buy Now option at the end of the Sample Chapter is instantaneous – it doesn’t show the price (which might be more than you wanted to pay) or provide for confirmation. There is a workaround however – use Go to Store instead of Buy Now.
  • If you buy the book, the Sample Chapter is left as a turd on the device. It should be smarter than that and delete the Sample when the book is purchased and downloaded.

Redefining Publishing

One of the most exciting things about the Kindle framework is that it gives new authors a way to get published and recognized. Traditional publishing is expensive and represents a significant investment for the publishing houses – they aren’t willing to take chances on unknown authors. Publishing on Kindle provides a free and very interesting alternative, with the following features for the consumers:

  • Many books under $2 (and even free)
  • Instant ratings and comments provide feedback so we can easily tell if they suck or not
  • Even established authors and publishing houses are offering free and cheap books to hook you (e.g. I got the first two Stieg Larsson books for $5 each, but I’ll probably pay full price for the third…)

Again, there is a downside – many books are being published without benefit of professional editing, which can have disastrous results. But that is why the ratings are so important.

So, how do you find out about these low-price offers? I subscribed to the iReader Review blog and over the course of the past few weeks, have filled my Kindle with free and cheap books. Not all of the emails are interesting, but it’s worth it to have someone else do the work of finding the deals.

What’s Next?

Since Rich and I have both embraced the Kindle, I was exploring the option of buying another eReader (the Kindle3 has some tempting new features). I quickly concluded that the better solution is to supplement it with some sort of Tablet. The Kindle is as close to perfect as an eReader can be, but that is really all it is. It doesn’t make sense to have two when a Tablet would more than suffice as a backup eReader and do so much more.

So, which Tablet to get? That will be the subject of my next entry….


iPad for me? Not quite ready yet.

May 6, 2010

When the iPad was announced, my response was “bulky sorta iPhone/sorta iPod Touch, lotta money, why bother?” But when our company President recently wandered in with his and enthusiastically gave me a demo, I completely changed my tune – I was ready to gulp the entire pitcher of Kool-aid and pull out my credit card….

Fortunately…

I took a moment to do the math:

  • $829 for the 64gb 3G model (why settle for anything less?)
  • $39 for a case (don’t kid yourself, anything with a touchscreen needs a decent case)
  • $69 for a Bluetooth keyboard (I’ve already established that I can’t survive with on-screen keyboard alone…)
  • $99 for an extra year of Apple Care (like the iPhone, it still doesn’t have a user-serviceable battery)

Grand Total: $1,036, plus tax. PLUS $30/month for the 3G data service. Hmmm, this definitely exceeds my gotta-have-it-right-this-second threshold. So in a rather uncharacteristic display of self-restraint, I resisted my initial impulse to buy the shiny toy and sat down to consider …

How Exactly Will I Use It?

I came up with the following use cases, the first two based on the big boss’s demo:

Media-rich newspapers. Wow, this is dramatic – color photos, tap here and there to see what’s behind it, slide over here to get a searchable, tappable index. Snazzy. But wait, I don’t read national newspapers now, and having a fancy colorful device isn’t going to change that (any more than joining a gym is going to make me work out). I have no idea when local papers like the Press Democrat will be producing this content (if ever).

Media-rich magazines. Again with the colors and tapping and sliding (or is it ‘gesturing’?). More pizazz. But wait again, what magazines do we read at our house? Time and The Economist? Nope. Clean Run, American Rifleman, Rider, and <insert equally obscure and niche-y magazine name here>. Clean Run has already stated that their small circulation (and even smaller number of iDevice customers) can’t possibly support the investment in ‘rich’ iDevice-ready content.

Watching videos. Yep, I thought this would be the winner. I do watch videos on mobile devices, mostly when I’m traveling in the trailer with the dogs. Currently, I use my MacBook Pro to watch Netflix movies on DVD, and my iPod Nano or MacBook to watch training DVDs that I’ve Handbrake‘d into iTunes. The iPad will clearly excel at the latter, but really, we’re talking about training videos – quality and size aren’t that important and they work quite nicely on the Nano. And what about movies? Oops, no DVD player on the iPad. Streaming? According to reviews I’ve read, streaming only works on Wi-Fi, not worth a hoot on 3G. I’m not surprised, given that the cell networks are already completely overwhelmed by the streaming that is happening now. And in most of the places I travel, there’s no Wi-Fi. Next?

Kindle backup. Rich and I share a Kindle and we both love it. So far, we haven’t had too much usage contention so it’s working out fine. When there is a conflict, I’ve discovered that the Kindle app works very well on my laptop and is even serviceable on my Blackberry. But the iPad was really compelling on this one, with its big screen and longer battery life. However, it won’t replace a second Kindle (which I’m pretty sure is in our future) for two important reasons: even the 10-hour battery life isn’t nearly enough to survive a week at the lake where there is no power source; and because the screen is backlit, it doesn’t work well outside in the sun. Um, never mind.

As It Turns Out, I’m Not Alone

I’m not the first one to take a closer look at personal use cases and reach this conclusion. Here’s a great article I found when I googled “ipad use cases” – The iPad Literally Breaks Every Use Case I Had For It. If you are reading this blog with any interest at all, please, please, take a moment to read Mr. Wilhelm’s article. He reminded me of something I hadn’t even thought of – this fancy device can only run one app at a time and has no tabbed browser capability. Are you kidding me? No multi-tasking? Even Palm switched from the Treo to the Pre. No tabbed browsers? Even the luddites amongst us finally abandoned IE6 for Firefox and (at least) IE7. (Obviously I don’t use an iPhone or I wouldn’t even find this surprising.)

Conclusion (for now, anyway . . . )

Many geek pundits are heralding the iPad as a game-changer and a laptop/netbook-killer. I’m inclined to agree, long term. But it’s not even close to being there yet, at least for me. Time will tell. Perhaps an app will show up that I simply must have. Perhaps the cell carriers will finally beef up their infrastructure to meet the demand. Perhaps the price will fall below my gotta-have-it-right-this-second threshold. Perhaps they’ll introduce a multi-tasking version of the OS, or at least a tabbed browser. I’ll wait and see. And when my friends approach me for my geek opinion, my answer will be “Validate your actual use cases before you decide and don’t get sucked in by the ‘Shiny!’ factor alone.”


Kindling a new reading option

January 5, 2010

After months and months of deliberation, I recently decided to take the plunge and buy a Kindle. Or as Amazon calls it, a “Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6″ Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)”.

The decision to buy an eReader at all was not an easy one. Because unlike many of my friends, I have not completely swallowed the kool-aid. I like licking my fingers and turning the paper pages. I’m an enthusiastic participant in the secondary book market. I have an immature Border Collie who chews expensive plastic things. And there are places where eReaders just don’t work – like the hot tub.

But my last stay at the lake really got me thinking. I was headed up for 3 weeks and I generally average a book a day. Having accepted that large-format paperbacks are here to stay (at least at Costco, and my aging eyes aren’t complaining), and having purchased sufficient variety to keep my interest piqued, and having included an appropriate number of (thick, heavy) technical reference books, I found myself boxing up and shlepping 25+ lbs of books into the car, into the boat, up the mountain, back down the mountain, back into the boat, and back into the car. Suddenly, that 10 oz. option was looking pretty good.

Once I decided to pursue the idea, I was faced with the choice of three incompatible devices: Kindle/Nook/Sony. I was actually hoping to let it all shake down to a de facto standard before I jumped into the market, so as to avoid making the wrong decision – a la VHS/Betamax (I chose wrong) and Blu-Ray/HD-DVD (I’m still happy with good old progressive-scan). But I’m not sure we’re there yet. And as it turns out, competition is good for technology – so I embrace the battle.

The final barrier was lifted when Rich and I were fortuitously seated with a delightful young couple from Texas on a recent scenic train ride through the Royal Gorge in Colorado. Somehow during the course of our visit, it was revealed that they each have an eReader – hers a Kindle and his a Nook. I confess that I hadn’t heard of the Nook before. Much conversation and questioning ensued, followed by feverish Googling upon our return to the land of broadband.

The upshot is this: I first settled on the Nook, and went so far as to order one. But driven by buyer’s remorse and my propensity to over-think and over-research all decisions, I actually reversed my position and went for the Kindle. Fortunately for me, the Nook is back-ordered by 2 months so the switch was easy and not subject to the 10% Barnes and Noble restocking fee (which incidentally, Amazon doesn’t impose for the Kindle).

My reversal was facilitated by the following reviews, which were written by someone who meets my stringent criteria for internet postings: if you are going to review something and post it on the internet, it had better be comprehensive and organized. I quote: “To be on the safe side -> Please assign points to the listed advantages of each eReader¬†according to what features you value and figure out what is better for you.” To “switch11”, whoever you are, you are my hero. Be sure to read the comments – they add tremendous value to an already comprehensive review.

Review of the eReader experience: http://ireaderreview.com/2009/09/04/kindle-2-review/

Kindle vs. Nook, Take 1: http://ireaderreview.com/2009/10/20/kindle-nook-comparison/

Kindle vs. Nook, Take 2: http://ireaderreview.com/2009/11/24/nook-vs-kindle-review/

As I pondered these write-ups, I concluded that the best thing about the Nook is that it got the Kindle developers off their butts – price went down, battery life went up, and PDF support appeared, all not long after the announcement of the Nook features. As I’ve already mentioned, competition (in technology) is good.

So the decision is made. I like that I can bookmark or stop reading on one device and have it carry over to another. I’m thrilled that with the Kindle, I can charge through a USB cable from a 12V power source (the Nook requires AC power). I’ll be able to instantly look up words/names on Wikipedia, and really, what’s the point of built-in WiFi (Nook) without any sort of browser? And as much as I was compelled by the memory micro-SD expansion slot on the Nook, I have to agree with one commenter – I’m not buying it to be an MP3 player, and isn’t 1500 books enough?

Now, on to Facebook, where I learned things about eReaders that I had not considered. For instance:

“Another downside for the Kindle: If you step on a book, you might rip the cover off. If you step on your Kindle you’re out $300 :(” Followed shortly thereafter (by the same poster) with: “Kindle support rocks! They’re sending me a new kindle by tomorrow! :o”

Seriously? You step on your Kindle and they send you a new one? Her response to that: “Well it MIGHT be possible that I forgot to mention foot involvement when I called them….”

Several other commentors echoed the same sentiments about Amazon’s customer service regarding damaged units (which seem most commonly to involve crushing, flinging, and drowning – I hope chewing is also covered), leading me to conclude that the hardware is actually just a loss-leader – the true revenue stems from the ease of buying content. Or as another friend puts it, “I really like my Kindle, particularly when I’m travelling. The only drawback is that it’s too easy to purchase books!” Yes, registration of the Kindle automatically ties to your Amazon account / credit card. At $6-$10 per title with easy search and instant download, I can only say this: Cha-ching. Makes iTunes look like pocket change.

I don’t expect the Kindle to replace our current reading habits, merely to supplement and provide options, primarily for traveling. Reference and non-fiction books with extensive photos and maps will still have their place on the bookshelf. And until they sort out the search features, we’ll still need indexes and Google.

As we continue down this path, I also think that Amazon may have to consider creative pricing opportunities. For instance (and these are just off the top of my head):

  • Buy the Kindle version and get the print version for 25% more (or vice versa).
  • Provide subscription options (modeled after Rhapsody-To-Go) – i.e. 30 day ‘rental’ period for some percentage of the purchase price. DRM is already built-in so this shouldn’t be too difficult.
  • Allow your friends with Kindles to “Buy” (i.e. Transfer) your purchases to their own devices for a discounted rate (which would put Amazon back into the secondary book market).

I should clarify that I haven’t actually touched my new Kindle. It is being shipped to Rich in Colorado, so that he might enjoy the benefits on his Amtrak ride home next weekend. But we have already purchased three books that are queued up for download the second he turns it on and registers it. I’ll let you know how it goes.