Category Archives: Geek

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Tablet Time Warp

Just over two years ago, I bought a Motorola Xoom tablet. It had been the top Android tablet of 2011, which is damning with faint praise. But, it was $600 for the Wifi-only model or $800 for the 3G model when it was released. I got the 3G model but never used the 3G part of it, and only paid $200 18 months after it was released. Needless to say, it did not do well in the market of the time. This month, I splurged and got myself an Nvidia Shield tablet. This is at the top of the Android tablet market for 2014, so it seems a good comparison can be made about the progress of Android in the tablet space over the past three-plus years. It’s a mixed bag, to be sure.

The first thing you notice about a tablet when you pick it up is how it feels in your hand. The Xoom weighs 730 grams (over 1.5 pounds), while the Shield weighs 390 grams (less than one pound). The Shield is so lightweight, I’m constantly amazed at how much it can do. Of course, the reviews talk about the Shield as being heavy, so apparently less-powerful tablets are lighter. But, the Shield can play Half-Life 2 and Portal! Besides weight, there are other physical aspects of the tablets that strike me. The Xoom feels like a tank. Its body is primarily metal, with a plastic strip to expose the various antennas. The Shield feels delicate. It’s all-plastic, and my first one had a crack when I took it out of the package (RMA time!). For this reason, I’ve ordered a hybrid shock-absorbing hard case for the Shield. If I’m going to be using it to take credit card orders at craft shows, I want it to be protected.

Once you get the thing in your hand, you’ll turn it on. The Xoom has a 1280×800 screen (160 ppi) that can be described as adequate. Colors are a little washed out, and viewing angles are not bad. The Shield’s 1920×1200 screen (293 ppi) is really nice. It’s only 8 inches, instead of the Xoom’s 10 inches, and so it squeezes a lot of pixels into a small space. The tablets with even higher resolution might be just chasing specs, since this has no visible pixels at normal viewing distances. The colors don’t shift, the blacks are blacker, and the whole feeling is just nicer. Even though it’s 2 inches smaller, I can read pages at least as easily on the Shield as the Xoom. It does seem that both screens are a bit dim, so sunlight is a tough place to use them.

Both devices also have stereo speakers, but the Xoom has them facing away from the user for reasons that remain inexplicable. The Shield gets loud and the speakers face front. Both devices have 32GB of storage, which is mystifying. Do modern manufacturers not understand how truly large some programs are getting? Thankfully, both also have Micro SD card slots, and the Shield supports moving apps to the card as well as content. The Xoom has 1GB of RAM, and the Shield has 2 GB. Some other high end tablets are shipping with 3 GB, but 2 is probably plenty for the foreseeable future.

What about power? Whooboy, have things changed in the performance realm. Xoom and Shield both use Nvidia Tegra chips. The Xoom is a Tegra 2, a dual-core 1Ghz CPU with a 400Mhz GeForce GPU. It was quite a nice piece of kit for 2011, but programmers have been expanding the capabilities of Android apps and Google’s own services since then. It’s feeling pretty sluggish today, with pauses and hiccups aplenty. The Shield SOC is the Tegra K1 32-bit variant. This has a quad-core 2.2Ghz CPU with a Kepler-class GPU. Overall, the power of the K1 is in the same ballpark as an Xbox 360 (which came out in 2005, so don’t get too excited). Benchmarks are phenomenally different between the two systems – Xoom gets an Antutu score of 5000, Shield is over 40,000. 3dmark Icestorm on the Xoom gets 1290, but 31500 on the Shield.

But, what about daily usage? That’s where things get frustrating. In 2012, I was struck by how frequently I ran into portrait-only apps on Android. I have not seen a huge increase in non-Google apps that use the landscape orientation, other than games. In fact, some apps which did work on the Xoom in landscape last year were updated to be portrait-only this year. TiVo is a big offender here. It was late bringing out an Android version to begin with, then it produced two – one for phones and one for tablets. Earlier this year, they merged the two, but dropped support for landscape mode and dropped support for the older app as well. In fact, loading the app which worked just fine would cause it to immediately close with the message that you needed to get the new one, regardless of the fact that the new one didn’t bloody well work on the device. So I ended up with no TiVo-branded app on my Xoom. There are a number of apps which work in landscape on the Xoom but force the Shield into portrait mode. Apparently the programmers figured the smaller screen meant, “treat it like a big phone.” For some reason, the popular casual games Simpsons Tapped Out and Family Guy Quest for Stuff are buggy as heck on the Shield, but work just fine on the Xoom. I’ll be generous and give them some time to fix them, but the Shield did come out in July.

Even Google’s own apps are not perfect when it comes to landscape mode. The Google Inbox program (which is starting to grow on me) works in landscape, but doesn’t make very good use of the extra width. Worse, it forces you to perform the quick setup steps in portrait mode. If even El Goog doesn’t care enough about landscape to allow their programs to work exclusively in that orientation, the likelihood of anyone else supporting it enthusiastically is pretty low.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Shield. I got it during the Black Friday promo, so it came with not just Trine 2, but Half-Life 2, Portal, Half-Life 2 Episode 1 (upcoming), and the Shield Controller. The controller makes the smaller screen less cramped for games that support it, that’s for sure. That I can play Portal or some very impressive racing games on a device that weighs less than a pound is just amazing. That it cost half what the Xoom did less than four years earlier is really a testament to Moore’s Law.

KARE Crafts on Etsy

I recently started selling paracord crafts on Etsy, to support Kat’s animal rehab work. If you’re not comfortable emailing me or contacting me via Facebook message for custom work, you can hit up the Etsy site for more structure.

We could really use the support right now. The sales we’ve made so far this year have not covered all our animal rehab expenses, and this weekend Kat’s truck got wrecked by someone running a red light. I’ll work my fingers to the bone to create all the leashes and collars and other crafts you order; I’ve got plenty of cord and supplies, and a budget shortfall that was not anticipated.

Thank you, and the squirrels thank you.

Crazy Tablet Time

Tablet computers seem to have matured quite a bit in the past two years, giving the market a great deal of options for consumers to pick through. What’s really amazing is to see the older generations showing up on daily deal sites. Today, the DailySteals folks have the original Galaxy Tab (no 2 or 3 or plus) on sale for $100. That may seem like a great deal for a tablet that got middling reviews on its release, until you realize that its release was in 2010. How is there still any stock left of those things?

Meanwhile, over on Nomorerack, the Sony Xperia Tablet S is available for $280. This is a tablet that was launched 10 months ago for $400, so that may seem like a good deal to you as well. Ten months is not so long ago, and it has the same basic guts as the much-loved Google Nexus 7 (along with a full-size SD card slot for the shutterbugs out there). But, the reviews from last fall should make you think about staying away from that one too. It has issues with GPS lock-on and some strange concepts of when wifi should shut off, along with a skin that sucks some of the power out of that Tegra 3 chip. It might be a good deal, if you never use GPS and don’t need background data to run when the tablet is asleep, but then again this does appear to be a time of great new tablets this fall so you may want to wait just a little while.

Google is probably going to introduce the NewNexus 7 or whatever they end up calling it (the only inventory screen I’ve seen calls it the Nexus 2 7″ for what that’s worth) very soon. It’s showing up all over the place, and looks to be a giant leap above the rest of the 7″ tablet pack. And, there are a pack of Tegra 4 and Snapdragon-powered tablets from other manufacturers in the pipeline. If you’re a portable gaming geek, you probably already ordered your Nvidia Shield.

Last August, I bought a Motorola Xoom, not really sure if I’d really use it but willing to drop $200 for an $800 device. It turns out that I use it a lot, with the Chromebook just collecting dust for months now. With that in mind, I’m really looking forward to reading the reviews of the new batch of tablets when they come out. The Asus Transformer is what I’m leaning toward, as I’d certainly get the keyboard dock and then have a decent typing experience on the tablet when I needed it, while Asus has developed a great reputation with their previous tablets (let’s just forget about the TF201 entirely, shall we?). While I was willing to “go cheap” on the Xoom, just to test the waters, I’ll probably consider my next tablet a serious purchase, so no last-year’s refurb for me this time around.

Anyone else watching the tablet wars?

Tablet Thoughts

Two months ago and with the urging of my lovely bride, I splurged on a toy I did not need but has become quite frequently used – a Xoom tablet. For those not immersed in the Android geek zeitgeist, the Xoom was intended to be the first “Pure Android” tablet, the first one actually blessed by Google, and hoped to be the iPad Killer. It fell short of killing much of anything, but all the reviewers said it was a nice piece of kit, just too expensive. In the Spring of 2011, it was a $799 device; in August of 2012, it was $199. My how the mighty have fallen.

This is not to say that it’s not a great device, it was just priced out of the market. 800 bucks is how much I spend on a desktop computer that can play Crysis, it’s not even close to what I’d pay for something that I use to surf the web from my recliner. It’s obvious that I’m not the only one with that opinion, as the $200 7″ tablet market is quite competitive. Somehow, nobody has been able to beat Apple on the price and quality of their 10″ tablets, but since Steve Jobs famously said that 7″ tablets were stupid and wrong, Amazon was able to get a toehold there. People like $200 devices. When the VCR was young, it had to drop to $200 before people would buy them. The same phenomenon happened with CD players, DVD players, ad nauseum. At $500 or more, the iPad is a luxury item and requires thinking and planning to purchase for most of us. At $200, the Kindle Fire was a ludicrously popular Christmas gift.

Now we have the iPad Mini on the market, a 7.9″ shrunken iPad 2 and the cheapest iPad ever. Of course, it’s not the cheapest decent tablet ever – that’s the $159 Kindle Fire (2012 edition). These two devices should probably not be compared head-to-head, since even the rather elderly silicon in the iPad Mini can kick the Fire’s digital butt without raising a sweat. But, we also have the Google Nexus 7, which is cheaper and more powerful than the Mini. And, we also have the coming Nexus update next week, with promised price drops and a higher-memory model. We’ll see how that works out.

There was a rather strange period in the Mini introduction where Apple showed how much larger a 7.9″ screen was compared to a 7″ screen. Of course, they used the aspect ratio to their advantage as well, only demonstrating applications that didn’t take advantage of a 16:9 screen. But, using the number of inches of screen as a discriminating factor seems odd to many geeks – we care much more about the number of pixels. And here, the Mini is at a disadvantage. There is not a tablet on the market from a big manufacturer other than the Fire (non-HD variant) with a lower number of pixels than the Mini. I’m sure the screen is quite pretty, but it’s just a peculiar thing to go on about.

Much more important in the comparison was the problem of Android tablet apps. They suck. I’ve had my Xoom for two months now, and I’ve never used an iPad of any kind for comparison, but Android tablet apps are a mixed bag of great and shitty designs. I love using my Xoom as a radio for when I’m reading, tuning into KROQ in Los Angeles or KNDD in Seattle. None of the online radio apps recognizes that a tablet is not a phone. They all have portrait-only interfaces and are just crappy to operate. Even Pandora, which has a decent tablet app that wastes a relatively low amount of space, has a homescreen widget that doesn’t work on a landscape orientation without cutting off its control buttons. Games are a definite bright spot, but I notice that a lot of games on Android are subsets of their iOS equivalents. I loved Galaxy on Fire 2, but it’s not a very long game until you look at the DLC. This DLC is, unfortunately, only available on Apple products. Android gets the base game and should be happy for it! I really like Plants vs. Zombies on Windows, but the Android version is incompatible with anything using Android 4.x – so that kills it for the Nexus 7 and my updated Xoom as well as any newer devices coming out. There are a lot of reasons for the moribund application development for Android tablets (market share, fragmentation, piracy, to name a few), but I’ll let analysts beat that drum. Looking at it from an end-user perspective, it just sucks.

So, Apple points out that of the gajillion apps in the App Store, over a quarter million of them are tablet-specific. And when Apple says tablet-specific, they don’t mean, “make your phone app bigger.” Those apps are well-designed and use the large screen of the tablet to good effect. The ecosystem is an ever-more-important part of a gadget purchasing decision. Amazon realized that early on, with their Kindle ereader producing massive lock-in and extending that to the Kindle video and music ecosystems. Apple has been heavily invested in promoting their iTunes/App Store ecosystems and they are winning this competition. The race isn’t even close, and anyone who claims otherwise should probably be examined professionally.

Apple charges a premium when you just compare the hardware. But, there’s no fragmentation in their App Store, and there’s a great supply of apps. Is the enormous gulf between iPad apps and Android tablet apps enough to validate charging $130 more for worse hardware? As we get closer to the holiday purchasing frenzy, it should be interesting to watch how much people are willing to pay for the ecosystem over the hardware.

Surface = Zune

Microsoft’s announced Surface tablets remind me of Zune and not just because of the Metro interface. Sure, it looks nice. Almost everyone who ever touched a Zune said they were built phenomenally well. But there aren’t that many people who touched one. Why is that?

Of course, the “late to market” problem is obvious. Zune came to market after the iPod had already eaten Creative’s lunch and only a few players like Sandisk and Sony stuck around with new devices, all of which worked with Microsoft’s own “PlaysForSure” system. Network effects will lead to a difficult path for pure Metro apps, now that iPad and Android have years of customer buy-in behind them. Would you leave your current environment, just to buy all the programs you use a second time? This assumes that the programs actually materialize. And a tablet without Angry Birds is no tablet at all.

Besides the network effects, the Windows RT experience duplicates the Zune (and iOS too) in the locked-down nature of the entire ecosystem. You can’t boot anything but WinRT on the tablet (UEFI is locked), you can’t install anything except approved Metro apps from the Windows Store, there is no sideloading and no bypassing the paywall. Anyone who likes that sort of thing already has an iPad. Those who find those restrictions onerous won’t buy an iOS device nor WinRT device.

Competing with your own customers is a very Zune-like move I see in the Surface tablet. Zune tried a completely new ecosystem, ignoring the PlaysForSure ecosystem which had preceded it and annoying Microsoft’s former partners in the process. Surface tablets are going to be competitively priced with Microsoft’s own partners’ tablets. That’s not really competitive, it’s predatory in many minds.

Not Zune-like, but still weird to me is the whole announcement itself. I’d have thought that manufacturers would have learned by now that vapor announcements are just stupid. Look at Apple – they announce something when it’s ready for sale. Those few items which they may “pre-announce” have solid shipping dates and prices. Microsoft says their tablets will be competitively priced and will arrive eventually. Also, nobody was allowed to touch the full Windows Pro tablets. It makes one wonder if they’re hiding something there – not ready for even sympathetic tech media to handle?

Those covers do look neat though. So there’s that.

They Grow Up So…well, eventually

The Boy really surprised me this Father’s Day. Part one of the surprise is that he actually remembered the day, although that may be thanks to Kat. The next part of the surprise is how nice a gift he got me. It was relevant and not cheap (Calphalon bakeware to replace some of the cheaper things banging around in the kitchen). Finally, we were at the local media store (books are such a small part of their stock) and he ran off to buy a t-shirt. He used that t-shirt to wrap the pans! Not only generous, but ingenious as well. And the shirt was Doctor Who themed, so bonus points there.

All around, I could not have asked for a better recognition that I’ve got some sort of place in his heart. Maybe this parenting stuff is working after all.

Aero Dead

According to Microsoft’s Windows 8 blog, Aero is dead in Win8. This is being touted by many of the geek press as a long-overdue reduction in skeuomorphism, and a move to a “purely digital” view of the computer environment, rather than viewing everything on the computer as a metaphor for a real-world object. Of course, the original Windows wasn’t very analog, but it did pepper physical objects around as icons (a floppy disk, painter’s pallet, etc.).

BeOS A number of commentators make it sound as though Microsoft is doing something radically new and different, with flat colors and sharp corners. They seem to have forgotten every other operating environment ever. For a quick look at some examples, here’s a post I wrote comparing BeOS and Mandrake Linux to Windows 98 (yes, that long ago). Notice the BeOS windows? They look nothing like a real-world object, and they use bright primary colors and minimal shading. Huh. Imagine that.

I’m not trying to say that moving away from shiny translucency is a bad thing. All that extra compositing the graphics engine has to do just wastes cycles, and who really needs fuzzy drop shadows anyway? I think Microsoft is trying to squeeze as much battery life out of portables as possible, and making the graphics card less stressed is a good way to do that. I can’t help but wonder when the Apple i-world is going to start reducing skeuomorphs. I understand the address book is particularly hideous.

Tivo vs. MythTV

It’s been over a month since my MythTV DVR committed suicide and I replaced it with a Tivo from my cable company. I think I’ve explored the features enough to be able to deliver a decent comparison of the two. Overall, I think I’d be very satisfied with a Tivo if I’d never used MythTV. Let me go into some more detail.

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We’ve Come a Long Way

Every so often, an event reminds me of the rapidly changing face of technology. I was reading a review of Gnome Shell this morning, and of course there’s the never-ending stream of iPad news this month…but the trigger for me this week was the purchase of a terabyte hard drive and being upset that it cost over $100. Coincidentally, it’s almost exactly 20 years since I got my first Windows PC. Let me take a look at how far I’ve come from that old CompUSA 486 to my current machine, which I call Ralf (the Wise and Powerful).

My desktop computer now has 2.5 terabytes of fixed disk storage and 1.5 terabytes of external storage. The 486 had 120 megabytes, so I’ve got twenty thousand times more storage space. The single-core 486 had a 33 megahertz clock, and Ralf has 3.0 gigahertz quad-core chip – 90 times the clock speed and at least five hundred times the computer power (bogomips of around 800 times greater).

While the 486 had 4 megabytes of RAM, Ralf has 12 gigabytes – three thousand times more memory. In 1992, I was glad to have a 14″ monitor, with the impressive resolution of 800×600 with 16-bit color; my 24″ LCD has 1920×1080 resolution and 32-bit color – five times the number of pixels and ten times the video bandwidth.

One of the most influential games of 1992 was Dune II – the first realtime strategy game to become a hit and the precursor to Warcraft. 2012 is barely begun, but it’s hard not to think of Mass Effect 3 as being a big deal on the PC.

Wow, have we come a long way in twenty years.
Also on my desk, I have a Chumby One. The Chumby has a 454 megahertz processor, 64 megabytes of RAM, 1 gigabyte of storage, and a 320×240 touchscreen. Except for the screen resolution, the Chumby beats the 486 by leaps and bounds – it cost me 45 bucks.

The Well-Heeled Gamer

Bloomberg News recently posted their look at how much it costs a family of four to be gamers. They apparently believe a family of four to be composed of members of Michael Bloomberg’s family, because they came up with some whoppers for their hardware choices.

They believe that gamers pay $3000 for a gaming PC and $800 for the monitor, in addition to having an Xbox 360 with surround sound system attached to a 60″ television and paying $200 per month for internet service. WTF?

I can play every game out there for Windows, and I built my machine over a year ago for $800, plus (generously estimating) $250 for the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Today, you can easily buy a gaming PC or laptop that will play Crysis 2 or Arkham City or Skyrim for under $1000, all in.

They don’t stop with just a few ridiculous assumptions, though. They also believe we gamers routinely pay $250 for headsets. We all own iPod Touches, $250 chairs with built-in speakers, and pay full MSRP for 70 games per year (30 Xbox, 30 Steam and 10 iPod).

All of this stupidity leads them to say it costs $17000 per year to be a gamer. They are smoking crack. I buy at least a dozen or so games per year, but I never pay full price. I maybe drop $200 on games for the year, not the $2000 that Bloomberg thinks I do. And how many gamers who don’t work for a magazine actually own a steering wheel or other exotic add-ons? Nuts.

Stoopid Suddenlink

While playing Cityville and checking GearDiary for new geekery, suddenly the internet stopped. DNS requests are failing as unresolved for such smaller and little-known sites as Google. As of now, 20 minutes later, I cannot get to Google or Facebook or Youtube or GearDiary. Somehow, I can get to Woot and LOLCats and Livejournal.  Yet another example of high quality Suddenlink service.

SOPA

There are some people who are expressing incredulity that anyone believes the Internet Blackout scheduled for the 18th is a good idea. The argument goes something like this, “Not producing content on Wednesday is like not buying gasoline on Wednesday. You’ll just do the writing on Tuesday or Thursday, so what do you gain?” This fungibility theory of content is, I think, missing the point. While boycotting Texaco for one day is relatively pointless and unnoticed by the corporation you’re trying to hurt, that is not at all like blacking out Wikipedia for one day.

While gasoline boycotts are intended to send a message to the big oil companies (who don’t even notice the blip), the Internet Blackout is intended to raise awareness among the non-geek set. Those of us who read Gizmodo or Slashdot are very well versed in SOPA/PIPA and DMCA and all the other acronyms we hate to see pop up in a news story. But, think about your less-geeky friends who don’t know that DMCA is evil and don’t know what DRM is. They are like Jon Stewart, who only last week had someone in his audience ask him about SOPA and he had to profess complete ignorance. The normal folks in the world have not been following the SOPA debate and they aren’t mad about the United States attempting to erect the same sort of censorship plans as China (with the added benefit of giving corporations nearly unilateral police powers to shut down any site they don’t like).

How to get those non-geek people to add their voices to those of Vint Cerf and Eric Schmidt (who have already been ignored by Congressional committees because they don’t understand all that computer stuff)? You need to get their attention in a way that is hard to ignore. Since most people use Google regularly and Wikipedia frequently, slapping a giant black banner on those sites with, “Imagine if this site was down forever” will make at least some of them pay attention to what our elected representatives are proposing to do in our names. SOPA is bad legislation, it’s bad information security, it’s bad business. And, it won’t stop one damned pirate anyway.

Andysocial.com will be offline tomorrow. I know nobody will notice, since I have virtually no visitors, but it makes me feel better anyway.

Fiona Render

Razer Concepts

Switchblade playing QuakeLast year, Razer introduced the Switchblade mini-PC concept at CES. The idea was that you’d have a netbook-sized device which was primarily aimed at gaming, costing under a grand. It had a keyboard backed with a backlit LCD, so the keys would change to reflect whatever game you were playing. Something always felt off to me about this concept – what about the mouse? Every demo was behind glass or on video. Nobody actually saw this thing being used by a real human. It had a touchscreen, but no trackpad (nor room for one). And yet they told everyone that it would be great for playing first-person shooters as a gaming PC on the go. If you’re on the go, do you really want to bring along a mouse that is half the size of the computer itself? Or, do you want to poke the little bitty screen to move, thereby obliterating your view of the game?

Razer BladeEventually, Razer announced an actual product with Switchblade DNA, the Razer Blade. This is a full-sized laptop, and it still has some might morphin’ key action (for ten special keys), but they added a trackpad where the number pad would go on a normal PC 104-key keyboard. This seems like a great location for a trackpad for right-handed people and a complete deal-breaker for lefties. Also, that trackpad has a screen under it to allow the “screenpad” to reflect game-specific details. Nifty. Of course, it also costs over two thousand dollars.

Fiona Render

This year, Razer is showing off the Project Fiona concept gaming device. Instead of a tiny laptop, it’s a largish tablet. Unlike any tablet you’ve ever seen, it includes gaming sticks bolted to the sides. Using an analog stick to replace the mouse is at least plausible, although I wonder how it would work in action. Fortunately, many FPS games include gaming controller support, so they should work well with this device. But, it’s still not going to work for those games which really need a mouse, like strategy games and war games. Just like the Switchblade before it, Razer claims to be aiming at prices below a grand for this Windows 8 tablet with a Core i7 CPU and otherwise secretive parts.

What do you think, does this make sense to you? And do you think anything close to this design will ever be available for anywhere close to this price?

Kindle Fire Getting Netflix

Due to the relative paucity of information regarding precisely what applications will be available for the Kindle Fire, speculation was rampant. The biggest question for many people: would Netflix be allowed to compete with Amazon’s own video offerings? This morning, the answer arrived: yes.

Rest easy, pre-ordering early adopters; the Fire will not be a complete walled garden for you. Considering that B&N also has a curated app store for the Nook Tablet, this puts them on a relatively even footing in the app battle. That still leaves the subtle differences: Nook is somewhat more powerful and has significantly more storage, but costs more and isn’t named “Kindle.” Does Amazon also benefit from their giant PR blitz, which garnered them a million or so pre-orders before the Nook Tablet was announced? How many people will cancel a Fire pre-order to jump over to Nook? Seems unlikely to me.

Nookindle Fire Tablet

Barnes & Noble just finished their big reveal of the new Nook lineup. The press conference seemed like a lot of poking at Amazon, which is fun to see. The e-ink Nook Simple Touch is getting dropped to $99, which brings it inline with the Kindle Touch. There are a few differences, though – the Nook doesn’t support audiobooks or text-to-speech, but it also doesn’t come loaded with “special offers” at that price. The Kindle costs $40 more to nuke the ads.

Of course, the big story is the new Nook Tablet. Surprisingly, they aren’t putting the Nook Color out to pasture; it becomes their entry-level color device instead. The Nook Tablet gets twice the RAM and twice the storage of the Kindle Fire, as well as an expansion slot. Those are the most obvious differences in the hardware. The screen is supposed to be slightly better, and the CPU is 20% faster, but those differences are a bit harder to notice I’m betting.

The ecosystem is one of the deciding factors for these semi-mobile devices, and that’s going to be interesting to see work out over the coming months. Now that both retailers are going to have similar devices on the market simultaneously, the head-to-head competition will heat up more than it has in the past. When there was no color or touch Kindle, it was easy to dismiss the competition as being too dissimilar to really count.

Ecosystems…Amazon has their Prime program, which gets them an annual subscription fee and which gives the customer a variety of benefits. There are streaming videos from TV and movies, as well as free two-day shipping of many tangible products from the Amazon behemoth. Most recently, they added a free book “loan” per month (based on the explanation at Good E-Reader, it sounds more like they’ve paid for the books and are giving them away to entice more brand loyalty). Amazon also has their own Android app store, as well as the books they’re known for and their Audible book subsidiary.

Meanwhile, back at Barnes & Noble, they are touting the relative openness of the Nook Tablet in contrast to the curated experience at Amazon. You’ll be able to stream Netflix videos and Pandora music, as well as many other Android apps from the Nook app store. The Nook Color has become well known for being easily rootable; there’s no reason to predict the Tablet will be harder to root as B&N doesn’t try to lock people in as much as Amazon does.

So, the Fire gets you one location with all your media paid for annually and bit-by-bit. Nook gets you several services with their own payment systems and subscriptions, but with more storage and speed for $50 more money upfront. Which model becomes the big winner will be hard to predict, but it sure makes this holiday shopping season more entertaining to watch.

Obligatory Steve Jobs Memorial Post

It seems the internet has decreed that all geeks must post some essay or braindropping to commemorate the passing of Steve Jobs. I would be remiss in my geek role if I were to avoid this responsibility, so here goes: a memorial for Steve Jobs from someone who has never owned an Apple product.

I know, my various geek and media brethren, the very idea of not owning an iPod or iPad or iPhone or iWhatever is impossible for some to comprehend. But I come here not to praise Jobs but to bury him. Or something like that, anyway. Regardless of my complete lack of Apple ownership, there is still a great deal of Jobsian influence in my life.

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Kindle 2011 Edition

Kindle Pimpin’

Amazon just made life difficult for several competitors, but not Apple. Sorry, anyone looking for the iPad Killer, a 7″ tablet just isn’t the same category.

But, Barnes & Noble – you’ve been served notice now, beyotches. The cheapest Kindle is on sale right now, today, for $79. Cheapest Nook? $139. Oh, that’s gotta hurt. Coming in a month, the Kindle Fire competes directly with the Nook Color. Fire costs $200, or $50 less than the less-powerful Nook Color. There’s another stinging sensation right there.

Meanwhile, the ereader vendors who come out with alternatives, such as the ECTaco, Pandigital, and even venerable Sony brands are going to have a hard time finding buyers when they compete against a $79 Kindle backed by the Amazon bookstore, or the $99 Kindle Touch edition. Heck, the new top of the line e-ink Kindle is only $189 with 3G and wifi (save forty bucks if you don’t mind ads when the screen is “off”). None of the new models from the Amazon competitors include 3G free, and the “but I like to borrow from the library” folks got that problem answered last week when Overdrive’s Kindle support finally went live.

It’s really hard to believe that in November of 2007, $400 bought one of these ugly things, with 250MB of memory:

And in 2011, you can get this for only $79, with 2GB of memory:

I can’t imagine what magic Sony and B&N will have to pull out of their hats to have a chance of competing with Bezos’ latest babies.

Oh, and if you really want a Kindle with a keyboard, the Kindle 3 with Special Offers just got dropped 15 bucks to $99.

Windows 8 – The Onslaught Begins

To read the tech press the past couple weeks, you’d think Microsoft had created some sort of magical portal to a realm of unicorns and rainbows and cakes with zero calories, rather than a dual-mode operating system.

Even when reviewers and developers talk about traditional desktop/laptop computing in regards to Windows 8, they somehow miss some of the more glaring questions that power users may have. For instance, why in the world would I want a full-screen Facebook application on a 24″ monitor? How does the ludicrous number of icons installed in a typical Windows machine’s start menu align with the new “start page” model? They say there are groups of panels, which would be somewhat analogous to the folders of icons in the hierarchical menu, I presume. But, there are several dozen icons in about 15 folders on my work computer, which has not much installed on it.  On my home computer, I have literally hundreds of icons in the start menu. I have at least 20 games; if each one takes a bloody giant panel on the start page, it will take ages to scroll through.

This bizarre start page debacle is partially ameliorated, to be sure, by the ability to search easily within those icons. This is an ability carried over from Windows Vista and Windows 7, and is certainly something I use quite regularly, when I know the name of the program I want to launch. But, when I am looking for something, it’s a great deal more convenient to have 30-pixel high rows of icons to scroll through instead of 300-pixel blocks. I realize that the strangely non-flyout default start menu in Windows 7 only shows about 20 programs at a time, and the Windows 8 start page also can show approximately 20 programs at a time. But, the overall effect of the hierarchical model in the start menu means that I don’t scroll through EVERY icon to get to one at the bottom of the list. I scroll through twenty folders, and then open one folder and then maybe scroll through twenty icons to find the one I want – this is TWO scrolls. From what I can tell of the Windows 8 Metro model, I could be swiping left-to-right dozens more times to get to one particular program, if I didn’t remember its name. This is better?

And don’t even get me started on the Metro business model, where every single program available for the new interface must be sold only through Microsoft’s store. I know Microsoft envies Apple’s deathgrip on its market, but one reason why Apple only has 10% of the desktop and laptop business might be due to that deathgrip. Paying Microsoft 30% of the retail cost of a program might not be a business model that some developers can swallow. How do freeware programs and shareware programs fit into this model? Is there any room in Microsoft’s brave new world for anyone who can’t pay to play?

Another fun fact – Metro applications are not supposed to run in the background. If they get minimized, they go dormant. So much for powerful multitasking 8-core processors – we only need the one core, thanks.