Amazon Kindle? To e-read or not to e-read?

I am a huge book fan. I love the thrill of buying books, I love the smell (don’t pretend like I am the only one), I love reading the blurb and the first chapter and getting excited about the next in a series. So if books “work” why go electronic? Kindles…what’s the fascination?

Kindle_PW

They are convenient, they are small, slim and have the capacity to store over 1000 books (you’d look nuts trying to haul its physical counterpart around the train station in rush hour!) Some people have complained about not being able to expand the memory (no slot available for a memory card), but, seriously who needs more than one thousand books in one sitting! You can always remove the ones you don’t want and put on new ones. For people that aren’t familiar, you don’t lose what you don’t have on your Kindle at any given time either. Amazon stores them for you like your very own library all accessible at any computer connected up the internet and the great thing about this library is you can be as loud as you want – no one can here you scream!

Anyone that loves a book knows this feeling: you buy a book, you think “ohhh psychological thriller, well this should be pleasingly gory”, you read 4 or 5 chapters no one has so much as grazed their knee and you’re not sure if Susan is actually as psycho as the blurb and reviews make out. Got a Kindle? Skip it and move on to the next book! Bored of a genre? Choose another! Want to read a comic? Read one! Of course you would have needed to have previously downloaded these to the device, but, Amazon has a function called Whispernet and you can get a new book effortlessly in seconds, so there isn’t really an excuse not to have another option. If you were holding a real book you’d be stuck on the train tediously trying to avoid eye contact with everyone whilst flicking between the book and staring at the ad you’ve read a thousand times before!

The main selling point of the Kindle is that the books are cheaper than the physical version. The most expensive thing about the Kindle is the kindle itself. A kindle Paperwhite, the newer version of the original Kindle is £109 off of Amazon. Not an overly expensive purchase in the grand scheme of things.

I did a bit of research to show why financially I think it’s worth having a Kindle – I am going to be comparing the prices of the paper versions and e-versions of The Gone Series by Michael Grant (yes, it is a children’s series, but I love it and we’ll have no judgments here!).

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The above table shows the prices of the e-books bought from Amazon in the left column and the prices of the real books bought from Waterstones in the right. With a saving of £28.50 on the entire series we have claimed back just over 31% of our initial £109 layout for the kindle. So if you are a heavy reader the savings that you could make over 3 or 4 series of books would have rendered the initial price for the kindle void and then from there it’s just total savings! Thank you technology.

Also, Amazon does have a massive library of free, yes FREE, books that are readily available and pleasingly are treated much the same as the best sellers in that they rank in order of downloads and the list in constantly changing. Also www.archive.org stores over 2.5 million books completely free! A huge library and I am confident that there is something to suit everyone. There are other sites out there see http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=2245146011 for a more extensive list.
Below are a few of the specifications on the Kindle Paperwhite taken from the Amazon websight. I’ve put the link below just in case I have inspired you to take a look.

Patented built-in light evenly illuminates the screen to provide the perfect reading experience in all lighting conditions (This light is amazing at first I was sceptical thinking that it would be uncomfortable looking into a light, but it is great. I think this is a fabulous idea for a person who likes to read a lot and has a partner who likes to sleep a lot. Its just a soft glow of light that only surrounds the Kindle and it beats having to get up and switch the light off). Even in bright sunlight, Paperwhite delivers clear, crisp text and images with no glare. (I tested this in the Cypriot sun. It’s true! I was also sceptical about this… But alas there was no glare!).

Kindle-Paperwhite

New hand-tuned fonts – 6 font styles, 8 adjustable sizes (This is very helpful for those of us less blessed in the eye department, the sizes are a good range and I am sure the sight challenged can make a selection suited to their needs).

8-week battery life, even with the light on (This is a pro and a con. Real books never run out of battery, they can go on for centuries but all in all the battery life on them is not bad at all. I have had mine going strong for 3 weeks and not charged it once, be aware that the 8 weeks above is when you have the light at its lowest and aren’t connected to WiFi etc.).

Built-in Wi-Fi lets you download books in under 60 seconds (It also lets you surf the net, it’s not great and by no means does it stand up next to a tablet or computer when it comes to this, but, this is an e-reader not a tablet or a computer and it works fine enough. Just using the internet connection to view and use the Kindle store is suited very well to the device).

The new Time to Read feature uses your reading speed to let you know when you’ll finish your chapter. This is a new addition on the Paperwhite and is not something on the Kindle Original, I think this bring back a bit of the anticipation that is an enjoyable thing with real books seeing how far away you are from the end and eagerly awaiting that final page, for me personally I think this is a great feature as I can time how long I have on say a train or plane journey and know how far I can get before I have to stop reading, it’s a great feature.

Check out the link below for the full specifications.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B007OZO03M/ref=fs_cl

Do I think Kindles will replace real books like mp3s have taken over CD’s? No. They aren’t great for reference books or studying. It’s hard to find a page quickly or to go to the index and find a subject. It’s difficult to flick through and refer to the blurb and the cover. There is a search option available but it just isn’t the same. Textbooks and study guides I think will always be better in the physical format. Kindle books seem to have more errors in than real books and although this can be fixed it just doesn’t seem to be a big issue with the sellers. I have found a few too many in a couple of books I have read. Most of us can work out the error, mentally correct it and move on, but I guess I like my books without the errors.

One thing that I really dislike about Kindles, you can’t borrow out a book after you have finished with it. If someone recommends a book they have finished on a Kindle they can’t lend it to you, I suppose you could always buy it from Amazon but it just isn’t the same. Also not all books are available on Kindles so you have to have that in mind when you are looking through for a specific one.

Kindles are great for people who travel a lot, like technology and people that read a lot. They aren’t fantastic for students and they certainly don’t beat the cosiness of a real book. Financially it’s worth investing in a Kindle and as much as some of us won’t like this, they are the future and if we didn’t move forward we’d still be listening to music on gramophones and reading our paper books by candle light.

Give them a go, you’ll be pleasantly surprised

Feeling Blue?

It seems like just yesterday that we were assaulted with Windows 8, and yet the release of its first major update – Windows Blue – is rumoured to be just around the corner.

Things are still very much at the rumours stage, as Microsoft have yet to make any official announcements about Blue (that’s it’s working codename, incidentally, rather than its official title), but here’s a brief roundup of the bits and bobs that have been unearthed so far.

Spoiler alert: don’t get your hopes up. It’s more Windows 8.1 than Windows 9 we’re talking about here, so really just little tweaks added on top of what’s there already.

  • You’ll be able to split your full screen apps 50/50 on the screen with other apps, instead of the somewhat limiting 75/25 restriction at present

  • You’ll get Internet Explorer 11 (Eric’s excited, the rest of us use Chrome)

  • And you might, you just might, get the start button back (although early suggestions seem to imply that it won’t give you back the old-skool “Start Menu”).

  • You might also be able to boot directly to the desktop, rather than the Start screen

And, yeah, that’s about it so far. It’s getting a lot of press for something so seemingly underwhelming, but frankly that’s more because of what it represents than the actual features it’s touting.

So, what’s the real deal then? Well, the process Microsoft is currently going through marks a significant deviation from their previous update process.

In the past, a major version of Windows (XP, Vista, 7 etc) would be released, followed up with minor updates and then a big “Service Pack”. Then another year or two of minor updates, then another Service Pack. Typically each version of Windows would see two Service Packs before starting off the whole process again with a new version of Windows.

The shiny new update model revolves around a series of more frequent updates, more akin to the Apple way of doing things. Apple have been rocking “Mac OS X” for 12 years now (!), issuing a series of updates along the way to bring us up to the latest 10.8 (“Mountain Lion”). Each update represents a series of changes based on the previous iteration, but nothing so major as to require much of a learning curve (although if you were to hop even from 10.4 to 10.8, you’d find it a slightly strange world).

Whether Microsoft will charge for an update to Windows Blue is, as yet, unknown. If they do I should expect it to be around the £20 mark, as has been the case with Apple’s most recent updates. Instinctively I feel as though even £20 will seem steep to a lot of people (remember, Windows 8 has sold 100 million licences) – especially given the freshness of this departure from their previous update model – but by the time Windows “Green” is released in 18 months or so, people will be pretty well used to it. It’s amazing how quickly people adjust these days.

Suffering from a slow PC?

We frequently get asked about slow PC’s and in particular we’re asked to increase the performance or at least determine why a PC that seems to be relatively new is now the donkey of the office.

The main reason for this is of course the spec of the PC and in particular the amount of RAM (Random Access Memory) installed. The other bottleneck is the CPU (Central Processing Unit) but it’s not usually the main offender.

But why when the spec of the PC hasn’t changed is it now running slower than when you first got it? Well, the amount of programs that are running on the PC will have a dramatic effect on the performance of the machine. It should be said as well that programs can run silently in the background without the user being aware. Task Manager is a good way to see what is running on the machine as it will show up all of the processes that are currently active.

Another point to make about slow machines is the expectation of the user. As technology advances and we’re subjected to faster, cleaner machines, it’s quite easy to expect too much from your existing PC. A high-end PC a year ago is probably only a mid-range PC a year later and most likely a donkey of a box within 2-3 years. Users tend to forget that while their PC’s hardware hasn’t changed over this period, the applications and software that are being used on them is constantly changing. Most of the changes inevitably lead to more processing power or memory being consumed even if (to the user) they see no real change.

So, what can you do as a user who’s experiencing a slow PC? Well there are a few things that you can check to try and understand what the main cause of the issue is.

Check the Task Manager and look at the overall CPU and Memory figures, if these are high (60%+ usage) then close down anything that you’re not using such as a every email in Outlook or maybe those 15 tabs you have open in Internet Explorer.

Look at the Spec of the PC, if you’re running less than 4GB of RAM I wouldn’t expect too much from the machine. With the price of RAM these days an upgrade to 8GB can be achieved for under £50 on some machines – money well spent in my eyes!

Scan for any nasties, this subject will most likely be covered in more detail at a later stage, however, for now it’s worth a mini-mention. Scan for Viruses and in particular Malware, Microsoft Security Essentials is a great free Virus checker if you don’t already have one. Malwarebytes (again free) is a fine program that looks for malicious software on the PC and may help remove some items that take up valuable resources without the user necessarily being aware of them.

The above notes are the basics and instructions on all of these points are readily available on the internet for anyone feeling like they want to tackle a slow machine by themselves however we are also happy to look over a PC and give our own diagnosis on it.

Which browser should you be using?

We get a lot of people asking which browser should I use?. The answer depends a little bit on exactly what the needs of the user are, or are likely to be, but as often as not we find ourselves recommending Google Chrome

Of course, whatever computer you buy – Mac or PC – it will come pre-installed with one browser, but that’s not necessarily to everyone’s tastes and sometimes having the choice can be a good thing.

As a support team, it can often make our lives easier if you have more than one browser installed, even if you only ever use your “default” one. If you happen to have an issue with a website, we’ll often ask you to go to the same website in a different browser to see what happens – it can help us decipher if its a problem with the browser you were using initially, or the website itself is having issues.

So why Chrome?
Well, it tends to perform pretty well at the basic things. Starting up fast, opening up new pages and tabs when it’s already running, etc. In fact in almost all of the categories it wipes the floor with the competiton (Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera are the main contenders).

There are other advantages, too. It’s multi-platform, so you can have it on your home Mac and your work PC. If you have a Google account, you can sync your setup between computers. Bookmarks, homepage, extensions, the lot. You can also set it up to send pages to your phone (iPhone and Android only, as far as I know!) ao you can carry on reading the same article when you leave your desk.

Any drawbacks?
Of course there are. Nothing’s perfect, especially when it comes to software. But a number of them can be worked around. The two main issues we encounter are these:

Various Microsoft websites don’t really “work” in Chrome. Most notably this applies to older (2007 and earlier) Webmail interfaces, but things like CRM platforms can also be affected. Sadly, the only way around this is to use Internet Explorer (but even then things can be ropey – a good tip is to enable compatibility mode)

The other place where Chrome can struggle is when using multiple tabs. Despite its own boasts that it can handle several open tabs simultaneously (it can), it is particularly memory hungry. If you don’t have a lot of RAM installed on your computer (we recommend at least 4GB these days, for all but the most basic of uses) then you can quickly run into problems with even just 5 or 6 tabs open at once.

The chances are Chrome won’t crash, but the fuller your RAM gets the slower your computer will become.

If you do *need* to work with a whole load of tabs open, for whatever reason – we don’t judge, then there’s a couple of things you can try. If you need tabs open to refer back to later, consider using bookmarks, or even a link saving, article reading service like Pocket. That way you can save the link and close the tab.

And if you really need all those tabs? Well, then the best thing you can do right now is switch to Firefox and get some more RAM!

Freaked out by Google Ads?

I imagine you’ve noticed that when you’re browsing the web, there are a whole load of sites which have spookily well targeted adverts on them. They can be a bit overwhelming, sometimes, and lot of folks feel like it’s an invasion of their space. Imagine you’ve been browsing for new shoes on your and suddenly all of your Ads are trying to sell you shoes…

It’s obvious why companies do this, and how Google can make their money. If they know you’re looking at shoes, it’s not a big leap to realise that if they push some adverts under your nose you’re more likely to click and buy them.

But did you know you can “opt out” of this targeting? It’s pretty easy, too, at least with Google ads. There’s a wee video guide from Google just below, but if you don’t have the time or the inclination (insert appropriate Big Ben/Tower of Pisa joke here) then just click here to go straight to your own Web Ads Preference page, or here. Bear in mind that you’ll probably see more ads if you opt out on the search front, but they won’t be quite so targeted at you. According to Google, users who remain “opted in” to the targeted Search ads are 42% more likely to click on one!

For those of you with the curiosity as to how Google makes this work, they use cookies to keep tabs on the sites that you’re visiting, and so can glean a fairly decent understanding of the sort of things you’re looking for – either on a regular basis, or for a concentrated period My targeted ads are, unsurprisingly, virtually all for IT products and services.

Another trick you can use if you want to keep the targeted adverts live, but simply not to register that you’re looking at certain things (engagement rings, for example, gents) then you can start up a private browsing session and then your activity (probably) won’t be tracked and applied to your targeted Ad profile. Phew. I shall sleep easy tonight.