The Kindle Paperwhite Is A Reader’s Dream

IMG_0872

The e-reader arms race moves at a glacial pace. Barnes & Noble does one thing, Amazon follows. Amazon adds a feature and, slowly but surely, B&N adds the same thing. While the Kindle itself has been updated five times since 2008, it seems like it’s been around for decades and has only just now gotten much, much better.

The latest e-ink Kindle, the Paperwhite, is a beautiful device, plays catch-up, and arguably surpasses the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight. The device is as small and compact as the previous Kindle and yet is more completely featureless. Like the Nook Simple Touch, Amazon has eschewed all front buttons for a very usable touch interface. To start the device, you tap a small button on the bottom and then swipe to unlock. This two-step process ensures the device doesn’t wake up in your bag.

The real magic comes in the new “paperwhite” backlit display. Like the Nook Simple Touch With Glowlight, this device glows ethereally through the front of the screen offering a uniform brightness with the barest bit of dark mottling at the edges. You can change the screen brightness and even turn the light off entirely. Amazon has also improved the battery life, claiming eight weeks of use even with the light on (compared to the Nook’s month). While I wasn’t able to test the battery life this time, it’s clear that this thing holds a charge for a good long while, as the needle hasn’t moved in the battery meter in the week I’ve used it.

The best thing about the display is that it essentially turns completely white – hence the paperwhite – when the backlight is on. The page, then, is white rather than grey. Because the light is adjustable, you can read at night without waving to wake your neighbor with a bright tablet screen and, more importantly, you can read in the dark without a booklight.

The Paperwhite costs $ 179 for Wi-Fi/3G and $ 119 for Wi-Fi only. It costs $ 20 extra to remove special offers from the lock screens, though I doubt you’ll notice.

This Kindle maxes out at 2GB of storage (the Nook has 2GB of internal storage and a microSD slot) and mounts on your PC or Mac as an external drive, allowing you to sideload docs and mobi files. You can also connect wirelessly to Wi-Fi or cellular WLAN.

Improvements to the interface include a higher resolution screen with clear greyscale images as well as a “time left in chapter” readout that tells you how many more pages you should turn before turning in.

Should you buy this e-reader? If you’re in the market for an Amazon-branded e-ink reader, this is definitely the one to get. Whether you chose this or the equally excellent Nook comes down to the number of books you own on each platform. At this point, B&N and Amazon are playing a numbers game. The devices are approximately the same – hence the glacial pace of evolution, all things considered – and I can find little that an average user would miss in the Nook that can be found here. To be fair, the Paperwhite does have an absolutely beautiful screen when backlit and it looks almost perfectly white while the Nook still has a tinge of grey.

My recommendation, as well, is to pick up the 3G version, as it makes it easier to grab books on the go than the Wi-Fi-only model.

I’m a fairly loyal Kindle user (my wife is a Nook-head) so I would lean toward the Paperwhite in recommending a device. However, I’m wildly impressed with the simplicity and beauty of this device. If ever there was anything similar to the fabled Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this is it. Except for the notable lack of the Don’t Panic logo, we are well on our way to existing in a paperless future for better or worse.

Click to view slideshow.

Product Page


TechCrunch » Gadgets

Up Close With The Next Big Home Commodity: LED Lighting

LED_book_Cangeloso-Decontructed_Philips

Editor’s note: Sal Cangeloso is the editor of Geek.com and wrote a new book on an odd topic. It’s called LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future and it focuses on the upcoming explosion in LED manufacturing, offering a basic understanding of the technology and an interesting look at the history of LED lights.

You can buy LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future here and the first three commenters below gets a copy of the book. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book discussing the growth of lighting from old-timey incandescents to modern LED technology.

The incandescent bulb is a good place to start with any talk about lighting. This design has had tremendous longevity (over 130 years) and it makes for a cheap, versatile bulb. Unfortunately, this design is also power-hungry, inefficient, short-lived (with some exceptions), and fragile. They produce a minimum amount of lumens-per-watt, though they’ve made appreciable gains over the years, and are highly sensitive to power conditions. For example, a 5% reduction in voltage could double the life of a bulb while only decreasing light output by 20%.

One of the most notable strengths of the incandescent is the quality of the light it provides. This isn’t as easy to define as some of the other characteristics that will be covered, but it’s an important one when it comes to consumer adoption. After all, it’s nice to try to sell people on longevity and power savings, but if they think that the new bulbs are ugly or are too different from what they know, you’ll find them hoarding 75W and 100W incandescents before such bulbs are removed from the shelves.

Quality of light means that in order for people to be comfortable with the light these bulbs provide, the bulbs will need a color temperature that they find to be in an acceptable range, a high degree of color accuracy (usually measured by CRI), and a usable light pattern, to name a few qualities. The bigger point, as any early CFL or LED bulb buyer could tell you, is that if the bulbs don’t produce attractive light that people are comfortable being around, it won’t matter how long they last or how little power they consume.

Incandescents have good qualities, but ultimately their inefficiency means they are not a viable solution moving forward. Even modern incandescents can turn about 90% of the energy they take in into heat, which is obviously wasteful and inefficient in the extreme. Physicists might argue that this isn’t wasteful at all, and you might enjoy the heat they provide, but most of us want to leave the lighting to the lights and the heating to our furnaces. Before we demonize the long-standing bulb design, it’s worth noting that there is such a thing as efficient incandescence. While these are in fact more efficient versions of the incandescent bulb, they are still not at the level of top CFLs and LEDs. In fact, GE was working on a high-efficiency incandescent (HEI) for about 18 months, but gave up on it in order to focus its efforts on LED and organic LED (OLED) bulbs. HEIs were said to produce about 30 lm/W with the ultimate goal of doubling that amount.The halogen lamp is a type of incandescent that operates hotter and lasts longer, but its efficiency gains are minimal.

The much-maligned CFL solves some of the efficiency problems of incandescent bulbs, usually producing around 50 lm/W. Unfortunately, each bulb contains a small amount of mercury (about 4 milligrams per bulb), so disposal can be a problem, especially if the thin, usually helical, glass breaks. The bulbs have reasonably long lives, usually rated for 5,000 to 15,000 hours—but they don’t last nearly that long if they are used in short time spans as rapid cycling is bad for the bulbs. That means a CFL in a bathroom or closet might not last much longer than an incandescent bulb, despite what it says on the package. In fact, a CFL that runs for an average of 15 minutes at a time might last just 40% of its rated lifespan. Alternatively, a CFL that is used continuously from the first time it was turned on might last close to twice its expected lifespan.

CFLs saw a big jump in marketshare in 2007, capturing around23% of the market, but have been in decline over the last year or so, despite the bulbs being widely available, affordable to purchase, and much cheaper to operate than incandescents. Part of this is due to an increasing number of consumers learning about the CFL’s use of mercury, but current economic conditions also indicate that people have simply been looking for a more affordable option. In that respect, incandescents still cannot be beat.

One of the most important characteristics of LED lighting is that they are solid-state. “Solid-state” might be a term we normally associate with computer parts (as in the solid-state drive) but it’s not something the casual LED buyer will ever consider. The concept is quite simple: rather than generating light through burning or gas-discharge, LEDs use semiconductors. The is the most fundamental and important distinction that determines why LED lights have their unique characteristics and will be able to have such an impact on the lighting market. As seen in other industries, semiconductors improve at an exponential rate and have a way of taking over wherever they are used. Lighting should prove to be no different.

Of course, LEDs are just one type of solid-state lighting; there are also organic LEDs (OLEDs) and polymer LEDs (PLEDs). Right now, the LED is the main focus of SSL adoption and its future looks quite promising, thanks to the efficiency gains it brings to the market. OLEDs and their carbon-based semiconductors have potential, but high costs mean they won’t be a viable option as soon as standard LEDs.

The advent of solid-state lighting doesn’t just mean more efficiency. Just as with the introduction of high technology to other parts of our lives—from our phones, to our mail, to our televisions—light is now high-tech. In this case, it’s not the tech that makes the difference, it’s that this latest step means our lights could soon be gadgets. Today’s technology brings with it intelligence and connectivity, which makes way for lights that can be tracked, controlled remotely, and designed to work with other devices. While the humble incandescent was just a conduit for electricity and output both light and heat, a modern-day bulb can be and do much more.

What does this all mean for the LED lamp? Basically, the time is ripe for growth. LED adoption is low at the moment, but not because purchasing one won’t pay off. An LED bulb will pay for itself many times over thanks to its energy savings, but the high initial cost is just too much of a hurdle for many businesses and is unpalatable for even more consumers. As prices drop we’ll see a dramatic growth, just as CFLs grew when it was clear that they could lead to long-term savings and could, in fact, provide acceptable light for our kitchens and living rooms, not just offices.


TechCrunch » Gadgets

Logitech UE Boombox And Mobile Boombox Review: Bluetooth Speakers With A Rich Sound

Logitech UE Boombox and Mobile Boombox

Short version: These two battery-powered bluetooth speakers are the first modern boomboxes designed by the newly created subsidiary Logitech UE. Acquired in 2008, Ultimate Ears is well-known for its in-ear monitors used by many musicians in concert, not for its speakers. Even though the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox is limited, it is no surprise given the entry-level pricing. The real surprise comes from the big brother, the Logitech UE Boombox.

Logitech UE Boombox

Features:

  • Two woofers, two tweeters and four passive radiators
  • Bluetooth (A2DP profile) and 3.5mm audio output
  • 6-hour rechargeable battery
  • 4.4lbs (2kg)
  • MSRP: $ 250
  • Logitech UE Product Page

Pros:

  • Precise and very enjoyable sound
  • Incredibly powerful performance for this size
  • Bass-heavy sound profile, perfect for partying

Cons:

  • Bass-heavy sound profile, exhausting with some tracks
  • Heavy
  • No audio cable in the box

Long version:

When it comes to picking the right speaker for your needs, it’s often a very personal choice due to sound profiles, music tastes and other side niceties. The Logitech UE Boombox doesn’t change the rule, and it will be hard to give a definitive verdict for that product.

First, design and features are less controversial. With a sleek grille and a rubberized lower third, the device looks both solid and elegant. The handle at the top makes it easy to pick the boombox up. But at 4.4lbs (2kg), you may only want to carry it in your backyard or in another room. Compared to other models, such as the Big Jambox, this boombox is quite big and you should leave it in your home.

The big rubberized volume buttons on one side are unmissable. On the other side, you find the on/off switch, a Bluetooth pairing button, the 3.5mm audio output and the power socket.

Pairing the boombox with an iPhone, an Android 4.0 phone and a Mac was very easy. The A2DP audio profile ensures that a large number of devices will be compatible. It’s even easier in iOS 6 with the Bluetooth settings now front and center in the Settings app. With an iPhone 4, audio didn’t drop even with approximately 30 feet of distance between the two devices in an office environment.

Yet, as audiophiles will tell you, A2DP is not ideal for audio fidelity. The audio is first compressed on the phone or tablet using SBC, or optionally AAC or MP3. For example, iOS now supports AAC up to 128 kb/s in addition to SBC, which is pretty low. Moreover, reencoding a lossy track, such as a song bought in the iTunes Store or streamed in Spotify, with a lossy codec is one of the worst thing to do for sound quality. It’s like taking a photo of a photo.

It still sounded good, especially when you compare it to using the internal speaker of your smartphone. But you definitely lose sound clarity in the higher and lower ends of the audio spectrum. That’s why Logitech UE should have put an audio cable in the box. It’s a high-end speaker.

Talking about audio spectrum, the Boombox is clearly skewed toward low mids and basses. I usually use very neutral equipment, such as studio monitoring headphones (Sony MDR-7506). It is more noticeable when playing some songs, especially electronic music tracks with a deep and clean beat. Other times, it makes the track more enjoyable. But when it ruins a classic, you have no choice but to skip the track.

Yet, as the name suggests, the Boombox was intended to produce booms. If you intend to use it to party, to fill a crowded room with a sound that is pleasant to listen to, then it is the perfect choice.

We have a Jawbone Big Jambox in the office. When playing the same song on the two devices, there was no room for discussion. The Logitech UE Boombox is the clear winner, with a much clearer and richer sound than the limited Big Jambox. The Boombox is much bigger, but $ 50 cheaper than the Big Jambox. Picking Logitech’s speaker is a no-brainer if you are not constrained by size.

Logitech UE Mobile Boombox

Features:

  • Compact speaker
  • Bluetooth (A2DP profile) and 3.5mm audio output
  • 10-hour micro USB rechargeable battery
  • MSRP: $ 100
  • Logitech UE Product Page

Pros:

  • Very easy to carry around
  • Better sound than the speaker of your smartphone
  • Perfect for podcasts

Cons:

  • Not very powerful

Long version:

Don’t expect any magic from this Mobile Boombox. It is an inexpensive speaker to throw in your bag when you are going to the beach, the park or hiking. You don’t get a lot of details, especially with messy and difficult to render tracks. But if you really need to listen to music with a speaker in those situations, the Mobile Boombox is a good versatile choice.

If you insist on using it in your home, there is another use that makes it very useful, podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts and don’t use iTunes anymore, even if Apple plans to release a completely redesigned version. I manage all my podcasts in Instacast on my iPhone and listen to podcasts exclusively on my iPhone, using headphones, AirPlay or the internal speaker.

You can use the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox to listen to podcast while doing the dishes and cooking for example. Voices sound much better than with the internal speaker and you won’t have to spend a lot of money for a kitchen speaker.

Conclusion

These two speakers are highly capable for different uses. While you won’t take the Boombox with you, it will be a very polyvalent and enjoyable speaker in your home. The Mobile Boombox, on the other hand, can make an excellent speaker to listen to podcasts in your kitchen, or a correct portable speaker for the park or the beach. I wasn’t very confident when turning those speakers on due to the brand. Logitech isn’t a well-known audiophile brand. Those fears vanished quickly.


TechCrunch » Gadgets

The Zooka Wireless Speaker Bar Turns Bad Audio Into Loud Noises!

detail_o

Living in the digital age is a privilege. All the content you could want, whether it’s music, video, games, or apps, is at the tip of your fingers every time you fire up the old MacBook or iPad. But these portable devices – our smartphones, tablets and notebooks – aren’t really prepared to deliver that content at the highest quality possible. In terms of visuals, Retina displays and the like have gone a way to improve this, but where sound is concerned…

That’s where the Zooka wireless speaker bar comes in. It’s a sold-out Kickstarter project: a silicon bar that easily attaches to your iPad or MacBook. But even if you don’t have it physically attached, you can still pair it via bluetooth to your smartphone. The speaker bar comes in a host of different colors, and has buttons for volume up and down.

Just attach it to your chosen device, make sure it’s charged, and begin the pairing process. Once you’re locked and loaded on Bluetooth, just press play and the music, TV show, or YouTube video gets about twice the audio juice than you’d normally have.

Content stored locally on the device, which should naturally have better quality audio, certainly sounds better than content streamed over the web. My iTunes copy of Gangnam Style played on full volume was enough to fill my studio apartment. However, when I used it to make streamed Game Of Thrones episodes somewhat audible, it was definitely a rougher audio experience than I’d like.




Much of this has to do with Bluetooth, but an added benefit is that your Zooka can be used as a wireless mic for any Bluetooth device. Plus, the Zooka has a 3.5mm audio input jack that clears up a bit of that snap, crackle and pop.

In terms of build quality, the silicon materials and tube like design make it easy to plop this thing on a MacBook or iPad. There’s even a little space for the iSight camera to peek through.

However, it’s relatively heavy, so if the laptop display is tilted further backwards, or you’re trying to hold up your iPad (rather than rest it on the Zooka as a sort of makeshift stand), it’s possible the balance of the devices together could be uncomfortable.

One complaint that I had is in reference to the microUSB to USB cord shipped with the device. In no way is it long enough to attach the Zooka and charge it with your laptop USB port simultaneously. Since the Zooka uses Bluetooth, you could potentially plug it in and let sound come from somewhere other than your laptop, or you could even plug in the audio-input cord, but that get’s awfully wirey.

Overall, the Zooka seems like a fine investment for anyone, like myself, who enjoys their TV and movie content on their computer but can never quite hear those important lines. However, I certainly wish the Bluetooth connection offered clearer audio for the price asked, $ 89.

Here’s the product video:




TechCrunch » Gadgets