PONDERING: Nexus of Fire? And why can’t we have the Paperthingie over here?

Saturday, September 8, 2012 13:00
Posted in category News, Ponderings, Quacking About

Nexus 7As you know, I’m a big fan of ebooks and e-readers. The situation has changed so much recently that I took down my guide to readers, because it was hopelessly outdated.

So now the market has moved again. I always said the market for e-readers would really start moving when decent devices became available at a decent price, and now it’s happened.

I have a Kindle Keyboard, which I bought when it was the Kindle 3, a Nook Touch and two tablets, a Nook Color and a Google Nexus 7. Yesterday, Amazon announced the advent of two new Kindles and an upgrade on the original Fire, together with a cheaper price. And, miracle of miracles, it’s available in the UK, which means the gateway to Europe. Am I sorry I didn’t wait for the Fire? Well no, not really, but since the choice of reading device is an intensely personal one, I’m going to elaborate on my decisions, which may or may not apply to you.

First, the e-ink readers. I’m reading on them less and less, mainly because of the lack of a reading light. I bought a ton of them, but I was never happy with any of them completely, and it was a faff to get the thing out, clip it on and adjust it. I never had the integrated light cover, mainly because it was far too pricey for my taste. Half as much again for a case didn’t really appeal to me, although it’s a very nice case.

Here’s where the personal comes in. A lot of people prefer e-ink readers because reading from a screen tires their eyes. That doesn’t affect me, so that factor has gone from my buying decision. The new Paperwhite Kindle comes with a light. Cool. The light – yes, I’d be tempted to move up to a Paperwhite and get rid of the Keyboard. But I can’t, because it’s not available in the UK. So that one’s not on for me. When I can, I prefer to have an easy way to return the item if something goes wrong. I had to return my original Kindle Keyboard when the casing developed two hairline cracks, and the process was easy and hassle-free. So I’m not looking at a Paperwhite.

My e-ink reader that gets the most outings is the Nook Touch. I didn’t mean to buy it, but the special offer I got it under was too good to refuse. I could have come back to the UK and Ebayed it, if it hadn’t worked out, for a profit, but I did like it, better than the Kindle, actually. Sturdier, smaller and it has an SD card slot, and uses the E-pub format, which I use on my tablet.

However, if they were offering it over here, that would be the one for me. If the light works and doesn’t conk out in a month. I’d be leaving that one for a while, so that initial bugs could be worked out. The Nook Glow had a few problems at the start, for instance, but people seem very happy with it now. And there’s the Kobo with light to consider, as well.

Now to tablets. More and more I’m reading on my tablet. I have access to other services and apps, so I can, for instance, stop reading and play solitaire for a while if I want to. I can check my emails, and go on Twitter. Until recently, the Nook CoKindle Firelor, which I’d rooted, was my tablet of choice. Nice screen, responsive, and once I rooted it, it had full Android. Gingerbread. The rooting is a bit of a bother and invalidates the guarantee, but if you do it through the SD card slot, once you remove the card, the device reverts to stock. Nice. I still love it. It does have its drawbacks, but none I can’t cope with. It’s a bit chunky, but I like that, because it will take some rough handling. And the browser is a tad slow, but it’s an older gen CPU. And yes, I know, it’s not available in the UK. I bought it in the States, but only after it had been out for a while, and I got it on special offer.

Last month, I got a Google Nexus 7 for my birthday. It’s replaced the Nook Color as my reader of choice. Also my maps of choice, my mobile browser of choice and so on and so forth. It’s wifi only, something they might correct in future devices. Although it comes with 16gb less storage than the new Fire HD, in every other respect, it either equals or surpasses the specs of the Fire. And for me, most importantly, two things. It comes without ads, and it comes with the new Android system, Jellybean. It’s quad core, where the Fire is dual core. That makes it smoother and snappier.

The extra storage doesn’t bother me. With a little tweak (hey, you know me, I tweak) to unlock the device, you can add as much extra storage as you need via the USB port. It has a standard micro port, so buy a cheap On The Go cable (mine cost less than £3), install the (free) Stickmount app and away you go. There is an app that claims you can add storage without unlocking and rooting (not as scary as it sounds – it just adds a couple of lines to the OS) so if you prefer not to tweak, that’s another option. I would have liked an onboard SD card slot, and that’s my main complaint with the Nexus. But I added an extra 32gb when I need it. Google, as well as Amazon, wants you to use the cloud, but the limitations of wifi make this a secondary choice for me. I don’t want to have to hook up to somewhere online every time I want to read a book. So I like my storage local.

The Nexus 7 is also available in a ton of places in the UK and was made available the day of release. The Fire is coming a bit later to the UK, and is the first time the Fire’s been offered outside the US. Do I resent Amazon treating anyone outside the US as a second class citizen? Yeah, a bit. Nook? No, because I had a discussion with one of their marketing managers, and I understand why they did it. They took the time to explain to me, and that makes a difference.

The browser works a treat. At present, I’m hovering between Firefox and Dolphin, although the browser it comes with is the new mobile Chrome, and that’s pretty nifty, too. You also get £15 to spend in the app store. Lovely. It’s light, attractive, and the display is gorgeous. And I happily Tweet and Facebook from the device, too, via mobile Tweetdeck.

I use third-party reader apps for the most part, and here’s the other main reason I prefer the Nexus over the Fire. I have Kindle, Nook and Kobo readers on my Nexus, installed from the app store, straight out of the box. You can’t do that with a Fire. The third reader apps? My current preference is Moon+ reader, and although there’s not a lot of difference between the free and the paid versions (except, you guessed it, ads!) I bought the paid-for version to support the developer. I prefer Mantano on the Nook, so I suspect that a lot of the choice depends on your device, which is why I say download the free versions of them all and have a crack at them all before you choose.

And while I’m on the subject – Kobo, Kindle, Nook, why such huge margins on the page? I like my print to come nearly to the edge of the screen, so I don’t have to turn the page so often and there isn’t acres of white space to glare at me. So why not make the margins more configurable? On all the Android apps of these readers, the margin is only a little configurable. Not all the way.

The Nexus is the only device currently offering Android 4.1, a.k.a Jellybean. Sounds techie, but the minute you open the device and start using it, you can tell the difference. I liked Gingerbread, the system I had on my Nook Color, but Jellybean is smoother, more professional, faster, a delight to use. And so easy. It will work with Windows or with Mac systems, if you want to hook it up to your computer. It does have a drawback in that Calibre won’t yet recognize it out of the box, but there’s a little app called Calibre Companion in the Android Market, which enables you to hook up with Calibre wirelessly, which is actually even better than fiddling with cables.

Now for the last reason I’m glad I got a Nexus. The new Kindle Fires, all of them, come with ads. On the home screen and the desktop. Ads on my devices, it’s an intrusion that irritates me considerably over time. I dislike ads on my device, and I’m one of those people who will buy an app if it removes the ads, so ads on the Kindle Fire is a big deal breaker for me. So far, there doesn’t seem to be a way to get rid of the ads, other than rooting it. Bezos forgot to mention that little thing when he launched the new Fires and the Paperthingiemajig yesterday. Ads, ugh. Yeah, you need some way of making them cheap. These devices, the Nexus and the Fire, are working on paper-thin margins, both Google and Amazon wanting you to use the devices as gateways to their other products (Bezos made that explicitly clear in his presentation yesterday) so they make them as cheap as possible. The old razor blade thing – they want you to buy the blades, not the razor, so they make the products as walled-in as possible, so you have to go to them to buy stuff. In this respect, the Nexus is much more configurable than the Fire out of the box.

I also don’t often buy books or much else apart from apps through the device. I resent having to depend on one source only for my books, however good that source is, and as an author, I know that the author usually gets more of the cut if I buy from the publisher site. So that’s what I do, for the most part. I buy and use Calibre on my main computer. Calibre library is easily transferred from one computer to another (I use a passport drive as one of my backup devices, and just plug it into whatever I’m using) and it converts the books’ formats, if they’re unlocked and I need it, and loads them on to my device of choice. Nice and tidy. So if you want that big infrastructure of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc behind you, with the convenience of the bookstore, then my choices might not be yours. I convert everything I can to epub, which works on my Nook and my Nexus, and the reading apps I use.

One thing you won’t see here is a smart phone. That’s personal preference, too. I have a Blackberry Storm, and I hate it. Mainly because it’s heavy, clunky and the OS is dreadful. You have to drill down into the menus to find anything, and there’s no reminder where it was. The screen is nice, a bit small for reading, but doable. And it gobbles power like a hungry cat gobbles tuna. So count me out for smartphones. And anything Apple. They’re lovely, I’m sure I’d love them, but I won’t put itunes anywhere near any PC I own. It’s horrible on a PC. Slow, huge, invades every part of your machine.

Don’t talk to me about 3G or even 4G. I spit on your 3G. Why? Because my 3G isn’t your 3G. It’s noticeable that the Fires offered in the UK don’t come with the 3G option, and what a lot of people don’t realise is that 3G is country specific. Amazon and Google don’t have an arrangement with the European 3G suppliers, so no 3G or 4G on the devices on offer over here.

Can I see myself buying a Fire or one of the larger Fires? Sure, if there are special offers and as soon as the rooting community comes up with a way to root and hack it to Android Jellybean. And for the lulz. But there’s not much point. I have a Nexus 7.

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