Category Archives: Gadgets

The Kindle Fire & Kindle Touch

Okay I have not been in a writing mood, and was losing my passion in gaming and movies (and all things nerdy).  I was planning on, and I guess had begun the process of, abandoning this blog.  However, I had a little cry on Twitter a couple of nights back, and had a little rant and cry on Facebook just now (which I had recently joined, with sole intent on applying for a game beta I might add). So I thought I might repost my rant as a post on here.  Will there be any more posts?  That depends on how passionate I get in the future, how many rants I have bottled up inside, and most of all, how lazy I feel in the future.  It’s like waiting for toast from a temperamental toaster that may or may not be plugged in – only time will tell.

Anyways my cry and rant was about the upcoming devices from Amazon.  I was soooo disappointed to find that the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch aren’t available for shipping to New Zealand.

I kinda feel sorry for all the other companies out there, with Amazon releasing a full featured US$200 tablet.  They have already driven down the prices of several competitors’ tablet devices, and I believe the announcement of the Fire is also the reason why Kobo have pulled back on their own announcement of their upcoming Vox, which was supposed to be priced at CA$249.

The thing is, it is easy to make a decent piece of hardware, but the content that runs on or through them is what will make or break these devices.  Most companies fail to understand that, but you know what – I think Amazon gets it.  What will wow the general consumers, and win over even the harshest of skeptics will be the access to Amazon Cloud. This will include their Android app store, their music and video on demand, and their Kindle store services.  All the existing Cloud services will be accessible on the Fire, including Amazon Prime access, which allows for free streaming of thousands of movies and TV series via VOD.

This means contents and support wise NO OTHER COMPANY can compete, period.

The Kindle Fire will be Wi-Fi only, and offers a 7″ vibrant color IPS multi-touch display, with a quoted battery life of 8 continuous hours for reading, or 7.5 for videos.

The Touch edition of the Kindle offers the obvious upgrade of a touchscreen and the usual software improvements, as well as a slight reduction in dimensions and weight, but will otherwise retain the same battery life and storage space of the existing 3rd gen model.  Like the previous gen, the Touch will be available in both Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi/3G models, but interestingly this time around Amazon will offer ad-supplemented versions of both, which are available at cheaper prices, starting at as low as US$99.

Both the Fire and Touch are due for release in the US on November 15th.  Of course no one can say for certain until they have been released, but it would not surprise me if Amazon overtake Apple on the tablet market by 1st quarter of next year.  Even if they don’t take the top spot their new devices are guaranteed successes.  Unless something goes drastically wrong, involving exotic deep-sea fish; cherry flavored alcohol and Japanese hookers dressed up as Teletubbies…  There is just no way Amazon can lose overall.

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Innovation vs Gimmick

Innovation or gimmick? Only time will tell.

Earlier this year Nintendo released a brand new handheld console, a supposingly innovative system which was regarded by many as a gimmick device.  With their brand new 3DS, Nintendo had promised “a breakthrough in portable entertainment”, and had called their device “a cutting-edge piece of hardware that is more than just a leap forward in 3D gaming technology”, with “built-in features and applications that are accessible right out of the box.”  They had promised a unique social experience, and claimed that their device “opens up a whole new world of eye-popping gameplay possibilities.”

3D gaming, however, is currently still very much a gimmick, as the 3D used in the games do not actually affect the gameplay in any meaningful way.  Also, unfortunately as of right now, the 3DS is still missing some of its promised features, including access to the internet browser and the online games shop.  Meanwhile, other core features like the StreetPass functions are more or less made redundant for most users, due to a lack of compatible users in their nearby areas.  On top of that, the system had launched with a very limited and lacklustre lineup of games, a lineup which did not fully take advantage of the systems hardware, and failed to show off its more interesting features.  At the end of the day, we are left with a system that feels and functions very much like all the other existing systems on the market.  Simply put – at this current stage in time, the 3DS fails to live up to its potential, and its own promise of innovation.

To be fair, this device was released only recently, and it is early days still for the console.  But, there lies the problem.  There are so many companies out there promising innovation, but often, especially in the gaming world, it feels like they are banking on innovation happening at a later stage on their systems, as supposed to delivering the innovation that they themselves have promised along with their products.  Or worse still, is seeing companies out there releasing products that shows great potential for innovation, and then seeing the very same companies failing to nurture and capitalise on their own products, and thus, in the process allowing their products to become mere gimmicks.

There is a very thin line between innovation and gimmick.  True innovation have become few and between nowadays, and products and features which companies herald as ‘innovation’ rarely are.  Which is why it angers me so much, seeing companies claiming territory on the side of innovation, but ends up spending all of their time dancing on the borderline, but never quite landing on either side.  It just breaks my heart, seeing all the wasted possibilities out there. It is like seeing a cartful of cold deserts melting quietly under a hot summer sun – all that potential, wasted, abandoned, and unrealised…


New Improved Kobo eReader – The Stone In My Face

Kobo Inc have recently announced their newer, updated model of their Kobo eReader. This newer model will feature a number of improvements, which will address a few of the common complaints that users had about the original. Wireless option have switched from Bluetooth to the more common and popular Wi Fi; processor power have increased, improving on its current overall sluggish performance; and an improved screen have been fitted, offering 16 levels of grey scale, doubling the 8 levels offered in the previous model, and offering better contrast. This unit will be available three colours (including the new white/lilac combo), but the general shape, size and layout will remain unchanged. It is currently available for pre-order, with a release date of November 1st.

While I loved the design and feel of the original Kobo eReader, and I have been rooting for them, and even wrote about how they have help changed the industry with their low pricing, and simplistic cost cutting design – I must say this announcement really angers me. The fact that they are already announcing a newer upgraded model, when the first model was released here in New Zealand less than four months ago. Not to mention the fact that a firmware update is still not available for us Kiwi users – an update which was released in the US over a month ago; an update, which fixes several bugs, including one relating to font sizing which can literally make some books unreadable.

Kobo Inc have been aggressively promoting their device in Canada and the states, partnering with airlines, hotels, and even film festivals. They are doing a decent job promoting their device, and this newer model can only help them secure a place on the market. But as a consumer, an owner, and a supporter of the original Kobo eReader, I am NOT impressed, at all. This announcement is making me feel like an Apple user. I now feel extremely cheated, having supported the first device. I have previously described the Kobo as being like a stone dropped in a pond – well Kobo Inc, thanks for throwing the stone in my face.


Kobo eReader – The Stone In The Pond

"eReading: anytime. anyplace."

Reading has always been one of my favourite past times, and those of you who knows me would know of my love of gadgets. So, it came as no surprise when I fell completely in love with the idea of eBook readers when they were first introduced way back in the late 90s. However, like many new technologies and gadgets, they were slow to arrive to this little land of mine known as New Zealand. Years passed and still nothing was released for the local market, and sadly importing was not an option, due to regional restrictions of the eBooks imposed by the publishers.

Indeed, it was not until the early 2010, when the first glimmer of hope appeared for the New Zealand eBook market, with the announcement of the iPad and the iBook marketplace. However, all thoughts of the iPad were pushed aside in May 2010, when the Canadian based company Kobo Inc. released their device, the Kobo eReader. Instead of having a single centralised distribution node, they have partnered with various retail chains around the world to maximise availability and exposure. Indigo/Chapters in Canada; Borders in the United States; Angus and Robertson and Borders in Australia; and, I am happy to say, Whitcoulls here in New Zealand.

Now, let me give you some basic info on the device itself.

The Kobo is a standard sized eReader with a 6” E Ink screen. With the dimensions of 184mm x 120mm x 10mm, and weighing in at just 221g, it is one of the smallest and lightest on the market. Its back is covered with quilted rubber, while its front is uncluthered, consists only of the screen and a single large tactile 5 way button. The device fits perfectly into your hand, and its small form factor and weight made it extremely easy and comfortable to carry around.

The UI was well designed also, usability and aesthetically wise. Most of the navigation is done via the large tactile 5 way button and is extremely intuitive. For the reading itself you have a choice of five font sizes, and two different fonts to choose from. A “I’m Reading” home screen displays all of the latest and recently accessed books and documents, and you have your usual browse screen, which allows you to browse by author, title, or last read date. Book covers features predominately, and you have the option to display your books by text, book cover, or a combination of the two. When in sleep mode the device also displays the cover for your current book, which I thought was a nice touch. Speaking of sleep mode, the device takes around 20 seconds to start up from sleep, which is one of the major criticisms about the Kobo. Also page turning is slower than some of the other readers on the market – however personally I find the device to be more than adequate performance-wise, despite having little patience, and the attention span of a Canadian carrot.

The Kobo comes with only 1GB of storage built-in, but is expandable via its SD card slot. This device uses the standard USB-to-PC connection, but also offers Bluetooth support. It does not however, support Wi-Fi or 3G, like a lot of its recent competitors. Lastly, supported file formats are limited to only ePub and PDF, but that will not be a major problem for most consumers, considering that those two are the most commonly used formats on the market today.  It is also worth noting that the Kobo comes preloaded with 100 free classic books.

Compared to other eReaders on the market, the Kobo is very barebones, and seems limited features-wise. But as strange as it sound, this simplicity was by design, and is indeed one of its major strengths. By focusing on the bare essentials they have managed to cut down on costs, and were able to offer it at a retail price of around US$149.99 at launch. That is in contrast to its competitors, who were at that point offering their products for around US$200 to US$300, making the Kobo the most affordable eReader on the market at the time by far. Being backed by multiple retail chains around the world also potentially gave it the exposure, and access to, markets that its competitors might not have.

Its pleasing form factor, its intuitive UI, and its affordable price – these factors and more made the Kobo the perfect entry level eReader, and would have been a serious threat to its rivals on the market. However, though it was never credited as being the catalyst, after its release a series of changes swept through the industry. Prices of existing major competing eReaders dropped dramatically overnight. Further more, even cheaper newer models with striped down features were announced, features like 3G (which were previously seen as being essential, but lacking on the Kobo) which have now become optional. All this brought the average price of an entry level eReader to just US$149.99, the same price as the Kobo.

In summary the Kobo was a great eReader for its price back when it was launched. In order to help them thrive in a crowded market, filled with strong competitors like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony, Kobo Inc. had made a number of interesting and unique decisions in regards to their device’s design and distribution model. Decisions, which in my opinion, were major game changers for the industry. However, the Kobo ultimately ended up being like a stone dropped in a pond. Ripples were made which pulsed through and changed the entire industry, but sadly the device itself made next to no splash, and sunk unnoticed, to the bottom.

(At this current time there are still bugs affecting font sizing, and I am finding myself with unreadable books in my library due to an inability to change font sizes in selected titles. A firmware update has been issued I believe to resolve this very issue, but is yet unavailable here in NZ.)


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