Apple

I officially love the Kindle Fire

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I’ve been a gadget nerd for close to forever now. Most of the time, I’m carrying an iPod Touch in one pocket, a BlackBerry in another and my laptop in my bag. I actually own three laptops, an iPad and a desktop. I’ve got a DS, a Wii and an Xbox 360 (with Kinect, thank you).

My newest and most favorite gadget is the Kindle Fire. It has joined the elite group of gadgets I carry with me at all times, and I use it more than any other gadget in my collection.

If you’re wondering whether you should get one, the answer is yes.

Here’s what I love about it:

1. No Apple. My biggest frustration with the iPad and iPod Touch is Apple, and my inability to do what I want with my devices. I can’t understand Apple’s app approval process, either. While we’re told it is to ensure we get the best apps, the App Store is chock full of garbage. The Kindle has a different master — Amazon — but I’ve been in Apple land so long that it just feels good to get out.

2. Android. The Kindle Fire runs a heavily modified version of Google’s Android operating system. It’s easy to use, responsive, and generally makes lots of sense. The Kindle doesn’t seem to get bogged down and clunky the way early-gen Android phones did. After a few days of interacting with the Fire, iOS started to look its age — old and outdated, by tech standards.

3. Form. The Kindle Fire is the perfect size. I’ve spent quite a lot of time going from iPad to iPod, frustrated that one is too big and the other is too small. The iPad is just too heavy and bulky and slippery to be used comfortably as a reader. And playing games that require two hands in nearly impossible. The iPod Touch is nice for playing some games, but too small to be a reader. I use my devices often for Netflix and YouTube. While Netflix looks great on the iPad, you need to prop the iPad up or suffer carpal tunnel syndrome. The iPod Touch is so small that you’ll need to hold it fairly close in order to enjoy what you’re watching. The Kindle fire, however, can be comfortably held in one hand at a distance that isn’t awkward. In addition, the non-slip back on the Kindle Fire makes it easier and more comfortable to hold.

4. Amazon. If Apple’s iTunes and App Store have any competition, it’s Amazon. The Amazon Marketplace includes apps, music, movies, books — in short, all the media you care to consume is right there for the taking. And there’s plenty of free content as well, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member. The Kindle makes it easy to shop Amazon for non-digital items, too.

5. Price. Without a doubt, the Kindle is the best value on the market. Yes, it’s less powerful than the iPad. It’s smaller, it doesn’t have the fancy screen resolution, and it isn’t made by Apple. But at $200, you can get two Kindle Fires for the price of one low-end iPad, and still have $100 left over. Better yet, consider the annual updates Apple makes to the iPad. If you were to buy a new iPad each year for five years, you’d shell out $2,500. Five Kindle Fires? $1,000. Considering that this is the first edition of the Kindle Fire, I have to assume there are many improvements to come. Frankly, I don’t mind dropping a couple hundred dollars each year to get a new Fire. An iPad? It just isn’t worth the money.

 

It isn’t all roses, however. Here are a few things I dislike about the Fire:

1. Amazon. I really dislike being locked into any single ecosystem, which is why I’m one of the few dinosaurs who still carries a BlackBerry. I enjoy tinkering and playing with free apps found out in the wild. I’m smart enough to mess with my devices without messing them up. I don’t want to have to jailbreak a device in order to get it to do what I want. Amazon’s decision to lock the Kindle into its own ecosystem, for me, causes problems like….

2. Access. There’s no Facebook app for the Kindle Fire, but the Fire comes loaded with a nifty Facebook icon right on the home screen — cleverly added to your favorites — that links you to Facebook’s mobile site. There is, however, a Facebook app for Android. Unfortunately, you can’t get it, because it isn’t in the Amazon Marketplace. But there’s a Twitter app, which works quite well. The problem here is that Amazon obviously picked a favorite by including Facebook in the favorites, even though there’s no dedicated app available. And Facebook, thinking you’re running a regular Android device, prompts you regularly to download its Android app — which doesn’t exist on the Marketplace, and therefore can’t be installed. Amazon needs to fix such things. To me, this is clearly the biggest frustration.

3. Options. There really needs to be a 3G option here. I generally use my Kindle at home, but I’d love for it to be more portable. Unfortunately, when I’m on the go, I find myself forced to reach for my BlackBerry for Internet access, when I’d really like to grab the Fire. That being said, I could easily get around the problem with a mobile hotspot — which is likely what I’ll do.

4. Carousel. I don’t even know what it’s supposed to do. I thought at first that it was for negotiating through open programs. It seems, however, to be a running history of what you’ve recently had open. That’s okay, but I’d like the ability to change its function, so it doesn’t keep everything. If there’s already a dedicated link (like the web) or there’s already a favorite, why clutter up the carousel with those things? It looks neat, but functions…meh.

 

Anyone who is in the market for a tablet needs to understand an important point: Tablets are for consuming, not creating. A tablet is a great device to use if you’re watching video, surfing the net, reading a book, playing games. But it is a miserable device to use for actually working on. Typing on the iPad or Kindle is awful. Both have unfortunate autocorrect issues. Both are uncomfortable and inefficient. Both are terrible for editing text. But neither is truly meant for that. They’re meant to be used for consuming information, for flipping through photos, for reading. Apple markets the iPad otherwise, but I can’t imagine editing a book or writing anything longer than a short email on an iPad. Drawing? Maybe. Creating music? Perhaps. But most humans don’t work in creative fields; standard office work with a tablet is not a good time.

So that’s my take on it. If you want a tablet, go with the Kindle Fire. Simple as that.

 

 

The iPad is not a game changer. Get over it.

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I’m writing this from my brand-new netbook, which shows you exactly how useful and user friendly I find the iPad, and how excited I am that a new iPad is just days away.

You may recall that I mocked the iPad a bit at its launch, pointing out nine things the iPad couldn’t do. But I bought one anyway, knowing the limitations, because it felt wrong to trash a device I never used. Perhaps, I reasoned, I was missing something about the overall experience. And I believe in giving devices the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve been living with the iPad now for about two months, and I can tell you that not only has life with the iPad confirmed everything I wrote at launch, but the device is actually less useful than I expected. In many ways, it’s just plain worse than I imagined.

First off, it just stinks to type on. The on-screen keyboard is a miserable experience for a touch typist. Yes, it gets better with practice. But I shouldn’t HAVE to practice typing. I know how to type already. That means e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, document creation and editing are all miserable. Any time I have to type on the iPad — even just typing URLs and search terms — I cringe. Apple has not improved on the keyboard. At all.

Secondly, you really have no idea how much Internet you’re missing without Flash until you try running a device without Flash. And there’s a lot of Internet out there that the iPad just can’t display. A lot of that content is Flash video; on the iPad, you get nothing but YouTube and whatever video you find in apps made specifically for iPad. The most annoying thing ever? The e-mail from a friend, linking you to a video…that you can’t watch.

But at least you’ve got YouTube, right? At the iPad launch, Steve Jobs said YouTube “shines” on the iPad. Well…not quite. You actually don’t even get all of YouTube on the iPad; instead, you get only what’s available on the YouTube mobile site. That means unless a video uploader has specifically chosen to make their videos available for mobile devices, you won’t see it. Videos from Vevo don’t even show up in search results. And worse? No device I own has a tougher time playing YouTube videos. The constant halting and buffering is enough to make me curse Steve Jobs at the top of my lungs, out of pure frustration (I actually yell “JOOOBBBBSSS!!!). And I can’t even choose which resolution to watch those videos in.

The only thing I’ve found pleasurable on the iPad is gaming. And only casual games, at that. Angry Birds and Cut the Rope are fun, easy time wasters. I enjoy Doodle Fit, a couple of air hockey apps, checkers. But more intense gaming that requires using on-screen joystick controls is nearly impossible. Games like Super Fly, Mortal Kombat and Back Breaker are difficult to impossible. And the entire device is too heavy to hold comfortably.

Frankly, the iPad just doesn’t do anything it does better than any other device. The Nintendo DS is a better, more portable and cheaper gaming device. My netbook is better at surfing the net, composing and reading e-mail, watching video, and generally, well, everything. It’s just about the same size as an iPad when closed up, and it cost me half what the iPad set me back.

The new iPad addresses some of the shortcomings of the original. It includes cameras, a dual-core processor, HDMI out. But it doesn’t address the fundamental issues: The iPad is not useful enough to be a must-have device. In fact, I pick mine up rarely anymore. And that only to play a quick game or watch YouTube video.

Apple has shipped a lot of iPads, and they’ll ship a lot more in the coming year. A trip to any computer store will show you that the netbook market has eroded (I haven’t seen anything other than Acer Aspire One models in ages). My fear is that netbooks will soon go the way of the dodo, based purely on the “oh gosh” factor of the iPad. Thanks to its price and “magical”-ness (read: marketing), the iPad is one of those devices people desire. Unfortunately, it’s a disappointing little beast.

That’s not to say the iPad is all bad. I see plenty of ways businesses — especially sales professionals — could use it. But for me, still, it just isn’t right.

Don’t ignore the PlayBook.

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I’m a bit of a BlackBerry fanboy at this point. I can’t imagine life without my Torch.

These days, I find myself most frustrated by the jabs RIM takes for not being innovative enough, or when bloggers write that RIM is struggling for mindshare or fighting an uphill battle to remain relevant. It frustrates me most because these bloggers might be tech heads, but few of them are using BlackBerrys and even fewer know just how great the new Torch really is.

I’ll reiterate: I own a brand-new iPod Touch. I know what it does and how it works. I think it’s a great device. I’ve also played with several Android phones and flavors. I even successfully rooted and manually installed Froyo on a MyTouch 3G. I’m a gadget nerd. I’m tough on my technology and I tend not to overlook a device’s shortcomings.

These days, I’m excited about the new BlackBerry PlayBook, an iPad rival I’m hoping to get my hands on pretty soon.

First thing I want to get out of the way: the name.

Bloggers say the name is too cute for a BlackBerry device…because BlackBerrys are for business rather than play. Point taken. Except my BlackBerry is filled with games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man and such. And I use it for YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and general web surfing. Plenty of playtime there. But even for the enterprise user, the name PlayBook works. It’s not random; playbooks are used by coaches and managers in sports. Unfortunately, the bloggers who take issue with the name are probably not sports fans. But the name PlayBook is pretty genius. It’s the device for the person who makes the decisions. It’s the place where the plans are kept. It’s the Bible of the sport. And, for crying out loud, have we forgotten what a terrible name iPad is?

On to the device itself:

First, RIM knows business better than anyone. And so the PlayBook will be enterprise ready, with full compatibility with BlackBerry Enterprise Server and corporate data access. All of that goes beyond what you’ll get with your iPad.

Web browsing? How about full Flash support and HTML 5? You’ll never get that on the iPad.

As for hardware, it’s got a dual-core processor and a GB of RAM. That’s more powerful than my netbook. So you’ll get real multitasking. You’ll get speed. You’ll get the experience you expect from a computer.

Multimedia: Apple loves to brag about the multimedia experience on the iPad and iPhone. Frankly, I find the interface clunky and cumbersome. Whatever RIM comes up with can’t be far off. And judging by demos and pics I’ve seen, along with using my Torch, I think users will be pleasantly surprised.

And that brings us to the most important part: Apps.

Obviously, Apple is way ahead in the app game. There are a half million apps available for the iPhone and iPad. And that’s impressive. But the good news is most of those apps — the vast majority — are utterly useless. BlackBerry App World is finally starting to grow, and I believe many iPad and iPhone developers will begin making apps for BlackBerry devices, which will level the playing field. The really good news is that the developers who’ll do that won’t be the one-off crap game developers, but the big-time developers who create truly rich apps. BlackBerry users will benefit from that. And, frankly, I’d always rather have access to 20,000 good apps than 500,000 terrible ones.

Oh…but let’s not forget: Tethering and bluetooth so you can connect to the 3G network without another data plan; video conferencing; dual HD cameras (iPad has none); HDMI output…

Bottom line: Don’t ignore the PlayBook. It may actually be the best tablet available. RIM is showing it’s not just keeping up in this space, but proving it’s still a real player. Stay tuned.

Initial impressions: iPod Touch

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You may recall my iPod Touch debacle several months ago. After a little wrangling, it turns out the iPod was, after all, in need of a part Apple no longer has. So I was fortunate enough to get a nice check to put toward a brand-new iPod (or anything else I wanted).

I decided to wait for the newest iteration of the iPod touch — you know, the one with the camera, the Retina display and iOS 4. I picked one up Saturday and I’ve spent the weekend with it. My initial reactions follow…

Retina display
Obviously, this is the first and biggest thing Apple’s pushed for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Supposedly the best and most beautiful display ever on such a small device. My take? It’s okay. Yes, it’s pretty. Images are bright and sharp. But as I suspected, the Retina display is nearly unnecessary on such a small device. It doesn’t really add enough to the iPod experience to warrant the hype. Pretty, yes. Essential, no.

Camera
The dual cameras are the second biggest additions. I’ll admit it’s cool to have a camera and video camera in my pocket at all times. Problem with it is I already have both on my BlackBerry, so it becomes a bit redundant. I haven’t spent any time with the video editing capabilities, but I do a lot of video editing on the PC already. And I’m likely to continue doing so.

Facetime
First of all, I think Facetime is a great idea.  If you really want to see the person you’re talking to, Facetime will let you do that. But, as we’ve grown to expect from Apple, it doesn’t integrate with other video chat applications, such as Skype. That’s a shame. I’d much rather Apple can Facetime and run a really great Skype app. I can’t use Facetime because I have no friends on iPod Touch or iPhone…that sorta renders it useless to have.

Speed
Yes, the new  iPod Touch is faster and runs smoother than the old version. As always, it’s a pleasure to use on its own. There’s really not all that much to say here…we expect Apple products to work. It does. My old iPod Touch was my go-to gadget for that very reason. This one is every bit as good. But that’s really not good enough.

Bottom line
I like the iPod Touch. I really do. Over the summer, however, I learned to live without it. And I replaced the iPod Touch — at least most of it — with the BlackBerry Torch, which gives me web browsing that’s just as good, an e-mail experience that’s better, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that makes input way easier, and comparable YouTube surfing, media playback and more. Plus it makes phone calls.

The other thing I didn’t miss about the iPod? iTunes. Immediately upon plugging in the new iPod, I remembered just how much I detest the iTunes experience. Get this: On the BlackBerry, I can drag and drop files onto my media card, using the device as a drive. And they just show up where I want them. Though I can use media management software, it is not necessary. I couldn’t do a single thing on the new iPod without iTunes. And synching the apps I’d previously purchased was a nightmare — some 40 apps needed updating, and Apple wouldn’t let me download the updates without signing in with my Apple ID. Several of the apps had been removed from the app store, so I continue to be notified that they need updating, only to get another notifier that they can’t be found. And, as always, iTunes is so bloated and bulky that I’m running it on an old Windows XP machine with almost nothing else on it — it’s my iTunes machine — and iTunes brings the poor beast to its knees every time it launches.

Time will eventually tell if the iPod Touch finds its way into the same place in my daily routine that it used to have. For now, I feel the improvements are too slight to make it work the upgrade. And with the exploding smartphone market, Apple needs to step up its game if it intends to use iPod Touch as the cornerstone of its media player market.

iPhone app developers are crazy dopes

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iPhone hype drives me bonkers. To listen to the tech media, one would think iPhone isn’t just the best smartphone on the market, but the ONLY smartphone out there.

Without a doubt, iPhone changed the model that BlackBerry essentially created. With the touch of a screen, the remarkably productive e-mail, contacts and calendar gadget became an all-in-one multimedia juggernaut — one capable of surfing the web, playing video, gaming, and way more. And on top of that, iPhone was sexy. So, yeah…iPhone was a game changer.

But these days, the smartphone market is catching up or surpassing iPhone. RIM has done an incredible job with BlackBerry OS6. And Android just keeps getting better and better. So why the iPhone hype? Still? The answer is apps.

I love my BlackBerry Torch. The OS improvements are slick. The browser is fast and pretty. It does more of what I want, easier. The touch screen is nice, and adding the physical keyboard makes the whole device even better. I can text an e-mail with way more confidence than on a touchscreen alone. The problem is developers aren’t creating enough apps for BlackBerry. Sure, there are plenty of business apps out there. But there are very few games. And even fewer FUN games.

Android, unfortunately, is suffering the same trouble. Not enough apps and not enough good apps.

And that doesn’t make sense.

iPhone app developers are either crazy or stupid. At this point, they’re developing for the third most popular mobile operating system. More people own Android and BlackBerry OS devices than iPhones. I know. I was surprised too. And Android continues to surge upward. Why iPhone developers haven’t fled the iOS platform already is beyond me.

On top of that, iPhone developers serve at the mercy of Apple’s almighty app censors. So many great apps are denied admission to iTunes, or killed after they’ve already been there. The beauty of BlackBerry? You can get an app from anywhere you’d like. As a developer, you can sell an app for download from your website. And what’s RIM’s take? Nothing.

So…not only do iPhone developers build for the third-largest platform, but they’re building something they may never be allowed to sell, for a lower price than they could get selling on their own.

Also, take into account the vast number of apps available in iTunes already. You will never ever ever get  through them all. Ever. So these days, getting your app noticed is pure misery. It better be damned good. And it better be damned free, or close to it.

Consider this a call to all the iPhone app developers: Divert some attention to the big guys. you’ll find they’ve got good platforms, won’t screw up your ideas, and allow you to get paid whatever you want.

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