writing about tech

Tag: amazon

I want a Google-powered Amazon Echo

I have an Amazon Echo, and it’s actually pretty great. It’s a bit overpriced for what it is right now, but the $99 I got it for was basically perfect. The big problem is, as a heavy Google services user, the potential of it is, for me, largely crippled by its lack of Google support.

For example: I have several upcoming trips, and Google’s Inbox has kindly created ‘Bundles’ for each of them. It’s borderline-creepy, but it’s also too useful for me to care – it gives me all the relevant details about my upcoming flights and hotels in a single place for quick reference.

I’d love the idea of an Echo-like device that could tie into that data, so that I could ask “Hey , what’s going on?” and it would provide not just news and weather, but also remind me about upcoming trips, etc. based on the context that Google already knows about me.

“Hey Google, what’s up?”

“The weather in Tucson will be warm, but it looks like you’ll get a break from that while you’re in Salt Lake City next week. Do you want me to set a reminder for you to pack 5 hours before your trip?”

“Yes, thank you. Can you also shuffle my favorite songs so that I have some music to pack to?”

“Of course.”

That, my friends, is the future.

Amazon Echo has arrived!

A week earlier than expected, my shiny new Amazon Echo has arrived!

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Impressions coming in the next couple of days.

We’re not off to a good start, Amazon Music

I was excited to learn that my Amazon Echo is coming tomorrow – a week earlier than expected – so I started the process of downloading my music from Google Play Music and uploading it to Amazon. I’m not abandoning Google Play Music at all, but currently the Echo only supports Amazon Music, so I figured I’d play along and move my collection there.  I was trying to setup my playlist of “Favorites” and ran head-first into a ridiculous limitation:

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Wait…what? I mean sure, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not a big deal, but Amazon is the cloud service company. Other companies run their entire cloud services off of Amazon. So what is it exactly about their music service that puts an arbitrary limit of 500 songs on a playlist? It’s a rather disappointing start to my Echo experience…hopefully it’s not indicative of things to come.

 

To Echo or not to Echo?

This morning, I got my invite to order an Amazon Echo.  Apparently I have 7 days to decide. At $99, it’s almost enough to justify it as a Bluetooth speaker alone, with or without the fancy Alexa voice stuff.   Just a shame it doesn’t natively support Google Play Music streaming, though maybe that will be added in the future.

(Oh, who am I kidding? I’m almost certainly going to buy one…)

Why I bought a Kindle (even though I have a tablet)

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A few weeks ago, on a whim, I picked up an on-sale refurbished second-generation Kindle Paperwhite, using the justification that it was relatively cheap and I had a trip coming up.  At first, this seemed like a mistake – I figured, if I had a Nexus 7, why did I need a Kindle? I’ve long considered tablets to be eReaders with some added functionality – unfortunately for my reading habit, I’ve found that they become far too much of the “added functionality” and not enough of the “eReader”. It’s my own fault; I am a fickle, easily-distracted creature, and when a device can do so much, it’s hard to focus on any one task.

Maybe I’m the last to realize this, but for me, the beauty of owning a Kindle is what it can’t do, rather than what it can. When you pick up a Kindle, you’re picking up a book – not a book, a web browser, a communication device, and a gaming machine.  The ridiculous battery life of the Kindle helps enhance this illusion; like a “real book”, I don’t have to worry about whether or not I thought to charge it, or if I’ll have to charge it after I’m done.  I think that’s why I enjoy handheld gaming so much, even though I rarely do it outside the house – there’s a certain type of beauty that can only be found in a device designed explicitly for a specific purpose, rather than a device designed to be “just okay” at everything.

This actually isn’t my first time owning a Kindle; I previously owned a non-touchscreen Kindle Keyboard, complete with a light up cover, and actually loved the device – but when I got my first smaller tablet, an iPad Mini, it seemed unnecessary to have two devices – so I gave the Kindle away.  It didn’t help that the hardware page-turn buttons of the Kindle were too awkward to use while exercising, which is my primary use-case for an eReader or tablet.

Now that I have a Kindle again, though, it is just the best.  I think I’d give up the Nexus 7 before I gave up the Kindle, since having a Nexus 5 serves many of the same purposes, and the screen size difference isn’t even all that substantial anymore.  I feel like I go through this same cycle with tablets; I buy one because it’s shiny, use it religiously for a month or two,  then watch as it gradually gets relegated to something I only ever use in bed or while working out.  Despite the fact that the Kindle Paperwhite is perfectly usable on my exercise equipment, I still think I’ll always want to have a tablet for that specific purpose – occasionally, I’d rather read articles on the web or watch a video – and a tablet is still perfect for that.  The problem is that it’s not “perfect” for much else.

There’s a certain percentage of the population that I think a tablet or Chromebook is ideal for as a primary computer, but I will never be in that demographic.  For what I do, I need a full-featured laptop, and when I have one, the use cases for a tablet or Chomebook become exceptionally minimal – especially with recent laptop hardware reaching-or-exceeding tablet levels of battery life.  Gadget-wise, if my laptop is my toolbox, then my smartphone is my Swiss Army Knife.  Where does that leave my tablet?  It’s a Swiss Army Knife with a few fewer tools and a bit larger blade – there are some very specific situations where it excels, but generally, I’d rather carry the smaller knife.

If you are a more focused individual than me, then I applaud you, and perhaps a tablet makes more sense than a Kindle.  I wish I had the discipline to ignore the dozen other things my Nexus 7 can do, but I know from experience I can’t.  I’ll check Twitter or Facebook, or check my RSS feeds, or watch something on YouTube.  If I do manage to get into a book, I’ll inevitably find myself distracted by incoming notifications.

Regardless of the reasoning, I can’t argue with the results – I’ve read more in the last few weeks than I have in the 6 months before that.  I finally finished American Gods, then powered through Console Wars, The Martian, and Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened.  Also, thanks to the Kindle’s integration into Goodreads, I’ve become an active user of the service, to the point where I’m searching for a similar service for video games – more to come on that soon.  Bottom-line: I’m reading again, and I love it.

My own distraction issues aside, much of the credit has to go to the Kindle itself.  Again, I’m pretty sure I’m the last person on the planet to realize this, but Amazon has been making eReaders for year, and the Paperwhite is the glorious culmination of those efforts – it’s genuinely hard to think of a more perfect reading device.  While I’m sure the future will bring further tweaks to the formula – even better battery life, a higher resolution screen, and physical page buttons for those who want them – I can confidently say the Kindle Paperwhite has entered into the elite group of devices that I can recommend without hesitation.

The Verge’s review of Amazon’s Fire Phone is painful to watch

David Pierce of The Verge reviewed Amazon’s Fire Phone:

You’re entirely reliant on gestures and flicks of the phone to access these menus. Most apps have no indicators or helpful icons; you just have to open every app and twist the phone around like a lunatic to find things. You can’t even see the time without tilting your phone just so. An errant buzz is your only indication that you have a notification, prompting you to cock your wrist or swipe down from the top bezel to open the notification windowshade. None of this is explained, none of it is intuitive. Dynamic Perspective makes everything look cleaner, but makes actually using your phone a lot harder. I don’t need my phone to be clever, or spartan. I need it to be obvious. The Fire Phone is anything but.

Watching David flick the phone to the left and right to do basic UI things like “show a menu” was fucking painful. Did any decent UX designer even try and use this phone prior to release? This reeks of someone high-up having a single-minded obsession with a bad idea and using their position to drive that idea to market regardless of how many people told them not to.

At least the people (who I have to assume exist) that said “no, no, dear God, no this is stupid, please stop” get the dark satisfaction of watching this thing crash and burn in a marketplace full of much better phones with much better ideas.

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