iOS6 Upgrade

Picture of the Verizon iPhone

Picture of the Verizon iPhoneUnless you’ve been on a desert island you know iOS6 is out now.

I upgraded both my iPhone 4S and iPad 3 on Thursday. While not completely uneventful it was relatively smooth. There were related Mountain Lion and Apple application upgrades on my Macs. In my case, it was iPhoto and Aperture that were upgraded. It took most of the evening to get everything upgraded although most of that was spent waiting, either for downloads or installs. I updated my iDevices directly, over wireless, rather than through iTunes. There’s also been a steady stream of iOS app upgrades since then.

So far I only had one real app problem, the UPS app crashed when trying to paste in tracking numbers. But that was fixed a couple days later with an upgrade.

My most serious problem is that my iPad 3 can no longer sync to iTunes over wireless. It just says it can’t find the computer when I tell it to sync. Of course, other apps can see the computer and transfer files to and from it. And my iPhone syncs to iTunes just fine. I’ve done the normal troubleshooting (reboots, re-enter settings, try a second wireless network, etc…) but haven’t dug into it. I don’t sync too often. iCloud backups work just fine.

Apple’s taking a lot of grief over the new Maps app. Based on the examples given it appears justified. The U.S. maps seem better than the rest of the world. They have the street I live on, they just don’t extend it as far as my house. Of course, my street closely parallels a second street once it reaches me, separated by a line of trees. The local directions seem fine. I already have another app I use for turn-by-turn so I haven’t tried the built in maps app for that. I never really used the old Google Maps app very much so the change is mostly unnoticed by me.

I like the “Do Not Disturb” feature, although I already keep most notifications off all the time anyway. I do wish there was a way to allow certain apps to alert all the time. Similar to the way “Favorite” callers aren’t blocked by DND. Guess we have to leave something for Apple to add in iOS 7.

The new Passbook started off by annoying me. It bumped an icon off my home screen to make room for itself. Then it didn’t properly link to the iTunes store  (which was the only action it would try to do) until I did this fix. Once I got into it I was underwhelmed by needing to install each vendors own iOS6 app to use passbook. The only other way to get info into Passbook was a 3rd party website. While it’s probably OK, the security implications limit its use.

I liked the clock app, especially on my iPad where it easily shows multiple times across the world. But I knew the clock face looked familiar.

I never found much use for Siri. I was more frustrating than useful. Being able to open apps by voice is a nice addition. Of course, the apps have to be pronounceable and real words, which isn’t always the case. (I’m looking at you Waze.) I may give Siri another tryout.

I can’t say I have an desire to get the iPhone 5. Sure, its better than th 4S that I have, but not so much better. The only hardware feature I would want is LTE, but for what I use the iPhone for now it’s not a big deal. My iPad has LTE so I can tether to it in a pinch. I also tend to do more web surfing on the iPad rather than the iPhone. My contract is up at the end of November which may be a good time shop for a phone. I’m not ruling out the iPhone 4S but it will be a tough sell. If I decide to stick with the iPhone I may just stick with the 4S for another year.

Anyone else upgraded to iOS6? How’d it go?

My iPad Goes Naked

iPad Smart Cover

iPad SmartCoverStephen Foskett has the iPad Smart Cover as #7 in his “Ten Terrible Apple Products” post. The timing coincided with my decision of the previous weekend that my iPad should go coverless. I’ve had a Smart Cover on my iPad 2 since I got it and kept the cover with the iPad 3 (aka iPad). I never really thought about it, but I was used to it. It was getting grungy and was having a harder time than usual holding up my iPad. I was planning a weekend trip to the Apple Store for a replacement.

Then as I was packing up for work I finally asked the obvious question. Why? I was packing the iPad, with Smart Cover attached into another sleeve for protection. The sleeve was needed because otherwise the Smart Cover would come off. Turning the iPad on, or worse, scratching it with the hinges. So that’s when I threw out the Smart Cover and started using just the sleeve.

The Smart Cover was never a very stable stand, it worked, but didn’t inspire confidence and would tip over in a slight breeze. So I long ago started using a generic tablet stand. Cheap enough to keep one at work and a couple at home. The stands themselves are less than five bucks although that typically doesn’t include shipping.They’re not really portable, but they’re light and will fit in a bag.

I have the iPad Suede Jacket from Waterfield Designs. I have the one sized for having the Smart Cover attached. It’s a tight fit and the Smart Cover would slide off trying to put it in the Jacket. So while it’s technically now too big, I like the extra space and easy in and out. It does mean being careful when carrying it so it doesn’t slip out.

The only reason I could come up with to keep the Smart Cover was to prop up the iPad when typing in the horizontal position. But that never really worked for me. The angle wasn’t right and there was to much “give” as the cover would flex a bit while typing. I won’t get a full case because I dock the iPad each night and I don’t want to fumble with the cover.

The Suede Jacket doesn’t have any padding, which isn’t a problem when it’s in my bag to and from work. So far it seems to keep the cover cleaner than the Smart Cover. No ribs from the cover at least. I do also have a SleeveCase, also from Waterfield Designs, that does have more padding so I can use it if I go out with just the iPad or want some extra protection for it. Thankfully the iPads have gotten smaller, this is the same case from my first iPad. It rarely gets used so it will probably last as long as I keep buying iPads.

I’ve never used a case on my iPhone and I’ve never regretted that. The iPad just seems to want a case or cover. Seems logical for some reason. Despite that, I’m getting used to having a naked iPad.

What I Use: iPad Apps

Screenshot of my main iPad screenI use the iPad daily, mostly for productivity and work related used, and not entertainment. I figured I’d review the apps I use most and see if my impression of productivity use is true or a delusion.. The primary apps I use are all on the home screen (or in folders on the home screen) or the dock along the bottom. Click the picture above for a full size view (over 1MB). Here’s a breakdown of the apps I use most.

The Basics

Among the apps delivered with the iPad I use:

Mail – I configure mail using IMAP on my iPad so I don’t have push notifications which is what I like on the iPad. (On the iPhone I configure mail using Exchange so I get push notifications). I configure all my email accounts which include Google Apps email, Windows Live and Apple mail (I lost track of what they call it – iCloud or Mobile Me).

Safari – I haven’t found a reason to use a different browser.

Contacts – I’m not a fan but I do sync my contacts to it.

Calendar – I don’t like the built-in calendar at all so I use Calvectica. I’m not a heavy calendar user.

Reading Apps

Instapaper – I’ve been a long time user of the Instapaper website and the iDevice apps.

Kindle – I mainly use the Kindle iPad app for reference/training books and not long form reading. It doesn’t get a lot of use.

GoodReader – I’ve used this for viewing PDFs I receive and create, along with other documents. It’s grown into a pretty full featured file management app for the iPad.

Missing from this list is iBook and Newstand. I tried them but haven’t been drawn to using them.

Home Network

These are the apps I use for connecting to other computers/devices in the home.

Ignition (From LogMein) – I use this for remote access to all my computers. They recently changed the pricing model and this app now seems to be $130. While I frequently use it I’d have a hard time justifying that cost. But I’m happy I got it at the old price. I use it with free LogMeIn accounts except for my WHS which has a paid account (reconsidering that at next renewal).

FileBrowser – Great for getting files from my Windows Home Server, Windows PCs and Macs to my iPad. Can also stream video files over my home wireless network.

I also have the full suite of Synology aps installed but I don’t use them much. DS Finder is useful for checking alerts and disk status/usage, but that’s about it. Their usage may grow as my Synology usage expands.

My Web Apps

These are apps I use to manage and access my web server and applications on it.

The already mentioned Safari is great for running the WordPress admin panels. No problems.

Prompt – My SSH client for connecting to my servers.

Productivity

Bento – I have a couple databases I sync to my iPad. I can make changes and they sync back. Syncing isn’t automatic so I tend to do most updates on computer and use the iPad for viewing.

OmniOutliner – I also use their desktop version, but sharing documents between computer and iPad is too much of a hassle since it requires remembering which copy is the most recent. So any outlines generally stay on the iPad. [Updated 10/20 – This is still on my iPad but it’s rarely used these days.]

Outliner – Yes, duplicates OmniOutliner. A simple Outliner I use when it’s more important for me to sync to my iPhone.

Toodledo (in the dock) – My primary to do app. Not my favorite To Do app for the iPad but my favorite all around to do app. I have to do a lot of tapping. But it works the way I like to manage most tasks. One big benefit for me is that I can use the web interface from my work (or any) PC which allows me to cut and paste between apps and tasks. [Updated 10/20/2012 – I moved to using pen and paper for daily taks management so this isn’t used anymore.]

OmniFocus (in the dock)– This used to be my To Do app, but I found Toodledo worked better for  me on a daily basis. I still use OmniFocus for managing larger projects. [Updated: 10/20/2012 – This has been gathering cobwebs on my iPad.]

Info Management

Evernote – I use this for information storage and reference. Since it’s on everything this tends to get everything.

Misc Apps

NetNewsWire (in the dock)– My RSS reader for the iPad, using my Google Reader feed list. It hasn’t been updated in over a year but I’m familiar with it and can fly through the feeds sending articles of interest to Instapaper if there’s no time to read them. The lack of updates is a concern on one hand, on the other it’s not lacking any features I want.

{Updated May 29] Mr. Reeder has replaced NetnewsWire as my iPad news feed reader. It also uses Google Reader’s feed list. I can flip through stories quickly and it integrates with Instapaper and Pinboard which I use. Unlike NetNewsWire, feeds can be managed from the app.

Downcast – My podcast app, I wrote about it here. I use it more on my iPhone but it gets use on my iPad for video podcasts and the occasional audio podcast.

Tweetbot – My twitter client

Weather – I have an addiction to weather apps so have a rotating selection. But Wx for iPad is a daily visit.

The only game on my iPad is Plants vs Zombies. Still addiction.

There’s plenty more apps that I haven’t mentioned, you’ll see some in the screenshot, but these are the ones I use most.

Have an iPad? How’s this compare to your favorites?

iPad First Impression – The Condensed Version

Apple iPad ImageI wrote a rather long winded first impression of my new iPad. This is a condensed version written after a nights sleep.

  • With the screen hype I expected to turn on the iPad and exclaim “It’s Gorgeous!”. Instead I thought “It’s an iPad 2”. The screen is certainly nice, but as an daily iPad 2 user it was only noticeably better when I displayed them side-by-side. Someone who does a lot of video or photos would probably feel different about this.
  • Verizon LTE was faster and a better internet experience than I expected. I had tried an LTE phone a while back and was not impressed. See my twitter feed for some speed test screenshots.
  • The iPad does not feel faster. I had to find my most intensive app and do some side by side comparisons. Obviously the iPad is more powerful and has faster hardware (it needs it to push those pixels around), I’m just saying I have to stretch to find a performance difference for what I do today.

This is based on how good the iPad 2 is and the way I use it (little photo or video)

Buyer’s remorse? Not really. I’m a fanboy and it is better. I suspect Verizon LTE will be a regular subscription on my iPad rather than the twice a year event that AT&T was. That makes up for the overblown expectations I had with the screen.

First Impressions: iPad

Apple iPad ImageMy new iPad arrived today. I already admitted I’m an iPad fanboy and pre-ordered it sight-unseen. So was it worth it? This is a completely self-centered recap of my first impressions. I’m not going to attempt a review, Google will provide links to plenty of those.

The Screen

The new screen was my primary reason for getting the upgrade. I’m not a pixel peeper so I really only care how it looks in day to day use.  The first thing I noticed is that the screen doesn’t seem as bright as the iPad 2. I mean this in a good way. It’s kind of like the vivid and movie mode presets on TV’s. Retailers have it set to vivid because people seem to like it better at first glance (so I’m told), but movie mode is better on the eyes actually watching TV. I never considered the iPad 2 as being too bright, but I immediately noticed the new iPad was more pleasing and seemed to have better color range. When I compared them side by side I saw the new iPad wasn’t as bright when set to the same brightness settings. I suspect this will make it better for long term viewing. I rarely read at length on the iPad. That may change now.

I mainly use productivity apps (not a lot of large pictures or video). When i run them on the new iPad they look nice enough but it wasn’t a noticeable difference, even for ones that were updated for the new iPad. But then I put old and new side by side and there is a noticeable difference in clarity. The new iPad just looks sharper. Instapaper looks better and I use it to read a lot, but this isn’t a fair comparison because the upgrade that included retina support also included new fonts.

I don’t have any HD video that can be played on the iPad so I looked at my existing video, both my own encodes and some from Apple. As expected there’s no significant difference since it’s the same video. I do think the new iPad seemed to have a little more clarity to the colors and everything looked better. Again, it’s more noticeable when played side-by-side.

I’m not a fan of iTunes video but I did find some free 1080p content to give a try. And this was clearly a better viewing experience. Still, I don’t see this as a big benefit. iTunes HD content has a relatively small file size but I dislike the DRM and other restrictions. If I’m going to pay HD prices I don’t want the restrictions. I can’t play the HD video on my Mac because the display doesn’t have HDCP which the content providers force Apple (and others) to require for HD playback. So it’s either iPad only viewing, standard def, or I buy and Apple TV. None are choices I like. It’ll be interesting to see if I mellow and give in over time and start getting some videos.

Photos are significantly better on the new iPad. But again, I didn’t typically have photos on my iPad 2 so it’s not a use case for me. But I did some comparisons and they are sharper and have more color depth. Interestingly I hadn’t sold my original iPad and I do use that one for photo more frequently. One thing I noticed is that the double-tap to zoom on a photo zoomed more. On the old iPad it seemed to double the size. On the new iPad it seems to quadruple the size.

The apps I use that I really would like to see get graphic improvements haven’t be updated for the new iPad – National geographic, a couple comic book apps and a couple games. So the jury is still out on how much I’ll benefit from the new screen, But it will only help.

Performance

There’s been a noticeable improvement in screen scrolling. Especially when I consider the screen display keeps up with all but the fastest scrolling.

Bento is the most resource intensive app I run on the iPad. There was a noticeable difference when I went from iPad 1 to iPad 2. Bento doesn’t seem any snappier on the new iPad than it was on the iPad 2. Maybe a little faster at times, but still a lag as I go from record to record. Searches also seem a tad faster. I don’t consider the difference significant and what I do see may be more wishful thinking than reality. I’m not saying it’s slow, just not faster than the iPad 2.

I’ve only been using it for a few hours so I may see more of a difference when I use it for real work and have more apps open. But so far app start-up and switching isn’t faster, at least that I notice.

The iPad 2 never got warm for me. The new iPad has gotten warm enough to notice. It’s not hot, but there was a temperture increase while watching video and after extended use. Never happened on the iPad 2.

Verizon

One of the reasons I upgraded to the iPad 2 was to get the 3G model. I picket AT&T at that time to get some variety in my telcos, my phone is AT&T. I’m no fan of any telco but AT&T has always been at the bottom of my list. I took this opportunity to switch to Verizon even though I didn’t have any particular problem with AT&T.

I like that the plan is pay as you go. There’s only a couple times a year when I use it, but I really like the convenience of being able to grab the iPad and be online, I do have the hotspot on my iPhone and use that with several devices. But the iPad’s hotspot may be a viable replacement, at least while Verizon keeps the hotspot option free. I do always have the phone with me but my laptop is typically the only other device I use the hotspot with And while I may not always have the iPad with me, I typically have it when I have the laptop on the road.

I did buy a data plan for a month to try it out. My “Personal Hotpot” selection didn’t appear on the main settings page. After waiting a bit I went into General -> Network -> Personal Hotpot and was able to activate it there. Then it appeared on the main settings page. I found the default password to be a little too boilerplate. Seemed like only the last 4 numbers would change. I usually change defaults anyway but would recommend it especially in this case.

I did get a LTE connection. I’m on the edge of a coverage area and the last time I tried an LTE phone at my house it didn’t get an LTE connection. Maybe things got better, maybe that phone sucked, maybe the iPad is better. The speedtest.net app tell be I get 37.09Mbps down and 6.96 Mbps up. The download speed is fairly consistent. The upload speed has been as low as 0.43 Mbps but was usually above 6 Mbps. Over my home wireless (and Comcast ISP) it tells e I get 30.07 Mbps up and 5.82 Mbps down. By comparison a 3G connection tests at 2.12 Mbps up and 0.88 Mbps down. All these tests were done within a 30 minute period.

I did some real world downloads. I don’t want to burn through my data allowance so I picked a 89 MB file from download.com using my MacBook Air. Using my wireless connection and Comcast I get a fairly consistent 1.3MB/sec. Use the LTE hotspot I got as high as 1.5MB/sec in one test but the rest of the downloads (out of 4) were about 450KB/sec. Browsing and video were fluid over the LTE hotspot.

Wrapping Up

Was it worth it? I’m not returning it and that is still an option. I’ll wait a couple days before sending the iPad 2 to Gazelle but I’m 95% sure I’ll keep it. But it’s not a slam dunk upgrade form an iPad 2. Hopefully Verizon will keep the hotspot free for several months, but even so the data plans are considerably more than the cost of using my iPhone as a hotspot. At least with my typical data usage I can get by with a plan that keeps my cost about level.

The much lauded screen is nice, no doubt. Whether or not it’s worth the cost of an upgrade is subjective. Time will tell if I start reading or watching video on the new iPad more. Forget the specs, things look better on the screen, even text and standard def video. The colors just look better and text looks crisper.

Whether or not it was worth the cost probably depends on whether or not I use it more. Will I read more with the better screen? Getting me off a Kindle e-ink reader for extended sessions of plain text reading will be tough. Will I watch more video? The iPad 2 was better for video display than the Kindle Fire yet I gravitated to the Kindle for video, so probably not. If I was into the iTunes ecosystem for video this would be a big benefit, but a better screen won’t draw me into iTunes video.

Over half the cost was covered by selling my iPad 2, so that helps. I’m hoping I have the willpower to skip the next iPad. I’m hard pressed to think of a feature I would want in a year.

Bottom line – I’m happy, not thrilled with the upgrade.

Confessions of a iPad Fanboy

Apple iPad Image

Apple iPad ImageI’ve come to the realization that I’m an iPad fanboy since I managed to talk myself into buying the latest one even before it was announced. I do have a defense, even if it is lame.

A couple days before the iPad announcement I checked its value on Gazelle.com and found that I’d get 50% of what I paid for it. I since I expected Apple to keep pricing the same I’d cover 50% of the latest model. So in order to avoid the rush (and anticipated price drop) I went ahead and sold it to Gazelle, locking in the price for 30 days. While I would be able to get more by selling it myself, the “lack of hassle” factor is important to me. I figured worst case I could simply let the offer expire. I figured Apple would be shipping a week after the announcement, two at most so the 30 days would be enough.

So what was I expecting? Basically, faster and better. Nothing “revolutionary”. I figured a better display, probably called retina for the marketing advantage, and a faster CPU. More storage for the money would have been nice. I was sure the rumors of a new dock connector were wrong and I hoped the form factor would be close enough to use my few accessories and cases. Apple ended up announcing almost exactly what I was expecting. To be fair, I did expect Siri but didn’t care about it.

I could make an argument that I’ve minimizing the cost by maximizing the trade-in price. But the reality is keeping what I already have makes the most economic sense. But I have little will power. While I did get an iPad 2 it wasn’t right away. Eventually I decided it was worth the cost to get more storage along with wireless (or the telecom variety). So I just gave into the inevitable and ordered the replacement up front. It’s not like the price will go down, baring special promotions and preparation for the next version.

The new iPad was announced and I had the option of just letting my Gazelle offer expire but I went ahead and ordered the replacement. I admit I lacked enthusiasm and waited over a day before ordering, getting my order in just before the delivery dates started to slip. Lacking enthusiasm doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to the upgrade. I read someplace that if you use the iPad 2 more than 10 hours a week the it was worth upgrading. I’m not sure that number is valid, but I certainly use the iPad much more than that and expect to benefit from the better screen.

The iPad sits on my desk as I work and I refer to it a lot for reference(books/notes/pdf) and task management. I also use it to RDP into my home network and servers at times. I’m hoping the improved screen makes it easier on the eyes (but not simply make the type smaller). I’ve begun to play my own videos on it a bit too, although the videos won’t match the screen resolution. I never really liked Apple as a video source source or library so won’t be viewing their HD video after the inevitable test.

I considered downsizing to the 32GB model since my current usage is just a tad under 32GB. But space requirements only seem to expand so I kept the 64GB. So my iPad has shipped (according to the email) and sitting at Fedex waiting for them to delivery it Friday. Friday will be the moment of truth to see if this fanboy is still happy. Oh wait, a true fanboy won’t care wait arrived.

Oh No! My iPhone 4s Is A Flop

Picture of the Verizon iPhone

Picture of the Verizon iPhoneHaving just gotten my new iPhone 4S I was depressed to see Daring Fireball link to an article listing the iPhone 4S as one of the top 6 tech flops of the year. OK, I wasn’t really depressed and fell for the  linkbait to read the orignal post. The iPhone 4S is listed third and begins…

While it’s no flop when it comes to sales figures the iPhone 4S remains one of 2011’s biggest consumer letdowns.

They go on with some more praise…

…is certainly nothing to sneeze at — it’s still one of the fastest, best-looking smartphones on the block…

The  reason given for being a flop is it didn’t meet the rumors and wasn’t an iPhone 5. They don’t actually define what they mean by flop but a best-selling device doesn’t meet any definition I can think of. Any “flop” would have been the tech blogs/journalists salivating over rumors and wish lists.

So now I’ll defend my purchase of a flop. I had an iPhone 4 but my Verizon contract is up for renewal and I could get the renewal discount plus another $30 rebate. I’ve no idea what the rebate was for (“customer loyalty”) or how long it would last. It’s actually been available for months. I’m happy with Verizon and I’m not looking to switch, having been with them for years. And having been on Android before Verizon got the iPhone I knew I didn’t want to go back to Android.

The main cost of the new phone would be the 2-year contract since I could (and did) sell my iPhone 4 for enough to cover my out of pocket expenses. OK, I didn’t quit cover but I upgraded to the 64 GB phone so it cost me a few dollars, if I stayed with the 32 GB I would have pocketed a few dollars. If I waited until the next iPhone in a year I wouldn’t have been able to sell my phone for much at all since it would be two versions old in addition to the extra year of wear and tear. Since there’s no change in form factor all my accessories can stay. So in effect the upgrade didn’t cost me anything.

So what do I get for my upgrade:

  • A better camera. I didn’t use the iPhone for photos very much at all. Prior to upgrading I made a conscious effort to use it more to get comfortable with it. I’ve been using it more and have liked using it.
  • Faster processor. I have some apps that ran slow on the phone but ran fine on the faster iPad 2. There could be several reasons for this but I have seen an improvement. It was most noticeable to me with apps like OminFocus which synced or loaded data every time I switched to it.
  • More storage. I probably keep too much on my phone but I was out of space. I’d rather add storage instead of trying to juggle what I want on the phone.

There’s also Siri of course. But it wasn’t a factor beyond curiosity and I haven’t been using it very much. I’ve used it so little it’s always ben available when I used it, unlike what I read from others.

Next year’s iPhone will almost certainly be out before I can upgrade at a discount and will almost certainly have significant hardware upgrades (NFC, 4G, higher resolution, better camera) so I’ll have to wait a couple months before I can upgrade at a discount (due to multiple plans I can basically upgrade once a year by transferring the upgrade between plans).

I’d agtree the iPhone 4S isn’t a significant upgrade over the iPhone 4 but it is an upgrade and if you want those features it would be worth it. I wouldn’t have upgraded if selling my current phone didn’t cover the costs or if I had to buy new accessories. Still, it’s certainly doesn’t meet my definition of a flop and it doesn’t disappoint me, but as an iPhone 4S owner I am biased.

My Kindle Fire Review

Graphic of Kindle Fire

Graphic of Kindle FireI’ve had my Kindle Fire a few weeks now, having received it in he first shipments. I figure the best way to review it is to recap how it’s settled into my routine (and what parts haven’t settled in). I’ve been rather disappointed in the quality of the reviews I’ve seen. Many have been contrary to my own experience. Maybe the early reviews used an early software version. I got an update right after the first power-on. There was also a number of reviews which mainly complained it wasn’t an iPad. I got the impression those same reviewers would have complained it was a cheap knock-off if Amazon tried to clone the iPad. The Kindle Fire and iPad are different devices. I’ll compare them but only because it’s my only other personal experience with a tablet. I don’t consider one better than the other and won’t be declaring a winner.

Pre-conceived Notions

When I pre-ordered the Kindle I was already deep into Amazon, I dislike the term fanboy but I’d have a hard time denying it if applied to me. I’ve put a lot of my music in the Amazon Cloud although I rarely play it directly. I bought most of my music through Amazon since the days it was DRM free and iTunes wasn’t. I’ve also found Amazon cheaper or equal s used it over iTunes. I also have a Kindle and numerous Kindle books.

What I really wanted from the Kindle Fire was a better way to view video. I never really like iTunes for Video and long ago stopped using it. I’ve gone without all but basic cable (real basic – just over the air stuff to avoid needing an antennae) so Amazon video has helped filled in the gaps when I really wanted to see a TV show. But Amazon video was only available on my TV and computers.

So I wanted a better way to access Amazon video and also be able to play my own videos. If the Kindle Fire failed at that I’d be disappointed. If it worked well I’d overlook a lot of other faults.

I was also curious about the 7″ form factor. I seemed just big enough to stay easily portable. It should fit in jacket or cargo pants pockets.

The Hardware

As others have mentioned, it was heavier than expected when I first picked it up. While it turned out being easy to hold and use, it took a little while getting used to it. The power button sticks out on the bottom edge and is easy to hit accidentally. Actually, any edge can be the bottom as the picture will flip around, but the initial power on screen is only oriented one way and in that orientation the power button is at the bottom.

The Fire does have a plastic feel, after all, it is plastic. But it does feel solid.(But I have no plans to intentionally drop test it. Other than the poorly designed power button there aren’t any other switches or buttons, everything is in the software.

The speaker is fine. Not great, not poor. I definitely want to use the headphones when the sound quality matters That said, I rarely use headphones and pretty much stick to just the built in speaker since it’s mainly a video player for me (more on that later), It’s loud enough for personal use in a fairly quiet setting, but if would be a little software for a noisy environment. By comparison, both my iPhone and iPad built-in speakers are louder than the Fire’s.

Video

So let’s get to the video. I’m using it regularly and I’ve bought a few more videos than I normally would and I am using the Prime videos more. So I think it’s safe to say I like it. It’s also safe to say Amazon’s strategy to position the Kindle Fire as a gateway drug is working. The screen is fine for personal use. I generally avoid any high-def video (or video labelled high-def) for anything but Blu-ray on my TV, so my expectations were relative to that. I find the 7″ tablet easier to use than the iPad when lying in bed, a couch or sitting in a chair. If I want video propped up on a desk I might pick the bigger iPad but I don’t watch video that way.

The 8GB of memory (about 6.5 GB available) is limiting, but I’ve been able to copy my own video to the device easily and they play without a problem. Copying the video is as easy as hooking the Fire to my computer via USB and dragging the files to the video folder. What is strange is I have to play my own video files through the Gallery app, not under Videos. It’s not a problem, now that I know where to get the files.

The bottom line is the Kindle Fire is a perfect video player for my needs.

Video streaming over my 802.11N network has been problem free. There has been one recently developed anomaly. The initial load has always ben quick and the video starts playing within seconds. There’s a progress bar during this initial load. Recently the video started playing when the status bar was 1/2 way across. The in a couple seconds the video hesitates and skip a second or so. After that or restarting and it’s fine. Local videos don’t have the problem and Amazon Videos streamed to my TV or computer don’t have the problem either.

The Amazon Video app/widget is not well designed on my TV, The videos aren’t in any order (and they seem to re-arrange qt will) and navigating is a click-fst with the remote. TV series aren’t grouped together and the multiple seasons aren’t in order. The Video section on the Fire is better. The videos are in alphabetic order (and TV series ordered by season). Plus the touch interface is easier to navigate so it’s much easier to use. That alone has me using the Fire instead of the TV.

Books

It’s a Kindle so naturally it can handle books. I find it to be an adequate reader but my use of it is limited. I’d put my e-books into two categories – the first is leisure reading, the second is reference books.

For leisure reading I much prefer an e-ink display over the backlit display. I can read for about 45 minutes to an hour without my eyes getting tired. Between the Fire and the iPad there’s no difference from that perspective. I find the Fire easier to hold and read for that length of time. So my preference is the e-ink Kindle. But if I want the backlit display, say reading in bed before going to sleep (without having to worry about another light source), I reach for the Fire instead of the iPad.

For reference books the e-ink falls short since it can’t handle pictures, tables or anything beyond basic formatting very well. And the larger iPad screen is usually better. So since it’s usually propped up on my desk the iPad gets the nod for this use. the nod.

So as a reader – I use it but I could live without it and use the e-Ink Kindle and the iPad. But if I could only pick one device I’d pick the Fire. Seems strange, but it’s a compromise that’s adequate for the two ways I use it.

Magazines

The Kindle Fire is a terrible magazine reader, at least until they start formatting them for a 7″ tablet. The magazines I sampled weren’t much more than scanned PDFs. They looked good enough, great even, but scrolling, zooming and moving around is a nightmare. If the magazine could be formatted for the screen it would be fine. But on any 7″ screen it’s going to suck.

Comic Book Reader

Because the Comixology Comic Book App includes a guided view to move panel by panel it’s not as bad as regular magazines but the iPad’s larger screen has its benefits. The Fire is serviceable thanks to guided view, but the iPad is a better experience. Like book reading, the Fire is usable for a quick read before going to sleep, but the iPad is the preferred choice.

Music

I already had much of my music in the Amazon Cloud Player and streaming it with the the Fire was fine. I did stream music for a couple hours without any skips, gaps or hesitations. I like iTunes as a music manager and my iPhone is the preferred player. I’m pretty set in my ways for music so I’m not likely to use the Fire for it a lot. I might use it during the few times I need to preserve the iPhone battery. But those cases are probably ones where I’m traveling and won’t have the Fire.

Docs

I haven’t used any docs on the device.

Web/E-Mail

It’s an acceptable browser but since I typically have other choices I rarely use it.

I haven’t even set up e-mail. The Kindle Fire isn’t something I’ve yet found comfortable creating content on. The 7″ size makes it hard to position comfortably in a way to type on. It is small enough to thumb type on when in portrait mode, but I can’t do that for vary long and it’s not something I can do beyond a quick note.

Apps

Apps I use include Evernote, Audible, IMDB and Plants vs. Zombies (my game of choice over Angry Birds) and they are fine. Amazon doesn’t promote the Fire as an Android tablet and not all Android apps will work on it. The Android Market isn’t available and everything will come from the Amazon App Store (unless I want to side-load). I don’t use the Fire as a full fledged tablet so I don’t have any specific app requirements, so when I say it’s not missing apps I want it’s true, but not a really much of an endorsement.

The Experience

I like the Kindle Fire an use it daily. If I wasn’t into the Amazon eco-system I wouldn’t be such a fan since I mainly use it to tap into that. The $200 price is certainly a big attraction. But the Fire doesn’t come off as cheap. Yes, it doesn’t have every feature of other more expensive tablets, but what it does have works well and is solid. As others have said, Amazon sells the Kindle about the cost of building it in order to get us to big more. For me it’s actually worked. I’ve found the video experience good enough to get me to buy some videos I probably wouldn’t have otherwise purchased.

The Fire itself isn’t a speed demon but I find the operation smooth for the most part. It is a little rough around the edges, I haven’t figured out if the Kindle Fire is ignoring some of my taps or I’m not tapping in exact the right spot although it really doesn’t matter. There are times when I have to re-tap. It’s not enough to be frustrating, just mildly annoying at times. Since it’s all touch it takes a little care to shift around the smaller tablet without accidental taps. Such as accidental page turns then reading or stopping a video. But I’ve gotten used to it and it’s not a problem anymore.

For books and video I’m already in the Amazon ecosystem so the Kindle Fire is a good fit. With the exception of reference material it’s replaced the iPad completely for Video and reading. For music I use Amazon over iTunes if I’m buying but most of my new music comes from neither place these days and I still prefer local songs for playing so the Fire’s not used much for music.

For Magazines and Comic Books the iPad still rules due to it’s larger screen. The Fire is unusable for Magazines but acceptable for Comic Books (at least with Comixology)

I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at Apps for the Kindle Fire because I just don’t see it as app platform. Maybe games, but I’m not a big gamer and am happy with the one I have, I have Evernote for reference and quick note taking and a few apps for reference. For Apps and Web the Fire is something I might use for a quick check or note, but that’s it.

So in the great iPad vs. Fire debate the choice is it’s an invalid comparison. If you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem the iPad is probably worth the extra cost. If your invested in Amazon content then the Fire is a good choice. If you want something with abilities closer to a traditional computer then the iPad is the choice.

Summing It Up

During the day the iPad is on my desk and in use whether it’s for work or a little leisure activity during a break. After work the Kindle comes out for entertainment. It wasn’t a conscience decision, just how it evolved. I’d have to say I need the iPad more than the Kindle Fire, but considering the price difference that’s what I’d expect. For entertainment the Kindle fire is a fine device.

Any other Kindle Fire experiences – agree/disagree?

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire image
photo credit: Amazon

The web is all abuzz about Amazon’s Tablet, the Kindle Fire. Naturally it’s being compared to the iPad. Well, I have to admit I already placed my order. I figure I have some time to cancel, although my gadget curiosity will probably have me getting it. Some of my thoughts…

It’s not an iPad killer and it’s clear it doesn’t try to be. It’s about half the specs so it seems clear to me that Amazon’s not going to market this by comparing it to the iPad. As for what will kill the iPad? If the iPad dies it will either be suicide or death by a thousand cuts. The Kindle Fire may be the first cut but I doubt it will be a deep cut. It may be less than an iPad but it’s significantly cheaper than the iPad and Amazon already has content for it. It’s not a “if we build it they will come” mentality. I doubt iPad sales will suffer, rather tabler sakes overall will grow.

It’s still an open issue if the Kindle Fire is for me, especially since I already have an iPad. While the Fire runs Android it seems to be targeted as a content consumption system, with that content coming from Amazon. I haven’t seen acknowledgment that content from 3rd parties, such as Netflix or Hulu, would be allowed on the Fire. Still, in my case that really doesn’t matter. I’ve gone through spurts of using Hulu and Netflix streaming but never really became attached to either one. I’ve recently gravitated to Amazon Video despite having both Netflix and Amazon available on my TV. I can’t say why I’m using Amazon more than Netflix, but I am. Some of it is simply because I have bought some videos from Amazon since the stuff I’ve actually wanted to watch hasn’t been on Netflix. Beyond what I’ve bought I’ve just stuck to browsing the Amazon prime videos when I’m looking to find video to fill time. If I add up what I spend with Amazon it’s around the $8/mth for Netflix streaming, so I just dropped Netflix streaming which puts me even more in the Amazon camp,

Other than when I travel I don’t watch video on my iPad very much (unless it’s web video or podcasts) and I’m not sure that would change much with the Fire, The smaller screen makes it less video friendly than the iPad (at least on the surface). The wireless only nature of it means video would have to be copied to it before any travel, just like my iPad. That’s disappointing since Amazon already has the videos stored in their cloud.

Then there’s Kindle books. I prefer reading novels and test-only books of the Kindle e-reader rather than the LCD of the iPad. I don’t see that changing with the Fire. I do use the iPad for manuals and other books that are either graphics rich or that I want to refer to while I work at my desk. The smaller Kindle Fire screen may make it less useful than the iPad for me.

I do subscribe to a couple magazines on my iPad and the Fire will probably be just as good for them, assuming they’re available.

After going through the above list it seems like the smart decision is to stick with the iPad. But assuming my curiosity gets the better of me and I get the Kindle Fire – would I sell off my iPad? Maybe, but it’s not a certainty.

My MacBook Air is closer to the definition of iPad killer for me. It’s small enough that it’s not much more cumbersome than the iPad when leaving the house.. The smaller iPad is still easier to grab and go or to use when there’s no desk or table available. (Although the Air is very usable on a comfortable couch.) Assuming the browser is capable, especially for my common sites, I could see being able to replace the iPad with the Kindle Fire although the smaller screen has me a bit concerned. I’m not saying the Fire is a iPad replacement, but for the way I use it, it just might be,

There’s still a lot of questions about the Kindle Fire, so it’s premature to say this, but I will anyway. If I was deciding between the iPad and Kindle Fire, and already had the Air I’d go for the Kindle Fire and save $300. If I didn’t have the Air I’d want some better mobile computing capability and would probably go for the iPad. I can also see having both, Like the HO Touchbook that caught fire when it dropped to $99 the Kindle Fire low price should help it out and a hacking community may grow around it. The Kindle Fire would be something I’d be more willing to hack or jailbreak than the iPad.

TonidoPlug: Formatting a Attached Hard Drive

TonidoPlug Logo

tonidopluglogoThe TonidoPlug is a wall-wart type device that runs a Linux server but doesn’t come with any external hard drives. The $99 device has some interesting potential so I got one to take a look at it. I just received it today so what its exact capabilities are remains to be seen. But in setting it up I came across my first problem – attaching the external drive.

Now, this isn’t exactly difficult. The TonidoPlug has a USB port and any external USB drive can be attached to it. In fact, I successfully attached a NTFS formatted USB drive. But I didn’t want to use that drive. Since I plan to experiment I wanted to use a toaster style USB bay so I can easily swap drives. I also wanted to use some older drives I had on the shelf gathering dust. All these would need to be reformatted. I didn’t really want to use NTFS or FAT32 as the file system so formatting on my PC was out. Of the supported file systems the ext3 file system seemed the most reliable choice. I didn’t need to swap drives with other machines and if I was forced to use the drive in another computer there are programs I could use the read the drive from Windows or OS X. With the decision to go ext3 the problem became how to format the drive. The only Linux computer I could easily attach a hard drive to was the TonidoPlug. So here are the steps I followed to format the drive.

I’ve had the device for only a few hours and am far from an expert, so these procedures may not be perfect but they worked for me. To keep this short I’ll assume you can use terminal (on OS X) or Putty (on Windows) to SSH into the TonidoPlug.

  1. Setup the TonidoPlug. I my case I attached a NTFS formatted drive to get used to the plug, but this could be done before any drive is attached
  2. Attach the drive to be formatted. In my case the drive I used did not have a valid file system so it was not mounted. But if the drive mounts then use the Admin console (or command line after SSH) to unmount it.
  3. Go into the admin panel and verify the disk is recognized, also make a note of the device name. In my case I saw the following (double-click any image for full size):
    TonidoDisks1
  4. The drive isn’t currently mounted and I make a note that it’s seen as device  /dev/sda. I’ll need this later.
  5. Connect to the TonidoPlug using SSH.
  6. Create the partition by running fdisk /dev/sda.
    When prompted I select a primary partition that uses the entire drive and select a type code of 83 (Linux active partition). The output transcript is:
    CreatePartition
  7. Now that the partition is created I need to add the file system and run: mkfs.ext3 /dev/sda1 The transcript for this is below and it takes a few moments to run.
    CreatePartition
  8. I mount the drive manually just to make sure: mount /dev/sda1 /media/disk1part1. The drive shows as mounted in the admin console.
  9. The final test is I reboot the TonidoPlug and verify the drive is available.
    FinalCheck

Now the drive is available like any other drive and I can start finding out what this thing is capable of.