Hey, Kids! It’s been a while… Lots has happened, but I’ll get caught up with that later. Of importance for this post is that I got an Amazon Kindle from the hubby for my b-day last month, and I’m loving it! I’ll write up a more elaborate review later, but see this Jaiku thread if you want to see my first impressions of the Kindle. For right now though, this post is about the reading light I just bought today.
I went searching for Kindle accessories and remembered I wanted to get a good reading light to use for reading in bed. I saw a recommendation on Mobileread for a couple Mighty Bright lights, one full-spectrum light, and another called the XtraFlex 2. Since the XtraFlex 2 was at my local Borders, I picked one up.
I just resized this picture. I didn’t tweak the contrast or anything so that you can see how bright and even the lighting is. The button at the top turns on both LEDs. Pressing it again turns off one of the LEDs. Pressing it a third time turns off the light.
Nice and simple, uses 3 AAA batteries, and apparently has an AC adapter. See here for more details.
*No, I don’t work for Mighty Bright, nor do I get anything for recommending their lights. I just like the product I bought.
I don’t think so… But I did just buy a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet from Woot.com a few minutes ago. *sheepish grin* I couldn’t resist it at $129.99 + $5 shipping! Granted, it’s not exactly chump change, but considering what the device is, $130 is a rock-bottom price that I’m sure wouldn’t see anywhere else for a new (supposedly) 770. It has a successor, the N800, of which many of you have seen my reviews, so it’s not like I’m getting the bleeding edge for super cheap. However, I did like the web browsing and PDF viewing on the N800 the best, and I think that even with the 770′s “last year” technology, it should do quite well as an occasional browser and e-book reader.
One thing I hated on the N800 was the fussiness of trying to get some of the Linux apps onto it (if it didn’t have a simple installer program already), so I fully expect to have that same annoyance in the 770, but hopefully it won’t be too bad. I think some of the issues on the N800 were 770 apps that weren’t properly ported over, or the firmware being too new (it’s ridiculous that firmware that’s too new should be a bad thing) for some apps that hadn’t been updated, so perhaps the older firmware of the 770 might work to its advantage in those cases. One other thing that might be a caveat, besides the 770′s overall slowness (so many reviews have mentioned), is its memory card support. It only supports RS-MMC cards, which seem to be hard to find right now. I’ll have to scrounge around for a 2GB card; a quick Google search showed links to eBay for a 2GB card for about $25, so it might not be that big a deal. People complain about companies like Sony using proprietary memory cards, but at least with “non-standard” cards like Memory Sticks, I can actually find those at the store! Oh well, once I get one 2GB RS-MMC, that’ll be the last I’ll need to worry about it, I hope.
This 770 Internet Tablet is my first Woot! purchase. I hope all goes well with the order processing. Supposedly it’ll be shipped within 5 business days, but I don’t even know what method of shipping they’ll use. I guess I should just expect it in a couple weeks so that I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it shows up earlier. I’ll try to post some kind of comparison with my experiences with the N800. I’ll try to wrestle with installing 3rd-party software on the 770 and see if it annoys me as much as it did on the N800. Maybe that’ll jog my memory for the 4th part of the N800 review I’ve been promising all this time!
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Part 3: Built-in Software
The N800′s built-in software suite is a bit limited, but if you don’t download any other software to the device, you could get by, especially if you’re as dependent on web apps like Google’s suite of Gmail, Google Reader, etc. as I am. Of course, if you want to get the most out of the N800, it would benefit you to explore 3rd-party apps (to be discussed later).
Among the built-in apps, I mainly tested out the Opera web browser (of course), the PDF viewer, the media player, and the RSS reader. I briefly played with the sketch program to write out a short ink blog post from the N800. One hardware-related issue I forgot to mention was that when I wrote on the screen with the stylus, the screen felt really soft and I could see “trails” left by the stylus, similar to what you’d see if you poked your LCD monitor with your finger. It was a bit disconcerting! I would suggest that in a future hardware rev for the N800, the screen be made a bit more robust so that the squishy screen feeling wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
Built-in IM Client
Also, I checked out the built-in Google Talk chat client once. Actually, IMing back and forth using the on-screen thumb keyboard was a pretty good experience. I wasn’t as fast a typist as I normally am on a physical QWERTY keyboard, but I still was able to type responses in a reasonable amount of time. I think it worked as well as texting on my MDA, and the MDA has a slide-out thumb keyboard. I think that the N800 would be a pretty good device for mobile IMing despite the lack of physical keyboard. However, there was one thing I didn’t like about the built-in Google Talk client. There didn’t seem to be a way to configure it not to log on automatically. At work, the firewall didn’t allow the GTalk client to connect, so I always had to tap on the presence indicator and change it to offline so that I wouldn’t keep seeing the pop-up dialog indicating it couldn’t log in to certain accounts.
It would’ve been nice to be able to configure GTalk not to connect automatically. Update: Commenter Alexander let me know that there is a way to disable automatic logon for the IM client in Tools -> Control Panel -> Accounts. Thanks, Alexander!
Built-in RSS Reader
The RSS reader was okay, but since I use Google Reader, I was not that interested in the N800′s RSS reader, besides testing how well it could be used as a podcatcher client (not very). As far as basic RSS aggregator functionality, it was pretty basic. I didn’t see a way to change the screen layout; I prefer to read individual feeds in “river of news” style, with each item’s full text viewable (like Google Reader). I’m pretty particular about how I want to read my RSS feeds, so it didn’t take me long to realize that the built-in aggregator wouldn’t be of use to me. There also didn’t seem to be a way to import OPML files to bulk import feeds, which is a kiss of death to any aggregator application I try out. No way do I like to input RSS feed links one by one! The main screen widget for the RSS aggregator was okay, but I eventually turned it off.
Built-in Media Player
I thought the media player was very bare bones and not really worth using. I played some audio and a sample video on the N800, and while the playback was good (full-screen video looked great), that’s the only good thing I could say about the built-in media player. It was not intuitive to me to figure out how to set up a playlist of items from the library. I had copied a bunch of podcasts to an SD card and wanted try out the media player as my podcast player, but I could not figure out a way to either create a playlist on the N800 itself, or create a playlist on my desktop and copy it over to the N800 (not just the tracks in the playlist, but also the order of the tracks). The media player’s “now playing” list seemed to randomly populate itself with all of the items in my library, and I couldn’t see an option for clearing out the list to start over. Perhaps this all is user error, but considering how easy it is to use other mobile media player interfaces, I was disappointed with how frustrating the N800′s media player app was.
Also, the controls were not very good. The on-screen playback control buttons are big enough to tap at with your fingers, but the controls to rewind/forward through the track were not. You basically had to scrub through the track via the small time remaining slider/indicator; there weren’t on-screen buttons that you could hold down to rew/ff. And the hardware buttons were not mapped to control playback as I expected. Usually on a PDA or mp3 player, a d-pad is mapped so that the left and right buttons can skip through tracks if you tap them, or you could scrub through the track if you held down on the buttons. And either the center button or one of the up/down buttons would be mapped to play/pause. There was no way to configure the d-pad or any of the hard buttons to make controlling media play back easier. There was too much dependence on the touchscreen, which I guess is okay for playing tracks back at your desk.
However, I used the built-in media player to play a podcast on my commute in to work, and the media player controls were not car-operation friendly. Switching between “Now Playing” mode and library mode was not a one-click affair, which is another feature I’d expect from a normal media player. And there is no way to set up which folders the N800 looks at for media. It did find my media on the SD card automatically, but I think a user would want configurability for this. It just seems like the interface for media player was really not given much thought, which was a bad idea, IMO, because a lot of people are going to pick up an N800 thinking it’ll be a great media player, with that huge screen and stereo speakers, but be truly disappointed by the media player GUI. Users shouldn’t have to install a 3rd-party application just to get a decent media player interface.
Built-in Web Browser
The N800′s web browser was pretty good. It’s not branded as Opera, but that is the underlying component of the N800 browser. It’s very cool to be able to see most webpages as they would look on a PC. This is a big feature for the N800 to differentiate itself from other WiFi-enabled PDAs or smartphones, one that really made me think about getting the N800 in the first place, since I was fed up with the lame mobile browsers on my MDA. The N800 browser handles page rendering pretty well, even when you zoom in or out to fit the page to the width of the screen, or enlarge the text for readability. There are some pages it still hiccups on, most notably the desktop version of Google Reader (ugh!), and other pages that have too many fancy Ajax or Flash elements, but often you can tell that the desktop version of Opera would probably also falter on some of these pages (even Google Reader to some degree).
Overall it was so nice to be able to surf on such a small device like the N800 and be able to see the full versions of webpages, not the wimpy, stripped-down mobile versions. My main complaint about my T-Mobile MDA was that I hated having to navigate desktop-formatted websites on Pocket IE or Opera Mini. Those browsers did their best to reformat the pages, but they often turned out really mangled, barely readable, and barely usable. That’s why I was very interested to try out the N800 and other Nokia devices with Symbian OS. I had often heard that the built-in browsers on Symbian S60 devices are very good at rendering pages for a small screen. Web browsing on the N800 is a good experience. For people who use a lot of web apps as opposed to desktop apps, the N800 could be a great mobile device for them to access their online accounts on the go, without needing a laptop.
Built-in PDF Viewer
Just as I was impressed with the browser on the N800, I was really impressed by the built-in PDF viewer. Just to make a comparison, I have a Sony Reader which I really like for reading e-books. Its screen size is great at approximating paperback-sized pages, which makes it a little nicer to read e-books on than smaller-screened PDAs/smartphones. Although it does support PDFs, its rendering engine for PDFs is not very good at handling files that aren’t formatted for the Reader’s smaller screen. The files are often just shrunken down to fit the Reader’s screen, which makes the fonts miniscule. So, you have to use some software to try to wrangle the original PDF into something more readable. The N800′s PDF viewer is way more capable than the Sony Reader at automatically reformatting for the N800′s screen, and the N800′s screen is smaller than the Reader’s! I tried out a few PDF files, an e-book from WOWIO that seemed like it was formatted for a smaller screen (but not specifically formatted for the N800), and a couple regular PDF e-books for viewing on a PC. All three files were totally readable on the N800′s screen. Even if I zoomed in to make the fonts bigger, they never got pixelated. The pictures in one of the PDFs (a back issue of JPG Magazine) would eventually get pixelated from the zooming, but the fonts never did. Scrolling around the pages to read the content, while not ideal, was not that bad of an experience, either. You could use the d-pad to scroll around, or tap and drag on the screen directly. The whole concept of not having to go through a process to reformat PDFs for the N800 was very nice. I’ve had enough of file conversion to deal with for my other devices; the less of that I have to do, the better. One thing I didn’t like about the PDF viewer was navigating from page to page. If the document fit the width of the screen, switching pages was an easy click of the d-pad. However, if you had to let the document be wider than the screen for readability, there was no easy way to “flip” pages because the d-pad was used for scrolling around the screen. I either had to click on the context menu button and navigate through a couple levels of menus to hit the next or prev page option, or essentially do the same thing using the stylus and the menu bar at the top of the screen. Not cool. Also, I couldn’t find an option for rotating the screen in the built-in PDF viewer. While reading e-books in landscape mode seemed better for larger font sizes or whatever, it would’ve been nice to have the option for reading in portrait mode.
So, with only the built-in applications on the N800, I think it would be best as a mobile web browser — awesome full versions of web pages, no lame WAP or uber-simplified pages necessary, unless you want to surf those types of pages — and a PDF/e-book reader. The media player is fine for the most basic playback of audio tracks or videos, but don’t expect much usability from the GUI. The sketch program is okay for quick sketches, short handwritten notes (also typed notes? I didn’t try that), or very rudimentary ink blog posts, if you’re so inclined. The RSS reader is also quite basic and lacking in configurability. I thought IMing using the built-in Google Talk client (I believe it is configurable for other IM accounts, but not sure which ones) was pretty decent, and if my workplace didn’t block the client from connecting, I probably would’ve used it a lot more as a mobile IMing device. I didn’t get a chance to do video chatting with Google Talk, but I hear it’s also a pretty good experience. But the camera itself is pretty low-res, so YMMV. These were the built-in applications that mattered to me most. I know I left out things like the Internet radio streaming, but I wasn’t very interested in that, so I never really tested it. I also did not set up the built-in e-mail client because a) I didn’t want my e-mail getting downloaded to the device, and b) I mainly access my Gmail account via the web, so I had no need. As I said earlier, if you were only interested web browsing, some light IMing, and mainly viewing PDFs for work or as e-books, the built-in apps will do just fine. But the N800′s Linux-based OS sort of cries out for installing 3rd-party apps, so I’ll discuss that a bit in the next part of my review.
Figuring out titles for blog posts is easy when the subject has such a fun name. WOWIO is a website that offers free PDF e-book downloads that have no DRM. I found this site via Featured Maemo Apps, while looking for cool apps to load onto my loaner Nokia N800. According to Featured Maemo Apps, these PDFs are well-suited for reading on the N800 using the built-in PDF viewer, without any additional reformatting. Sweet.
Normally I kind of gloss over sites like this because I am not very interested in public domain books from sites like Project Gutenberg. There are a few classic titles that I would probably read some time after my long “to read” list is exhausted, but for the most part, I’m just not that interested in these public domain titles. However, I took a look at their collection, and there are some interesting newer titles. What caught my eye was a book by K. Eric Drexler about nanotechnology — Engines of Creation 2.0. I’ve been really interested in reading Engines of Creation, but like most books, have not gotten around to it yet. Perhaps now that it’s available via WOWIO, I’ll actually read it now…maybe. Since all of the downloads are DRM-free — they limit you to 5 downloads a day, and the books are somehow ad-supported — I’ll definitely sign up and at least download the K. Eric Drexler book. I’ll have to peruse their catalog some more.
I love reading e-books as opposed to paper books because it’s a lot more convenient to carry around many titles and read a few pages at a time during little chunks of spare time throughout the day. I hope that sites like WOWIO become popular enough to drive publishers to consider e-books as a more viable format.
P.S. Since we’re talking about DRM-free e-books, I have to mention that all of Cory Doctorow’s (he’s a contributor to the popular blog Boing Boing) books are available in various e-book formats on his site, Craphound. He is a science-fiction novelist, and his books are of the cyberpunk-y, William Gibson-esque, Neal Stephenson-ish ilk. He has made all of his books available online for free, while still selling dead-tree versions. I wish more authors would do this! I put his latest collection of short stories on my Sony Reader soon after I got it. Good stuff!
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I was just catching up on feeds in Google Reader, namely Teleread’s feed (a blog focusing on e-books), and even they had an article about Twitter! Actually, they had an interesting take on it:
I myself can see Twitter as a way to share enthusiasm for various
books, and in fact, if it’s here to stay, I wouldn’t be surprised to
see e-book software integrated with the service, as well as growing library adoption.
It would be cool to get book recommendations from Twitter users. Perhaps if when someone Twitters about a book they’re reading, they can tag it a certain way so that some utility could filter out those recommendations and present them all together on one webpage. That would be pretty cool… There’s already a site that aggregates the links that people are sharing over Twitter.
I know e-books aren’t all the rage right now, but I sure prefer them to paper books (most of the time) because it’s so easy to carry many of them with me on one device, like my PDA phone, my Tablet PC, or of course on the Sony Reader. Having these books with me wherever I go allows me to read whenever I’m stuck waiting in a line, or taking my lunch break at work, or whenever I am stuck waiting around in general. Helps keep up my motivation to read (With my lessening attention span, I need all the help I can get! *smirk*). I still like to buy paper books to keep around in my collection, but I prefer e-books for practical purposes.
I just posted on Twitter asking what people are reading right now. Hopefully I get some responses so I can add them to my “to read” list. I just read a couple of the short stories from Cory Doctorow’s book, Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present yesterday. Cory Doctorow offers all of his novels as free downloads online in various formats, as well as selling them in dead-tree format in stores. So I put the stories from Overclocked on my Sony Reader (gotta name it sometime…). Works out well!
What books are you reading now?
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Ever since I got my T-Mobile MDA, I got back into the habit of reading e-books. I used to do it all the time when I carried around PDAs regularly, and it was nice to start again. I loaded eReader and redownloaded some of the e-books that I bought that I hadn’t finished reading. I get the eReader e-mail newsletter to keep up on new releases and get the discount codes, but I haven’t bought that many e-books in a while. And it’s weird, because often I’ll see a whole slew of romance novels being pimped in the newsletter…is that the main demographic of e-book readers (as in people, not devices *smirk*)?? I would think that there’d be way more sci-fi and techie kinds of books, not to be stereotypical of PDA/e-book users. I just can’t see most soccer moms toting a little PDA reading romance novels while they’re running errands or whatever! Okay, I’ll stop now, before the flames really come in.
I do wish that e-book selections were better, though. And I really wish the Harry Potter books were available as legal e-books! I admit, I have non-legal copies of the HP books that I’ve been re-reading the last few days (I wanted to refresh my memory on the storylines, since I listen to Pottercast), but I don’t feel bad about it because as far as I’m concerned, I have the dead tree versions of all the books (most in hardback form), I’ve bought the books for other people, and I’ve put lots of money into watching all the movies in the theatre and on DVD. It’s annoying that I can’t read it on my PDA because some lame publishing company doesn’t have the foresight to recognize a viable market. So I feel like the e-book versions I have fall within fair use, even though I’m relatively sure I don’t have a legal leg to stand on… *sigh* I would dump my non-legal copies in a second if eReader or anyone else would offer the HP e-books.
While we’re on the subject of e-books, I have a few things to say about the Sony Reader. I did get to see it in person finally, and I was pretty impressed by it. For a while I was really itching to buy one, but I was lurking around the Mobileread forums for both the Sony Reader and Iliad iRex (IIRC?) reader (which was more interesting with the bigger screen with touch capabilities and higher resolution) and reading people’s experiences sort of cooled me on the idea of buying the Reader (that and I had just bought my MDA, which was the same price, and could be more than an e-book reader).
I liked the hardware and the technology, despite some wonkiness in the button/menu layout and navigation. My main issue for not pushing to buy the Reader is that I’m very wary of the Sony Connect e-book store. The proprietary format that Sony is using concerns me. Sure, I could probably convert my own PDFs for reading on the Reader, but even that is kind of touch and go because of inconsistencies with the software conversion tool. Since Sony’s notorious for using closed formats, I’m worried that if the Reader doesn’t do well enough, the Connect store will languish, and I’ll have e-books that are locked to a discontinued Reader device. At least with books on eReader.com, they’re viewable on my Tablet PC and PDA, and they seem established enough that I’m not as worried (though it’s possible) that they’ll close up shop and leave me with useless files. I wish the books on Connect were PDFs or something more universal. Hopefully they thrive so that their proprietary format isn’t as limiting (ha).
Honestly, as cliche as this will sound, if Apple made an e-book reader, it would propel the e-book market. So hurry up and do it, Apple! Maybe then I’ll be able to have legal e-books of Harry Potter! *smirk* Oh, and while you’re at it, make a Tablet, too.
Yay! I’m going to see the Sony Reader in person tonight after work. I read that even though the Sony Style web store said that shipment of the Readers were delayed until mid-November, there were some brick & mortar Sony Styles that are selling them right now. Unfortunately, when I called the SS near me, the salesperson I talked to said they just sold their last one today. But, I can still see the demo unit in person, which I’m eager to do.
I remembered that Borders is partnering with Sony to see the Readers and gift cards to the Sony Connect e-book store, so I also called my local Borders to see if they had any. Surprisingly, the guy I talked to knew about them, and gave me some decent info. Supposedly they were going to get some in stock today, but because of the bad weather last night, many of their orders were delayed. So the guy said he expects them to be in stock in the next couple days, and that I could check back on Friday. Sweet! Incidentally, I called another local Borders and the guy I talked to had no clue about the Reader. Why don’t employees of chain stores get the same information? So annoying to get conflicting info when calling multiple stores. In this day & age of near-instantaneous communication, this shouldn’t be a problem.