Tag: Amazon

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Which Streaming Stick? Chromecast, Fire TV, or Roku?

Mea culpa. I promised this comparison for Holiday 2014, and here it’s February next. The time between allowed for valuable cord-cutting experiment that will matter to some of you reading this review. The Wilcox household now streams Encore, HBO, Starz, and Showtime—via Cox Flex Watch—and the addition affects our choice of streaming stick; perhaps yours, too.

Google opened up the category with $35 Chromecast in July 2013, and the device gets better with age. Roku Streaming Stick, at $49.99, is priciest choice, while Amazon Fire TV Stick is the $39 in-betweener. Briefly, before deep diving, Chromecast is easiest to use and offers more commercial programming support. Roku delivers broadest streaming channel selection. Fire TV fits tightly into the broader Amazon Prime ecosystem, while offering satisfying, but incomplete, content options compared to either of the other devices. 

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Amazon Echo Isn’t

You just gotta love Amazon. This morning, at long last, I received my invitation for Echo, the sizzlingly voice-controled streaming speaker that I raved about just two months ago. As a Prime member, I pay half-price, just $99. What a deal! Since then, I jealously waited while reading what others blogged about how much they enjoyed their Echoes. The device fits squarely where I contend is the next iteration in user interfaces: voice. Touch is just so passé.

In retail, customer impressions are everything. My first reaction was excitement, but the second turned it to dust. This thing won’t ship until sometime between May and July? Seriously? It’s like a bad Consumer Electronics Show joke, where the hottest tech device in this solar system debuts in January, but sales don’t start until November. Don’t sell me something I can’t get for at least five fraking months

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Five Tech Products Changed My Digital Lifestyle in 2014

Looking back on this last day of the year, I wonder how my daily tech changed so much since the first. On Jan. 1, 2014, my core computing comprised Chromebook, Nexus tablet, and Nexus smartphone. Midyear, I switched out to all Microsoft—buying Surface Pro 3 and Nokia Lumia Icon. While commendable the effort, Windows poorly fit my lifestyle. Today, I’m all Apple—13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Display with 512GB SSD, iPhone 6 128GB, and iPad Air 128GB. I can’t imagine using anything else.

I abandoned my Google lifestyle for numerous reasons, with my desire to create more content rather than consume it being primary. Google gives great contextual computing, with respect to information that is relevant to where you are and even what you want. But Android and Chrome OS, and their supporting apps, aren’t mature enough platforms for consistent content creation. 

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What Next? Price Negotiations at Walmart Checkout?

One Geico Insurance commercial claims that “auctioneers make bad grocery clerks“. Strange if bidding is soon the norm in big-brand retail, but one-on-one. Today, Amazon announced something surprising: “Make Me an Offer“, where buyers can negotiate prices with sellers. I do not jest. Seriously. As if Amazon prices aren’t insanely low enough.

The web retailing giant claims 150,000 items in the program, which isn’t about auctions, since all negotiations are solely between buyer and seller. From my quick review, Amazon chooses wisely. The majority of items I see are those where pricing could be, perhaps should be, considered more arbitrary, like artwork, memorabilia, and other collectibles. 

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Ho, Ho, Ho, It’s Reviews Not News This Christmas

For much of Holiday 2014, I will shift from tech news and analysis to product reviews, which will be a relaxing change. I also am prepping new ebook How I Beat Diabetes, preparing to start an investigative storytelling project, and strongly considering a Kickstarter to gauge interest in a site that calls out irresponsible news reporting (of which there is too much) and praises the best journalism, too.

On the reviews front, now would be a good time to knock on my virtual door, if you’ve got something worth my attention, whether cloud service, gear, mobile app, or software. No promises what I can get to during the holidays, when everyone wants to sell something, but, hey, we can try. Reviews will run on BetaNews,  and I will cross-post some here, despite any search penalty Google might impose for the practice. I care about readers, not pageviews. With the holidays in mind, I may shift to a shorter reviews format, focusing almost completely on benefits. Frak features. 

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Amazon Echo Is All About You

While professing not to be a geek, sometimes I act like one. This afternoon, I requested an invite to buy Amazon Echo, which promises to bring Star Trek-like responsive computing to the home. The cylindrical device, announced today, is a Bluetooth- and WiFi-enabled streaming speaker that responds to users’ questions. Just say “Alexa” and ask something.  “What’s the weather?” “What is the largest dinosaur?” This is how search information should be, assuming Echo resounds as strongly as Amazon’s product information and demo video claim.

Voice response is exactly what consumers need from a personal device, and many others used every day that pack chips and operating systems. While humans are tool users, for which touch interfaces make sense, the ability to communicate with language sets us apart from all other species. What is more familiar than talking, and expecting response because of it? 

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Amazon Sale is ‘Predictably Irrational’

I can’t stop chuckling over one of Amazon’s many marketing sleight-of-hands today. I awoke to email promoting a one-day sale and “up to 60-percent off select SanDisk products”. Heck, my BetaNews colleague Wayne Williams even wrote a news story. But based on my recent experience buying a “SanDisk Ultra 64GB MicroSDXC Class 10 UHS Memory Card” I wonder about all the savings.

I purchased the card on July 2nd for $34.99. For the one-day sale, Amazon sells the same card for a dollar more, although a newer version (e.g., refreshed packaging and SKU) is available for $31.99. Amazon claims 64 percent and 51 percent savings—$64 and $33—respectively. 

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With Whom Should Authors Unite?

That’s the question on my mind since I started self-publishing ebooks about a year ago. Falling ebook prices and rising number of cheap reads—an increasing number of them serials built around single characters—offer readers bountiful choices. What’s good for consumers may not be best for producers, though. If 99 cents is the value of all books, who can make a living writing them? The answer to that question makes Amazon the savior of publishing or the great Satan destroying it.

I write about this today because overnight Amazon sent long email “Important Kindle request” announcing Readers United. But the letter didn’t come to me as a reader but as an author, from Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon and publisher Hachette are engaged in a dispute that, long-term, could affect future ebook pricing. Hachette Authors United seeks resolution from Amazon, which calls on readers—and writers—to respond in kind.

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My Books are Now Exclusive to Amazon

I have removed my ebooks from Google Play and all stores but one. Amazon. The decision wasn’t easy, but as an author I believe it is the right one. The retailer just launched Kindle Unlimited, which some social sharers call the “Netflix for books”. Subscribers pay $9.99 per month for whatever written or audio books participate in the program, and Amazon claims 600,000 titles.

To join the Kindle Unlimited program, independent publishers must put their books into KDP Select and give exclusivity for 90-day intervals (or longer). As a writer and reader, I love the “Netflix for books” concept, but as an independent publisher my participation means commitment to Amazon.

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My First Kindle ebook: Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph

Yesterday, my first ebook published to Amazon, with the strangest of titles, having nearly nothing to do with the contents. In May, I submitted “The Principles of Design” to the bookseller for consideration as a Kindle Single. Singles are curated, short-form works, between 5,000 and 30,000 words. Amazon acts as editor and publisher. Four weeks later to the day, I received a rejection letter, without any explanation.

That put me squarely down the self-publishing path, which is exactly where I didn’t want to be for this first work. Books are a strange frontier to me, a vaguely familiar landscape but alien—like Mars is to Earth. I wanted Amazon to walk me across this domain. Besides, to start, I plan to write mostly shorter non-fiction essays, which look to be perfectly-suited for Kindle Singles. But the rejection email, and realization that editorial approval takes up to a month, changed plans.

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Some Advice to the Washington Post's New Owner

Today, in the Guardian, former CIA analyst John Kiriakou accuses the Obama Administration of abusing the 1917 Espionage Act, claiming that “only 10 people in American history have been charged with espionage for leaking classified information, seven of them under Barack Obama”.

From Day One, the Obama Administration sought to plug any leaks. What’s said in the Oval Office stays in the Oval Office. That’s context for understanding the aggressive approach to whistleblowers. It’s philosophical. The current White House sees leaks as betrayals, so why not view whistleblowing as treason?