The Amazing Kindle: Part 2

About 18 months ago, I got my first Kindle. It has truly revolutionized the way I read, so when the Kindle Paperwhite became available here, I ordered one on the first day and finally got it 21 Nov 2012. As I said, I was blown away by my first Kindle, so I was maybe too excited about this one and consequently underwhelmed a little when I got it.

After two weeks of using it daily, I have say, though, that it is a substantial improvement over my previous Kindle Keyboard. For a detailed review of the Paperwhite, I am going to refer you to Engadget’s review, which I think is spot-on. I will, however, highlight a couple of the issues that I think are important. Because I have only used the Kindle Keyboard for a meaningful period of time, that’s my basis for comparison.

Things I liked

  • The introduction/tutorial I got when first turning on the device was quite helpful. Being shown where to touch the screen to do what, and I was ready to use the device at once.
  • I don’t use the light on full brightness, but have it on just a little bit. This way it’s not at all straining the eye the way LC displays on phones or tablet computers are, but it still helps to illuminate the screen when reading in bed or with insufficient lighting outside. The screen’s illumination is a bit uneven, but mostly at the bottom where there isn’t any text.
  • The best new feature is probably the indicator in the bottom right corner showing me how much longer until I finish the chapter. That is super helpful when deciding how much longer to read at night.
  • The contrast and sharpness of the new display is much better, and it also turns over noticeably faster.
  • Using touch to go through menus is obviously much better than using arrow keys. No discussion; well, some discussion: see the Things I didn’t like section.
  • The Paperwhite just feels much better than the “plasticky” Kindle Keyboard, particularly the front. The rubber on the back makes it harder for the device to slip out of your hands, unfortunately it also makes it harder to slip the device into my jacket pocket.
  • It is smaller though, so I can carry it more easily once I got it into my jacket.
  • The on-screen keyboard is really fast and a pleasure to use. Much simpler and faster to type on than the physical keyboard of my previous Kindle. Even though the screen takes a moment to update when typing, the keyboard registers your touch immediately, so you can just hack away.
  • People who have used the entry-level Kindle before tell me that the Paperwhite is heavy, but I don’t think that’s the case compared to the Kindle Keyboard.

Things I didn’t like

  • Touching the screen to flip pages isn’t as convenient as using physical buttons on the side of the device. I read a lot lying on my side in bed, and having to reach around the device to touch the screen is a lot less comfortable than just pressing the edge of the device.
  • In addition to a next page (and maybe a previous page button), I would also like a back and maybe a home button. I think the dedicated back button is one of the most important advantages of Windows Phone and Android over iOS. Making it easy to go back, e.g. after going to a footnote, would make navigation a lot simpler. Requiring two steps (and page refreshes) to go back – tap the top of the screen, then tap back – makes using footnotes or hyperlinks so much more cumbersome.
  • There is an alternative for going back: tapping the number at the beginning of the footnote. Unfortunately, this doesn’t take me back to the same position I was on before. Instead the location of the footnote is now at the top left. Meaning the sentence that the footnote was following is on the previous page. That is very annoying. This needs to be fixed before one can even think about reading scientific books and papers or other works relying heavily on footnotes on the Kindle.

Conclusion

I really like my new Kindle. I am not sure though it was worth the 129 EUR I spent on it. I probably should have kept the Keyboard until the next generation Kindle, which will hopefully address some of the issues I pointed out above. But I guess that’s the price of always trying out the latest stuff. And also, I got to give my old Kindle to my dad, so now everyone in the family has one.

Windows 8 After a Month of Usage

It has been exactly one month now since I got Windows 8 (at least it had been when I started writing this post). Pretty much everything I said in that article about my first impressions holds true after a month of using Windows 8 as my primary operating system. There are a couple of things, though, I would like to review here.

Start Screen After A Month

Metro apps

The Metro apps that came with Windows or are available in the app store have been a mixed bag for me personally. There are a couple that I really like and that work really well even on my 27” monitor. For instance the New York Times app (see also this review by Engadget). It’s a much better experience than their RSS feed or website, because its layout is much closer to a real newspaper.

Then there is MetroTwit which is from what I can tell the only Twitter app in the store. Interestingly enough, it is not among the 23 search results for the term “Twitter” in the German app store as of this writing. If, however, you manage to get the app, you are greeted by a beautiful looking user interface. Unfortunately, its very basic features are full of bugs. Even if there isn’t an official Twitter app, I would have expected Microsoft to at least make sure the one they have is decent. T´his is disappointing. I guess they want you to post form the People app, which I haven’t tried yet.

I have also downloaded a couple of other apps like Easy Alarm, which is straight forward, easy to use and does what it promises. Perfect. I also have the Skype app which looks great as well. Since it is missing a number of features compared to the desktop version (most importantly the distinction between available, away, do not disturb, invisible and offline states), I stick with the latter for now.

I have also played all of Microsoft’s free Xbox LIVE games for Windows 8. Most of them are great, a giant improvement over the kind of games that shipped with previous versions of Windows (most notably, because they offer free achievements; which is how I got lured into Xbox LIVE by Flowerz on Windows Phone 7 two years ago). Unfortunately, I couldn’t play Pinball FX2, because it wouldn’t render correctly. Taptiles was also too slow to play on my big screen, although it worked quite well when I switched to my laptop’s integrated 15” display.

Start Screen Madness

Initially, I was very frustrated when I tried to arrange the tiles on the Start Screen the same way I had arranged icons on my desktop for years. But the Start Screen doesn’t really work like that. You just determine the order in which tiles should be displayed and then they flow automatically. I found this strange and confusing at first, because I really wanted to have one tile at top and one tile at the bottom of a column but none in-between. This doesn’t work, though. However, when I switched from the 27” monitor to my 15” display, I noticed why it had to be that way: because the tile weren’t arranged in a static grid, they would flow to fill the available space while retaining their grouping. Makes sense.

Start Screen After A Month (15 inch)

Desktop

This is were I still spent most of my time. Here I have Outlook and thus all my personal information in one place as opposed to spread out over different apps. For mouse and keyboard users, it also offers the best way to use multiple apps either switching between or side-by-side. The side-by-side feature of the Metro environment just doesn’t cut it for me. It is more work to dock an app to one side (a mouse movement over half the screen versus WinKey+LeftArrow) and you are also limited to one narrow app and one main app. I realize this is a vast improvement for wide-screen tablet devices compared to the one-app-always-full-screen model of the iPad, but for a windowed environment, this is a major step back.

While I am generally a fan of the ribbon interface and I think more applications should be using it, I feel that Windows Explorer (or File Explorer as it seems to be called now), is a bit overwhelming with it’s ribbon. It’s nice that things such as “New folder” are more prominently available than in previous versions of Windows, but most of the other stuff is just clutter, in my opinion. Because of this clutter, important options (e.g. changing the view style) have been moved to other tabs in the ribbon, making them harder to use.

Worth the upgrade?

For someone like myself, who always want’s to have the latest stuff to see how it is, the upgrade was certainly worth it. Because it would it easier for me to manage their setup, I have also contemplated getting Windows 8 for my parents. I haven’t done it, though, because I think there are just too many details that are just a bit too inconsistent or confusing for the average user. The Metro environment and its integration with the rest of Windows is still very much a version 1.0 product in certain areas. It’s certainly not something an average user needs to run on their desktop.

Even though I don’t agree with everything he says, Jakob Nielsen’s analysis of Windows 8 usability is mostly correct with respect to novice or average users. I do think, though, that power users will be able to grasp the couple of new concepts that Windows 8 introduced (such as charms and gestures). What Jakob Nielsen calls “low information density” is something Microsoft definitely needs to refine. Sure, you want to have large, easy to hit controls for a perfect touch interface, but there should be a way to shrink that user interface – thus fitting more things on screen – so it makes more sense for use with a mouse as well. Maybe in Windows 9.

Conclusion

I think using Windows 8 on a traditional laptop doesn’t do it justice. Particularly on a machine as old as mine, that doesn’t have the graphics power to render many Metro apps smoothly. I really should be getting one of those touch laptops that Jeff Atwood is so excited about. Unfortunately, the Surface Pro won’t be available for another two months or so. Until then, however, I am content with using “Windows 7.5” a.k.a. the traditional desktop with the occasional Metro app.

The Desktop is just a lot more productive when you juggle a lot of things at the same time and/or want to see a lot of information at the same time on a large screen. And I think this is the major reason the desktop is going to be with us for some time. Also, there aren’t (yet?) any exciting Metro apps in the store. Sure, there are apparently 20 000 apps now in the store, but beyond those I have now (see above) I haven’t really seen interesting, high quality apps that were truly “killer apps”.