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Posts Tagged ‘kindle’

When I received the generous gift of an iPad Mini for my birthday last month, I thought a lot about how owning the state-of-the-art tablet would enhance my day-to-day life. I was excited to set up the device, personalize it, and start using it for all it’s various, well, uses. But at the thought of taking it out of its sleek packaging and then out of my apartment and into the world, I was struck with a sense of panic.

I had no iPad Mini case to protect this gorgeous piece of machinery from the various perils of New York City!

So off I went to Amazon.com. I knew Amazon would have a variety of cases at every price point. And more than that, it would have reviews, thousands and thousands of wonderfully helpful reviews! (If you’re one of six avid readers of this blog, you know that I love to review things. And when I’m not reviewing things, I’m reading reviews of things.)

I budgeted about 15 minutes on a Sunday afternoon for the task of finding the perfect iPad Mini case that would be protective, decent-looking, and not too bulky. I didn’t need anything fancy or expensive, so I started off my search with a price point of $30 and under and I only viewed products with an average customer rating of at least a four stars (out of five). I had no idea what I was in for. I did my best below to paraphrase the deal-breaking features of each case I found, primarily based on each product’s negative (one- and two-star) reviews:

Bear Motion ($16) doesn’t protect the iPad Mini’s edges; Moko Slim Fit ($18) is shoddy; Belkin Quilted ($26) and i-Blason Leather ($20) are bulky; Snugg Leather ($25) is actually polyurethane leather (which is not “real” leather, as advertised); Photive Smart Cover ($18) has an ugly “Photive” logo on the cover; Acase Folio ($13) is hard to prop up to watch video; Finite Degrees ($10) and Poetic Slimline ($11) are flimsy; SupCase Leather ($14) has a chemical-y odor to it; Belkin Striped ($31) doesn’t close properly because its magnets are weak; Speck iGuy ($23) just looks ridiculous (that’s not actually in the review…just see below).

Right?

Right?

Jeez! Feeling like I’d read one too many Goldilocks-style reviews–each one was too this or too that, without finding my “juuuuust right” case–I invoked my 15 months of market researcher work experience and chose a new strategy for evaluating the reviews. Rather than only reading the 1’s and 2’s, which were overly negative (or the 4’s and 5’s, which were overly positive), I read the three-star reviews, which tended to list pros and cons rather than only the deal-sealers, i.e. what they loved, or deal-breakers, i.e. what they hated. (I imagined each three-star review was being read to me by an even-keeled imaginary friend who never really gets too negative about anything, but who also never really gets super excited about anything. Is that weird?)

After two separate research sessions, I finally found a winner from a company called Devicewear ($27). Of its 260 reviews, 242 were five stars, with just two one- or two-star reviews. If it had a drawback, per the reviews, it was that it was not going to protect the iPad Mini from a serious drop (but then, how many cases would?). Other than that, it fit my price point and seemed OK looking. (If it turns out to be uglier than in its pictures, I’ll just cover it with Garbage Pail Kids stickers or something.) Once I receive it and use it for a week or two, I’ll report back on Amazon with a review of my own.

Because everyone loves blog posts with an appendix at the end, here are a few other notes from my review-seeking process:

  • Thinking now about having to sift through so many reviews to find one common theme for each product (e.g. “shoddy” or “doesn’t protect the edges”), perhaps Amazon would consider showing suggested keywords or phrases that appear most often in each product’s reviews. Mr. Bezos: Call me.
  • I realize I could have expanded my search to cases well over my $30 cut-off, but I’m simply not willing to pay that much for a case. My assumption, correct or not, was that spending another $10 or $20 on a case wouldn’t offer more protection or practical functionality, only more bells and whistles or a sleeker look, which I didn’t care about.
  • The case that Apple makes got surprisingly poor reviews and was almost $40, so I ruled it out.
  • I bought a great Amazon Kindle case for just over $30 from M-Edge. I even reread the reviews of that case to see if I was making too much of the iPad Mini cover reviews. It was rated as well as I remembered it with the only drawback being bulkiness, which I didn’t mind after breaking my first Kindle’s screen a week after receiving it. However M-Edge’s selection of iPad Mini cases was expensive and not particularly well-reviewed, so I moved on.
  • I clicked on some of the reviewers profiles to make sure they’d reviewed other things. I know sometimes companies are sneaky and place “false positive” reviews on their product page. This didn’t seem to be the case on any of the reviewers I investigated.
  • I also factored the number of reviews into my evaluation process. From a statistical standpoint, I realize that someone might rather a product with a slightly lower score across  1,000 reviews than a much higher score across, say 25 reviews. But I found that most products I viewed had a robust enough sample size of reviews (at least 200) to make it a non-issue. The Snugg Leather (the “fake leather” one) had a four-star average rating, like the others, across over 3,100 reviews–far more than any of the other products I looked at. I considered letting the higher number of reviews be my tiebreaker, but that’s like choosing to eat at a restaurant simply because it’s full of diners (or not choosing a restaurant because it’s empty). Sales volume is not necessarily the best indicator of quality. If you don’t believe me, watch any highly-rated reality TV show.

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Where we last left off, it was Christmas 2010 and I had just been given a Kindle by my mom.

My first Kindle book was East of Eden, on my mom’s recommendation (and on her credit card). I have to admit, reading on a Kindle is very cool. The text is so crisp that it looks like an actual printed book. And once you get used to pressing the “Next Page” button instead of turning a physical page, one-handed reading is far easier in places like a crowded subway.

Based on my last eight months using my own Kindle, here are a few points worth exploring before you decide to bite the bullet and enter The Wonderful World of E-Readers:

Buying Books

Mostly every book title is available on the Kindle through Amazon.com, and Kindle titles are often a couple bucks cheaper on Amazon than their print counterparts—plus an e-book comes with free, instant delivery.

The second best feature of Kindle is book sampling. (The #1 feature is the Dictionary; see below.) This is the digital version of leafing through a book at a bookstore; I can have a sample of a book sent to my Kindle to try free of charge. If I like what I’ve read, I have the option to buy the full book and my Amazon account will be charged.

Free Books

On Amazon’s website, there’s a list of e-libraries where free e-books are available. I’ve attempted to navigate these libraries on several occasions and found it not worth the trouble. Amazon has a few free titles as well, which are mostly classics whose copyrights have expired. I got about halfway through Bram Stoker’s Dracula before cutting my losses—the best perk of a free book is there’s no guilt about not finishing!

I’m also currently reading an e-book I “bought” for free on Amazon called Stealing Jake (published June 2011), which averages 4 ½ stars on Amazon. I’m getting the sense that users factored the bang for their buck into their ratings.

My biggest disappointment about the device is that the New York Public Library doesn’t currently support Kindle. Nook owners can download select e-book titles from NYPL, but Kindle owners are out of luck, at least for now. I tweeted @NYPL to ask them whether there’s a timeline for supporting Kindle through their digital content solutions provider, Overdrive. Their response was “unfortunately not yet…but stay tuned…” According to Amazon’s website, “You’ll be able to borrow Kindle library books from any of the more than 11,000 libraries that work with OverDrive, the leading provider of digital content solutions for libraries.” We’ll see.

Dictionary

In my opinion, this is easily the best feature of the Kindle. In the past if I was reading a book that was full of SAT-level vocabulary, I might carry a dictionary with me or mark pages that contained a word I wanted to look up later. Often, I’d just forget to look them up and when I did, I almost never retained the definition.

Kindle allows me to quickly and easily access its dictionary and look up a word without distracting me from enjoying the book I’m reading. This feature is so good that when I come across an unfamiliar word in a print book, newspaper, magazine, or an online article, I find myself wishing I was reading it on the Kindle.

Lending Policy

Amazon’s Kindle lending policy says that the owner of an e-book, if that title is deemed “lendable” by its publishing house, may lend it one time to one other Kindle user for a period of 14 days.

I was able to borrow the entire Hunger Games Trilogy at no cost from a co-worker. This worked perfectly because the books were quick reads and the 14-day policy never came into play. However, the policy is largely impractical for longer books like The Pillars of the Earth, which might take months to read.

As Kindles become more mainstream and publishing houses (hopefully) become more malleable about the “lendability” of their titles—though I don’t see why they would—the lending feature may become a legitimate selling point for the device. But for now, it’s a non-factor.

Vacation Reading

Another theoretical selling point for the Kindle is that if you went on vacation for a week and planned on reading at the beach, you wouldn’t need to lug around a bunch of heavy books.

I’ve traveled fairly often since I got my Kindle and I have run into a few cases where I finished a book and wanted to download another title and start reading right way. (If I didn’t have a Kindle, I simply would have packed more than one book and complained about the extra two pounds.) Having a thin, light reading device might have made my life a little easier during my two-week trip to China, but is that convenience alone worth the $180 price tag for a Kindle?

Percentage Reading

If you’re a Kindle owner, chances are you’ve said some variation of this sentence: “Oh yeah I’m reading that right now…I’m 63% through it.” Many Kindle owners I’ve spoken to find the percentages, as opposed to page numbers, a little odd. The lack of page numbers becomes particularly inconvenient if you’re in a book club or a classroom where not everyone has a Kindle. (For that problem, Amazon has a solution.)

I’ve gotten used to the percentage thing for the most part but in some cases it really gets on my nerves. The Kindle factors in acknowledgments and “also from this author” pages into the total, so most books end around 90 to 95%. Fine. But I was reading the nonfiction book Little Bets, which is full of footnotes, and when I finished the last chapter I was at just 70%. What??? Turns out, the remaining 30% was academic sourcing, which of course I didn’t plan to read.

Technical Difficulties and Customer Service

I’ve already had my Kindle replaced twice. One was due to my own carelessness, leading to a cracked screen; the other died on me while I was on vacation (which, by the way, never would have happened with a print book). Customer service in both cases was extremely accommodating and sent me a new Kindle right away at no cost.

Recommendation

For me, I’ve found the cost of buying books once a week or more often to be a little expensive. To cut costs, I’ve actually read my last four books “off-Kindle”—which prompted me to explore my feelings towards my Kindle in this very blog post.

My recommendation is that if you already buy lots of books, the Kindle probably makes sense for you–provided you have $180 to spend on it. Sure, you won’t have an impressive book collection to show off to guests, but if you’re living in a cramped NYC apartment, you’ll be happy to have some of your shelf space back.

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The following is the first of a two-part post about my customer experience as a Kindle owner. It’ll be half personal essay, half product review—a format that has become par for the course here at BCSAB. I’d guess this is not quite how they do things over at Consumer Reports.

When my brother and I were younger, my mom was adamant about passing on her love of reading onto us. We were typical book resistant boys, preferring to do anything else in the world other than sitting down with a good book.

As a compromise, my mom set aside a half hour of reading time every few days for us to finish before we could go outside and play basketball or stay in and play hours of NBA Jam on Genesis.

There was nothing sweeter than the sound of the egg timer dinging, signifying that our prison sentence was over. We’d stop reading mid-paragraph, mid-sentence, perhaps even mid-word, and throw our books across the room to rush to the next activity, eager to wash the taste of reading out of our mouths. Often we wouldn’t even bother to bookmark our pages.

Our reading lists were typical for two young boys. I read a lot of the Hardy Boys series, Matt Christopher’s YA sports books, Where The Red Fern Grows, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, or articles in Sports Illustrated; my brother, four years younger than me, read classics like Goosebumps and the novelization of the movie Rookie of the Year. (After reading ROTY, my brother, then maybe 9 years old, expressed some confusion about the Chet Steadman character, played by Gary Busey in the movie. Apparently, each time he read Chet’s name he thought it referred to the New York Mets’ former ballpark, Shea Stadium.)

By the time I got to high school, required reading was no longer enforced by just egg timers and “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” looks from Mom. There were pop quizzes and please-please-please-don’t-call-on-me mini panic attacks to encourage us to stay up on our reading. And by college, not only was there syllabi telling me what textbooks to read, but I also had to pay through the nose for them at the college bookstore.

I couldn’t remember reading a book just because I felt like it. It was only after reading was no longer required that I realized I had, in fact, inherited my mom’s bibliophilia. (To some degree, it was like figuring out that I didn’t want to eat cookies for dinner simply because no one was telling me I couldn’t.)

I attacked my newfound love of reading with fervor. I took book recommendations from coworkers, and shared my own suggestions with friends. I signed up for a new library card for the first time in ten years. I’d peruse giant shelves of fiction titles the Sachem Public Library—often judging books exclusively by their covers—wondering if some obscure novelist would get really excited when she found out I checked out her book.

After I moved from Long Island, whose library sharing system is phenomenal, I had far less luck with the Hoboken Library. The tiny facility almost never had my desired titles in house and the transit process to get it from another library, usually a couple of weeks, was too long for me to wait. The waits only got longer, much longer, when I moved into Queens and later Manhattan, where there are simply too many readers for the city libraries to adequately service. I found myself buying books when I couldn’t borrow them—and doing a lot of Sudoku in between.

At least once a year, I knew I could count on a free book from my mom, who started a Christmas tradition of buying me my own copy of her own favorite books. A few years back, it was Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (still one of my favorite books to this day, which led me to Atlas Shrugged), and the next year J.R. Moehringer’s outstanding memoir, The Tender Bar.

I never make it easy on my mom when it comes to Christmas shopping because I never ask for anything specific, with no exception this past Christmas. But I knew I could trust her to pick another great book for me, so I was happily anticipating that as I opened my first few presents from her. I still didn’t find the book after a few minutes of unwrapping when she handed me my next present.

It was the Kindle!

(To be continued in next week’s “A Complicated Relationship With My Kindle, Part II.)

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