Posts From November 2011

My thanks to Studio Neat for sponsoring the RSS feed this week.


The iPhone 4S has an amazing camera. This is undisputed. What the iPhone lacks, however, is a tripod thread for mounting it to a tripod. Enter the Glif.

The Glif is a small and simple accessory for mounting your iPhone 4 or 4S to any standard tripod. It also acts as a little kickstand to prop your iPhone up for watching movies, using FaceTime, etc.

And now, we are offering Glif+, a deluxe Glif package. It comes with Ligature, a keychain loop for always keeping your Glif handy, and Serif, an additional attachment to keep your iPhone super secure in extreme situations. We are also offering the +Pack, for those of you that already own a Glif and just want the add-ons. Both are available for preorder now, and will ship in 1-2 weeks.

With the holidays fast approaching, the Glif makes a great stocking stuffer. Available now at StudioNeat.

A Hack to Get Back “Save As”

I miss Save As. A lot.

A common workflow for me was to open a previously saved document and use it as my template for a new document. I would make changes to it and then save it a as a new document. To Save As meant you took the document you were working on and saved it as a new document in its current state while discarding those changes from the original and leaving that original document as it was. I used Save As all the time.

But in Lion, the ability to Save As is gone. Sadly, Command+Shift+S gets you nothing.

In place of “Save As”, we now have “Duplicate”.1

Duplicating means the document you’re currently using gets, well, duplicated. A new document window pops up and out of the original and now you have two. The new one gets named something like “my document copy” and now you have two documents open.

If you Duplicate your file after you’ve already begun making edits to it then you’ll have the option to: (a) revert the original document back to it’s pre-edited state once you’ve duplicated it; (b) keep the current document as it is and duplicate it as well; (c) cancel.

Duplicate File Options

For the most part, Duplicate and Revert is the new Save As.

In the end you mostly get the same result as what we used to with Save As, but this duplicating and reverting business always feels cumbersome to me. Moreover, it’s a little bit scary — it still catches me off guard and forces me to stop and think for a few seconds about what it is I’m doing. I used to just hit Command+Shift+S and have my new document based on the first in no time.

And to add insult to injury, as a keyboard junkie it’s not just the removing of “Save As” that saddens me. It is also the removal of a very handy keyboard shortcut that I used many times a day: Command+Shift+S

And so, by harnessing the power of Keyboard Maestro, I set up Command+Shift+S as a “Save As Hack”.

  • I set the macro to only run in Pages, Numbers, Byword, and TextEdit. These are the apps I use on a daily or near-daily basis.
  • With a keyboard shortcut of Command+Shift+S, the macro will select “Duplicate” from the File menu, choose “Duplicate and Revert” for the original document, close the original document, and then open up a Save dialog box for the new document.

Download the macro

In essence, it’s an automated hack to get Save As and its keyboard shortcut back.

You can download the macro here.


  1. The Save As menu option isn’t gone completely from the system, just only for apps that utilize new document features in Lion such as versioning and auto save. For apps I use the most often, Duplicate has replaced Save As in Pages, Numbers, TextEdit, Byword. However, for apps which have not updated for the new Lion features (such as Adobe CS3), the Save As menu item is still present.

For those who would prefer to see the battery rather than the Apple logo. (Via The Verge.)

Over at Fast Co. Design, John Pavlus wrote a brief profile of BERG and their just-announced Little Printer. Pavlus says, “Think of it like Flipboard, but without the screen.”

It’s always great to read posts from people who use their devices in real life and have their reasons for why they like it. Such is the case with Geof Harries and his Windows Phone phone.

Geof is right that many of the Windows Phone reviews found on major sites talk about how it’s a great OS but alas it’s short on apps. I have not spent any time with a Windows Phone phone and so I cannot say if I would ever be willing to switch to it or not. No doubt it would be hard for me to give up some of my favorite iPhone apps, such as OmniFocus, Tweetbot, Instagram, and Simplenote, but I think I could get by if there was at least an alternative for Simplenote.

Side-by-side shot of Apple flagship iPod’s then and now.

Shipping in 2012, the Little Printer is a living room device that prints personalized, mini-newspapers on paper the size of a grocery store receipt. What a clever idea. (Via Kottke.)

For his guest post on the Typekit blog, Ethan Marcotte wrote one of the clearest explanations on the differences and uses of pixel, em, and rem for setting your site’s font-size. Next redesign, I’m switching from pixels to rems.

Matthew Panzarino’s wrote a very positive review of the Lumia 800 and its Windows Phone 7 software. Matthew would switch to the Lumia 800 from his iPhone if it weren’t for WP7′s lack of several of his “killer” iPhone apps (such as Instagram).

“Do you like shoveling snow? Then stop reading this and go back to your pushups and granola because you are not someone that I want to talk to.”

This post on Quora by Chris Wake provides some food for thought. I think Chris’s list of “habits” isn’t completely accurate, but they certainly serve as red flags to help assess if you’re not quite as productive as you think you are.

For example: the habit “consuming more than you create” is not a cut-and-dry issue. I, for one, read far more than I write. But that is needed because a lot of what I write is based upon the things I read. For me, “consuming” is a huge part of the creation process. But there is a difference between things like researching, drawing inspiration, and learning, as opposed to lurking, procrastinating, and vegging out. The former is effective, the latter is not.

Simple Social Networks

The apps I use the most tend to be apps that do one thing well. No doubt the vast majority of those reading this opening paragraph are of that same disposition. Instead of using apps which do lots of things fairly well, I much prefer to use apps that do just one thing and do so very well.

Simplenote is a prime example. It’s a note-taking app that syncs across all your devices. And it does this task exceptionally well. Dropbox is another example: it will sync the main Dropbox folder with any other computer you have Dropbox installed on. Another example: Yojimbo. Hands down, the finest Anything Bucket out there.

What is now growing as a new type of “thing” is social networks which are built around a singular idea and which implement that idea very well.

Twitter was one of the first examples of this, and is now certainly the most prominent. It has grown a bit more complex since it first began several years ago, but the premise is unchanged: what are you doing? Answer that question in under 140 characters and you can use Twitter.

Instagram is another prime example of a simple social network. The only function of the app and its integrated social network is to post pictures. You have fun with it by applying semi-cheesy filters and exaggerated tilt-shift blurs, but there is little complexity beyond posting your own pics and then liking and commenting on other people’s pics.

I believe it is their simplicity that makes social networks like Twitter and Instagram sticky. If a service is easy to use, people are more likely to use it. The more complex it is, the less likely people are to use it.

Obviously there are additional and very significant things which make social networks appealing, such as the ability to share and connect with friends and family members. But I like how the forced brevity of Twitter and the forced cheesiness of Instagram help to remove the potential for self censorship. The constraints of these social networks also turn into a game — or challenge — for users who adopt the goal of tweeting deeply meaningful or hilarious things or ‘gramming beautiful images.

Stamped is another simple social network. It is more like Instagram than Twitter in that: (a) it currently exists only on the iPhone; and (b) the social network and the iPhone app are one and the same.

I downloaded Stamped last week when it came out and it quickly worked it’s way onto my iPhone’s Home screen, right next to Instagram. I love the simple concept of Stamped: you pick something you like and you stamp it with your stamp of approval. What Twitter is to status updates, Stamped is to our favorite things in life.

Pros

It’s not the simplicity in and of itself that appeals to me. I like the whole idea of the Stamped app. I enjoy stamping things that I like. Who doesn’t?

Beyond that, there are a few things in particular which stand out to me as great:

  • The Design: You cannot launch the app without instantly noticing the design. Every pixel seems as if it were put in place with precise intent. The use of color, type, and layout is extraordinary. The interface of Stamped goes a long way in making the app easier to use and more enjoyable.

  • The To-Dos: When you come across something new that your friend has stamped, you can add it as a to-do (maybe its a book you want to read or a restaurant you want to check out next time you’re in San Francisco). This is one of my favorite features of Stamped, and is a clear sign that the people who designed this app actually use it as well.

    The way your To-Do list works is simple: (a) someone you’re following Stamps something you’ve never heard of (could be a movie, a book, a band, a restaurant, or something totally obscure); (b) you decide you want to check it out; and (c) you add it as a To-Do item.

    Right now I have 9 To-Dos in Stamped. A few movies, a few books, a restaurant in San Francisco, a Web app, and a kitchen appliance.

  • The Liberation of Simplicity: There are no rules for what you can stamp. On Thanksgiving Day people were stamping things like “after-lunch nap” and “pumpkin pie”. Stamped is set up in such a way as to encourage the stamping of whatever suits your fancy. It can be as serious as your favorite book, or as lighthearted as a 2nd cup of coffee on a Wednesday morning. There are no rules.

Cons

I do have a few quibbles with the app.

  • New User Discovery: One thing I don’t like about the app is how difficult it is to discover new people to follow. If I don’t follow you on Twitter or if you are not in my iPhone’s contact list then the chances of me finding you are slim to none.

    I don’t just want to follow my friends, I also want to follow people who have impeccable taste. Who in Kansas City knows the best restaurants? Who has the same taste in movies as me but gets out more often? Who reads a lot of fabulous books? Those too are the people I want to follow on Stamped.

    How can Stamped solve this problem? Perhaps give us the ability to stamp a user. Or, when viewing someone’s profile, show a descending list of who they give the most credits to. Just like there are people on Twitter that I don’t follow on Instagram, and vice versa, how do I find the great users in Stamped whom I don’t yet know are there?

  • No Business Model, Yet: Build a big and happy user base now, figure out how to sustain the business later. That seems to be the business model of choice for many new startups. It was Twitter’s business model, it is Instagram’s, and it is Stamped’s as well.

    However, I did notice that Stamped has one source of income: affiliate links. When a book or a DVD is stamped and can be purchased on Amazon, then a Buy Now button will show up on that item’s detail page within the App. Tapping “Buy Now” will launch you over to the Amazon site with Stamped’s affiliate ID in the URL.

    Stamped Also I’ve noticed that if it’s a movie which is playing in theaters, then you can get tickets via Fandango. Tapping to buy a movie ticket will kick you through a Commission Junction domain.

    I have absolutely no problem with affiliate links. I think the feature of being able to find and buy a Stamped item right from within the app is a great idea. And so if you’re going to be linking to Amazon anyway, there’s no reason not to do so via an affiliate link. It’s a clever and non-invasive way to make a few extra bucks from the app. However, affiliate links require a lot of traffic to generate even a modest income, and they are not Stamped’s primary plan for income.

    I emailed the guys at Stamped to ask them if there were any planned sources of revenue beyond the affiliate links. CEO and Co-Founder, Robby Stein, wrote me back, saying:

    Right now, we are 100% focused on building a product that our users love. We will continue to look at revenue opportunities that make the product more useful by allowing people to easily go try what’s been stamped, but don’t have any specific plans right now.

    Building a large and happy user base is much easier when your product is free. But monetizing later on can be tricky. There are pros and cons to both strategies, and so I hope Stamped has wild success.

Stamping Stamped

One of the first things I stamped in Stamped was Stamped, Inc.

I very much love the categories that this app slash social network is in. It is a simple social network, and, though it is Web based, it is not a Web app. I much prefer native apps over Web apps (on the desktop and on mobile). I also prefer apps which are simple and do just one thing. Stamped is a blend of both, and I think it has a lot of potential to be very fun.

Om Malik reflects on the past 10 years of blogging. I don’t think there is a better word of advice than to show up every day.

A fantastic article by Matt Legend Gemmell:

When you see a mature product that’s somehow managed to innovate (to be “new” whilst balancing all the constraints and annoyances of the existing problem), it becomes almost impossible to see how you could do it any other way. Design blindness sets in: the most successful product is the only possible design. Which, of course, is nonsense – but a very convincing, insistent, tempting sort of nonsense.

Exactly what it says on the tin. Brew Methods is a collection of links to coffee brewing methods. Including Aeropress, french press, pour over, siphon, stove top, etc. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to deviate from the daily grind of how you normally brew your coffee, you’re sure to find a few new methods here.

About 5 Thanksgivings ago I decided to make pumpkin pie from scratch (using real pumpkins, not canned). I love pumpkin pie, and this recipe turned out so absolutely delicious that it’s become a tradition. Happy Thanksgiving.

A Few Things I am Grateful For

  1. An incredible wife who is beautiful, charming, and loving.
  2. An occupation that is challenging, enjoyable, and which provides enough for us to pay our bills and eat 3 squares a day.
  3. My unborn son, Noah — though we don’t even know him, we love him.
  4. Being a part of a community of friends, peers, and readers who are are passionate about creativity and technology as I am.
  5. That Jesus Christ knows my name.

Putting up a Christmas Tree this weekend? Got a bazillion Legos in a tub somewhere? Perfect. Use Chris McVeigh’s instructions to make some Lego ornaments for that tree (including some Star Wars themed ornaments). (Via Amy Smith.)

Instacast HD just released today. I’ve been beta testing it since the beginning and I think it’s fantastic. If you listen to many podcasts and you have an iPad, you ought to get Instacast HD.

Ben Brooks wrote a quick little overview of why he likes and I heartily agree with his sentiments. If you’re looking for a more in-depth review, check out Cody Fink’s review over at MacStories.

My Thanks to CaptureNotes for sponsoring the RSS feed this week.


CaptureNotes 2 is more than just a note-taking app for the iPad. It lets you record audio while you type.

While there might be other apps that let you take notes and record, CaptureNotes 2 brings an entirely new feature to the experience: Flags.

Flags are intelligent bookmarks, allowing you to place specific marks in time during a recording to follow up on in later review. For example, if you were using CaptureNotes in a class, you could mark things like test questions, text references, follow-up requests, or even make your own custom flag set. In a meeting at work, you could mark action items to follow up on.

When it comes time to study for your test or compile your to-do list, you can sort notes by flag type, taking you back to that specific piece of audio recording and notes.

Note-taking is also available on imported PDFs and email sessions. CaptureNotes lets you store your binders and notebooks on Dropbox.

CaptureNotes 2 was recently selected as app of the week at TiPB, and is on sale to celebrate. Capture everything at school, work, or home with CaptureNotes 2.

Forty-seven of the finest gift suggestions you’ll find.

I love the concept of this brand-new iPhone app slash social network. Primarily because it’s so darn simple. You pick something, such as food, a movie, an album, whatever, and you stamp it. Your stamp is your way of approving and/or recommending that thing.

What’s fun is that you start off with just 100 stamps. You can only earn more via the interactions of your friends and followers. If someone else stamps something that you have previously stamped and they give you the credit then you earn a stamp. You also earn more stamps when people “like” what you’ve stamped.

What I also like about this app is that if you come across something new that your friend has stamped, you can add it as a “to-do”. Maybe its a book you want to read or a restaurant you want to check out next time your in San Francisco.

And resting on top of the overall philosophy of the network is a drop-dead-gorgeous design. I have yet to find a pixel in this app that doesn’t look like it was placed there on purpose.

I have a feeling Stamped is going to be very fun.

Brett likes it. Tony Fadell and his team took one of the least-interesting home utility devices and turned it into something worth writing home about. (Via Ben Brooks.)

Shadoe Huard interviewed me over Skype yesterday. We talked my journey of taking this site full time, and about writing in general.

It’s episode 35 of The B&B Podcast and we’re talking about Jeeps, off-roading, Kindles, Readability and supporting indie writers, and more.

The Kindle Touch

A few days ago, a lightweight cardboard box was delivered to the doorstep, and in it was the first Kindle I’ve ever owned: an Amazon Kindle Touch. Not only is this the first Kindle to take residence in the Blanc household, this is the first Kindle I have ever held in my hand. I’ve seen them in passing at Best Buys, coffee shops, and airplanes, but never have I picked one up, held it in my hand, and read.

I was familiar enough with the Kindle to know that it is lightweight and great for reading. I knew that they are famous for how effortlessly you can hold it with one hand and how great the E Ink text is for reading.

For the past year and a half I’ve been reading books on my iPad and never felt a need for a Kindle. However, after now using the Kindle Touch for several hours a day over the past few days, I feel as if all the accolades I ever heard about the Kindle were vast understatements.

A nice combination: the Kindle Touch and a cup of coffee

Hardware

Hardware-wise, the Kindle Touch has several positive things going for it. Most notably:

  • Size: The Kindle is small and lightweight; easy to hold with one hand and read for long periods of time.

  • Battery life: Extremely long battery life; rarely do you need to consider charging it.

  • Touchscreen interface: The only buttons are a lock/wake button and a Home button; the touch UI (though slow to respond in heavy-input areas such as the Home screen or the Kindle Store due to the nature of E Ink) feels natural and is easy to use.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into a few of these:

Size

After using only an iPad for reading ebooks over the past 18 months, it’s impossible not to noticed how incredibly small and light the Kindle Touch is. Moreover, the Kindle’s smallness and lightness are accentuated by a sturdy build and an attractive, simple design. It’s small and light but not cheap or flimsy.

My Kindle weighs 7.375 ounces. The custom box it shipped in, with the Kindle and all other contents still inside, weighed a mere 14 ounces. My iPad alone weighs 1 pound, 6 ounces.

Upon opening up the top of the box the Kindle is sitting there with a plastic sheet attached to the front of the device. There is an image which demonstrates you should plug your Kindle into a computer. When I peeled off the plastic I found that the image was actually being displayed by the screen. I did a double take because it looked so much like a printed image and not like something electronically displayed using a screen.

I plugged the Kindle into my MacBook Air and let it charge. When charging, a small yellow light is on. Once charged, that light turns green. It took about 90 minutes via the USB plug on my MacBook Air to get the Kindle fully charged.

Charging the Kindle Touch

While charging, I registered my Kindle with ease by simply by typing in my Amazon.com email and password into the device. Then I spent some time browsing the Kindle Store, buying a couple books which I am currently reading in iBooks. It’s unfortunate that I’ll have to finish all the iBookstore books I’m reading. The cost of buying those books again just so I can read them on the Kindle Touch is not something I want to do.

Holding, Reading, and Turning Pages

The iPad just cannot be held with one hand. Its weight, size, and slippery aluminum back all force the use of two hands or one hand and a prop. That is not to say the iPad is awkwardly heavy, but it’s not easily held up with two hands for a long time (such as an hour or more).

The Kindle, however, is extremely easy to hold with one hand thanks to its weight, size, and grippy plastic back.

Naturally, when holding the Kindle one-handed, it’s important to be able to progress to the next page without requiring two hands. The past Kindles, and the new D-Pad Kindle, all do this by placing hardware page-turning buttons on both sides of the Kindle. When holding the device (regardless of which hand) you can easily rock your thumb over the button and turn the page.

The Kindle Touch has no such hardware buttons. I was fearful that the lack of buttons would make it difficult to turn pages when holding the device with just one hand. Fortunately that is not the case.

The screen of the Kindle sits about an eighth of an inch deeper than plastic bezel surrounding it. I have found it very easy to simply roll my thumb over the edge and onto the touch screen, and this is all that’s needed to activate a page turn.

The Kindle Touch screen bezel

Holding the Kindle Touch with one hand

However, if you are holding the Kindle in your left hand, rolling your thumb onto the screen will turn the page back, not forward. That is because the left-hand side of the screen is the touch target for previous pages.

The tap targets for the Kindle Touch

Of course, as you can see in the image above, the touch target for turning to the next page is significantly larger than for the previous page. And so, for the times I am holding the Kindle in my left hand, I can still turn to the next page by using my left pinky to support the bottom of the Kindle and then move my thumb over half an inch to reach the touch target for the next page.

Also worth noting is that swipe gestures will turn the pages as well. Left-to-right for the previous page; right-to-left for the next.

The Screen

I had two fears related to the Kindle Touch’s screen: (a) that without the hardware page-turn buttons it would not be easy to turn pages while holding the Kindle in one hand; and (b) that it would gather all sorts of fingerprints and muddy up the reading experience.

Both of those fears, however, were unwarranted. As I mentioned above, turning pages on the Kindle Touch is no trouble whatsoever.

Regarding fingerprints, the Kindle’s touch screen is not a fingerprint magnet. The screen is very matte — like the matte screens on Apple’s laptops from yesteryear but even more matte than that. The screen on the Kindle touch is the least fingerprint attracting screen in my house. Certainly more than the glass on my iPhone and iPad.

A third issue that I’ve heard people talking about is the new way that pages refresh. Now, instead of the full-on black-to-white blink that the Kindle used to do between every page turn, the page only blinks once every 6 page turns. This supposedly causes an increase in E Ink artifacts which get slightly left over from page to page. But with my naked eye I barely tell the difference at all between the sixth page just before the Kindle blinks, and the seventh page just after a blink.

Regarding the E Ink screen, I am still not used to just how kind E Ink is on the eyes. I have read for many, many hours on my iPad and have never thought anything of it. Perhaps my appreciation will wear off a bit once I become more used to the Kindle or when the iPad ships with a Retina display. But after three days with the Kindle I am still very appreciative of its screen.

The only disadvantage to the Kindle’s screen is that there is no light for it whatsoever. I often read through my Instapaper queue or a few chapters of a book when in bed before I go to sleep. But the lights are usually out and I rely on the self-lit screen of the iPad to read in the dark. The Kindle will not be able to replace my iPad for these times of reading.

You can get clip on lights, but I wonder why Amazon hasn’t incorporated something similar to the Timex Indiglo backlight system? Or, why not put a dozen small LED lights around the inner edges of the screen that could illuminate it.

Software

Not only have I found the hardware of the Kindle Touch to be impressive, but so also the software.

Touch-Based OS

I ordered the Kindle Touch rather than the D-Pad Kindle because I was anticipating that the touch screen and its user interaction would be more natural and convenient than using the physical controller.

Of course, I haven’t actually used the non-touch Kindle and its D-Pad controller, and so I can’t fairly judge one over the other. But I can say that the interacting with the Kindle Touch OS has been just fine.

Though the UI is designed for touch input, I still haven’t fully acclimated to the concept of touching the E Ink device. The screen does not look like the backlit touch screens I have been using for the past 4 and a half years. The Kindle looks like an actual printed page, not a screen. And since the display is not manipulated by touch input the same way an iOS device is, I don’t always feel like I’m supposed to be touching the display.

But, despite its vast differences when compared to any other touchscreen device I have used, the Kindle Touch only has one caveat in my opinion: There is no immediate feedback upon tapping a touch target.

On the iPad, tapping a button or a link will cause the state to change as if you’ve truly pressed that button. On the Kindle there is on immediate feedback, you simply wait for a second, and then the screen refreshes to display whatever it is you activated via your touch. (Note that page turns are quite speedy.)

But there are a set of buttons which do show an immediate change of state when tapped: the keyboard. When typing, the keyboard buttons turn black underneath your finger taps. No other buttons in the Kindle OS do this.

And, speaking of typing, I don’t find it difficult at all on the Kindle’s soft keyboard.

The Kindle Touch Keyboard

Lastly, in addition to tapping buttons and items, you also use scroll gestures to navigate lists or pages. You can swipe your finger from top to bottom or bottom to top on the list view as if you were scrolling it and the list view will refresh with the items moved in the direction of your swipe.

It is a much different feeling compared to iOS where you feel as if your finger is literally manipulating the pixels you are touching. But it is something that I quickly got used to. And, considering the limits of E Ink, I think the way the touch interface works and responds is completely fine. It’s different, but not worse.

Instapaper

Amazon gives you an email address for your Kindle. You can then send articles and documents to your Kindle via that Kindle email address.

Instapaper uses this as a way to send you the 20 most recent items in your queue every 24 hours. You cannot archive or favorite the articles, you can only read them in their purest form: a personally-curated periodical.

Does Instapaper on the Kindle even come close to comparing to Instapaper on the iPad or iPhone? No way. Is it nice to have it there? You bet. Even though I know Marco won’t do it, I’ll still say it: a native Instapaper app for the Kindle would be awesome.

The Kindle Store

Shopping for books, magazines, and newspapers on the Kindle Store is extremely easy. When you find a book you like it’s just one tap to buy and the download begins in the background immediately. If you didn’t mean to purchase an item you are given the opportunity to cancel your order.

The Kindle Lending Library

When I was on Amazon.com making some adjustments to my Kindle options, I went ahead and set up a free one-month trial of Amazon Prime so I could check out the Kindle lending library.

Basically, if a book is available to borrow for free it will say so on the book’s page in the Kindle store. If you are a member of Amazon Prime then you can go ahead and borrow that book. But, alas, right now it sounds cooler than it is.

The Lending Library works like this:

  • You can borrow up to one book per month. This limit is not a big deal for me because I cannot remember the last time I finished more than one book in a month. Also worth noting is that it’s one book per calendar month, not one book per 30 days. If you borrow a book on November 30, you can borrow again on December 1.
  • You can only borrow one book at a time. So even if it is a new month, you cannot borrow another book unless you’re ready to give up the one you’re currently borrowing (previously borrowed books are removed once a new one is downloaded).
  • The Lending Library is sparsely populated. As of today, there are 5,464 total Kindle Books available in the Lending Library. However, there are 1,078,735 total Kindle Books. Which means that just one-half of one-percent of the total Kindle eBook selection is available to borrow. This is due in a large part to the fact that the Big Six publishers (Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Macmillan) have not joined the program.

To get to the Kindle Lending Library you go to the Kindle Store home page, tap “All Categories” (which is just under the Menu button), and then tap “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library”. From there you can browse all the items in the Lending Library.

When you find a book is just like buying it for $0. You get an email receipt from Amazon thanking you for your purchase, yet the cost is $0.00.

Right now I am borrowing Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. It is great to see that the books published under Seth Godin’s Domino Project are available on the Lending Library.

Newspaper Subscriptions

I signed up for a free, 14-day trial subscription of The Denver Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Since then, each morning they all 3 have been updated and then automatically moved to the top of my Home screen’s list of items, sitting there just waiting to be read.

Maybe it’s just the honeymoon period of a new device, but having the day’s newspapers pre-downloaded and waiting for me on my Kindle when I get up is pretty darn cool.

But where did yesterday’s papers go? Well, down the list on the Home screen there is an item called “Periodicals: Back Issues”, and it holds the previous issues. So the old ones are never gone, but are always out of the way when the new ones download.

Magazine Subscriptions

The Kindle store has 133 different magazine titles. The top 10 most popular include Reader’s Digest (at number 1), The Economist, The New Yorker, Time, and others. Up until yesterday I was completely unaware of the availability of magazines on the Kindle. I naively thought that when many of these magazines came to the iPad it was their first venture into the non-printed space beyond the World Wide Web.

I subscribed to a free 14-day trial of The New Yorker. The visual layout of the magazine is completely forgone on the Kindle and you get a Kindle-optimized text-version instead. And it would seem that the price reflects the text-only versions. In the Kindle store, a single issue of The New Yorker costs $3.99, and a monthly subscription is $2.99/month; on the iPad, The New Yorker costs is $4.99 and $5.99 respectively.

Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers

I bought the $99 Kindle Touch with special offers, and so the bottom-half-inch of my Home screen displays an ad. At first I didn’t think this would be a big deal because I expected: (a) that I wouldn’t be spending a lot of time on the Home screen; and (b) even when I would be on the Home screen the ads are minimal and unobtrusive.

However, after a few days with the device the home screen ads feel more intrusive than I thought they would. I think, in part, because not all the content which is on my Kindle is displayed on the first page of the Home screen. And, knowing that there is additional books and periodicals further down the page, it seems that the (albeit minimal) ad is in the way. Or, put another way, it feels more like one of those ads which are right in the middle of two paragraphs of text on a website, rather than an ad on the sidebar.

You can pay Amazon to remove the ads by “Unsubscribing from Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers” by paying the difference of your subsidized purchase: $30 for the plain Kindle and $40 for the Kindle Touch.

Playing MP3s

The Kindle can play MP3 files, and only MP3s, that you transfer to it.

You transfer the MP3s onto the Kindle when it’s plugged into your computer. To play them go to the Home screen and tap Menu → Experimental → MP3 Player.

A basic player UI will pop up at the bottom of the screen offering you to skip forward and backward to different tracks, play/pause the audio, and adjust the volume. The MP3 player will always appear at the bottom of the screen, even if you’re not playing audio. It will always be there until you turn it off.

When you are playing music you can either plug in headphones, or listen via the stereo speakers on the back of the Kindle which sound about as good and bass-free as you’d expect on such a device.

Coda

Because it is so inexpensive and all of its content is backed up on Amazon.com, the Kindle Touch is a stress-free device you can take to the beach, the pool, the mountains, etc. Compared to the “eReader” I have been using for the past 18 months — an iPad — the Kindle’s primary user experience is significantly different. For the single-purpose device that the Kindle Touch is meant to be — a device that’s easy to hold and to read — the Kindle does this exceptionally well. And, in many settings, better than the iPad. Moreover, the iPad isn’t something you would take to the beach or the pool without at least thinking twice.

Of course, not every context finds the Kindle better for reading. Obviously in low-light or no-light situations the iPad is better because of its backlit screen. But also the iPad is significantly better for reading RSS feeds and my Instapaper queue. This is not only because the iPad has a stellar RSS app and the Kindle has none, but also because when reading feeds on my iPad I like to fly through them. On the Kindle, tasks take a little more time due to the nature of E Ink.

It is also arguable that the iPad is better for reading magazines. While I like the text-friendly version of The New Yorker that is served up on the Kindle, magazines have always been more than just text. And though I do think that the magazine reading experience could be significantly better on the iPad, I do appreciate the full-color graphics and customized layouts (most of the time).

But who says the Kindle has to replace the iPad? It’s not uncommon for people to own both. I know people who use their Kindle and their iPad. Of course, I also know others who abandoned their Kindle back in April 2010.

For me, I can see the Kindle becoming the reading device I keep on the coffee table and take on vacations. But, if I’m going to head out the door and am going to take just one device, you can bet it’ll be the iPad.

On the other end of the spectrum, what say ye about the Kindle versus a good ole book? Well, compared to a physical book the Kindle is at least as easy to hold and just as easy read from. And if you’re outside on a windy day or if you’ve got a big fat hardcover novel, then I would argue that the Kindle is even easier to hold.

The other advantage of the Kindle over a physical book is that you can have an entire library of content on a device the size of an extra-large wallet. And finding something new to read (a newspaper, magazine, new book, etc…) is just a few taps away. That is why the Kindle has appeal beyond just nerds who practically have it in their DNA to love a new gadget.

Overall I am extremely pleased with the Kindle Touch. Even more than I expected to be when I pre-ordered it so many weeks ago. The quality of the hardware and the usefulness of the device betray its exceptionally low price.


Affiliate Plug

If you decide to get a Kindle Touch, use this link and I’ll get a small kickback from Amazon which helps me to keep writing here. Thanks.

Nearly all the Kindle Fire reviews I read on the larger tech sites were relatively negative. Garrick, however, is an actual customer who got his Fire not as a review unit but as a device which he intends to use. And he likes it a lot.

I’m not saying that Pogue and Mossberg and Phillips were wrong about the Fire — it’s possible that I would have reviewed the device with the same sentiment they did — but it’s great to see how a real customer actually feels about this gadget. Garrick’s opinion is just as valid and important as the pundit’s (if not more valid since he actually paid for his Kindle Fire).

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the forthcoming reviews from the Regular Joes who paid for their Kindle Fire with their own money and didn’t get it until yesterday.

(Via Patrick Rhone.)