The Twiller, just $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle Store

I am pleased to announce that my third novel, The Twiller, won the 2011 Red Adept Reviews Award in the science fiction category! As one of only three sci-fi novels to earn the honor, I am especially grateful.

Check out the post and the other winners here.

Astute readers may remember when I received a 4.75-star review of The Twiller from Red Adept Reviews back in May.

The Twiller is a departure from my Edge of Apocalypse Series (Right Ascension and Declination), as it is a quirky, funny, sometimes silly satire of some of the things I find particularly humorous in our daily lives. The blurb:

Ian Harebungler, our hapless hero, just can’t catch a break. First, the deli ran out of his favorite cucumber sandwiches. Then he left the gas on at home. But the lowlight was being abducted from his front yard by a particularly ill-mannered alien, one who apparently doesn’t believe in anesthetic, no less. Fortunately, Ian is saved by an unlikely ally: the Twiller, whose bravery is somewhat overshadowed by its uncanny resemblance to a floating yellow marshmallow with big eyes.

The Twiller follows the adventures of Ian and his newfound companion as they are whisked around the Universe, and Ian learns how difficult it can be to find his way home to a backwater planet called “Earth.” Along the way, Ian must survive the traffic of El Leigh, the enthusiastic protestors of Bez Erkeley, and rampaging politicians in the city of WMD. Even worse, he must contend with exorbitant prices in the city of York, endure the heat and crazy drivers in Fleur Ida, and struggle to escape the small planet of “Huh? Why E?” before he contracts island fever. Astute readers might pick up on subtle correlations to real places here on Earth, but my lawyers have reminded me to state that such resemblances are purely coincidental.

As it starts to dawn on Ian that the bizarre planets he visits suffer from many of the same problems, comical situations, and inane rules all too familiar to him, he stumbles upon an important secret that gives his quest to return home added urgency. Can Ian make it home? Will he arrive in time to prevent a terrible catastrophe? And can he find a flight without a Saturday night stopover? The answer lies with the Twiller…

You can find more info about The Twiller, including reviews and excerpts, on my website here. You can also purchase it from Amazon or directly from me through PayPal (in e-book or paperback format). At just $2.99 for the e-book, that’s less than your favorite blended coffee drink, and way better for you to boot!

The Twiller, just $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle Store

I am pleased to announce that the well-known book review site Red Adept Reviews posted a review of my third novel, The Twiller, today. I submitted The Twiller for submission back in June of last year, so you can see how well-respected Red Adept is by indie authors, and how inundated with submissions she is!

A big thank you to Red Adept and her review staff — I’m glad you enjoyed the book!

From the review:

4  3/4 stars

It’s funny, really funny. … Author David Derrico came very close to matching Douglas Adams’ farcical, achingly funny style of writing that fit the story so perfectly. … Overall, this was a fun book to read.

Please do check out the full review over at Red Adept Reviews:

http://redadeptreviews.com/?p=5274

You can pick up The Twiller e-book for just $2.99 at:

Or, grab the paperback from:

Apr 202011

I recently purchased a Kobo Wireless e-reader as a backup and for my wife to use. As I mentioned in my review of it, it is generally a capable e-reader, but I prefer my Kindle 3. However, the Kobo has one feature that the Kindle currently lacks: it is compatible with the system OverDrive uses to enable library e-book lending. (Today Amazon announced that library e-book lending is coming to the Kindle later this year.)

Library e-book lending has several advantages — and several disadvantages — over borrowing a book from a traditional library. On the plus side, you don’t have to physically visit the library to browse or check out a book (although some publishers are pushing for this restriction!). Similarly, you don’t have to return the book — it will simply disappear from your e-reader when the lending period (usually 14 or 21 days) is over. Also, the e-book file you get will be pristine — no germs or markings or torn pages.

On the other hand, publishers insist on certain restrictions on e-book lending. First, just getting started is inordinately difficult, and probably impossible for people who aren’t tech savvy. In addition to getting a normal library card (lending is performed through the library you already belong to or may join), you also need to register online through your library and the OverDrive library system. Then, you need to download Adobe Digital Editions, which is the software that will authorize the e-books to be read on your e-reader. Then you need to sign up for an account with Adobe. Then you find and “check out” the e-book you want (this is the most straightforward part of the process), then download the file to Adobe Digital Editions, connect your e-reader, authorize it using the software, and (finally!) transfer the e-book over. No, your parents probably won’t be able to do all this on their own (well, unless your parents are way better with technology than mine are). ;-)

Luckily, I am tech-savvy, so I tried the process out. Getting everything set up took an hour or so of fiddling around, downloading things, reading instructions, entering library card numbers, creating accounts, etc. Then I tried the two libraries I’m already a member of: my city library and the county library.

At the city library (which is the nicest library I’ve ever been to), things weren’t so good online. They don’t use OverDrive, but instead use a service called NetLibrary. The first thing I noticed about NetLibrary is that they wanted me to read e-books on my LCD computer screen, instead of the far superior (for reading) and more portable e-Ink screen of my e-reader. A bad start. It turns out they had a handful of e-books available for download to an e-reader, but they all seemed to be computer programming manuals. Bottom line: I couldn’t find one single e-book available for download that I had any interest in reading.

Next I tried my county library. Their website connected me to OverDrive, which seemed to have a better selection. However, as I searched for e-book after e-book, none of them were available. I finally found a few, but they were all in audiobook instead of e-book format. I eventually found a couple of titles that looked interesting, but all in all the selection was pretty desolate.

Finally, I tried the library system of the next county over. They also used OverDrive, and had a larger selection than the first two (each library maintains its own collection of e-book titles through OverDrive, so even though they use the same system, the selection at each individual library may vary greatly). I actually found a few e-books I was interested in checking out. But only a few: maddeningly, many of the ones I wanted were still available only as audiobooks, and a few series I wanted to read were missing the early books but had later books in the series.

In addition, due to restrictions placed on them by publishers, libraries can only loan each copy of an e-book they’ve purchased out to one person at a time. They have to wait until that copy is returned before lending it out again (they can, of course, purchase multiple copies). On the one hand, this restriction seems reasonable, although it simply copies the print book model when there’s no inherent reason to do so. (Why not allow unlimited check-outs, and just charge the library 50 cents per loan, for example? Or allow X loans per year but allow them to overlap?) In practice, this means that e-books you want to read may already be checked out, and you can be added to a waiting list and be notified when it’s your turn.

All in all, library e-book lending isn’t anything like the “free e-books forever” ideal many people might have in their head when thinking about the feature. It’s cumbersome to set up and use, and the selection (both due to books that are checked out and a limited selection of titles) is underwhelming. But it does work, and is another way to get free content onto your e-reader. My advice: check out the e-book selection at your local library (or any other library you can join; some will allow out-of-area residents to join for a fee) to see if they have books you’re interested in before buying an e-reader based on its ability to read library e-books.

Mar 302011

The Kobo Wireless next to the Kindle 3

I recently purchased a Kobo Wireless E-Reader, as a backup to my Kindle 3. The Kobo has more limited functionality than the Kindle, but its light weight and low price somewhat make up for the lack of features. In fact, the Kobo’s strict focus on reading — without Internet access or the ability to play games or apps, for example — might appeal to some people, as might its simple interface (a power button, 4 side buttons, and a 5-way joystick).

The Kobo Wireless is Kobo’s second-generation e-reader, which boasts Wi-Fi connectivity (to shop the Kobo store directly from the device), a better screen, more speed, and a built-in dictionary over its predecessor. It retails for $139, the same price as the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, but you can often find it discounted below that price.

First, a list of the Kobo Wireless’ features:

  • 6″ e-Ink Vizplex screen (16-shade grayscale)
  • 7.8-ounce weight
  • 1 GB internal memory, plus an SD memory card slot
  • 10-day (10,000 page turn) battery life
  • Reads ePub files (including ADE / Overdrive-compatible library e-books)
  • Also reads PDF files

The Kobo Wireless comes in 3 colors (white front/silver back, white/lilac, and black/black). The first thing you notice is the light weight: at 7.8 ounces, it’s even lighter than the already-light Kindle 3 (8.5 ounces) or Sony Touch (7.93 ounces). It also has a textured (“quilted”), rubberized back that feels good in your hand. On the other hand, the front and 5-way joystick button feel a bit cheap, and the joystick can be a bit loud.

While it has the same size 6″ e-Ink screen as the Kindle, it lacks the newer e-Ink Pearl screen (which provides darker blacks and 50% more contrast) of the Kindle 3 and newer Sony e-readers. However, it is still quite readable, and you can see the difference for yourself in the photo above. To be honest, the Kindle 3’s bolder font accounts for about half the difference. In fact, I found the Kobo to be a quite decent e-reader … but it repeatedly fell short when compared to my experiences with the superior Kindle 3. I think if I wasn’t already used to (spoiled by?) a Kindle 3, I would have a more favorable impression of the Kobo.

I found some things to really like about the Kobo: the light weight is really striking, and the back of the device feels good in your hand. I also liked how, when the Kobo went to sleep or turned off, the screen changed to show the cover of the e-book you’re reading, and told you what percentage of the book you had read. A simple, but very nice touch, and far preferable to the Kindle’s rotating dead author screensavers. I also liked the “I’m Reading” shelf, which lists only those books you’ve started to read (and shows the book cover of the current e-book); the rest of your books are found on the “Books” shelf. Once you’ve finished reading a book (by turning the last page), a book moves from “I’m Reading” back to “Books.” It’s a pretty good system, although I’d like to add an “Already Read” shelf to the “I’m Reading” and “Books” shelves. The latest software update (1.9) allows you to manually move books from “I’m Reading” back to “Books.”

Although I haven’t tried the process yet, I also like the option to access library e-books on the Kobo. Kobo (like Amazon and B&N) has software for PCs, Macs, iOS devices, Android, etc., which allows you to read your Kobo e-books on multiple devices. Another nice touch is that the Kobo comes pre-loaded with 100 classic, public domain (free) e-books. While you can find and download these yourself to read on any e-reader, the fact they come pre-loaded makes things simpler and lets people start reading right away.

A few things are different from the Kindle: the most obvious is that you can buy books from the Kobo e-book store instead of the Kindle store. While the Kindle store is #1, the Kobo store has good availability and comparable prices, so I don’t see it as a huge weakness. Of course, you can also “side-load” books (using the included USB cable) that you’ve downloaded to your computer from Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, or numerous other sites.

The Kobo lacks text-to-speech, Internet access, and the ability to run apps. While lacking these features is generally a negative, for some readers it won’t be an issue and might even be a selling point: the lack of distractions from reading could appeal to parents who want their kids to use an e-reader, but don’t want them playing games or surfing the Internet.

The Kobo also lacks a full keyboard and many of the buttons of the Kindle. This makes certain tasks (like entering a password to connect to a wireless network) cumbersome, as you have to navigate an on-screen keyboard with the 5-way joystick (think of entering your character’s name using an old video game controller). I also prefer the easy-press page turn buttons on either side of the Kindle to the louder, harder to press joystick used to turn pages on the Kobo; the low placement of the Kobo’s joystick makes it hard to read one-handed, even with the light weight. On the plus side, there is less clutter, and navigation is pretty straightforward with the more limited selection of buttons.

While the Kobo only comes with 1 GB of internal memory (compared to the 4 GB of the Kindle 3), it does have an SD card slot, which is a nice feature. You should have plenty of room to hold hundreds or even thousands of e-books on either device.

There were a few definite negatives about the Kobo (especially when compared to the Kindle): the Kobo is slower, and takes some time to turn on (about 29 seconds when I timed it). Not an outlandish amount of time, but it is annoying since the Kobo’s battery seems to drain relatively quickly when asleep (lasting about a week, even if not used), and performs much better when turned off completely. By comparison, Amazon recommends you leave the Kindle in sleep mode most of the time (the battery drain doesn’t seem to be as bad), and the Kindle wakes from sleep mode almost instantly.

The Kobo is also slower when opening books (you get a loading screen, which only takes a few seconds, but the Kindle is nearly instant), changing pages (again, not a HUGE delay, maybe about a second, but slower than the Kindle 3), and loading new books onto the device (the Kobo spends about 10–15 seconds per book “processing” them, which adds up if you load several books at once). Again, nothing deal-breaking, just noticeably slower when compared to the Kindle 3.

The Kobo also lacks the ability to play MP3 audio files (including audiobooks), does not have text-to-speech, and doesn’t let you bookmark, highlight, or take notes within e-books. Since I don’t use these features much, it’s not a deal-breaker for me, but they are limitations to be aware of. It’s also a little harder to get around e-books in the Kobo; while the 1.9 software update adds the ability to jump to a specific location, the lack of keyboard makes the process cumbersome.

One definite negative is that, while the Kobo Wireless adds a built-in dictionary (that the older Kobo Reader lacked), it only works with e-books purchased from Kobo, not books side-loaded from the computer. For me, the dictionary is a must-have e-reader feature, one that I end up using far more than I first expected because it’s so convenient. Since most of my books are side-loaded from various sources (I haven’t bought any directly from Kobo yet), it means there’s no dictionary a good chunk of the time. Even where it does exist (like on the pre-loaded books), the process is slower and more cumbersome than the Kindle: press menu, select “Dictionary,” press the joystick, choose the word, press the joystick, wait a few seconds, and a definition pops up (covering most of the screen). Like on the Barnes & Noble Nook, this multi-step dictionary implementation pales in comparison to the Kindle, where you simply select the word and a short definition pops up at the bottom of the screen (you can press “enter” to see a longer definition if you want).

Another odd quirk: on side-loaded e-books, you’ll see small page numbers in the right-hand margin, and these numbers can intrude into the text area (causing nearby text to dim). Not a huge deal, but a minor annoyance that nonetheless was noticeable and jarred me from becoming engrossed in a book a couple of times.

The battery life is listed as 10 days, very good compared to most electronic devices, but inferior to the Kindle 3’s claim of 1 month on a single charge.

Conclusion

All in all, the Kobo Wireless makes a decent enough e-reader. If you’re looking for light weight, limited features (if you don’t need Internet access or consider the lack of it and focus on just reading as a positive), and the ability to read library e-books, the Kobo makes a decent choice. It does have some nice features, like the light weight, pre-loaded books, and book covers as screen savers. It seems to generally work pretty well for just plain reading, which is the #1 priority. Unfortunately, it falls short when compared to the speed, features, and e-Ink Pearl screen of the Kindle 3, and Kindle owners may find it disappointing in comparison. The Kobo Wireless does compare pretty well to the Nook (the Kobo has similar speed and lighter weight) and Sony E-Readers (the Kobo has Wi-Fi and a much lower price), when looking at other e-readers capable of reading ePub library e-books.

My overall conclusion is that, for the same $139 price, the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi is a clearly superior e-reader for most people. However, the Kobo Wireless can make a compelling low-cost alternative (as when the original Kobo was first introduced and the Kindle 2 was still $259): since the Kobo Wireless can sometimes be found on sale (or on clearance at a closing Borders store), it can be a good buy as a second e-reader or low-cost alternative if you find a good deal (under $99).

Hands-On: New Sony E-Readers

Posted by Always Write at 2:09 PM Tagged with: ,
Jan 142011

The new Sony E-Reader lineup: the Pocket, Touch, and Daily.

I got a chance to try out the new Sony E-Readers at a local Best Buy recently. Sony’s new lineup, discussed here, includes the 5″ PRS-350 Pocket Edition ($179, currently on sale for $149), the 6″ PRS-650 Touch Edition ($229), and the 7″ PRS-950 Daily Edition ($299). Each has the new e-Ink Pearl screen, for excellent contrast and readability. Each is made with an aluminum frame (most e-readers have a plastic frame), and are available in multiple colors (whereas most e-readers are white or gray). And each has a new touchscreen technology: a grid of infrared lasers is embedded around the edges of the screen to sense your touch — which is a great improvement over Sony’s old touchscreen method, which required an extra layer of plastic over the screen that muddied the display.

Sony’s e-readers have been described in many reviews as good hardware that is somewhat overpriced and lacking an easy-to-use, robust e-book ecosystem. It’s almost like Sony wants to make great, pretty, expensive products, and leave it to the user to figure out how to actually get e-books on the device and use it. For example, only the most expensive version (at a whopping $299, or more than double the cost of the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi or $149 Nook Wi-Fi) comes with any form of wireless connectivity; the cheaper two versions require downloading books to your computer and sideloading them to the device through a USB cable. Also, Sony’s e-book store is harder to navigate, has a smaller selection, and the e-books are often more expensive than the Amazon or B&N stores. On the plus side, Sony’s e-readers do read the ePub format and can access Overdrive library e-books.

As for the hardware itself, I have to say I wasn’t as impressed with them as I thought based on reading their descriptions. For some reason, I didn’t prefer the aluminum frames to plastic. And I’m not a fan of the controls: the main culprit is the page turn buttons, which are located on the left side of the row of 5 metal buttons below the bottom of the screen, and are therefore not in a comfortable position for one-handed reading (even if holding it with your left hand, you’d have to hold the device by the very bottom corner). I far prefer the page turn buttons on either side of the screen, like on the Kindle or Nook.

And I was disappointed with the touchscreen, which is hyped as the defining feature of the new Sonys (it’s the only major e-reader with a touch-enabled e-Ink screen). The description of the new touchscreen system, which doesn’t affect readability, sounds impressive. But I found that it didn’t register my touch several times, with a little minus-sign-in-a-circle symbol showing up in the bottom right corner of the screen. Probably a bad sign that the touchscreen is so finicky, there’s programming for a symbol to show up when it doesn’t work right. Further, I’m not jumping on the touch bandwagon: I think it’s overrated for most uses, even on something like the iPad, and I find myself wishing for a “low-tech” mouse. Sure, touchscreens are helpful for some things, but as often as not they’re horribly imprecise (and I click the wrong link on a web page or miss a tiny button), your fingers obscure some important screen element, or I miss the tactile feedback of a good old-fashioned control pad on games. For e-readers specifically, I don’t see much benefit in being able to touch the screen, and one clear drawback is getting finger oils on your screen.

All in all, I was mildly disappointed by the Sonys, and I didn’t find them compelling. Since I’m not a fan of their defining feature (touchscreens), I find their controls inconvenient, their e-book store is lacking, and I consider them pretty badly overpriced (their normal prices are excessive; when on sale they’re merely on the high end), I don’t really recommend them. On the other hand, they are small and light, and they come in a variety of screen sizes (5″ and 7″, in addition to the normal 6″ screen you’ll also find on most other e-readers). And they are one of the few e-readers (along with the Kindle 3, but not the Kindle 2 or Nook) to come with the new e-Ink Pearl screen, which I consider a must-have e-reader feature.

Jan 142011

Somewhat of an off-topic post here, as I discuss some of my favorite and least favorite things money can buy. I started out wanting to give a shout-out to those products and companies that provide a great product or service, the things that just do what they’re supposed to do, do it reliably, and do it well. Then I figured it would also be a good excuse to rant a bit about those things that just annoy the heck out of you.

BEST

Mac Mini: I’ve been a Mac user for many years, and I find their computers far more reliable, easy to use, and virus free than the alternatives. (Note I do not necessarily feel the same way about all Apple products and iDevices, I’m talking about Mac computers specifically.) Nowadays, even low-end computers are fast enough for 95%+ of consumers; unless you’re doing high-end video editing work or playing the latest games, even the $599 Mac Mini is enough for email, Internet, Photoshop, word processing, etc. And, at that price, I get a new one (with the latest operating system and Apple iLife software) every few years. Mine never crashes, takes less than 30 seconds to start up, and does what I need it to do without spending hours constantly trying to fix it.

Readability and Instapaper: I’ll combine these two must-have Internet services. Readability is a “bookmarklet,” a little piece of code you save as a browser bookmark and that takes annoyingly-formatted articles that are split into 4 pages (I’m looking at you, Gatorsports.com) and formats them into a single, easy-to-read, black-text-on-white page, removing annoying side columns and flashing ads. Instapaper does something similar, gleaning the text of an online article and saving it into an archive for you to read later (or transfer to your Kindle).

Kindle 3: Regular readers of this blog knew this would be on the list (to be honest, it’s what prompted the idea for this blog post). The more I use the Kindle 3, the more I like it — actually, can’t live without it. It’s light and easy to carry and use, and the new e-Ink Pearl screen is very easy on the eyes, far better than the Kindle 2’s screen. The additional software improvements (like fitting more text on a page) are the icing on the cake. As a fiction reading device, it has no equal.

Corvette Z06: Ten years ago, when I was working as a lawyer at a big law firm, I splurged and bought my first new car, a 2001 Corvette Z06. I’m still driving it today, and it’s as fun to drive now as the day I bought it. This car is a precision-crafted machine that was built for a specific purpose and truly excels at that purpose. For under $50K (at the time), it blows away cars that cost double and triple the price. It’s also surprisingly practical, handling two cross-country trips with luggage, getting 28 mpg on the highway, and it hasn’t had any mechanical issues to speak of. Yes, tires are pricey, but well worth it for how this car accelerates, brakes, and handles. One note: if you’re looking for a chick magnet, look elsewhere — girls seem to be more impressed by cars that cost more but sport a fraction of the performance (*cough* Porsche Boxster *cough*), and it mainly impresses 18-year-old guys (who can actually tell a Z06 from a regular Corvette). But that doesn’t bother me, I bought it to drive, not impress, and I’ve never been disappointed.

Net 10 Wireless: Sure, it’s not “cool,” but I only pay $15 a month for my cellphone, which is less than most people pay just for their texting surcharge. Yeah, I only get 200 minutes (I don’t talk on the phone that much, and they roll over), and I can’t play Angry Birds (boo hoo), but I get great reception, never drop a call, and the battery on my non-smartphone lasts a week while my friends’ phones can’t make it through a day.

ING Direct: Very simple, convenient, no-fee, high-interest-paying online checking and savings accounts. It does exactly what it’s supposed to, pays a good rate, and makes it very easy to automate payments and transfers and handle my banking online.

Honorable Mention: Costco, for cheap prices, $1.50 hot dog & drink meals, and a very generous return policy. CreateSpace, for simple and affordable print book publishing.

WORST

Airlines in general, and American Airlines in particular: Airlines have just gotten so bad at customer service it’s a sad joke. I remember when it was kinda fun to fly, people treated you well, and they gave you playing cards and little wings — and I’m not that old. Now, you’re herded like cattle, charged for baggage (so everyone tries to cram all their stuff aboard), not fed, and squeezed into rows that I swear they make 1 cm smaller every year, figuring we won’t notice. But that’s the only explanation, since I stopped growing a while ago. They’re all pretty bad, but a special shout-out to American, who not only doesn’t have Wi-Fi or LCD screens on the seatbacks, they still have CRT TVs hanging down, like it’s 1972. And not only do they not feed you, but I was just on an 8-hour American flight and they didn’t so much as give us peanuts. On the plus side, most of my flights lately have been on time. And Hawaiian is the best of the bad domestic airlines.

iTunes: As much as I love my Mac, iTunes is the single biggest abomination of software I’ve ever seen (and I’ve used Microsoft Word, so that’s really saying something). First of all, who decided I wanted one program to manage my music library, organize e-books, watch movies, sync apps and music and movies and everything else with iPods and iPads, perform endless app and iOS updates, and be the only conduit to the App Store and iTunes Music Store? And does iTunes really have to launch (which takes way too long, now that it’s 10 programs in 1) every time I click a link to read about some app in my web browser? Oh, and syncing never seems to work right, every movie is in the wrong format and half my songs aren’t authorized for this iPod or whatever. The latest sync froze the movie player on my wife’s iPad for her 10-hour plane trip. Ugh.

AT&T Wireless: I don’t even have AT&T, but their cell phone service is so bad, I know which of my friends has it by how often they drop calls when I talk to them. Well, sure, they have the worst service, but at least they’re by far the most expensive wireless carrier. Wait, what? Oh yeah, that iPhone (with 2-year AT&T contract) didn’t only cost you $200.

Car Dealerships: OK, this is an oldie, but they’re breaking out some new tricks. Pretty much every dealer tries to slip in some sort of “dealer fee” or “dealer prep” or “ADM” (additional dealer markup) after you’ve negotiated the price of the car. And since people caught on to “rust coating,” now they have mandatory overpriced VIN etching in the windows (who needs that?), and — are you sitting down for this one? — “Nitro fill,” which means, yes, they’re actually charging you $100 to put air in your tires.

Dis-Honorable Mention: Red Lobster, because the commercials look so good and I get suckered into going back once every 10 years for some truly awful food — never again. Telephone Customer Service, outsourced to the lowest bidder and keeping you on hold for an hour, for just about every company ever. HSN & QVC, for ripping people off so badly; they should be ashamed. Cable companies, which is why I don’t have cable anymore. Movie theaters, who have the nerve to show commercials but expect me to pay $12-$15 for a movie. And commercials in general, isn’t it enough already? When we get back from a 5-minute commercial break just to see the announcer standing on a court with a Gatorade logo inside Staples Center which is plastered with Geico ads, and the announcer unconvincingly plugs the latest smartphone while telling us to watch the Allstate replay, brought to you by Coke — “obnoxious” doesn’t begin to cover it.

Nook Color Hands-On

Posted by Always Write at 5:28 AM Tagged with: , ,
Jan 102011

The Nook Color: not really an e-reader, more of an iPad light.

I recently got a chance to experiment with a Nook Color at a local Barnes & Noble store. As I discussed in my previous post (Nook: Color Me Disappointed), the new $249 device from B&N is a tablet computer marketed as a “reader’s tablet,” with a 7″ IPS LCD touchscreen. While this touchscreen is sharper and nicer than most LCD screens (like the one you’d find on the iPad), and boasts an anti-glare coating, I am still not sold on the idea of reading on an LCD screen; I far prefer an easy-on-the-eyes e-Ink screen.

During my time with the Nook Color, I was impressed with the speed and responsiveness of the unit — a nice improvement over the original Nook with the 1.0 software, which was buggy and slow. Some features were definitely cool, like the ability to customize your “home screen” by arranging the covers of your favorite books however you’d like. Of course, certain things are better in color, like the aforementioned book covers, but where I think the Nook Color really makes some sense is as a magazine, newspaper, and children’s book reader.

Magazine reading was similar to what you’d find on the iPad, except with only a 7″ screen (which, of course, helps weight and portability, but makes it tougher to see a full-size magazine page without lots of zooming in and panning around). Yes, everything is in full color and looks nice, but I just haven’t fallen in love with reading magazines on e-readers yet (mostly due to the aforementioned zooming and panning, which is annoying even on the iPad’s 9.7″ screen). On the plus side, page navigation is pretty good, with a scrollable thumbnail view of the pages along the bottom that pops up when you use it, and the “article reader” mode, which formats the text of an individual article into a single, easily-readable column with adjustable text, is a must-have feature.

Unfortunately, e-magazines and other digital content (like newspapers) are crippled by publishers’ insistence on overcharging for them: while customers understand that digital distribution costs less than physical and want to buy content once and read it online, on a Nook Color, and on an iPad, publishers insist on charging separate subscriptions for print, online, and iPad or Nook Color subscriptions. Even worse, the digital subscriptions are often the same price or even more than the physical version, which must be printed and shipped.

Since I don’t yet see the appeal of digital magazines and newspapers (until they get some pricing and delivery issues worked out first), and I’m not the target market for children’s books, I look at the Nook Color mainly as an e-reader. And, for that purpose, I find the Nook Color about the same as an iPad: so-so. It has a smaller screen and less battery life, but is a little less heavy and costs only half as much. But my Kindle 3 still blows it away for pure fiction reading: smaller, half the weight, much longer battery life, added 3G connectivity, $70 cheaper, and much easier on the eyes.

On the other hand, as an Internet machine, the Nook Color’s LCD screen makes it far more useable than the Kindle, which doesn’t handle Internet browsing well. It also includes a couple of interesting apps, like Pandora radio, which the Kindle doesn’t have. The Internet worked pretty well on the unit I tried, with pages looking pretty good, within the confines of a 7″ screen, anyway. I certainly wouldn’t replace my 21″ monitor at home, but it works on the go.

One other aspect to note: the Nook Color is a fairly powerful tablet computer than runs on the Android operating system, with a layer of B&N software over it that locks out certain Android applications and focuses it on reading. However, tech-savvy users have started rooting their Nook Colors, bypassing B&N’s software and thereby running any Android app they want, including games and even the Kindle for Android app! This means — if you’re OK with reading on an LCD screen — you could use a Nook color to read books from both B&N and Amazon (and Kobo and anyone else with an Android app).

My final recommendation still is dependent on what you’re looking for: if you want an e-reader and plan to spend most of your time reading fiction novels, I can’t recommend any LCD-based tablet computer, including the Nook Color. However, if you (a) like reading on an LCD screen, (b) are really interested in magazines, newspapers, children’s books, or Internet surfing, or (c) are looking for an inexpensive Android tablet computer, the Nook Color may be worth a look, as it’s snappy and seems to function well.

My Favorite Things of 2010

Posted by Always Write at 9:10 PM Tagged with: ,
Jan 062011

As a follow-up to my 2010 Year In Review post, I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite things (devices, developments, services, or books) from the past year.

The Kindle 3

Regular followers of this blog are surely sick of hearing me sing the praises of my Kindle 3, so I’ll keep it brief, and point you to my Kindle 3 Review (with pics). But I will just mention that I’m liking it more and more the longer I use it, and I’m actually finding myself drawn to reading more than I was on my K2. I’ve read about a dozen books in the month or so that I’ve had it, and that’s probably the most important thing I can say about it.

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Speaking of those dozen books, most of them have been in the excellent Vorkosigan series by Louis McMaster Bujold, and available for free on the Baen Free Library as part of the Cryoburn CD. This science fiction series follows the exploits of Miles Vorkosigan, who is not your typical hero: he is physically short and weak due to stunted growth stemming from his mother being poisoned during pregnancy. He makes up for his physical failings with a mixture of wit, bravery, bravado, charisma, and reckless risk-taking. The books are more of the space opera, soft science-fiction style: there are a few cursory ship battles and discussion of technology and weaponry, but really quite little. Most of the action takes place man-to-man, whether on the ground (including the convoluted politics of Miles’ homeworld, where was born to an important noble family), on space stations or ships (where boarding parties and mercenary raids are common), or between negotiating diplomats from one of many human factions. The stories are well-crafted, the writing is excellent, and the adventures are entertaining, even if some parts strain credulity a tad — Miles does have a way of getting into and out of some incredible situations.

Of note: the series consists of a sometimes-confusing timeline of 14 novels and 4 novellas, grouped into 7 omnibus editions. I recommend reading the books in chronological order, not necessarily the order in which they were written or arranged (the stories in omnibus edition #5, Miles, Mutants, and Microbes, are out of chronological order for the rest of the series). The second issue is that one pivotal novel, Memory, is not included in the omnibus editions. Now, I can’t complain much for getting 13/14 novels for free and paying $6 to Baen for the missing one (which I did), but it is confusing. Also confusing is why Baen would give away essentially an entire series for free. I could see the first book or two in order to drive sales of the rest of the series, but I fear that authors and publishers giving away too many books for free smacks of desperation, and will have a “tragedy of the commons” affect, where no one is able to sell e-books anymore, but that’s for another blog post.

70% Royalties by Amazon (with an assist by Apple)

Early this year, prompted by Apple’s anticipated entry into the e-book game, Amazon announced that in July they would double royalties (from 35% to 70%) for e-books sold through their DTP self-publishing platform that (a) were priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and (b) enabled text-to-speech and met other requirements. This announcement gave many self-publishing authors real hope of making a living at their craft — selling enough e-books to make a living with a $2.05 royalty (about what most $2.99 e-books end up with after a small, size-based fee Amazon deducts) is much more likely than with a $0.35 royalty (35% of $0.99). It also has repercussions in the e-book pricing world and the publishing world — as authors suddenly wonder if sticking with traditional publishers (and their 8% print and 17.5% e-book royalties) is worth it.

WordPress

In April, I switched over my website (which I had maintained since 1998, mainly writing my own HTML and PHP) to the WordPress platform. WordPress is a free content management system primarily aimed at bloggers, and it allows for simple and modular blogging, website organization, and other features. The main impetus for the switch was my interest in blogging, and I used it to write 103 posts over the last 9 months of the year. While it takes some tinkering to get it to work right as a full website platform (supporting both a traditional website and the blogging section), it does make blogging much easier and provides a ton of useful features I couldn’t have done on my own.

KindleBoards

While I technically discovered KindleBoards.com in late 2009, I really became active on the site in early 2010, where I met lots of great authors and readers, learned a great deal, and got much more exposure for my books. The newfound avenue for reader-author interaction is invaluable, and I had many memorable discussions and enjoyed interacting with readers, especially on my book threads. The site is not only a great source for information, but is also the best-moderated forum I’ve ever used, and the users are generally truly cordial and helpful, even to newcomers (which is, sadly, quite rare on the Internet).

The I Love My Kindle Blog

As part of the research I do for this blog and for the business aspects of self-publishing, I follow over a dozen Kindle, e-book, technology, and publishing-related blogs. One of the most helpful I’ve found is the I Love My Kindle Blog, maintained by Amazon forum regular Bufo Calvin. It has a great mix of archived information about Kindle tips and tricks, and regular posts about new developments in the e-book and e-publishing worlds. Bufo is also very responsive, and is always happy to respond to comments or emails, and was even kind enough to post a review of The Twiller when it was released.

Nov 302010

My old white Kindle 2 next to my new graphite Kindle 3

A few days before my birthday, I got a pleasant surprise in the mail today: a new Kindle 3 from my wife. I own (and am quite happy with) a Kindle 2 already, but after reading and writing about the Kindle 3 for almost 5 months now, and seeing photos and being able to play with one at the local Target, I finally decided I wanted the upgrade — and I’m glad I did.

I decided on the $189 graphite 3G + Wi-Fi Kindle 3 — while the $139 Wi-Fi-only version is a great deal, only $50 extra for 3G connectivity and free-for-life 3G wireless service was too good a value to pass up. For $50, I’d rather have it and not really need it than need it and not have it.

The first thing that struck me is just how small, thin, and light it is. While my old Kindle 2 is hardly enormous or heavy — only 10.2 ounces — the Kindle 3 is smaller in every dimension and only weighs 8.7 ounces (about half a pound). It’s very easy to hold and read one-handed, especially since I haven’t gotten a case for it yet.

The second thing I noticed is the new e-Ink Pearl screen, which promised increased contrast. It definitely delivers. Just check out the photo above: see how much darker the blacks are on the K3 compared to the K2? On the K3, I find the blacks to be noticeably darker (almost a true black), and the background to be slightly lighter (still not a true white, but a lighter shade of gray than on the K2). In combination, the text really pops off the page on the K3. While the K2’s contrast was fine by itself, when I look at it compared to the new K3, it seems a bit “muddied” in comparison.

Helping text readability even more is the K3’s new support for 3 different fonts (normal, condensed, and sans serif) and 3 line spacing options — in addition to the 8 font sizes shared with the K2. After playing around with them a bit, I like the sans serif font (which is bolder than the normal) with the medium line spacing option, on the 4th text size. Check out the difference in the photo below:

Notice the bolder, darker text of the K3 (click pic to read more…)

The text on the Kindle 3 is significantly darker than on the K2, and the background is lighter. The combination makes for a noticeable improvement in readability. Another nice improvement: notice how much more text you get on the K3 screen — an extra 5 lines of text. This is from a combination of the font being more condensed (but more readable), and the location bar being moved all the way down to the very bottom edge of the K3’s screen. Even better, once you click the next page button on the K3, the title bar (that shows the name of the book and the battery indicator) disappears, giving you more room at the top and bottom. Even with the same font type and size, the K3 will get several extra lines of text per page. In total, it seems like I’ll get 25-33% more words on the K3 screen, which is great for a few reasons: having to press the page turn button less frequently (which is nice in itself) also means I should be able to read faster, and the battery will last longer, since e-Ink screens only use power when you change pages (you should get about 10,000 page turns per battery charge, regardless of how many words are on each page). In other words: a book that used to take 1,000 page turns (and use 1/10th the battery life) might now only take 750 page turns (and 1/13th the battery life).

A few other notes: the K3 has a few improvements I haven’t really noticed yet, including longer battery life (both will last for weeks), more storage space (I’m nowhere near filling up either one of them), and faster page turns. I did a side-by-side test, and the K3’s page turns are a little faster, but this is honestly a non-issue for me, as the K2 is plenty fast enough anyway — faster than turning a page in a physical book. Whether the K2 is 0.8 seconds and the K3 is 0.6 or whatever, they’re both fast enough that I don’t notice any delay.

I played around a bit with the K3’s improved web browser (and Wi-Fi connectivity, which for some reason didn’t “see” my network, but once I entered the network name and password it connected with no problem), and it does seem to be much improved. Using the web browser on the K2 could be described as frustrating at best: you could do it, but only if you really had to. The K3 browser is still far from pleasant (compared to a computer or iPad), but it’s much faster, more usable, and seems to render more sites properly. It had no problem with my Yahoo portal, Yahoo mail, this blog, and Amazon’s DTP book sales reports … which I’m embarrassed to admit that I check way more often than I should. ;-) (Ironically, Amazon’s DTP page had problems loading properly on the K2.) The K3’s zooming and panning functions (a necessity due to the 6″ screen) worked pretty well, and the “article mode” (which strips out extraneous stuff and just presents the main text from some web pages) works great so far — this blog came up looking great in article mode. Of course, the Kindle’s e-Ink screen is 16-shade grayscale, and it doesn’t do video, so certain sites are just not going to look that great. And the speed is so-so over Wi-Fi; I think it’s slower over 3G but haven’t tested that yet.

I do have to include a few early nitpicks: I miss the number keys (both have full keyboards, but the K3 loses the top row of number keys from the K2 — instead, you need to press ALT + the letters on the top row). I think this will turn out to be minor, since I hardly ever use the number keys normally, but I had to use them a few times in the initial set-up (mainly punching in location numbers to get to the right place in certain books). But it seems like they could have fit the number keys, or at least printed the corresponding numbers on or near the top row of letter keys. My second nitpick is that I hit a few buttons accidentally: the page turn buttons (which now depress toward the edge instead of the middle like on the K2) and the buttons near the new 5-way controller. I think the side button issue will go away once I get a case, and hopefully I’ll just adjust to the 5-way button and it won’t continue to be an issue.

What else? I’ll have to read more on it (I just got it a few hours ago) to give you more detailed thoughts on the reading experience, and I’ll write a follow-up article in a couple weeks when I can give a more thorough review. But my early impressions are very favorable: the main reason I wanted the K3 was the improved screen contrast, and it delivered. I think the combination of better contrast, more words per page, and lighter weight are going to combine to make the reading experience — which I already found superior to a printed book with my K2 — even better.

'Tis the season … for Kindles, Nooks, and iPads

UPDATE: For the 2011 version of this post, please CLICK HERE.

In anticipation of Black Friday and the upcoming holiday gift-giving season, I thought I’d put together a post for anyone thinking of picking up an e-book reader for themselves or as a gift this holiday season. I’ll discuss the different e-readers out there, give my experiences and recommendations, and tell you the best places to pick up a copy of each (in-store and online) — making sure to cover special Black Friday deals, which mostly consist of older models on sale for under $100.

If you’re not yet sure if an e-reader is the right gift, you may want to take a moment to consider my “Do I Need An E-Book Reader?” post, which details the types of people who would enjoy and get the most use out of e-readers.

I anticipate that e-readers will be a very popular holiday gift this year, as prices have come down and the technology has improved pretty dramatically from even a year or two ago. There are now more choices than ever, from black & white e-Ink-based devices specialized for reading, along with color LCD multi-purpose tablet computers that can read books along with checking email, going online, and watching videos.

The first decision to make is whether you want a device focused on reading, or more of a multi-function device. For avid readers, e-Ink screens are generally preferred, as they are easier on the eyes and the batteries last much longer (click here for more information on the difference between e-Ink and LCD screens). For those who only read occasionally (1 book a month or less), they may prefer a device that does lots of other things, like play games and run apps and watch videos. Here is a rundown of the leading e-readers available this year, with links to more detailed reviews, as well as links to purchasing information:

Amazon’s Kindle 3 is the most popular e-reader, and for good reason. It comes in two versions: the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, and the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi. The $189 version comes in two colors: white and graphite, and the $139 version is graphite only. Each model has a 6″ e-Ink screen, a full keyboard, and a battery that lasts for a month. The difference between the two models is that the $189 Wi-Fi + 3G version can connect wirelessly through AT&T’s cellphone network (with no monthly fee, as lifetime 3G access is included) and where you have access to a Wi-Fi hotspot (like at your house or office or coffee shop), while the $139 Wi-Fi only model can only connect at a hotspot.

I own a Kindle 2, and I strongly recommend the new Kindle 3 to anyone who enjoys reading fiction books: it is the most full-featured e-reader, with a built-in dictionary, adjustable font sizes, text-to-speech, notes & highlights, limited Internet browsing, some apps and games, and more. It also comes at a very reasonable price, has the newest and best e-Ink Pearl screen with increased contrast, is very small and light (only 8.5 ounces), the battery lasts for a month, and Amazon has the world’s largest e-book store, with over 750,000 titles. My recommendation: avoid sales tax and buy it from Amazon.com (with free shipping), their customer service and generous return policy is legendary.

Almost a separate animal, Amazon also offers the large-screen $379 Kindle DX 2, which offers a huge 9.7″ e-Ink Pearl screen. It’s great for reading PDFs, and much better at browsing websites than its smaller sibling. Of course, it’s far heavier (18.9 oz), less portable, and more expensive — I personally don’t think it’s worth double the price of the K3.

Black Friday Special: So far, there aren’t any Black Friday deals on the K3 and I don’t think we’ll see any, since the K3 only came out in August and has been selling very well; in fact, there are signs it may sell out before Christmas. But the Kindle 2 will be on sale for just $89 from Amazon.com on Black Friday, which is a great deal on what is still an excellent e-reader (one I use every day), and the best of the Black Friday e-reader deals, in my opinion. It goes on sale here, starting at 9 AM Pacific on Nov 26, and I’d expect it to sell out quickly.

The Barnes & Noble Nook

Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Nook Color is the second-most-popular e-reader brand, behind the Kindle. The Nook has recently split into two product lines: the new $249 Nook Color, an Android-based tablet computer with a 7″ color LCD screen that B&N is marketing as a tablet “focused on reading,” and the original $199 Nook 3G + Wi-Fi and $149 Nook Wi-Fi, which each have a 6″ e-Ink screen along with a small LCD touchscreen below it.

The Nook Color is marketed as being a device focused on reading, and able to read color magazines and interactive children’s books, browse the Internet, and run certain (but not all) Android apps and games. However, I find that its LCD screen means it suffers from a number of drawbacks, including that it’s heavy (15.8 oz), expensive ($110 more than the K3), has a short battery life (8 hours), and lacks 3G connectivity. However, when considered as a tablet that can also read, it is half the price of an iPad. For pure reading, I’d definitely recommend one of the original Nooks (and their e-Ink screens) instead. They share many of the same features as the Kindle 3, although they add an LCD touchscreen, a memory card slot, and the ability to read free library e-books; however, they are heavier, slower, have shorter battery life, and lack the new e-Ink Pearl screen. As the Nook “Classic” line is now a generation behind the Kindles yet they cost slightly more, I can’t recommend them any more, unless library books are a must-have feature for you.

Black Friday Special: Best Buy will have the $149 Nook Wi-Fi model on sale for just $99 on Black Friday, which is a great deal if you are a Nook fan.

The New Sony E-Reader 350

The Sony E-Reader Line includes the $149 PRS-350 Pocket Edition with a 5″ e-Ink touchscreen, the $199 PRS-650 Touch Edition with a 6″ e-Ink touchscreen, and the $249 PRS-950 Daily Edition with a 7″ e-Ink touchscreen. Each uses the new e-Ink Pearl screens, with a touchscreen technology using infrared beams instead of an extra screen layer that would make the screen less crisp. The Sonys have the advantage of reading library e-books and some people may prefer the touchscreen, but their prices are a little high compared to the Kindles.

Unfortunately, only the expensive Daily Edition comes with wireless (Wi-Fi + 3G) connectivity; the other two models have none, and need to use a memory card or be hooked up to a computer with a USB cable to transfer books. One good thing about the Sonys is that you get to choose the size of your screen: you can pick the 5″ screen of the Pocket Edition, which gives you ultra portability and light weight at only 5.64 ounces; you can stick with the “standard” 6″ screen size of the Touch Edition, which is still only 7.93 oz; or you can opt for the nice 7″ screen of the Daily Edition, which is only a tad heavier than the Kindle at 9 ounces. As I said, the downside is price, although Sony just reduced prices and made their lineup much more competitive. For $249, the Daily Edition is $60 more than the K3, which may be worth it for a larger screen. If you like library books and the touchscreen, or want a slightly larger or smaller screen, the Sonys are your best choice.

Black Friday Special: Dell offers the 5″ PRS-350 for $119, or if you’re OK with last year’s model, the 5″ PRS-300 Pocket Edition (no touchscreen) will be on sale for $99 at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

The Kobo Wireless E-Reader

The Kobo Wireless E-Reader is a simple, no-frills e-reader that lacks some of the extra features of the Kindle (no keyboard, Internet access, notes, text-to-speech, etc.) or Nook (no LCD touchscreen or e-book lending feature). While the $139 Kobo Wireless (their second-generation e-reader) added Wi-Fi connectivity and a built-in dictionary to match the Kindle and Nook, and does read library e-books, it still falls short in the feature department, considering that it is roughly the same price.

On the plus side, the Kobo is simple to use and focused on reading, with fewer distractions (some people might consider the lack of games or Internet access a good thing — parents, for example). But the bottom line is, unless you’re a die-hard Borders fan (the Kobo interfaces with both the Kobo and Borders e-book stores), I think the Kobo falls behind the competition.

Black Friday Special: Wal-Mart lists the Kobo Wireless for $129, and the previous-generation Kobo E-Reader (without wireless or a built-in dictionary) is still $99 from Borders.com.

Apple’s iPad is an interesting device: far more than an e-reader, some love its ability to do many other things (run apps and games, surf the Internet, play movies, etc.), while some don’t consider it an e-reader at all, since its 9.7″ LCD screen makes it much harder on the eyes, heavier, more expensive, and it has much shorter battery life than the e-readers listed above. Starting at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, and ranging up to $829 for the 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G model (which also carries a $30 per month fee for 3G wireless access — so a whopping $1,549 for a 3G iPad with 2 years of service), it is in a completely different price range than the other e-readers described here.

The iPad is really a tablet computer that can surf the Internet, play all the cool apps and games on Apple’s App Store, watch videos, perform light computing work, and — oh yeah — read e-books. Personally, I never read on my wife’s iPad — I far prefer the e-Ink screen (much easier on my eyes), light weight (much easier to hold with one hand), and superior battery life (measured in weeks instead of hours) of my K2 for reading. However, the iPad’s full-color LCD screen lets it do things the Kindle either does poorly or can’t do at all, and I find myself using the iPad for playing games, using apps, surfing the Internet, checking email, and watching movies. To me, the question becomes: are you (or the person you’re buying a gift for) an avid reader, or not? For someone who reads more than a book a month or so, I’d recommend a dedicated e-reader over the jack-of-all-trades iPad. For someone more interested in all that other stuff — and who might like to check out a few books a year, or maybe read some magazines — I’d recommend the iPad, or possibly the less expensive Nook Color, described above.

Black Friday Special: Apple’s Black Friday sale (online or at your local Apple store) knocks $41 off the iPad and $21 off the iPod Touch line. Of note, some T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores have the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad for just $399 — but stock appears to be limited, and quite random.

Final Thoughts: In addition to the e-readers detailed above, there are several other brands of e-readers out there, although I don’t recommend any of them for several reasons. The Kindle, Nook, Sony, and Kobo e-readers are the 4 most popular brands, and for good reason: they have e-Ink screens, the best prices, and the best e-book stores. There are a bunch of other e-readers out there (including the Aluratek Libre, Velocity Cruz, Augen Book, Pandigital Novel, Cybook Opus, Ectaco JetBook, Sharper Image Literati, and a bunch of Android-based tablet computers), but each suffers from serious problems: many use LCD screens that are harder on the eyes, yet don’t even have the redeeming features of the iPad or Nook Color; several are overpriced; most of them lack features; and many don’t interface easily with a decent e-book store.

In summary, my recommendation depends on two things: your budget, and whether the person you’re buying an e-reader for is an avid fiction reader or not. For those who read a book a month or more, I recommend the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, as I think it’s the best e-reader out there and a great value for the money (the $139 Kindle Wi-Fi is an excellent choice as well if you can live without the 3G). For those on a budget, I recommend Amazon’s Black Friday special, the $89 Kindle 2. And, for those who aren’t all that interested in reading and really want a mini-computer that does lots of different things (and can read e-books in a pinch), the iPad is the way to go.

UPDATE: For the 2011 version of this post, please CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David Derrico