The Eye-Fi mobi card is the real deal

Back in 2006, I was an avid user of Flickr and was asked to help test a new camera card that was going to offer uploading via WiFi. At the time, this meant you could conceivably skip the step of connecting your camera/card to your computer via USB. It was a bit buggy, but eventually worked, but I didn’t find it super useful since you had to be near your home WiFi for it to work.

Since the iPhone came out in 2007, it’s become my primary camera due to ease of use, flexibility in apps, and ability to share photos easily from anywhere. All my other cameras became “dumb” cameras once that smart phone came out. I was curious if a Eye-Fi card could bridge the gap so a few years ago that I tried out the final production versions of Eye-Fi’s cards in point and shoot cameras. On home WiFi, with many camera models building in native support for Eye-Fi cards, the process was much smoother than that initial beta, though connecting away from your home WiFi to your phone was very buggy, clumsy, and was such a time-consuming and tedious process I rarely used the Eye-Fi cards with my phone and mostly gave up on the devices.

I was skeptical of the new Eye-Fi mobi cards recently released, but when I bought a new compact full-frame camera for an upcoming bike tour, I decided to try it out after hearing the smartphone integration was much better than previous models.

After having used a 32Gb mobi card for a couple weeks, I have to say I’m totally impressed and amazed. This is everything Eye-Fi was likely going for over the company’s history, but it never quite hit the mark until now. You start by installing a custom profile to your phone which stores the WiFi password on your card and auto-connects your phone to your camera whenever you power up your camera. You run a mobi app on your phone, and it quickly transfers images (even 26 megapixel RAW images) to your phone. From there, you can selectively choose which images to save to your phone’s native Camera Roll, then share them any way you see fit. The whole process is fast and automatic in a way none of their previous cards were, since you never need to touch your phone’s WiFi settings.

In essence, the card turns any dumb camera into an outboard lens for your phone. Last week on a trip to NYC I took my new compact camera with me and could easily upload photos to Instagram and Twitter within seconds of taking the photos. I mean that literally: I can take a photo with my camera, open up my phone, touch the mobi app icon and about ten seconds later I can be saving that image to my phone’s camera roll. I could also manipulate and tweak the images in a plethora of iPhone apps like VSCOcam, Photoshop Express, etc. directly on the phone before sharing it out to the world.

There’s also a web service to the mobi card, where all your originals will be uploaded to Eye-Fi (when your phone is on a full WiFi connection) with unlimited storage for $50/yr, which seems like a perfectly good deal.

I can’t get over how well the mobi card works. The connection between my phone and my camera is now almost instant, transfers are fast, and sharing is easy. The mobi line of cards are worth every penny and I’d strongly suggest anyone that misses walking around and shooting with a “real” camera to try them out.

The Mini Maker Faire kind of blew my mind

I always wanted to attend the original Maker Faire in the Bay Area and the annual shows that followed, but they started soon after I moved to Oregon and they never overlapped with my travel down there. I recently noticed they were touring around Mini Maker Faires to different cities and I was delighted when my local science museum (OMSI) mentioned it was coming up this weekend. I bought tickets for my family and figured it’d be a lot like the parking lot at O’Reilly conferences I’ve attended: mostly nerds with their hobby gadgets, stuff like robots and rockets and a car converted to run on coffee grinds. My daughter is 8 now and we’re always trying to push her towards having the best STEM education she can get and I figured this might be good for a few science demos. I planned to go on Sunday and looked at random Twitter/Flickr photos from the opening day on Saturday and saw only somewhat interesting looking robots and rockets and figured it’d probably take an hour to see it all and honestly I just hoped my daughter wouldn’t be bored by the dry presentation of it.

I got it all hopelessly, completely wrong, and it kind of blew my mind a bit.

First off, my estimate of spending an hour with a bored child turned out to be showing up soon after it opened followed by forcing ourselves to leave about 90min before closing. It was incredible, they had a huge variety of demonstrations that covered not only all aspects of science, but also art, anthropology, cooking, and even some swords and archery. The demos were well-tailored to a young audience but were also fun for adults (I got to make my own pewter coin!). Another aspect I thought was handled well was the mixture of commerce and education. Many of the demos were done by local businesses and they sometimes offered stuff you could buy to do more of the same thing at home. This could have gone very wrong and seemed really crass if vendors only showed up in an effort to sell their junk disguised as a science demo, but it worked out well where if you really liked making a bit of fresh cheese in a booth, you could buy a cheesemaking kit for doing larger batches in your own kitchen.

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 2.23.04 PMLastly, the thing that really blew my mind was seeing my daughter learn how to solder and assemble basic electronics by building what was a essentially a LED throwie. The LED Throwie is a small battery, a magnet, and a few LED lights that experimental graffiti artists came up with at Eyebeam and plans on how to make them launched on the early Instructables website. I recall Throwies pissed off a lot of major cities as random blinking lights started appearing on their public metal sculptures. I remember watching Throwies blow up in popularity while Jonah Peretti was at Eyebeam, who likely used those lessons to help push content viral when he started Buzzfeed and Huffington Post later on. Then I thought about Tim O’Reilly always watching the alpha geeks at the edges, knowing those people are 3-5 years ahead of the curve and that we could look to what they were interested in as what the mainstream would someday be into, and how today’s Mini Maker Faire was a lot like the Emerging Technology conferences I attended 5+ years ago. I also thought about Dale DoughertyMark Frauenfelder launching Make Magazine that turned into this.

It was amazing to see what was once an experimental graffiti project loved and hated around the world morph into a simple teaching tool for kids that could expose them to science, art, and fun by letting them create a small blinking object they could pin on their clothes. This all grew from geek hobbyists in a parking lot much like the one I stood in today, and the magazine that launched from that. The Mini Maker Faire quite literally was helping pass along the wonder and knowledge I saw over the last decade to a new generation of Makers.

Needless to say, if you’re a parent and one of the Mini Maker Faires is in your town, by all means do everything you can to attend one; you’ll have a great time.

Ten months with a Nest

With the recent news of a new version of the smart thermostat Nest coming out, I figured I should finally write up what it has been like living with the first version of the product since last November, when mine arrived.

Overall, it's been a great little tool, smart in lots of smart ways and dumb in just a very few and eons ahead of similar products I've used. Back in the early 2000s, I spent some time in my first house trying to automate everything. I used x10 to control my lights and set up schedules to turn lights on and off at certain times and I bought a programmable thermostat in the hopes of not only saving energy but also allowing me to wake up to a pre-warmed house in the winter.

I recall how quickly my adoration with home automation faded when I decided to stay up 15 minutes later than normal only to have the entire downstairs lighting shut off to pitch black per the schedule I created. I also remember spending hours programming the thermostat with complicated weekday versus weekend programs, and how after a couple months I just gave up and used it like a normal thermostat that sat at fixed temperatures.

When I heard about the Nest, I immediately ordered one and patiently waited the months until it arrived. It came with a free professional installation that would be scheduled a couple weeks later, but I decided to try it myself and like my last house it was pretty easy to do and 20 minutes after I started, everything was running and it was downloading software updates from wifi (pictured above).

In use

After about a week of using the thermostat to adjust temps (fun bonus: cranking up the heat on a cold December morning from the comfort of your bed, using the Nest iPhone app), it started to realize our patterns and follow them (I rarely have to run the iPhone app these days). It was a nice change from the hours of programming I did in the past and it just seemed to work for my family, realizing that we woke up around 7am most days, went to sleep around 11pm, and started shutting itself off whenever we were gone for the day. After about a month, I went onto the Nest.com website to check the schedule and it only required a minor amount of tweaking to follow a perfect pattern.

Let me say straight up that the motion sensor in it is pretty amazing. It realizes when no one has been home for a couple hours and sets your thermostat to auto-away mode, saving energy by going to prescribed temp extremes (colder than normal in winter, warmer than normal in summer). I've never had it go to auto-away while I was home working even though it's in a different room. I should also say that if I had a normal office job, the Nest would be doing an even better job. I'm at home about five days a week so it doesn't get tripped into away mode as often as typical houses where most people are gone during the daytime weekday hours.

It's hard to say what the bottom line is on energy savings for me. I don't watch our electric bills super closely and our bill includes charges for water too (which usage fluctuates wildly), making quantifying the post-Nest world a bit tougher, but I do know the system goes into auto-away mode reliably several times a week and it's been great to set the whole system to away mode when we've been on vacation. Having a vacant house heated and air conditioned is a lot like running your lawn sprinklers during a rainstorm, a total waste of money. It's also great to have the iPhone/web connections to control it even though I don't need it very often. I remember bringing up the phone app and taking the house out of away mode at the airport when we landed from a vacation, and arriving to a cool house in the summer an hour later.

About the only downsides are how it sometimes acts a bit too eager to please. You might have a dinner party and turn on the air conditioning a few degrees cooler than normal to keep guests comfortable, and the thermostat is supposed to ignore one-off moments like this, but I found it slightly adjusting itself at odd times that reflected short term changes. This also happened when I left the country for a week while the rest of my family stayed behind, introducing a new schedule where I wasn't home all week in my home office that had to be adjusted later when I went back to my old schedule.

Apart from those minor schedule nits, the Nest has been great, warming the house on winter mornings, shutting down each night about an hour before we typically go to sleep, following our coming and going patterns appropriately and being completely controllable in real time from either the web or our phones (and also by the nice weighty dial on the unit itself) if we need to change things. I won't be buying a new one (for the same reasons Marco states here the software updates make getting a new one unnecessary) but I can wholeheartedly recommend it to all my friends as a neat way to save a bit of energy and turn a dumb appliance like your heating and air conditioning into an automatically configured smart object that works with your own patterns of behavior.

Great iOS software: Pillboxie

IMG_1151

I have a simple pharmaceutical regime, but a complicated schedule. Three drugs total, one needs to be taken every morning one hour before I eat, a second immediately after I eat (along wth some allergy meds and vitamins at that time). The third one is trickiest, it has to be right before I go to sleep, but only on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

I've had this schedule since November of 2009, and I did pretty well for the first two years or so. It was ok to forget once in a while for 2 out of the three drugs but a couple years in I started to lower my dosages and I started forgetting at least one a week, then more than once a week. I tried the standard alarms on my iPhone, but they were a bit too invasive (they always went off audibly, usually hours after I took the pill already) and no one likes an alarm at 10pm twice a week when you're starting to go to sleep.

Eventually I found pillboxie. I've been using it for a couple months and it works great. Every morning an hour after I normally take a pill I have it set to remind me with a silent notification on my home screen. I can check off when I remembered to take it, and take it if I forgot. Since I check my phone when I wake up and when I go to sleep, during those once or twice a week times I might forget to take a pill, my phone has a nice notification telling me to and I haven't forgotten a pill since I started using Pillboxie. It's simple and it works, and if you have medications on different timetables and you use an iPhone I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Verizon vs. AT&T iPhones in NW Oregon

A friend asked me to review my switch after 3+ years on AT&T to Verizon with the iPhone 4s. I've been using the Verizon phone for nearly 3 months and I spent all summer sitting next to an intern using the first Verizon 4 iPhone, so I got to use them side by side before switching. Here are my thoughts after a few months of usage:

In general I always have coverage everywhere I've been in Portland and in cities beyond, more so than when I had an AT&T phone in the area. I haven't noticed the reported call sound quality increases (cell phones just generally sound like talking into a tin can and still do) but I do have to say I've never dropped a call since I left AT&T. When I would be driving on the freeway in Portland, my calls on AT&T (through bluetooth, of course) would drop about half the time. It was almost like clockwork when I'd hit the city limits of Portland that my calls would begin to drop on AT&T. That has never happened with Verizon. In nearly three months, I've never gotten a "network busy" error either, which is something that happened a couple times a month on my old AT&T phone.

The only downside I've found is that data is a bit slower. Not super slow and you get used to it really fast and forget about it, but I remember thinking web pages I always accessed on AT&T were loading on Verizon in a few more seconds than usual. I do tons of stuf online with my phone so this can be a dealbreaker for people working 100% online that require the fastest data connection, but I gave up a slight bump in speed for reliable networking. The Verizon phone always seems to have a 3G connection.

There was one other aspect aside that also made me switch and it was the increased coverage that Verizon has over everyone else. I noticed in the coverage maps that Verizon extends a mile or two into the wilderness more than AT&T and every single time I went for a mountain bike (MTB) ride in Oregon (Bend, Dallas, McMinnville, McKenzie River, Mt St Helens, Hagg Lake) my AT&T connection would disappear either in the parking lot or the trailhead. I've taken a couple MTB rides since I switched and on one ride I always had a connection whenever I stopped to check and another I had a connection about 3/4 of the stops (only in a small valley of dense forest was there no connection). This was really important to me since I broke my wrist last year — I know I'm no longer invincible and if anyone riding with me ever crashed on a MTB ride, normally we'd all be screwed and have to hike out with an injured person. Having some chance of phone service made me feel a bit safer whenever I go off road.

That's about it, increased coverage, calls never drop, but data speeds are a tad slower. The costs are about the same but I have liked switching to Verizon since the local store has a very competent staff that helped me get phones on launch day and have fixed a couple of tiny issues since I got the phones (like changing callerID, etc). The local AT&T store was mostly unhelpful in the three years I would sporadically interact with them.

Health Month (so far)

Health Month is a new game (currently in beta) designed to help you find that ever-elusive motivation that you need to improve your health. 

via healthmonth.com

I've been playing the Health Month beta this month and it's been a great motivator to get out of my office chair and onto my bike and into some running shoes. I set some pretty high goals for myself and have been doing my best to try and hit them. As crazy as it sounds, I actually forced myself to take a long bike ride the other day when I was still tired from the previous day's exercise simply because I was low on "life points" in the game.

Screen shot 2010-09-15 at 9.38.50 AM

I've lost five pounds in two weeks because I set a goal of exercising 5 times a week instead of the typical 1x or 2x per week I've been doing lately. Due to some of the medications I take, I've been gaining about 3-4lbs a month since last December, so having my first significant weight loss has been satisfying and I'm feeling better than before. The game is just enough to motivate me to try a little harder while still being fun.

The site runs as a month-to-month thing, so be sure to sign up so you can try it out in October.

 

Crap I love: The Tiko portable iPhone/iPad holder

TikoLast fall, I bought a Tiko iPhone/iPod holder to prop up my iPhone while playing movies on planes, after hearing about it on Not Martha.

On my way out on the last trip, I decided to throw this barely-larger-than-a-business-card holder in my backpack in case I needed it.

After a cross country trip where I watched about five hours of video on my iPad, I'm happy to report that this designed-for-iPhone stand is barely heavy duty enough to work for holding an iPad on a airplane tray table.

Here's a shot of it holding my iPad on a desk. Best ten bucks I ever spent.

Conan’s first roadshow

Stage, pre-Coco show

I was lucky enough to see Conan's tour kickoff earlier this evening in Eugene, Oregon. The night started off with the amazing Reggie Watts doing his mix of live music and comedy for about 40 minutes then after a break, Conan's band played a bit and then the man finally came on.

He hit the stage and got a standing ovation that lasted a good 3-4 minutes. It was a great moment and Conan admitted that in all honesty, the thing he missed most from leaving TV was getting to hear applause.

It was a fun night. Andy Richter was there and they explained why they were doing the show and how it'd work, they did a few bits from the show, and Conan played and sang on several songs. There were video parts to break up the evening featuring goofy bits and characters from the old show. The band Spoon happened to be playing in Eugene that night as well, and somehow they worked it out where the band dropped by and played one song in the middle (and presumably ran across town to their own headlining show soon after). I'm curious if they'll be able to pull off a similar guest musician spot in other towns.

About the only parts of the evening that were less than successful had to do with the music. There was a song where Conan changed the lyrics to basically be begging for a new show for laughs, but since he announced earlier that very day TBS was picking him up for a show in the Fall, the jokes fell a little flat. Half the show seemed to be music, with Conan (kinda sorta) playing guitar over blues and rock classics. He probably played 4-5 songs throughout the night and it started to seem a little self-indulgent by the end, like they could have done half as many songs and just threw a few more bits from the old Late Night or video parts to increase the comedy aspects.

Overall, it was a great night, a celebration of all things Conan, and a very entertaining show.

Four weeks with a Droid (and two weeks with an unlocked Nexus One)

Gadget pile
In response to my first few frustrating hours with a Droid, my friend Gina asked if I'd post my thoughts four weeks on, instead of first impressions which can often be deceiving (but amusing — I encourage others to do it sometime even if half your blog entry ends up bemoaning the difficult packaging to get to the item). Now that I've learned the ins and outs and gotten to kick the tires on Android, the Droid, and a Nexus One, I feel like there is a lot to say about it, especially in comparison to my years on an iPhone and previous to that, a Blackberry.

I'm much less frustrated by Android and the devices it runs on, after tweaking things and getting to know it better. There are a lot of similarities to the iPhone, many places I think it even excels over the iPhone, and quite a few areas that can be improved. In no particular order:

The Good

– Though I didn't like it at first, I've grown to like the desktop metaphor for the Android home screen. Simple shortcuts to just the apps or views of apps that you use the most, it's a great timesaver and once tweaked to my liking, I found I only hit the applications button once every couple days because all the key things are on my desktop.

– The Android 2.1 OS in the Nexus One is brilliant looking and the desktop and apps views are much nicer looking that earlier releases. It's a shame they don't deploy those equally to all Android devices.

– The software keyboard is on par with the iPhone's, though I miss the hidden hold-drag shortcuts (on an iPhone you could hit the 123 button, hold it, and slide over to that one number you needed, when released the keyboard would bounce back to alpha). I love the suggested words showing up above the keypad and I've found it to be a huge timesaver, guessing correctly for what I'm typing over half the time and saving valuable keystrokes.

– The hardware keyboard on the Droid is too small and largely useless to me. The auto-correct and suggested words go away on my Droid when you pop out the slide-out keyboard, even though I type just as many if not more mistakes than the software keyboard. It adds quite a bit of thickness and weight to the Droid, both of which I'd prefer to go without.

– The way Android and Google Chrome on the desktop integrate the search bar and the web address bar into a single UI feature (when every other browser separates them) is pure genius. On my Android phones, I don't even have to recall the full URL of anything, just remember a keyword or two that I know will end up at that site. On the Android, I get location awareness with a phone number, map, and link to driving directions in the Navigation app.

– The Google Navigation app is simply incredible. I bought a TomTom GPS unit for my wife's car a couple years ago and liked it enough to get the TomTom app on my iPhone for driving directions when I travel and rent a car, but I've found the TomTom iPhone app is difficult to input addresses to and has minimal integration with the iPhone's address book (it requires me to confirm every aspect of stored addresses). The Google Navigate app can be launched from addresses found in the Android browser, offers several views of your trip, and it's remarkably easy to enable or disable the voice prompts when driving (every other app and unit buries that several menus deep). It's a pleasure to use and I carry my Droid in my car even though I already have a factory installed navigation system in it.

– Gmail and Google Voice are also killer apps for Android. For people addicted to scanning and archiving items out of their Gmail inbox, the Gmail client is a pleasure. Google Voice is incredible and sorely missed from the iPhone and the stupid iTunes App Store policies that barred it from entry. Google Voice gives you the same sense of freedom and control over your daily interruptions that a DVR attached to a TV does — once you've experienced it you can never go back.

– The Android ecosystem doesn't require a computer at all. At first I found this slightly frustrating as it takes some tweaking to get music on or off the device, or get movies playing back smoothly, but over time I've come to appreciate this and enjoy it. Having to dock my iPhone to a computer (and wait for it to backup and transfer files when I just want to go out the door with a new podcast on it) is a regular hassle and I can tell the Android OS was designed for people that may very well not even own a desktop or laptop computer. The phone itself is almost as powerful as a laptop. I haven't played with podcasting apps much on Android, but I imagine it must be as easy as it is to update apps and download music from Amazon.

– The form factor of the Nexus One is amazing. Super thin and light, with a huge bright screen. Being that I don't have a SIM card in it, its first charge ran for a week with occasional use over wifi. My Droid feels blocky, heavy, chunky, and barely holds a charge for a 24hr day of use. 

– Verizon on the Droid is a much better phone service than AT&T on the iPhone. I know, totally obvious, but the difference is so great that I'm paying for a second cellphone because AT&T has gotten so bad in the last few months. I live outside of Portland, Oregon, and while 3G and phone service works great in my small town of few iPhone users, the moment I go near the city of Portland I get dropped calls galore and 3G data issues. I've taken to calling friends back on the Verizon Droid often enough that having a backup phone on another network is a necessity.

– I missed multi-touch the first time I used Android, but after a day or two I got used to double-tapping to zoom in apps and dragging with one finger to accomplish the same thing. It probably sucks for games to not have multitouch, but it's fine in apps.

– The notifications bar with pull-down alerts is great for finding out a bunch of information coming from a variety of your apps at once. I wish the iPhone had something like that.

– Being able to "return" any app in the Android Market within 24hrs for a full refund is fantastic.

– Having all your apps, desktop wallpapers, etc. saved on the server side somewhere at Google is a pretty amazing thing. After I popped onto the Nexus One for the first time and inputted my Google details, the phone picked up most of my preferences from my Droid phone. This will make switching phones in the future from one Android device to another much smoother.

– It's clear Android is going to be a popular phone operating system available on pretty much every carrier in the US. Overall, I'd say it's about 80-90% of the way to the kind of experience you get with an iPhone with several things I feel it does better than an iPhone.

Areas for improvement

– The iPhone came from the iPod world so it's an incredible media playback device and the Droid and Nexus One feel like multimedia is just an add-on that isn't central to the device. There's no iTunes to sync with Android (I tried doubletwist and it was buggy) so you either have to buy music directly from the Amazon MP3 store (which I actually prefer to the iTunes store for music even on my Mac desktop due to cheaper songs and no DRM) or you have to navigate mounted USB folders in the file system by hand, which is a chore at best. It took a bit of reading forums and blog posts to figure out the correct Handbrake settings to get a movie to playback smoothly on either Android device, and I had to make a directory called "Video" in the right place and download a playback app from the Android Marketplace to even watch it. The Nexus One has a bigger, brighter screen than any iPhone or iPod I've used so you'd think they'd make media more a focus given the great hardware.

– The Android Market for Apps is good but feels like it could be a lot better. There doesn't seem to be nearly as much curation as the iPhone App Store for making you aware of the best of the best (I had to rely on twitter and blog posts to figure out what to try out). The reviews are listed by the last three reviews first, even if they are a frustrated user (iPhone App Store lists highest rated first, right?) so the reviews are choppy (lots of either 1-star I HATE IT or 5-star AMAZING reviews). There is no "Update all apps" single button to push which gets tiresome as your Android device tells you every few days you need to update four apps by clicking over and over and over.

– The iPhone has only one button, Android has four along the bottom. iPhone puts it on developers to code up their own navigation buttons and labels, while Android just gives developers hooks to those four hardware buttons. The problem? There's no consistency and a distinct lack of labeling on Android. On an iPhone, developers have to create "back" buttons and they get to label them as well so you always know where you're going to end up if you push it (like "Inbox" or "back to twitter"). On Android it's a blind button without a label and sometimes when you hit the back button in a web browser you go back a page and sometimes you jump back to an application that launched the web browser. Sometimes the back button lets you go backward in an app and many times you get the haptic buzz telling you THERE IS NO BACK BUTTON and you're stuck on that screen. I've played with an Eris Android phone as well and the big surprise there was the four hardware buttons aren't even in the same order as my other two Android devices. That seems insane to me.

– Google's internal teams sometimes slap existing features into their apps or they change key features of public apps with little warning (like Google Reader suddenly making the Share button public ages ago). Android is a phone, and every phone needs an address book, right? Google decided to slap my Gmail contacts into the phone and call that the same as an address book, which was a surprise to me. My Gmail contacts are mostly people I email often (including tech support questions to my many websites) and the Venn Diagram of people I email a lot and people I call a lot are vastly different things. I didn't have phone numbers stored in my Gmail contacts for longtime friends I would like to call from the device, so essentially the moment I logged into Google I had a phone with hundreds of people I barely know over email that I would never need to call plus I didn't even have phone numbers for the few I did want to call. If I want to morph this into a usable address book, I have to delete a lot of people and add a lot of data to my contacts, but that might affect how Gmail works on my desktop browser. If I delete someone does that mean their new emails to me might show up as unknown spam? I don't know.

– The iPhone has a lot of "hidden" features. Stuff like holding down keys on the virtual keyboard giving you new options, and screenshots by touching two buttons at once, but the amount of what I'd classify as "hidden" features in Android feels much longer. Every button has a separate long-hold state that offers up menus and options you can't find unless you know to click. The web browser doesn't show you how many windows are open like Mobile Safari. I never know how many apps are even open and running aside from the reports in the upper taskbar. I didn't know silent mode could be accessed from holding the top button for a long time. Every day there's a new hidden feature I'm accidentally stumbling upon to the point the phone feels like a linux command line or a wiki with its own cryptic syntax you have to learn slowly to the point of memorizing lots of keystrokes.

– The trackball on the Nexus One is next to useless. It's much faster for me to point and tap something I want on the screen than scroll through every option with a trackball. It's easy to ignore though.

Like I said, overall, I'm happier with the Android OS, and I'm in love with the Nexus One hardware. The moment the Verizon branded Nexus One goes on sale, I'll pick one up and try to unload my blocky Droid. Despite some issues I have with the iTunes App Store, I do love almost everything about the iPhone for its intuitive interface, great gaming, fantastic multimedia playback, and overall utility, but Android is definitely going to give it a run for its money and I look forward to both platforms innovating. At this point, I feel like each platform has enough strengths that I've become the kind of weirdo that carries two phones around, using the best of both worlds depending on usage.

It’s a Kindle World Now

Kindle 2
Moments after I first saw a spy shot of the new Kindle 2, I placed an order for one. I'd seen a couple of the first generation units out in public and loved the screen, but the rest of it looked clunky and the new design fixed at least the outside visual aspects of it. I received my Kindle soon after they began shipping and now that I've used it for a month, I figured it'd probably be high time for a review.

The Great

First off, the screen is great and though a subtle backlight would be handy, it's not too hard to treat it like a book and just keep a small bedside lamp on when reading. In the outdoors in direct sunlight, it's really amazing and crisp in a way you'd never expect a computer screen could be.

Before I got a Kindle, I would typically buy 1-2 books every month and only finish reading a book every 3 or 4 months, starting a lot more than I ever completed. It may just be the novelty of this device, but I've read (and completed) 2 books/week since I got it. The other day I read an entire book in one day, something I haven't done in almost ten years. I haven't read this much since college.

I think there may be a few reasons for the uptick and enjoyment in reading. I really love how you can read the Kindle in the same position. Like most people, I read a bit before going to sleep and I have to say reading a paperback or hard cover book is a little uncomfortable in bed. I love that with the Kindle I can get all warm and snuggled under the covers and I don't have to turn to read opposite pages. I can just lay sideways and I don't have to crane my neck to see opposing pages like I would with a book. I really like the simple % done status in the lower left. I occasionally glance at it every ten page refreshes or so, and it's a motivating metric to see you're actually 27% done with a book or 74% done and it makes me more inclined to complete books after I surpass 50%.

I love the flexibility of getting material to the device. It's easy to buy books online at Amazon.com with a web browser (already whenever I hear about a book, I rush to amazon to see if it's in the Kindle format) and the search within the Kindle is fast enough and usable enough to work (I bought a book on the runway before a flight after hearing about it from a friend, and I got to read it on that flight). I loved that I could buy books for it while it was being shipped by UPS to my door, and when it arrived they showed up on the Home screen.

I'm really impressed with the text conversion via email feature. I've been dumping long blog posts and essays I find online to Readability to trim all the sidebars, navigation, and ads from them, then I copy and paste into a text file that gets sent (as an attachment) to my kindle.com email address. 30 seconds later, it shows up on my Kindle ready to read. It goes without saying that when I copy a 10,000 word piece from a magazine site, I feel bad for stripping the ads so I can full read the article, but I'd also gladly pay $0.25 or $0.50 for the article sent clean to my Kindle without all the copy/paste/email hassles if sites offered an instant "Send to your Kindle for a quarter" button. Hopefully Amazon gets on that.

I've also had the "Send random attachments to your Kindle" feature come in handy for early book reviews. I've gotten two preview copies of books written by friends sent to me as Word documents, which were easily emailed to my Kindle for comfortable reading.

Oh, and as SBJ mentioned on twitter, the Kindle makes it easy to read a book while eating lunch in a way most paperbacks and many hardcover books make nearly impossible without smashing the binding flat to keep them stable.

Lastly, the battery life is amazing. I charge my Kindle once a week and even with reading an hour or two a day in between charges I don't get below 50% battery life with the wireless connect left on. Turning the networking off on the device, I've gone over two weeks without a charge. It's nice to not have to take a charger along if I'm heading out for a trip because I know the battery can hold up for at least a week of normal use.

The Fair to Middling

I have to say that I'm not entirely happy with the button layout on the device. Along the right side (middle) there is a Home button that goes to a central contents menu and below that is a Next Page button used while reading books. On the left side of the device opposite those buttons is a Previous Page and Next Page set. Since I usually hold the device with my right hand, I use the right side, and on more than several occasions when I wanted to go back a page, I accidentally hit the Home button, dumping me out of my book entirely. I guess I wish the Home button was in a prominent place, but not up against the Next Page button in a spot I intuitively think a Previous Page button should go.

There are no real page numbers on the device (due to varying font size you set), just some numbers attached to a book describing its total length and a small indicator of which parts the device is currently showing (like a page might say showing "234-244" at the bottom with a total book length of 3572). I personally like the % done number on the lower left, but the content location and total length number in the bottom middle and bottom left are meaningless data junk to me. I'd personally prefer a clock in the lower right that I could glance at every few pages to see if I'm up past my intended bedtime. It's actually kind of a hassle to figure out what time it is because it's not shown by default while reading a book, and I usually hit the menu button to see the time and hit it again to return to my reading.

Overall, the experimental web browser support is about as good as your average cellphone browser. Gmail kind of sorta works but text wraps badly and the joystick navigation is slightly clunky. The keyboard is seldom used and the buttons are small and require more effort than they should. I've never been in a situation where I used a Kindle over my iPhone's superior browser but it may come in handy in a pinch.

The Bad

I'll admit my biggest problem with the Kindle is imaginary. I have to say that I trust Amazon and I love books, and the Kindle is the most convenient device on earth for any book lover, but deep down, I know it's a dangerously convenient device. There's a central point of control (Amazon, which I trust to do the right thing for now, but in the future, who knows), there is DRM, it isn't the most open device (PDF support can be shaky), and you can't really share e-books with anyone like you can an actual book. I say this as a book lover — I have walls of bookshelves and I love to loan stuff to friends, and I love that my nightstand no longer is crowded with a dozen titles stacked next to it, but I fear for some future 10 years from now where libraries suffer from people no longer having huge amounts of physical books to donate and share, or something awful happening to Amazon and books being banned from the device, or even if the central servers fail and I lose my fake electronic books. I wish there were more free public domain options and I wasn't just lining Amazon's pockets any time I pick up the device. Deep down, I know there's something wrong about abandoning 500 years of beautiful history of the printed word to embrace an electronic commercial text reader but I guess I haven't read enough Sci-Fi to fully articulate why I should be more afraid than I already am at the ramifications of the device.

I know it's a bargain for the device if you think about a lifetime free 3G connection comes along with it, but I have to say the $359 price tag seems too high. At $99 or $199, I'd give these away as gifts to everyone I know and I would hope many more people would buy them. I've already read a dozen books and I purchased those along with at least a dozen more so hopefully in the future they could treat the Kindle as the free razor with the ebooks as the razor blades that make up for the hardware costs. I'm sure over the next year I'll eventually match the sticker price of the Kindle and over the next few years I may end up spending thousands on the device.

I guess lastly, I kind of hate the name Kindle. It doesn't make me think of a brain getting excited. My first association wasn't "oh it kindles your interest" but rather "kindle, you know like kindling, like how paper is used in a fire." It's probably just me, but the first thing I think about when I hear the word "Kindle" is book burning and censorship and every ugly mental image from Fahrenheit 451.

Conclusion

I love the hell out of the Kindle 2. I wish it were cheaper and I wish there were open APIs to the device and tons of free book options, but it's really simple to use, the screen works great for me, and I'm reading tons of books without having to send a UPS truck to my door several times a week. I can't recommend it enough.