Kindle Fire HDX coming to the UK, but is it any good?

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Rumours of an Amazon-branded phone continue to swirl around the tech world, but in the meantime the company is focusing on its Android tablet line with its new Kindle Fire HDX range. The competition is fiercer than ever: cut-price slabs from Tesco and Argos are now fighting it out with Google’s better-than-ever second-generation Nexus 7, so Amazon can’t afford to stand still.

Pre-ordering has just gone live for the new range in the UK. There are three key models: the top-of-the-range 8.9″ Kindle Fire HDX, the smaller 7″ Kindle Fire HDX and the budget 7″ Kindle Fire. Each one comes with the option of 4G connectivity (supplied by Vodafone), a selection of storage options and the choice of Amazon’s ‘special offers’ embedded advertising.

With so many configurations to pick from, there’s a price to suit every wallet size: the cheapest 7″ Kindle Fire HD will set you back £119 with 8GB of storage, no 4G and special offers enabled, while the most expensive 8.9″ Kindle Fire HDX costs £489 with 64GB of space, 4G connectivity and the ads switched off. For comparison purposes you can pick up a new Wi-Fi-only 16GB Nexus 7 for £199, while a Wi-Fi-only 16GB iPad mini is priced at £269. Apple is expected to refresh its iPad line at an event next week (22nd October).

The new HDX range of tablets come with 7″ or 8.9″ screens and the option of 4G connectivity provided by Vodafone.

The entry-level 7″ Fire HD brings with it a 1280×800 pixel display and a dual-core 1.5GHz processor. Upgrade to a 7″ Fire HDX and you get a 1920×1200 pixel resolution screen with a 2.2GHz quad-core CPU powering everything behind the scenes. The same processor is featured in the top-of-the-range 8.9″ Fire HDX, but the screen display is upped to 2560×1600 pixels. As on earlier Kindle Fire tablets, the slabs are running a heavily customised, Amazon-branded version of Android.

Also of note is the new ‘Mayday’ feature that comes as part of the support package when you buy any HDX model. Via one button press you can connect live to an Amazon support representative who will guide you through any problems you’re having with your tablet, free of charge. The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and Amazon is aiming for a response time of 15 seconds or less for each call.

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Tap the Mayday button and tech support can guide you through any problems with your tablet.

The units have been out in the US for several weeks and early reviews have been very positive. CNET’s Eric Franklin describes the new Kindle Fire HDX as “a performance monster” that offers “incredible value for its price”. The Verge’s David Pierce is equally enthusiastic:

The Kindle Fire HDX does its primary job brilliantly — with a great display and fast internals it’s the best way ever to consume all of Amazon’s content, from books to movies to music to banana slicers. It’s also a much more broadly capable device, finally able to replace your computer in places and not just complement it.

However, he did bemoan Amazon’s Android customisations and the lack of full access to the Google Play Store. Elsewhere, Ars Technica’s Jason Inofuentes also emphasised that Amazon’s existing customers will get the most out of the company’s new hardware:

The Amazon Kindle HDX is a powerful, capable device with one of the best displays we’ve ever seen. Amazon has produced a top-tier device whose only condition is adoption of its services. If you’re a longtime Amazon Video and MP3 customer, that’s great news.

Engadget’s Brian Heater was impressed too, calling the new HDX tablet “a compelling proposition” that offers “plenty of user-friendly features and specs that match the Nexus 7 blow for blow”. If you’re tempted to get your pre-order in straight away, your brand new Amazon tablet will land on your doormat on the 13th of November.

Amazon launch 6th gen “Kindle Paperwhite” touchscreen e-reader

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When Michael Cronan was asked to name Amazon’s new e-reader, the branding consultant suggested Kindle. Kindle, as we know, means “to light a fire” and Cronan felt it would be an appropriate metaphor for reading and intellectual excitement. Since the original Kindle was released in November 2007, six generations of the Amazon e-reader have followed. While Amazon has not released official sales figures, according to Forrester Research, as of mid-2010, sales estimates for the Kindle were around four million.

Yes, it’s safe to say that six generations and millions of sales prove that Amazon remains the undisputed leader in the e-reader category. However, will the sixth gen Kindle, the new Kindle Paperwhite live up to the product’s “to light a fire” metaphor?

It was only announced on the Amazon website on September 3 and won’t be released until October, 2013, so it’s a little premature to dissect the technical powers – or even lack of them – of the Paperwhite, right? Not according to the wave of excitement the yet-to-be-released product has already ignited in gadgetry media.

It’s “zippier and better than the original Paperwhite” CNet insists, pinning the new Paperwhite’s superiority on being the first product to feature E-Ink’s Pearl 2 display, which offers better contrast. CNet’s also quick to associate the new Amazon e-reader’s greatness to its 1GHz processor, which is 25% faster than the 800MHz processor that the original Paperwhite comprises of. The latest model is also a hair lighter than the original Paperwhite, weighing 7.3 ounces instead of 7.5. But will we really notice such a marginal difference in weight?

Meanwhile Bloomberg Businessweek Technology emphasises how the new Kindle is showing how Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is, “Link by link, constructing a wall around his digital reading ecosystem that manages to be both alluring to readers and virtually insurmountable for competitors.” The Kindle-loving Bloomberg reporter is especially excited about the Paperwhite’s Vocabulary Builder feature, which stores all the vocab words that readers look up while reading and then enables them to quiz themselves with flash cards.

So let’s not beat around the bush, what exactly is all the fuss about what makes the new Kindle Paperwhite allegedly better than ever?

One of the Kindle’s biggest assets is that reader’s can read without straining their eyes. With higher contrast and better reflectivity, means that as Amazon states, “White are white and blacks are blacks, so the pages are virtually indistinguishable from a physical book.” What’s more, with next generation built-in light that guides light towards the surface of the display, readers won’t get any eye strain.

With a 25% faster processor, pages turn faster than ever and with the new Kindle Flip Page, ‘skim readers’ can be in their element, scanning chapters, skipping to the end or browsing pages without losing their place.

Another key feature that is new to the latest Kindle is the Smart New Lookup. This pioneering trait integrates a full dictionary along with Wikipedia so that user’s can access information and definitions without leaving their page. Although it has to be said that resorting to Wikipedia for information is a a little on the dubious side of credible.

There’s tonnes more we could say about Amazon’s sixth generation of Kindle, such as maintaining its eight weeks of battery life and having built-in Wi-Fi but what we really to know is the price and availability.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is £109. Pre-ordering started on 4 September at www.amazon.co.uk and shipping in the UK will start 9 October.

Top 5 eReader Accessories

Light, portable and able to fit over 1,000 books at a time, it’s no surprise that eReaders are a huge hit. With more users, models and books available for eReaders than ever, the number of accessories you can purchase to go with these handy gadgets has also grown.

We’ve compiled a list of the top five eReader accessories that will keep your reader safe from bumps, scratches and splashes, and give you the chance to personalise your device.

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Case

A case is a must for any eReader and with plenty of options on the market that are both stylish and functional, there’s no excuse not to keep your device protected.

If you haven’t already purchased a case for your eReader, you can do so from the manufacturer themselves. Alternatively, if you’re feeling creative, you can find plenty of tutorials for DIY eReader cases online, which range from fairly simple cases made from mailing envelopes to hand-crafted creations that are more complex.

Light

Devices that use e-ink are better for your eyesight in the long-term, however the lack of a backlit screen means that, just like reading the pages of a book, you need a decent light source. Luckily, you can now purchase clip-on lights especially for eReaders. These are just like clip-on lights for books and enable you to read in the dark without disturbing those around you.

Clip-on lights are available for Kindle, Kobo and Sony eReaders. Amazon also stocks a range of cases that have integrated LED reading lights for different brands of eReader.

Waterproof bag

A waterproof bag isn’t so necessary if your eReader is staying in the sunny UK, but if you plan to take it abroad, it’s a must. Waterproof bags can help protect your device not only from deadly splashes and accidental drops, but also from sand, which can wreak havoc with electronics.

Waterproof eReader bags and cases are available in most major travel shops and from online retailers.

Sleeve

A sleeve is similar to a case, except instead of covering the outside of your eReader like a book cover, it is a similar design to a laptop case. Sleeves can be more decorative than cases and can help protect the whole screen. They are, however, less effective at protecting your device from hard knocks than a hardcover case.

Decal

A decal is the same as a vinyl skin – it doesn’t protect your device (except maybe from light surface scratches), but it lets you customize your eReader and make it unique to you. Online marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy have a range of skins available for popular brands of eReader like Kindle and Kobo.

Amazon Kindle sets world (well UK) on Fire

After snubbing the UK for some of its recent releases, Amazon finally extended a warm embrace to the British Isles and in fact over compensated with a slew of exciting announcements for anyone trapped on this godforsaken isle.

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Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD
The Kindle Fire has been a states-side smash for the past year and a beefed up version of the 7-inch tablet is now coming to Blighty with a faster processor, twice the memory and longer battery life for a ridiculously low £129.

As if that wasn’t enough, the brand spanking new Kindle Fire HD is also coming to these shores. Adding an customised HD display, super fast wifi and more powerful processing whilst delivering 11 hours of battery life, and 16 GB of storage is pretty impressive. The Kindle Fire HD is only £159 so it’s not exactly breaking the bank either. The 7-inch tablet space is really heating up, and Apple are becoming increasingly conspicuous by their absence (although to be fair they are doing just fine as is).

“Not only does Kindle Fire HD feature the most advanced hardware, it’s also a service. When combined with our enormous content ecosystem, unmatched cross-platform interoperability, and standard-setting customer service, we hope people will agree that Kindle Fire HD is the best 7” tablet available anywhere, at any price.”
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO

The Kindles aren’t just about hardware and they have a few nice touches built into the software as well. X-Ray adds one of the best features of XBMC to the tablet world, harnessing the power of IMDb so you can eradicate all those “wait … who’s that guy … what was he in?? … it’s thingy … from Game of Thrones” moments. I have a lot of those moments. X-Ray is also available for books and with a single tap, readers can see all the passages throughout a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and Shelfari, Amazon’s community-powered encyclopaedia for book lovers.

Old-fashioned Kindles
And if you just want the old-fashioned reading experience all-new (old) Kindle features 15% faster page turns and weighs just 170 grams. And it’s so cheap. Having a some-frills entry point experience into the world of ebooks for just £70 is pretty amazing.

But wait … there’s more
Amazon also announced that it will create more than 2,000 permanent jobs over the next two years with the opening of three new fulfilment centres in the UK. And up to 3,000 temporary jobs will also be created at the three new fulfilment centres during the Christmas peak period.

Best e-readers for the summer holidays

If you’re travelling this summer, an e-reader is an essential companion. Instead of cramming your suitcase full of books, an e-reader can save your valuable luggage space. The average e-reader can hold at least 1,000 books at a time, so you’ll never be stuck for something to read.

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Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle is the most popular e-reader on the market. Buyers have a choice of model, ranging from the basic Kindle, to the Kindle Touch with 3G. The Amazon Kindle Store has millions of free and paid books, as well as newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and Kindles support MOBI and PDF documents. Weighing in at less than 370 grams, and small enough to fit into your pocket, the Kindle is the perfect companion to a long journey.

The Kindle is available from £89.

Sony Reader

Billed as the ‘world’s lightest ebook reader’, the Sony Reader is perfect for anyone who wants to go digital, but doesn’t want a Kindle. The Sony Reader has a 6-inch screen, and stores up to 1,200 books or documents, including EPUB and PDF formats.

The Sony Reader retails for £120.

Kobo

The Kobo comes in three different models: the Kobo Vox, Kobo Touch and Kobo Wifi. The Kobo Vox offers coloured books, a multi-media screen, and access to Google Play, while the other models use E ink. Books start at 99p.

The Kobo e-reader range is available from £59.99.

Bookeen Cybook Opus eReader

The Bookeen Cybook Opus e-reader is perfect for both novice and experienced digital readers. With  5-inch screen, 1GB memory (enough to hold up to 1,000 books), and up to two weeks battery life, the Bookeen Cybook Opus e-reader has something for everyone.

The Bookeen Cybook Opus eReader retails at £109.98.

iPad

The Apple iPad isn’t technically an e-reader, but it’s still worth a mention on this list. As one of the leading tablets on the market, the iPad is designed for people who want to be able to work and play on the go. The built-in iBooks app gives users access to a huge range of free and paid books that you can download directly into your iBooks library. The iPad doesn’t have E ink, and instead uses a backlit screen, but the device is compatible with a variety of formats, especially when using apps like Stanza.

The iPad is available from £329.

Kobo Touch eReader review: An unobtrusive reading experience

Not many consumer electronics devices get away with a backside that looks like your Grandma’s quilt. Like a grandparent, however, it’s not the aesthetic that counts for the Kobo eReader, but the stories it tells. And the Kobo tells stories very well.

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Looking beyond the quilting, the Kobo Touch interface is both simple and simply beautiful. Turn it on and you’re greeted with the covers of your most recent books, so that you’re just one tap (it’s touchscreen!) away from your stories.

Opening a book will take you to your last opened page, with tabs to the left or right of the screen scrolling you through the pages. You can also make a swiping gesture to change page, if you’re fixed on the tablet experience.

The fact that the Kobo uses a touchscreen means that, combined with the unit’s matte -white finish, you’re faced with an extremely unobtrusive reading experience. You’ll only find two buttons on the device – and only one on the front. It boats a 6″ Pearl e-ink display – the very same one you’ll find on the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader series, so there’s no disparity there.

Hold your finger on a word and you’ll bring up an iPhone-style selection cursor, which then allows you to save your highlighted section, add a note, look up the definition, translate the word or search the book for another occurrence. We found that this was much better that using the Kindle’s d-pad to look up words, but the touchscreen was sometimes unreliable and highlighted the wrong area. Annoying.

You can also share it on Facebook, although we didn’t feel inclined to share our reading progress.

A tap on the centre of the screen brings up the options menu, where you can access the built-in dictionary, translation tools, search the book, view your annotations or jump to the table of contents. You can also access the device’s settings and – uniquely – change the font.

While other devices let you change fonts on the device, the Kobo actually allows you to add a new font to the eReader when you plug it into your computer. Simply create a “fonts” folder on the unit and draw your favourite TrueTypes onto the system, then select it from the menu. You can also edit font size, line spacing, margins and justification.

There are three main navigation options, Library, Store or Reading Life. Library lets you see your books, news & magus, previews and your shortlisted items, while the store lets you download books through the devices wifi from the Kobo store. There are also free eBooks, top picks and a search option.

Reading Life is the most interesting feature, however, as it shows you your reading stats and awards. We thought that the awards were a bit of a pointless gameification addition for people who want to boast about their reading achievements on Facebook, but really enjoyed browsing our reading stats.

For your current books, you can see how long your average reading session is, as well as the total hours you’ve spent reading and the number of pages turned. You can also see the number of books you’ve finished, your total time spent reading and the percentage of your library you’ve finished.

The Kobo supports EPUB, PDF, MOBI, KPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ and CBR, with a 2GB storage capacity and a microSD slot for a 32GB card.

Make your iPhone ‘stand out from the crowd’ with a Peelzone vinyl ‘Peel’

I can imagine this latest launch of gadgetry accessories will be a big hit with kids in the playground and perhaps the big kids in life. Peelzone has announced the launch of an array of funky, custom-made and personalised ‘Peels’ – that’s vinyl  accessories that can be adorned on tablets, handheld game consoles, mobile phones and other gadgets, with no other purpose than simply sprucing up its appearance, for those who didn’t know!

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It goes without saying that kids – geeky computer know-alls aside – are generally more impressed with the appearance of their gadgets rather than their internal functions. This said, Peelzone may be on to a winner here, as its fun, funky and custom-made Peels go several steps further than kids covering their iPhones and iPods in stickers in an attempt to stave off boredom in a biology class.

With Peelzone’s ‘Peels’ you can upload photos to an easy-to-use website, play around with them by adding graphics and texts, and then plaster them all over your favourite gadget. These glorified stickers are, Peelzone assure us, made from high-quality 3M material that can manage to stay free from bubbles and can be easily removed leaving no lasting residue or marks. Oh and there is a practical function – Peels offer protection for gadgets  against potential scratches.

So if you are intent in making your iPhone, tablet, mobile or games console ‘stand out from the crowd’, check out, http://peelzone.com/, create a Peel, starting from £9.99 for small devices and increasing to £17.99 for bigger ones, and personalise your fave gadget.

Amazon unveils Kindle Fire and Touch: Threatens Android cousins more than iPad 2

The worst kept secret since civil servants decided to leave al-Qaeda dossiers on trains, Amazon finally ended the will-they-won’t-they speculation over its entry into the tablet game. The 7 inch Kindle Fire is full-colour dual core tablet running a customised version of Android 3.1 Honeycomb. Unlike the vast majority of 7 inch Android tablets however, the Kindle Fire has a the benefits of Amazon’s content ecosystem and incredible pricing power (the Kindle Fire wanders into impulse buy territory at $199 although what this will mean in Sterling is highly debatable – it most certainly won’t be the £127 that the exchange rate suggests and it may not even come to the UK if certain reports are to be believed).

Kindle-Family

Some of the highlights of the Kindle Fire include the co-opting of the Kindle’s amazing Whispersync technology and it’s amply use of the cloud, which explains the lack of 3G (when test 3’s MiFi dongle this week it’s been fascinating (yes fascinating) to stare at the screen and watch data charges rocket up for simple services – I’ve used up a gig alone today. I digress). There was also a snazzy new browser called Amazing Silk that leverages Amazon’s cloud prowess to load pages very clearly. They were also keen to point out that you can hold it with one hand.

In essence, the Kindle Fire is what the detractors would derisively label the iPad when it first hit the shores – a device solely for consuming content. Of course they were wrong in the case of the iPad (I’m writing this on one) but in terms of the Kindle Fire it’s not really a criticism. Rather than go on about the Fire’s tablet like qualities, lumping it with its Android brethren, it instead leaned on the strength of the Kindle brand – which places it alongside e-readers – a field in which it is the clear leader.

Of course the old-fashioned Kindle was also thrown some love and received a much needed revamp in the form of the Kindle Touch. All the precious screen real-estate take up by the keyboard has now made way for glorious text. The Kindle Touch uses infrared sensors to interact with your digits. Like it’s big brother the Fire, the Kindle Touch stores info in the cloud, allowing you store thousands of books for free on Amazon’s servers. Also pretty cool was the “X-ray feature” that logs information from dictionaries and Wikipedia pertinent to your text – handy if you suddenly forget what a thurible is (this happened to me the other day and I was incensed). The $99 version of the Kindle Touch is WiFi-only, and there is a $149 version with 3G access. And if you hate touch, there will be $79 non-touch version of the Kindle.

For more information head to www.amazon.co.uk