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My First Month with a Apple TV

Apple TV

I got my first Apple TV about a month ago, something I thought I would never buy when the Apple TV was first announced. The first Apple TV looked like a Mac Mini/Airport Express back when it first came out and it only allowed you to view iTunes content. It gave you a hard drive to store purchased content from iTunes and the ability to stream the rest. At the time, a lot of people weren’t impressed with the Apple TV. Even Apple wasn’t committed to it that much, calling it a “hobby”. The next release was a smaller, black puck design that did not have a hard drive, this generation only allowed for streaming over the internet from your iTunes library or buying/renting iTunes movies and TV shows directly from the device. The current version works and looks the same way but has a few more features. The 2 most important being that it now streams in 1080p and if you have a current Mac or iOS device, you can AirPlay your iOS or Mac screen to your TV.

via Apple.com

via Apple.com

The 2 main features of the current Apple TV is what made it desirable for me. I watch a lot of online content, like daily podcasts and online news shows, and I always wanted a quick way to watch those shows on my TV. Sure, I could have just brought a HDMI-to-lightning dongle and connect an HDMI cable to that from the TV, but Airplay is a lot more elegant and of course, wireless. I am a fan of anything wireless. I’m also starting to download more movies and TV shows on iTunes since I’m a bit of an HD junkie and it annoys me when my favorite movies or TV shows are only available on physical disc in the DVD format. It’s also cool to see my MacBook Pro’s screen on my 40” HDTV. I also love movies and it’s nice that I can easily see movie trailers and showtimes for the local theater. The interface is really nice and it makes me despise my FiOS DVR interface. One look at the remote and the interface and we can imagine what the future of TV might look like. There’s no need for a remote with 50 buttons when the OS is smart enough and is designed in a way that can be accessed with a remote that only has 4 buttons.

Remote

Of course, it isn’t all great. My biggest issue probably has nothing to do with my Apple TV but with the cheap Amazon HDMI cord I purchased. Every so often, they’ll be a burst of static, which lasts half of a second and doesn’t really bother me too much. What does bother me is those lovely HDCP errors. Due to DRM, Apple has to make sure you are watching HD content in a secure way, for some reason, they get this wrong and you get a HDCP error telling you that you are not watching the content on a display that is HDCP authorized. I fix this issue quickly by simply restarting my Apple TV and it takes care of that issue but it’s still annoying that it happens at all.

We are all waiting for the Apple television that may or may not be coming this year. If the Apple TV is any indication on what it is going to be like, well, it’s going to be a revolutionary television. The Apple TV interface is the best interface that was ever displayed on my TV. I can easily find what I want within a number of clicks, which is very different than trying to find a show on my FiOS DVR, which takes about 2 minutes and a lot of my own memory to remember what button on the remote takes me where. It’s very easy to imagine an a la carte cable package in the Apple TV interface, where every channel is simply a little square button on the home screen. I guess we’ll have to see what Apple does.

The Apple TV is not for everyone but if you are looking for an easy way to view your Mac or iOS screen on a TV and play your HD iTunes content, the Apple TV might be exactly what you need.

Interface

via Apple.com

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Kindle Fire Review

The back of the Kindle Fire

Tablets, tablets, tablets. Seems like tablets are the device that everyone is talking about. The iPad started the craze and now there are dozens of tablets to choose from. The problem is, many of them aren’t that good. Most people are familiar with the iPad since, in the most common opinion, it is the best tablet to buy. Amazonwants to change that. This week, Amazon started selling their 7 inch tablet named the Kindle Fire. I preordered one and here are my opinions so far.

The Good:

Packaging: Amazon does a great job at packaging their products. The box that the Kindle Fire comes in is also the box that it ships in. You just pull a tap on the box, lift up the top of the box and there is the device. Included with the tablet is a very small “quick start” guide and a AC power plug for charging. That’s all. The box does have the Amazon logo and the Kindle Fire logo on the side of the box, which I would think would increase theft but I guess Amazon doesn’t care.

Build Quality: I love holding this thing. At just 7 inches, it fits very well in your hand and feels like a very solid device. Compared to my Kindle, it feels hard and secure. The screen is a glossy glass touchscreen and the back is all rubber making it easier to grip. It is not as light as a normal Kindle, which weighs the same as a paper back book, but the Kindle Fire is not heavy. It has a nice size and weight which makes it a joy to hold.

Video streaming quality: I am an Amazon Prime member ($80 a year, free 2-day shipping, free video streaming, free Kindle book loaning). All Kindle Fire’s come with a free month so you can start using the free streaming video. The Instant Prime streaming  library doesn’t have the library of Netflix but it surprisingly has some pretty good stuff. The internet where I am currently living is pure crap and the streaming video still looked pretty good. It only buffered twice. I cannot comment on the streaming HD quality since my internet speed does not allow me to view anything in HD.

The screen: The screen is very clear and vibrant. I watched an HD video that I transferred to the Kindle Fire from my Mac and it looked awesome. Amazon says that they design their products to become invisible when you are reading/watching something on it and this is true. You forget that you are holding the device in your hands when you are looking at the screen.

The Bad:

Lack of buttons: The only buttons on the device is the power button, which is located at the bottom of the device. No volume button, no home button, no orientation lock, nothing but an on/off/sleep/wake button. This gets annoying when listening to music or watching a video. You need to turn the device on, unlock the screen, click the little gear icon on the top right corner to bring up all the controls (brightness, volume, orientation lock). On the bottom left of the screen is the home button which will get you back to the shelf-like homescreen. Usually, just a tap will bring up these controls but in some cases, for some apps, you need to click a little arrow to bring up these controls. I’m not sure why sometimes a simple tap brings up the controls and why something a little arrow in the middle of the screen does. It’s a inconsistent experience.

The Keyboard: I’m an iOS guy and I feel the keyboard needs a bit of work. I always find myself typing “p” instead of the backspace. The space bar is also pretty small so when I think I’m pressing the space, I’m actually pressing the period key.

The homescreen: This is really different from all the tablets out there. The homescreen isn’t just a grid of icons, instead we get a shelf which displays EVERYTHING on your Kindle in a cover-flow like way. All your books, magazines, videos, and apps are on this cover-flow shelf. It’s not a bad design, however, a lot of unnecessary stuff ends up there. Watch 2 seconds of a video, it’s cover appears on the shelf. A screenshot of the website you are looking at also appears on the shelf. There is no way of deleting anything that appears on your shelf. So if you downloaded a trashy romance novel, be prepared to be forced to look at the cover every time you turn on your Kindle Fire.

Lack of USB cord: The Kindle Fire does NOT ship with everything you need. If you want to transfer content from your PC/Mac to the Kindle Fire, you need a Micro USB cord. This cord does not come with the Kindle Fire. It does, however, come with their other Kindle products. I have to say that if I didn’t already have this cord from my eInk Kindle, I would have sent the Kindle Fire back. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants content from their computer, that wasn’t purchased from Amazon, to be on their tablet, especially when that tablet is made for content consumption.

The So-So:

The volume: The volume of the device seems pretty low. In a moderately noisy location, the sound from the speakers are barely audible. I assume that’s why it has a headphone jack.

The browser: While the browser isn’t horrible, it isn’t awesome either. I’m used to the iPad’s Safari browser which is pretty good. The pinch to zoom is either way too fast or way too slow. The loading doesn’t seem to be noticeably faster most of the time, though Amazon said it would be. It does play flash which is nice but I noticed some problems on full sites, like YouTube for example. Some pages aren’t formatted correctly and it just creates a some what of a mess on the screen. It works well most of the time but it isn’t the ideal experience. Hopefully Amazon will fix this with a software update.

The apps: Compared to iOS, the Amazon App Store doesn’t have nearly as big of a selection. Finding apps is easy but good luck finding the ones you want. I suspect this to be an Android problem since I had similar experiences on Android phones when it comes to finding an app that does what I want, it just doesn’t do what I want well.

Reading: The Kindle Fire is not an eReader, or at least it shouldn’t be. If you want to read, buy a normal Kindle since normal Kindle’s still have an eInk display which is much, much better to read on. The glare and LCD screen of the Kindle Fire makes reading books a pretty bad experience. Magazines, however, are fine to read. Since magazines are mostly glossy pages with color pictures, the Kindle Fire’s glossy, color screen really fits the magazine format. It’s also better when the publisher takes the time to optimize the magazine for a tablet. GQ, for example, formats for the screen and includes videos and links on where to buy the clothes. DETAILS magazine is basically a PDF, which sucks.

I only had this device for a day and time will tell if I decide to keep it or not but as of now, I like the device. For what I want to do with it, it’s fine. It’s not an iPad killer because the iPad can do so much more. If you want to sit back, watch a movie, read a magazine and browse the web without having a heavy, big laptop on your lap, than the Kindle Fire is a good option. If you want to create your own content and want something that is a big bigger (and heavier), I would go with an iPad. Either way, you really can’t go wrong with a $200 tablet.

Pictures:  Click to enlarge. 1st image: Kindle Fire box. 2: Inside the box. 3: Tiny Quick Start guide. 4:Power plug. 5:Kindle Fire startup. 6:Lock screen. 7: Streaming video (The Tudors)

Amazon Will Monopolize Your Holiday Shopping

I should start out by saying that I have loved Amazon for years. They have provided me with free 2-day shipping and very cheap next day shipping. I have ordered every blu-ray disc that I own from Amazon, almost all of my PS3 games, my 40” HDTV, HDMI cables, BD player, MacBook Pro and when I’m enrolled in college, I purchase all of my supplies there. I also own a Kindle, which completely changed the act of reading for me.

The reason why Amazon works is because it’s so cheap and easy. Everything is cheaper on Amazon (at least in my experience) and when you start to use it as much as I do, the $80 a year payment for Amazon Prime pretty much pays for itself. Now, all Amazon Prime users get free instant streaming of movies and TV shows. Sure, the content library isn’t as big as, let’s say, Netflix, but still, it’s much cheaper than Netflix if you consider all that Amazon Prime offers.

So enough with this praising of Amazon and let’s get to the new products.

I wasn’t a big reader until I got a Kindle. Now, I read an average of 30 minutes each night. The e-ink screen is fantastic for reading books, since it simulates actual paper and ink, and the device is perfect for holding, about the size and weight of a paper back book. Last week, Amazon announced three new Kindles at really low prices.

The Kindle $79: is lighter than the previous generation, at less than 6 ounces (30% lighter) but has the same 6 inch e-ink display. It has built in WiFi but does not have 3G at all. It has all the same features as the old Kindle except it does not have a keyboard. This, in my opinion, isn’t great since you have to use the d-pad to type which is a bit annoying and not as fast or easy as using a keyboard but if it makes the device lighter and smaller (the new Kindle is 18% smaller than the previous generation) than I’m all for it.

All the new Kindle’s start at their Special Offers price. The Special Offers version of the Kindle’s display ads when the device is turned off. There is also a little bar with ads when you are on the home screen but as soon as you start reading a book, the ads go away. Some people might be annoyed with the fact that they are served ads on their Kindle but with the price difference (the Kindle without the Special Offers is $109) and the fact that it does not distract from your reading makes it a very good option.

The new Kindle is available now for purchase.

The new Kindle Touch is also a pretty sexy device and should be a big hit this holiday season. At only $99, $139 without special offers, or the Kindle Touch 3G for $149 or $189 without special offers, it’s a really cheap gift.

The Kindle Touch has the same e-ink display as the Kindle, just with multi-touch technology. I’m not sure how “multi-touch” this is since no one has been able to get a real hands on review of this product yet but either way, it does appear to be very similar to the Barnes and Noble Nook touch. It is 8% lighter and 11% smaller than the Kindle but features the same size screen. In my opinion, the Kindle Touch is the e-ink Kindle to buy this season, with or without 3G. The Kindle Touch is released on November 21st and you can start pre-ordering now.

Now for the product that a lot of people have been waiting for: The Kindle Fire.

The Kindle Fire is a 7 inch, LCD color screen tablet. Think of the original iPad but just in a smaller, lighter product. The Kindle Fire does not have 3G or cameras but honestly, it’s not needed. This is the tablet for content consumption, not creation. It has a dual-core processor for fast navigation. The cool thing about the Kindle Fire is the UI. Amazon took the bare bones of Android and totally customized it to their own UI. The Kindle Fire features a shelf-like interface where you can scroll through your content, similar to Apple’s Cover Flow.

Books, magazines, movies and TV shows play on this device. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you get free streaming movies on this device the same way you do on Amazon.com. Don’t be worried about hard drive space. Amazon uses their WhisperSync service to back up and serve you your content via the cloud. This also allows you to start watching a movie on the Kindle Fire and then start watching the same movie directly where you left off on your computer or TV. 

The web browser on the Kindle Fire is really interesting. Amazon will predict what web page you will go to and load it in the background so when you finally do navigate to that page, it will already be ready. For example, if you go to nytimes.com, it may start pre-loading the Business section if you frequently go to that page after loading up nytimes.com. Basically, Amazon learns your browsing history and starts loading pages before you get there.

Wifi, movies, books, magazines, TV shows, free-streaming for Prime members, the Amazon App Store: The Kindle Fire is only $199 and will be released on November 15th. You can pre-order now. For that price, why bother getting any other tablet?

If you are interested in the older kindle, you can a “Kindle Keyboard” for $99 with Special Offers or $139 without. The Kindle Keyboard 3G is $139 with Special Offers and  $189 without.

If you are a reader or a person who wants a tablet, there is very little reason as to why you should not buy one or all of these products (The entire Kindle family is less than the cheapest 3G iPad).

Amazon is sure to be selling these products like hot cakes. If I didn’t already have a Kindle, I would buy one of these new models. I already pre-ordered a Kindle Fire.

Apple, You Make Computers…Right?

MacBook Pro 2011

Judging by Apple’s latest actions, you would assume that they don’t.

Yesterday Apple finally updated their MacBook Pro computer line. Giving it HD graphics power, a new port to take advantage of Intel’s ThunderBolt technology, new FaceTime HD camera and the use of Intel’s new Sandy Bridge i7 chips. While the inside of the computers changed quite a bit, the outside did not.

Unless you went to the Apple website or follow any of the tech blogs, you would have no idea that Apple updated the MacBook Pro’s. There was no fancy press conference, no Steve Jobs keynote and no teasing. There was nothing changed to the Apple website other than the MacBook Pro page and the homepage. You might think ‘well, why should they? Nothing besides the inside changed’, and that’s true. It wasn’t a huge upgrade in terms of technology but think about all the things Apple has made a huge deal over in the past few months…like The Beatles a few months ago.

The day before Apple put the entire Beatles catalogue on iTunes, Apple teased on it’s homepage that tomorrow would be the “day you will never forget” with a series of clock icons displaying the times around the world when the homepage would update. This of course freaked out the tech industry with everyone trying to guess what it would be. I remember waking up at 9am, grabbing my iPhone, going to Apple.com and seeing a picture of The Beatles with huge font above it saying “The Beatles. Now On iTunes”. Not a new computer, not new software, not even a new iPod. All we got was music from the 60’s on iTunes. Non-Beatles fans didn’t care and Beatles fans already had this music in their iTunes library, so what was the point?

iPhones, iPods and now the iPad takes the front row in Apple’s eye. This is very clear. In 2007 when Apple released the iPhone they changed from “Apple Computer, Inc” to “Apple Inc” but of course we all know that Apple got it start from making computers. Apple’s most powerful (and my personal favorite) products are their computers. The sad thing is that most people, when they think of Apple think about everything besides the Mac.

Apple needs to remember where their apple tree roots (…bad pun, sorry) came from and get back to doing what they do best: Making the best computers in the world. They need to start putting the spotlight on their computers instead of being a phone and MP3 company. Hell, even the useless Apple TV got more attention than the new MacBook Pros.

HP’s Think Beyond event had me Thinking Dirty

On Wednesday, February 9th, HP had a “Think Beyond” event where they showed off their new products powered by webOS which they acquired by buying Palm a while ago.HP logo

If you are familiar with the Palm Pre/Palm Pixi, it used a very interesting operating system called webOS. WebOS uses a “card” interface for multitasking and browsing of different applications on the phone. Each application is viewed in a “card” and when you want to kill an app, all you need to do is flick the card up off the screen and the program quits. I never owned a Palm Pre but I did get my hands on one and I did enjoy using the OS. Sadly, Palm was brought by HP after struggling to keep in business since not that many people brought the Palm Pre or any of its follow-up devices. We in the tech community have been looking forward to the day when we would see future webOS devices, especially webOS on a tablet. That day finally arrived.

HP Veer

Veer: Credit to Engadget

The HP Veer: Now this phone is pretty interesting. It is the size of a credit card but still has a full QWERTY keyboard and all the features you would expect from a phone similar to the Palm Pre. Personally, I don’t see the need for a phone that is this small. I can’t imagine typing on the keyboard being a fun experience and I can’t imagine using picture and video apps on such a small screen. In the day when people view a lot of content on their phones I’m not sure if this is a hit for HP. I assume that HP would like you to buy their tablet to view all of your multimedia on and I will admit that I almost never watch video on my phone because the screen is too small (I have a iPhone 4) but I still don’t know what  consumer would buy this device.

Pre 3: This one is pretty sexy, folks. It’s basically just like all the Palm phones running webOS that we seen in the past but with a larger screen and more features that are common on smartphones today. It can shoot HD video, has a mobile-hotspot feature, WiFi, Apps…basically all the things you expect. Being an iPhone user, I’m not amazed by any of this but I am a fan

HP Pre 3

HP Pre 3. Credit to HP

of the sleek design and of course, once again, webOS. My only issue with this phone is the physical keyboard. Using the iPhone for all these years has made it impossible for me to type on small, fixed, plastic keys. I don’t think that the Pre 3 has a touchscreen keyboard so that makes the chances of me ditching my iPhone for this device pretty slim but I will put it out there that if I was going to ditch my iPhone, it would be for a device similar to the Pre 3.

Now let’s get to my favorite part (and the reason for the title): The HP TouchPad. The TouchPad is a tablet running webOS. The TouchPad has a 9.7 inch touch screen with the same resolution as the current iPad. Weighs in at 1.6 pounds, has WiFi, front-facing camera, 16 or 32 GB of storage and pretty much all the bells and whistles of all the tablets coming out this year. The most interesting feature is this is the first time a tablet is running the webOS software. It works the same way as the Pre phones (with the card interface) and it seems to run pretty smooth. The thing about webOS is that is just makes sense. The navigation is simple, it features REAL multitasking and it looks pretty good. The TouchPad also has this cool feature where if you have a Pre phone, you can place the phone on top of the home button on the TouchPad and whatever is displaying on the tablet will be sent to the phone and vice versa wirelessly. It’s also a pretty sexy device. Usually I tend to favor Jony Ive and the Apple design team for their aesthetic on the products they create but HP hit a home run with the design for the TouchPad.

HP TouchPad

HP TouchPad. Credit to HP

Let’s compare this to the iPad since lets face it, unless you’re an Android nerd, you are probably considering getting the iPad 2. The iPad 2 is rumored to be thinner, lighter and have 2 cameras. No change to the design, no change to the screen resolution, still running iOS which honestly, isn’t all that impressive on the iPad. It is tough to compare a product that is on the market to a product that won’t be released for some time but I’ll try to do my best with what I know. The HP TouchPad runs Flash, the iPad does not and never will. Since I own an iPad and a iPhone, I can assure you that there are some moments during basic web-browsing that I stubble upon a site that is running Flash and I cannot access it. Flash is a plus. WebOS vs iOS: iOS to me never had real multitasking. It isn’t super simple to switch between apps and most apps in the app store do not take advantage of the multitasking capabilities. WebOS on the other has a simple way of showing you all the apps that are open and an easy way to kill these apps. On the iPad or iPhone, to view all the apps you have open it’s a 5 step process of double-tapping the home button, swiping left or right and to kill the apps it’s an extra step of pressing down, waiting for them to jiggle and then pressing the tiny X that pops up. It’s not too bad on the iPhone but it’s pretty annoying on the iPad.

If you can’t tell, I’m impressed by the products shown off by HP during this event. Pricing and release dates are not available so we have to wait on that. If the pricing is good and if there aren’t any major problems with the HP TouchPad, it might be the first time I purchased non-Apple tech in about 2 years.