Web/Tech

Thoughts on the Kindle’s Present and Future

57033DD2-D11C-44F6-87B0-2DCFBAA15356

I've been meaning to write about the things I want to see in a new Kindle for awhile. This post has been percolating in my head for so long, in fact, that a new Kindle Oasis was released awhile back.

Thoughts about the new Kindle Oasis

Of course I ordered the new Oasis as soon as it was available (after checking with Marisa, of course!) and I just finished reading a book on it (The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, which is excellent) so I feel like I can have an opinion about it. This version takes my favorite Kindle ever, the Oasis, and improves it slightly which means it is now my favorite Kindle ever.

This version doesn't add too many new features, but the additons are nice:

  • A few more LEDs for more even lighting, which is the best feature if you ask me.
  • Adjustable screen color temperature so you can make the light warmer or cooler depending on your preference. At the moment you have to set the screen warmth manually which is fine, but I'd rather have an automatic setting that adjusts it based on the light it senses.

If you want to read a more robust review of the Oasis check out my pal Jason Snell's review. I pretty much agree with him on all points, including the fact that most people should just get a Paperwhite.

Features I’d like to see in the next Kindle

Before I share my list of desired features let me say right up front that I have no idea if any of these are feasible (well, I know some are!). That’s the lovely thing about making a list like this: I don’t have to figure out how to do it, I just know I want them!

With that out of the way, here’s my list:

  • No more “Special Offers” - That’s what Amazon calls the ads displayed on locked Kindles. Sure, you can pay $20 to get rid of them, but I can’t imagine they are making much money for Amazon and while they are just a minor annoyance a Kindle sans Special Offers is just nicer. Why? With Special Offers you have to wake your Kindle and then swipe to start reading. Without, you just wake it up and read. Not a big deal, but a slightly nicer experience.
  • Display the current book’s cover as the lock screen - The Kobo already does this, and I assume Amazon doesn’t do it because of the aforementioned Special Offers, but I think it’d be neat. Also, I’d like to see the covers of the books I’m reading a little more often.
  • Built in kick stand ala the Surface Pro/Go - Those members of Microsoft’s Surface lineup sport impressive hardware. One of the best aspects of the design is a very cool, and useful, kickstand on the back of the tablet/laptop. Amazon used to have a cover that would fold into a stand, but it was stuck at one angle. An integrated stand would allow you to adjust the angle to your liking.
  • Ability to lend people ebooks easily - Did you know you can lend people select Kindle books? That selection is rather meager, which I’m going to guess is because of publisher limitations (though I’m sure Amazon would rather you buy all your books). I’d like to see the number of books you can lend increase, and I’d like the process to be as easy as the Family Library feature (which is great! Marisa and I can see all of one another’s books on our Kindles. It is pretty damn sweet).
  • Browse library books from the device - Once again Amazon is in the business of selling you Kindle books, so they probably aren’t too interested in this. However, it would be nice if you could browse/borrow library books directly from the Kindle (you can do this on a Kobo, though that makes sense since Kobos are made by the same company that owns/runs Overdrive which many libraries use to power their ebook lending systems). I will say that if your library is an Overdrive library you should download Libby. It is a much better way to search the catalog and you can send books from Libby to your Kindle with a couple of taps (in the US only).
  • Tap to Wake - When someone comes up with a good feature you should... borrow it. iOS sports “Tap to Wake” which lets you tap on the screen to check notifications. It is something I use all the time, and I’d love to see it on my Kindle with a slight modification: “Tap to unlock.” Just tap on the screen (assuming it is displaying the Kindle lock screen) and you’re taken right to the last thing you were doing on your Kindle.
  • Eye Tracking - This one may be the least feasible, but the one that would improve my life the most. These days I’m using my Kindle more and more with just one hand. The great thing about the Oasis is that I can just keep my thumb on the next page and press it when I need to without disturbing the baby that is sleeping in my arms. But I’m lazy and I’d like to do even less to turn the page. It would be cool if the Kindle could track my eyes and know when I got to the end of the page and automatically turn the page. And if I wanted to turn back a page I could stare at the upper left hand corner of the page and back I go.
  • Faster, higher resolution screen - This is obvious but I feel like I should include it!

Will we see anything like this in the next Kindle? I have no idea! Will I still buy whatever Kindle they come out with? Probably.

Is the Kindle mediocre?

As I was writing this Jason wrote a post lamenting the Kindle’s current status and its boring future (i.e. more of the same).

Usually, I agree with Jason but this time we are in differing schools on one particular point. I would like Amazon to stick to making the Kindle disappear while you’re reading a book. Nothing too flashy is needed when it is just a container for whatever book you might be reading.

Jason suggests that perhaps Amazon missed an opportunity to make the Kindle a hub of all the text people read by offering up apps (from The NY Times and other publishers) from an App Store (I assume). That would make me sad. Several years ago I wrote about how much I liked the fact that the Kindle really one does on thing well: allows you to read a book without distraction.

I can see the allure of adding apps to the Kindle but I think that would be contrary to the entire reason the Kindle exists. Now, a Kindle Fire sporting a color eInk screen is something that I could really get into (which would include the Kindle app, and several other apps).

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement with how the Kindle handles reading books, I’d just hate to see the Kindle lose focus on that (though, admittedly, Amazon doesn’t seem all that focuses on pushing the state of the art with the Kindle which is Jason’s main thesis... and one that brings us back into agreement. Hurrah! I don’t like it when we fight).


So many streaming services, and yet I end up watching episodes of Columbo and old game shows

ADA59C25-6578-4914-B1E5-0CAEA330CD90

We live in a world where it made sense to me to pay for 3 years of a service up front despite the fact that:

  • I’ve never used the service, nor has anyone else.
  • I won’t be able to use it for 75 days or so.

You see, Disney will be launching their streaming service, Disney+, in November and I’ve already paid for 3 years of it.

Why?

Well, they very cleverly are offering a discount for folks who sign up early. If you prepay for 3 years it costs $4 a month, which is a steal given the amount of content they will be offering via the service.

Now, I’d like to say I signed up because I have kids now, but truth be told I would have signed up anyway so why not save a few bucks!

With the addition of Disney+ this brings my current video subscriptions to:

  • Xfinity (Comcast by another name)
  • Amazon Prime (Included with our Prime membership)
  • Netflix (I remember when I’d get DVDs!)
  • Hulu (Signed up for this because Marisa wanted to watch some shows)
  • CBS All Access (Star Trek, of course)
  • Acorn TV (We watch a lot of Acorn TV, to be honest)
  • PBS Passport (Included with our PBS membership and a very nice perk)
  • BritBox (signed up for a preview to watch the latest season of Shetland [which was quite good] and I think we’ll keep it)
  • Disney+

And I watch these services using a variety of devices:

  • TiVo Roamio (Xfinity, Amazon, BritBox, CBS All Access, Netflix)
  • Roku (Same as above with the addition of Xfinity On Demand and Acorn TV)
  • My iPad (Mostly when I’m at the gym though I imagine I’ll use it more when little kids are sleeping!)

I enjoy the flexibilty and range of content these services offer, but it ends up being a mess of logins, subscriptions, and supported devices that make finding what you want to watch when you want to watch it just a tad frustrating.

Though I’m looking forward to adding Disney+ to the mix.


iPad Lockscreen: wasted real estate

On that latest episode of Upgrade a listener asked Jason and Myke how often they change the wallpaper on their various devices (Mac and iOS).

This got me to thinking about my lovely iPad Pro’s screen and how I couldn’t even remember what my lock screen wallpaper was set to. For the record this is it:

2E12BA2B-F51A-4BC0-BDD7-B881B66A6593

That's one of the stock animated options. Cool.

Inspiration

Now that I’m a father of twin boys (yes, this is turning into a daddy blog! 🙄) I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of babies - 1,028 pictures over the last 5 weeks to be exact.

I’ve long resisted giving Apple money for more iCloud storage since I have a ridiculous amount of Dropbox storage, but a shared Photo Album seemed like the easiest way to share all these pics with Marisa and vice versa. Turns out it is! The process is dead simple and working quite well.

Which lead me to thinking about that darn iPad lockscreen.

Feature idea

Now that I’m using Photos more heavily I've noticed the “machine learning” albums that Photos dynamically generates for you tucked in the “For You” section of the app.

If you aren’t familiar, using some sort of techno-magic the Photos app creates slideshows based on photos it thinks go together (they are taken on the same date or in the same place, or feature the same people). Then you can play them, with some music, for a stroll down memory lane. You can even edit the display options to customize the show to your liking.

Here’s a screenshot of some albums created for me:

A3418736-D107-4569-86E8-973A0A45F2D2

These are neat, but what I’d really like is to be able to display either a specific photo album or a generated one on my iPad's lockscreen.

Sure, I don’t stare at my lock screen for long stretches of time but it would be lovely to have a different picture (or montage of pictures) show up each time I wake up my iPad. I think it would add a little delight and whimsy to my iPad. And you could have have a setting that turns the iPad into a very expensive digital frame!

Genius, right?


Yes, I bought the new Kindle Oasis (third-generation)

Scottkindles

Why? Because I love Kindles, silly!

I won't be writing a review of it because I'm lazy and tending to some tiny helpless people, but I will point you to my pal Jason Snell's Kindle Oasis review:

Yes, the $120 Paperwhite is the better buy. But the Kindle Oasis is a great splurge for people who simply want the best ebook reading experience around and don’t really mind that it costs twice as much as the step-down alternative.

He and I are very much of the same opinion about the Oasis (this one, and the previous version): they are fantastic but most people should just get the cheaper Paperwhite.


Get in my Wallet

4E0A9D05-506E-4F81-8FAB-6AB403D38C89Whenever I pay for something with my iPhone I feel like I’m living in the future, but I’m also slightly saddened. Why? Because of unrealized potential.

What the hell am I talking about?

Having my credit cards, plane tickets, and rewards cards in the Wallet app is great but there are two cards I use much more often that I just can’t cram into that Wallet:

  • My library card
  • The ID card that I need to show to get into my building

The Free Library of Philadelphia is a wonderful institution. I borrow far more books than I should, I walk to the main library a few times a week, and I even donate money since I love it so much. However, it doesn’t have the resources to create whatever app thingie they’d need to do to make it easy for me to get my library card into the Wallet app.

My library card is basically a vehicle for the barcode that I need to scan to take a book out. The library won’t be creating an app for me to load the card into my Wallet, but they do let me download a graphic that sports the very barcode I need to scan. I’ve saved this image in my photo roll and I can just scan my iPhone at the checkout kiosk and I’m good to go. So close.

The building I live in requires residents to show an ID card to the guard before you can get into the elevator. This isn’t a high tech process, people. Fulltime residents get a laminated card with their pictures on it and visitors (I.e. people who don’t have their names on a deed of an apartment) have heavy card stock passes which sport that year’s color. Show the pass, get on the elevator.

A few years ago it was decided that you don’t have to show the actual card anymore (you know where this is going) but you can show a picture of your card on your smartphone. This has lead to people in the building making their iPhone’s lock screen a picture of their membership card. This makes me sad.

Wallet Nirvana

The solution to this is simple: the ability to put arbitrary images into the Wallet app. There are a few services out there that claim to make it easy for you to create your own Wallet cards… but I couldn’t get them to work. My sadness continues.

Now, this is the point at which you, dear reader, think to yourself, “Scott, you’re dumb! Why don’t you just use this simple thing that does exactly what you want!”

At least I hope that’s what you’re thinking because I want that thing! Tell me about it! And I’ll use it, and my sadness will end.

For now.


iOS 12

IMG 7844I'm a gadget guy, and I like to live on the edge. Therefore, I installed iOS 12 on my iPhone as soon as it became available (iOS is the software that powers your iPhone).

After reading a few reviews, I was expecting to be impressed. Or at least to notice... something. I do like the grouped notifications... kind of. But that's really the only thing I've noticed (but I did create a a "Memoji" because of course I did).

I will say that iOS 12 makes me glad that I don't have to spend my time writing about iOS 12.


I bought a new computer!

About This Mac


I didn't really need a new computer, but that's never stopped me before!

When the new iMac Pro started shipping it made me think about when I bought my current computer. Turns out I bought it on Nov. 30th, 2012 (Gmail remembers all!).

5 years seemed like a good run for my iMac, so I bought a new iMac (not the Pro because I'm not a madman).

I really like it. The only difference I experience is that is much faster. It looks exactly like my old iMac, and all my stuff works with it so I'm a happy camper.

Though, really, that 5 year old iMac was just fine. But this is just finer.


Welcome, MarsEdit 4

MarseditI'm certain the vast majority of posts I've written here have been composedMarsEdit, and now there is a new version!

I happily paid to upgrade... now if only MarsEdit could somehow get me to write more!

Here are some posts I have been thinking about writing, instead of writing:

  • An update on my weight loss
  • The backlog of book reviews
  • Fibit Ionic review
  • Kindle Oasis review (usually I chat about this on my friend Jason's podcast, but that didn't happen this year... so maybe I'll write about it?)
  • Best books of the year read by me (I always feel like I shouldn't do this one until 2018, but then I think perhaps someone would want to buy the books I recommend. Then I remember that no one is reading this blog so it doesn't really matter what I do!)

And that's just off the top of my head! So why haven't I been writing? I dunno. Reading is so much easier, I guess!

Anyway, hurrah for MarsEdit 4.0. I dig the snazzy new icon


Wait, that's a quote about Windows?

Dieter Bohn in his review of the Surface Laptop (which looks pretty neat):
One small note for potential Mac switchers: even though I find many of the third-party apps on Windows deficient compared to their Mac equivalents, the gap is closing. And Microsoft's own apps like Mail and Calendar are quite good.
We've come a long, long way when someone reviewing a Windows machine mentions that Mac users won't have too much trouble finding replacement apps on Windows. What a world!

2016 Year in Review: Mulitport chargers

Scottchargers

I love gadgets, but I hate charging them. I contain multitudes.

This year marks a turning point in my charging life; I kicked individual chargers to the curb and picked up two multiport chargers. I'm never looking back (expect for this post).

On the left in the image above is the Anker PowerPort 4 which I keep plugged into a powerstrip next to my bed. I plug in my Apple Watch charger, an iPhone charger, and a microUSB cable for charging either my Kindle or Fire. It is fantastic. And when I travel I just unplug it, wrap the cables around it, and pop it into my backpack. This way I don't forget any charging cables or adapters.

On the right you see the PowerPort 5 USB-C I have affixed to my sidetable in the living room. I use it to charge my iPad Pro, iPhone, Kindle/Fire, and best of all: my MacBook. This allows me to keep a computer charger in my bag and not clutter up the living room.

Lest you think I tested a boatload of chargers before getting these, I didn't. I did, however, read this Wirecutter article.


Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.



The wire is part of the design

AirpodsnarkMy buddy Jason Snell has written a great review of the Apple AirPods. You know, the Bluetooth earbuds that are totally wireless, not even a wire to connect the two to one another.

He likes them, and says:

Fundamentally, earbuds deserved to be treated as individual objects, not tethered together. That’s the premise of the AirPods as well as several other wireless earbuds of this type. Each earbud is its own separate entity, so you can stick one or both in your ears and truly say goodbye to dangling wires.

I haven't used the AirPods, but based on my usage of my current set of Bluetooth earbuds (a pair of discontinued Jaybirds)this fundamental idea behind the product means I won't ever be buying a pair for myself.


Jaybird

That wire between the two buds allows me to rip them out of my ears and just drop them. They dangle from my neck without me having to worry about putting them somewhere.

"But, Scott, how often do you actually do that?"

Everytime I use the darned things! Generally, I'm rocking the JayBirds when I'm working out. I get super sweaty and at the end of the workout I just want the damned earbuds out of my ears where they are acting like tiny dams for the sweat that has dripped all over my ears (gross, right? But it is the truth!).

That wire is a feature, not a bug. Oh, and the little control lozenge on the wire allows for me to change the volume of my iPhone even when I don't have a network connection (the AirPods rely on Siri to do this, and if you don't have a network connection Siri doesn't work). Magic!

So I won't be buying AirPods, because they don't meet my needs. And that's ok, not every product is designed for my use cases (if they were a lot more things would be available with orange as a color option).


2016 in Review: Scott's favorite wifi router - Orbi

Orbi

When it became clear that my Airport Extreme was on the way out (RIP, Airport Extreme) I had to decide if I should just get another one or opt for a different WiFi router. Being the clever consumer that I am I sensed Apple's lack of commitment to their AirPort (and I was right!) so I went for something new and exciting.

I did what I always do and went to the Wirecutter and bought the WiFi router they recommended for most people. For whatever reason, when I set that router up half of my devices stopped working. So I returned it and bought the router the they recommended if you wanted all the bells and whistles (assuming that it was the lack of bells and/or whistles that was the stumbling block). Sadly, that router also ended up creating a network that some devices wouldn't connect to (though different devices this time). I should point out that I don't think the Wirecutter is wrong to recommend these routers; I have my network configured in a slightly odd way which I am sure is the real culprit.

After I returned the second router, and set the AirPort Extreme back up, I decided to go with Netgear's Orbi. At this point I had read a lot about it, but it wasn't actually available for purchase.

As soon as it became available I bought an Orbi (well, two Orbis in one package) and I am very very happy with it. I plugged it in, rebooted my Comcast router and everything worked right off the bat.

Sure, it is a little expensive but this router is easy to set up, it is super fast, and best of all both Orbis sport ethernet ports.

Now, this isn't a highly technical review or anything like that. I just like the Orbi and it is doing a great job!

I suppose I should explain what the heck the Orbi is. It is one of a new generation of WiFi routers that use a mesh network to create one wifi network using a few routers that you place throughout your house. The mesh network allows the routers to talk to one another, and make sure that your entire house is bathed in sweet, sweet WiFi.

The main reason I went with the Orbi is not only does the main Orbi (the one you connect to your internet connection like a traditional router) sport 4 ethernet ports (a WAN port for plugging in your internet and 3 LAN ports for ethernet cables to your stuff) but the satellite Orbi (the one you place in a different room to extend the network further) also has 4 ethernet ports. This allowed me to simplify my home network by getting rid of an ethernet cable I had running into the den and a few dumb switches to boot.

At this point I should say that Netgear did have an issue where some of their routers had a serious vulnerability. They've released an update, but the Orbi didn't have this vulnerability. And best of all the Orbi automatically updates its firmware, so you don't have to try and remember to do it manually (as if anyone does that!).

Orbiports

The web admin interface is pretty nice too:

Orbiadmin

It seems I have 23 devices on my network at this moment:

Orbidevices

But is it fast? I ran a couple of speed tests from my MacBook and it is pretty darned fast.

Speedtest by Ookla says:


Ookla

The Xfinity speedtest reports:

Xfinityspeedtest

And Fast.com (Netflix's speed test) agrees:


Fasttest

There are other mesh WiFi routers that offer more software features, but I'm glad I went with the Orbi because all I wanted was a network that was easy to setup and fast enough for all our streaming needs. The Orbi covers that easily.

And just to close the loop, The Wirecutter agrees with me! What a nice little coda, huh?

Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


Which Kindle should I buy as a gift this holiday season?

PaperwhiteYou'd be surprised at how often I'm asked which Kindle people should buy for their loved ones. The answer is simple: the Paperwhite (without ads).

Why the Paperwhite?

Because:

  • The only thing that really matters is the screen, and the Paperwhite has the same screen as found in the two pricier Kindles (the Voyage and the Oasis).
  • The screen lights up. Any reader will love this feature.
  • It feels sturdy and good in your hand, which is important for a device you're going to be holding for awhile.

But what if I'm a big spender and I want to impress my loved one?

If you're looking to splurge I'd say the Oasis is your best bet. The screen is just like the Paperwhite and the Voyage, but this thing is super light. I mean, like crazy light (especially without the battery cover). It lasts forever, and the cover is fun to click on and off.

All that's great, but the biggest reason to get the Oasis over the Voyager has a big impact on the reading experience: page turn buttons. The Voyage has areas that are kind of like buttons. You squeeze them and the page turns. They're better than not having any buttons but the Oasis' actual buttons are far superior.

What if my loved one hates Amazon but loves ePubs?

Then the Kindle is right out, isn't it? This seems like an edge case, but if that's the edge your loved one lives on get them a Kobo aura H20.

I like many of Kobo's interface touches more than what you'll find on any Kindle (shocking, I know), and being able to take a bath with your ereader without putting it in a plastic bag is pretty great.

Why don't I recommend a Kobo over the Kindle if I love it so much? Getting books on the darn thing isn't hard, exactly, but it is much harder than the process on the Kindle.

Should I get someone a nook?

No.

I had high hopes for the nook line, and I actually quite like the Nook Glowlight Plus, but I can't recommend them as gifts. Why? Because I get the feeling that Barnes and Noble isn't going to be keeping them around for much longer. I could be wrong, but I wouldn't want to saddle anyone with an eReader without a store.


MacOS Sierra, a not review

I've installed the latest and greatest MacOS on both my MacBook and my iMac (that's Sierra for you folks keeping score). This update continues the trend of MacOS updates which seemingly offer few new features that I either notice or use.

Honestly, I've only noticed two new things (yes, I know there are more than that). Here are my thoughts on them:

Siri

SiriI like the Siri icon, but Siri on Sierra just gives more places on which to not use Siri.

My first attempt to use Siri on my Mac (to find images of kittens dresses as puppies) failed. And when I tried to find the current temperature using Siri on my iMac it told me I had to turn on WiFi first (so Siri could determine where I was).

I know Siri can do many things, I just don't want to talk to my computer. Call me crazy!

I do, however, want to talk to black cylinders so I'll just continue to ask Alexa. I even bought one of them fancy new Dots for the den (where my iMac is) for this very reason.


Stand up, Volume changer, you're on the job!

Badsierra

The only other thing I've noticed is the new horizontal orientation for the volume slider. This is a minor change and I hate it very much.

In Summary

Sierra is pretty much like the last few OS updates: it continues to do what I need to do without much fuss and it adds features I have little to no need for. It is a free update though, so I don't mind.


It's a nice day for a White Kindle

Whitekindles

You can finally buy a Kindle, or a Kindle Paperwhite, in white (again). I'm not sure why you'd want a white Kindle since I think the gray/black helps the Kindle fade into the background when you're reading but I'm not the boss of you.

Also of note, the new base level Kindle ($79) has Bluetooth; the first Kindle to sport this. Generally I tell people NOT to buy the base level Kindle since the Paperwhite is so much better and not that much more expensive, however, if your vision is impaired, or you like your Kindles to read to you, you should totally get the base level Kindle. You can pair it with some Bluetooth headphones and listen away to your books.

Of course, my Kindle of choice is the crazy expensive Oasis. You can hear me ramble on about it on episode 87 of Upgrade.


I heart Amazon Music

I've given up on using Apple's large scale web services long ago (this includes, but is not limited to, iCards, iCloud, and Apple Music). I get most of what I need in these areas from Amazon.

Looks like Apple managed to get international man of misery (I kid, I kid) Joe Steel to take a look at Amazon Music, and he likes it!:

Sour Note:

Amazon Music is like, ‘Hey bro, you probably just want to listen to music. The lyrics are pretty sweet, so I’ll leave them here if you want those too, bro.’ and I’m all like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know it could be like this.’ and Amazon Music is all, ‘Totes.’

X-Ray lyrics are pretty cool on the app and even more fun on the FireTV.


A world of technology, but I don't use email

Now, I'm no politics junkie, but I am a tech junkie. Here's a story about Philly's City elections chief planning to cash in on a pension plan.

People are upset because he never shows up at his office, or bothers to vote. That's not cool, but surely Clark can stay connected with a computer, smartphone, and an email account. Hmm, perhaps not so much the computer or email:

Clark said he does not use email and has no city-issued cellphone, but uses his personal phone to check in with his staff. He also reiterated his defense of working away from the office, saying, 'As an elected official, you get called to do different things. You're not just sitting at the desk. This is a world of technology; I'm always in communication.'


I guess he calls his office a lot? And talks to whoever in his office gets the emails that should be going to him but don't because he doesn't use email?

A world of technology, indeed.