Streaming Media to your PS3 and Xbox with NAS4Free

So you’ve gotten your NAS4Free box all configured to your liking and you are comfortably using it in your own home. If you’ve read my last article, then you’re also probably enjoying automatic torrent downloading as well. There is so much more you can do with your NAS box and so in this article, I will go over how you can now stream your media files whether they be pictures, music or videos to your Sony Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Now, I personally don’t have a Xbox 360 anymore so I will only show screenshots on how it will look like on a PS3 but the steps should be similar on each system. By moving your media files over to your NAS4Free box, you can now easily stream them to your big screen HDTV without first having to turn on your personal computer. If you haven’t gotten the drift already, a NAS box stays up 24/7. Because this server consumes much less resources and is much more energy efficient than standalone personal computers, you technically shouldn’t see a big spike in your electricity bill. Well, hopefully. With it being on 24/7 in your household, it makes much more sense to dump your media files on it to better allow for centralize access.

While NAS4Free includes a UPnP service called Fuppes to help you get your media files seen on devices such as the PS3 and Xbox 360, it didn’t work too well for me during my limited testing. In fact, I couldn’t get it to work at all! While my PS3 did see my NAS4Free server box, any files I’ve dumped into the configured folders were invisible. And because I’m not a NAS4Free expert to begin with, I was pulling my hair a bit. After some research, it turns out that Fuppes, which is the service that allows other compliant devices to use the NAS box, was unstable to begin with. That brought some relief  to myself because even if I did get the service running correctly, I don’t want to deal with crashes, which of course forces you to read log files and we all know that’s not very fun. So, after more research, I found another simple solution in a client called MiniDLNA.

PLEASE READ BEFORE CONTINUING: After all is said and done, I noticed two major issues with MiniDLNA. First, it does NOT do any transcoding! This can’t really be considered an issue since I probably didn’t read all the information about the service in the beginning and so it was my fault. This means that while your PS3 and Xbox 360 will be able to stream down the files from your NAS4Free box, they will not be able to play them unless the device itself have the built-in capability to do so! To put things into perspective, MiniDLNA just allows your NAS4Free server box to be “seen” by your PS3 and Xbox 360 over the network. That’s it. The rest depends on the electronic device itself. The second major issue I found is that whenever I added new files to my media folders, I had to initiate a “rescan” of the folders. The bad news I found out is that in order for my PS3 to also see those new files, I also had to manually restart the MiniDLNA service as well each and every time I performed the rescan! Credit goes out to this forum post where I got pretty much all the information required to get MiniDLNA up and running.

Installing MiniDLNA onto NAS4Free

At the time of this writing, the latest version of MiniDLNA is 1.0.25. However, for the life of me, I cannot get it to download and install within NAS4Free. You see, we need to add it as a package because doing so forces all the other dependencies for MiniDLNA to install as well. Therefore, in this tutorial, I have to go ahead and install version 1.0.24. You do not have to manually download these files onto your computer.

Here is the package download URL if you use a 64-bit processor:

ftp://ftp.freebsd.org/pub/FreeBSD/ports/amd64/packages-9-stable/All/minidlna-1.0.24_2,1.tbz

Here is the package download URL if you use a 32-bit processor:

ftp://ftp.freebsd.org/pub/FreeBSD/ports/i386/packages-9-stable/All/minidlna-1.0.24_2,1.tbz

You can go over this article to learn how to fully install the NAS4Free operating system onto your hard drive. A user commented that for this to work, he had to perform a full installation of the operating system. I also recommend you to do this as well if you will be working with NAs4Free on a permanent basis.

In your NAS4Free sever box, enter option number 6 to get shell access:

Shell Access

Once you have shell access, type in the following command to have NAS4Free automatically fetch, download and install the MiniDLNA components. I am using a 32-bit so this is what I will type:

pkg_add -R -r ftp://ftp.freebsd.org/pub/FreeBSD/ports/i386/packages-9-stable/All/minidlna-1.0.24_2,1.tbz

Once I hit enter, you should start seeing things getting fetched and installed as such:

Fetching Files

At this point, just let NAS4Free do its thing. Once everything has been fetched and installed, note the last section of the screen. The install process created both a user and group called “dlna” with a specific uid and gid, respectively. In most cases, both numbers will be 933. Jot them down just in case because we will need this information later.

UIDGID

Configuring MiniDLNA

If you can believe it, we have just successfully installed MiniDLNA onto our NAS4Free box! Simple right? Well, now comes the configuration part which getting it right is the most important.

First what I’m going to do is create three directories. One directory each will hold my pictures, music and videos. I will create all three under my mount point of Storage as seen here. You can create the directories by using the File Manager within the web management of your NAS4Free server:

Directories

The second thing I need to do is manually create a folder to hold the MiniDLNA database and log files. By default, this location will be in /var/db/ with a directory name of ‘minidlna‘:

Minidlna Folder

With those two tasks completed, it’s now time to perform the main configuration of the MiniDLNA. Head over the the advanced File Editor under the Advanced menu. We need to load the main MiniDLNA configuration file so press the three dot button and browse to the /usr/local/etc directory. Within, you should see a file called ‘minidlna.conf‘. Select it and hit the OK button at the top. Back in the File Editor menu, hit the Load button and you should now be able to see the contents of that configuration file.

Default Config

Everything we need to get MiniDLNA working and configured to our liking is right here in this file. Ready for the good news? Of course your are! Turns out that in order to get just a basic and functioning MiniDLNA setup, you just need to specify two settings. Yups. Just two. The first setting tells MiniDLNA where it is it should monitor for your media files. As you can see in the very beginning of the configuration file, there is a specific syntax when specifying your media folders. If you’re wondering about all the # symbols, you can ignore them. This usually tells the configuration file to ignore all the text after that symbol. The second setting is giving your MiniDLNA server a friendly name.

First we’ll configure the monitored folders. Go ahead and erase the default folder of “media_dir=/opt”. In my case, I created three separate directories for each media file type. Therefore I need to list them here along with tagging each folder for the right type. Remember, do not include the # symbol in front of your settings! Here is what I will used:

media_dir=A,/mnt/Storage/Music
media_dir=P,/mnt/Storage/Pictures
media_dir=V,/mnt/Storage/Videos

Next, I now need to give my MiniDLNA server a friendly name. This name will show up when we browse in our PS3 or Xbox 360 for the server so you can pretty much name it whatever you want. This setting is directly under the first one. Here is what I will used:

friendly_name=PS3 Eyes Only

That’s it! I now need to hit the Save button to save my changes to the configuration file. All of the other settings are purely optional. Here is how my file looks like after the changes have been made:

Final Config File

Another configuration we need to perform on our NAS4Free box is to tell our server to autostart MiniDLNA each and every time. Head over to System –> Advanced and then click on the rc.conf tab. We need to add a new entry so click on the blue plus symbol. In the Name box, type in minidlna_enable. In the Value setting, type in YES. You can optionally give it a description as well.

Autostart

Hit the Add button and then the Apply Changes button afterwards.

Now it’s time to reboot our server! If you don’t, the next step in the procedure will not succeed.

As for the last step, we need to create a user and group for use with MiniDLNA. When we installed it in the beginning, it created them for us but once we restarted the server, the changes are lost and so we now need to manually create those accounts again for permanent usage. Head under Access –> Users and Groups. First lets create the user. If you remember from earlier, MiniDLNA requires both a user and group account with the name of dlna with a UID and GID of 933 (or whatever number was listed on your screen). So we’ll go ahead and create them. You can leave the password field blank.

User Creation

Here is the group creation:

Group Creation

Once you have completed both steps, reboot your server once more.

Final Preparations

OK, so we’re almost there. Being as this is just my demonstration unit, I now need to dump some files into my media folders. For this I use WinSCP. Of course, if your media folders are already configured as a Windows file share, you can just as easily transfer media files as an SMB file share onto your NAS box.

Transfer

Once I have my media loaded into the correct folders, it’s now time to perform a rescan. A rescan forces MiniDLNA to rescan the media folders you’ve configured in the configuration file for any new files. To execute commands, head over to Advanced –> Command. Type in: /usr/local/etc/rc.d/minidlna rescan and hit the Execute button.

Rescan

Here is the irritating part. For each rescan, I found out that my PS3 would still not see the new files unless I also restart the MiniDLNA service. Therefore, I now have to execute the restart command as well right after the rescan by typing in: /usr/local/etc/rc.d/minidlna restart

Restart

Testing Time!

Finally! We have everything configured! It’s time to actually test this thing out. Again, I don’t have a Xbox 360 (damn you Red Ring of Death!) so my test can only be done on a PS3 (damn you Yellow Light of Death!). Once I turn on my PS3, I should see my MiniDLNA server as so:

Server

Below are screenshots showing that indeed all my media streamed successfully to my PS3:

VideoVideo PlaybackMusic LibraryMusic PlaybackPicture Gallery

In the End…

Well, there you have it folks! I successfully demonstrated how I easily am able to install MiniDLNA onto my NAS4Free box and stream my media over to the PS3. Granted, this solution does have two major drawbacks. Actually, there’s only one drawback, depending on how you look at it. If your existing media is already compatible with the device you will be streaming it to, then you won’t view not being able to transcode media on the fly as a drawback. In most cases, this largely depends on your video files and how they were encoded. If you video files are not compatible, then they will simply not play. You can then either convert them to a compatible format or dump MiniDLNA altogether and look for an alternative method.

The actual main drawback is having to restart the MiniDLNA process each and every time we add new media to our library. While a rescan does allow MiniDLNA to notice the new files, your devices may or may not see them unless you also restart the process. Again, I only tested this on my PS3 so I have no idea if this problem also occurs with other media streaming devices like the Xbox 360. If anyone tries this out, I would appreciate it the feedback. Also, because I am not an expert by any means in this area concerning NAS4Free and MiniDLNA, it can be very challenging trying to solve issues without any outside help.

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Comparing Nook Tablet to Kindle Fire

You just can’t help it these days but notice a lot of stories and focus on budget friendly tablets. Not surprisingly, Apple is not being included in the talk as they hardly can qualify as being “budget friendly”. This whole thing started when Amazon announced their 7″ tablet that revolves around their own digital content services with a friendly price tag of just $199.  One of Amazon’s main competitor in the eBook and eReading business, Barnes & Nobles, wasn’t just going to sit idly by while letting Amazon take all the spotlight. Today, they’ve announced their all new budget tablet called as well, the Nook Tablet. There are many similarities along with differences between these two devices that can make it hard for the consumer to decide. This is a good thing, believe it or not. People need to start having options and need to start thinking about which device best suits their lifestyle. Remember, competition is good for everyone. In this article, I will look at some of the main features of the Nook Tablet in comparison to the Kindle Fire, which I’ve already pre-ordered.

You can find all the information about the new Nook Tablet from there main product website located here.

Pricing and Specs

The Nook Tablet can be yours for the price of $250. This is a $50 price increase to the Kindle Fire. Of course, with the price increase there’s guaranteed to be hardware improvements and whatnot. The Nook Tablet comes in the same 7″ screen flavor as the Kindle Fire but weights .5 ounces less at 14.1 as compared to 14.6. The Nook Tablet however, is a big longer in length than the Kindle Fire being at 8.1″ to just 7.5″ respectively.

The major difference in specs is not mainly in the outer appearance but in the inner guts of the devices. The Nook Tablet also features a dual-core processor. However, it comes equipped with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of on-board storage whereas the Fire has only 512MB and 8GB, respectively. Another big factor is the Nook Tablet’s included Micro-SD card slot which allows a user to easily expand their local storage with an additional 32GB. The Kindle Fire is missing said Micro-SD slot and is one of the missing feature I am disappointed the most in. A built-in microphone recorder allows you to record your own narration for kid’s book. I am not sure at the moment whether or not you can actually use this microphone for live communications, such as with the Skype app.

As with the Fire, the Nook Tablet also includes only a Wi-fi connection point and so users wanting a 3G experience when they travel will be left out in the dark. The device boosts 11.5 hours of reading or 9 hours of video (wireless off) on a single charge. The Fire includes 8 hours of continuous reading and 7.5 hours of video viewing (wireless off). Please note that the purported battery life estimates is never accurate and usually what you get in real world usage is less. Surprisingly, the Nook Tablet claims to be able to give you a complete battery charge in only 3 hours as opposed to 4 hours on the Fire, even though the latter gives you less total battery time usage.

 

The Video Content

UPDATE 11/09: Amazon just issued a press release today saying that big name services such as Netflix, Pandora, Twitter and Rhapsody will indeed make their way to the Kindle Fire, day one!

UPDATE 11/11: Amazon just announced that Hulu Plus and ESPN Scorecenter will also be available when you get your Kindle Fire! Having both Netflix and Hulu Plus services on the Fire takes away most competitive advantage of the Nook Tablet.

Nook VideoHaving a faster device is useless if the digital content service that revolves around the device sucks. The Nook Tablet will also run a customized version of the Android operating system just like the Kindle Fire. Barnes & Nobles also have a digital economy similar to that of Amazon and so it is also going the route of revolving their Nook Tablet around their digital content services. However, that’s where the comparison stops. Barnes & Nobles digital economy cannot be compared to that of Amazon. Amazon has their own music store, movie store, eBook store, app store and their unlimited video streaming service for Prime members. B&N have their own eBook store (which also includes magazines) and well, their own app store. That’s pretty much it unless I’m not mistaken. Basically, Amazon has a lot more of their own digital content to offer than B&N. However, B&N does have a trick up its sleeves.

It’s no secret that Amazon wants you to buy their Kindle Fire so that you can buy more “stuff” from them. While both tablets are technically locked into their own respective services, the Nook Tablet is a little more open in the video streaming area. Why? Because they don’t have their own dedicated video streaming service like Amazon does, they have to look elsewhere. Besides, why buy a tablet with a gorgeous looking screen if you’re not going to be streaming movies on it? In the Nook Tablet’s case, B&N “outsourced” this service to Netflix and Hulu. Pre-loaded onto every Nook Tablet are the Netflix and Hulu apps which allow you to stream movies and videos directly onto your tablet. Because these services conflict with Amazon’s own, do not be surprised if none of these apps will be offered on the Kindle Fire, ever.

Here is the big decision you will have to make if you are considering either devices: do you want to pay $79 a year for Amazon’s Prime membership or Netflix’s/Hulu’s $7.99 (equals out to about $96 a year) a month streaming service? If you want the latter, stay away from the Kindle Fire. The only way to help you make this decision easier is if you personally browse through each service’s catalog and see what movies and TV shows are being offered. Personally, I’m not too fond of Amazon Prime’s video library selection. This service was included as a “bonus” to Prime members. Both Netflix’s and Hulu’s streaming services are dedicated in trying to offer you the best selection of content available because that’s what you’re ultimately paying for! But whose to say Amazon won’t catch up in the future?

The App Economy

Nook AppsAs with Amazon’s App store, I am fairly disappointed in what I am seeing inside B&N’s own app store. Both tablets are locked into their own respective app store. Both Amazon and B&N do not allow you access to the open Android Marketplace. As you can already guess, the customized app store by both companies are seriously lacking in apps that I see myself using. I’m going to say this once: when it comes to apps, it’s not about quantity but quality! I don’t care if an app store have 500,000 apps or whatever. Many of them will not even see the light of day. Sad, but its true. What I rather want is you trying to give me the apps that I, along with many other users, would want to use instead.

Here’s the other kicker: B&N app store charges more for apps. For example, Angry Birds and Doodle Jump cost $2.99 from the B&N app store where it’s only $.99 from Amazon. That’s a whopping triple price increase! Now of course this isn’t always the case but it’s not a good sign nonetheless. Why are they doing this? Because it goes back to the whole profit thing. B&N’s main source of digital content profit comes from users purchasing eBooks and apps from their store. These two services can they truly call their own. Because they don’t have as many sources of digital revenue as Amazon, I can see why they are charging more for a popular app but this is not good in the consumers point of view.

Although I’m disappointed with Amazon in the app store department, I still have more faith in them to get things right than B&N simply because of the fact that the former is a larger company. I’m not sure what goes on behind the scenes to secure an app into their own marketplace but both of these companies need to step it up that’s for sure.

Rooting

This is a big issue for many and one that has a lot to do with whether a tablet has a Micro-SD slot or not. B&N Nook Color (their first attempt at a colored screen eReader/tablet thingy) allowed users to root the device and install the fully open Android operating system that many other Android-based tablets are doing (Samsung Galaxy tablet, for example) instead of being locked into B&N and Amazon’s own customized interface and economy. Doing so allows the user to access the full Android Marketplace and download apps that they couldn’t get from the locked app store of B&N and Amazon. Rooting the device consisted of downloading and installing a modified OS, such as the popular Cyanogen Mod, onto a Micro-SD card, perform some specific procedures to root the device and BAM! The user could then choose between booting the customized OS or back to the default. With the Nook Tablet, many hardcore users are more interested in this tablet over the Kindle Fire simply because of the fact that it has the Micro-SD slot.

The problem with the Kindle Fire in this regard is that it doesn’t have a Micro-SD slot! Amazon openly admits that it doesn’t really care if someone roots a device. They are just making it harder and make no mistake about it, you do so at your own risk . Without the Micro-SD slot, rooting the Kindle Fire is possible as many have said but once done so, it will be very hard if not impossible to uninstall it (feel free to correct me on this). This has issues such as losing your warranty on the device and not being able to access Amazon’s digital content, etc.

 

All in All…

This competition of deciding who will ultimately dominate the $200-$250 7″ tablet market is getting very interesting. It’s weird to see how so much talk about tablets are in full circulation and for once, the Apple iPads are not hogging the spotlight. If you get right down to it, there is always a place in our hearts (or wallets for that matter) for budget-friendly devices. If these tablets prove to be successful, which I have a good feeling it will, Apple surely will have to counter it. I doubt they will lower the price of the current 10″ iPads but come out with a smaller version similar to that of the Fire and Nook Tablet instead. Who knows huh?

Right now, comparing the Nook Tablet with the Kindle Fire comes down to making a few big decisions and ultimately, sacrifices. If you get the Kindle Fire, you have to be dedicated to the Amazon’s ecosystem to get the most out of the device. Getting the Nook Tablet allows you access to Netflix and Hulu services for video streaming but there’s not much else going on in terms of digital content from B&N themselves. This wouldn’t be a problem if users had free reign over the Android Marketplace but this isn’t the case (as with the Kindle Fire). For an extra $50, you get double the amount of RAM and on-board storage space than the Fire with an included built-in microphone and Micro-SD slot for storage expansion and possible root. Both devices have cloud storage for your content although I’m not sure exactly how Nook Cloud works at the moment. Right now, I’m still betting on the Kindle Fire coming out on top although the Nook Tablet is definitely an enticing device considering it allows you access to two of the biggest video streaming services out there.

Not satisfied with locking yourself down to either of these companies but still want an affordable 7″ tablet? Then you have to take a look at Lenovo’s upcoming Ideapad A1, which runs the Android 2.3 operating system. Another option is the Kobo Vox. Both of these 7″ tablets start at $199 and allows you to use the open Android operating system, not a customized/locked down version such as the one’s included with the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire (although I don’t believe you can access the official marketplace with the Kobo Vox). My best advice is research, research and research some more before you decide to purchase a tablet!
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Thoughts on the Kindle Fire Tablet

After some debate, I’ve finally decided to put down my pre-order for Amazon’s introductory device into the tablet market. As with with the Kindle 3 e-reader, I would like to explain about my decision as to why I decided to purchase this device prior to writing the full review. This gives me a chance to reflect on many issues that might help you if you’re still on the fence about whether to get this tablet or not. The Kindle Fire, just as with any other electronic devices out there today, is not meant for everyone. This is not rocket science yet I read many interesting forum posts regarding this subject matter. Here, I’m going to try and break things down a bit and explain my personal reasons and opinions for making the jump into the Kindle Fire world.

The Kindle Fire and iPad comparison is inevitable and will definitely come up in any Kindle Fire preview/review that you will read from now on. It’s a known fact that the iPad dominates the tablet world. Android based tablets are however, gaining in sales very quickly! In my opinion, it’s definitely healthy to compare the two but ultimately, any unbiased customer should realize that they are two completely separate devices and both are aimed towards different audiences. Again, I’m only stating the obvious and anyone who can’t understand that should get help! Therefore, don’t be alarmed if I make many comparisons between the Kindle Fire and iPad throughout this article.

 

You can find more information about the Kindle Fire from their official homepage.

Pricing and the Amazon Factor

One of the ultimate selling points of the Kindle Fire is the attractive price. At just $199, you can have your own 7″ tablet from one of the biggest companies in the world. The lowest iPad model goes for $499. That’s a huge price difference if you ask me. Amazon is actually losing money (not sure exactly how much) for each Kindle Fire sold but they have confidence in quickly earning that profit back. You see, the Kindle Fire closely ties together with the Amazon economy as a whole, especially where digital content is concerned. Amazon has their own digital movie rental/download store, music store, eBook store and even their own app store. Your Kindle Fire allows you to consume these media easily through your Kindle Fire. Therefore if you buy a Kindle Fire, Amazon is also willing to bet that you will purchase even more digital content from them because that’s what the tablet is mainly for.

Amazon I truly believe is one of the first major company that can actually go head to head with Apple. Sure, there are many other tablets out there that has a lower price point than the iPad but why do many of them don’t succeed? To me, it just seems that those tablets are just that: another tablet in the over crowded market. There’s really no blazing economy like that of Amazon to back up those tablets. iPad succeeds because it also has a giant economy with their app store and other great services that tie in to the tablet. Amazon can afford to sell the Fire at a lost because  they are not relying solely on making their profits through the hardware like how other tablet manufacturers are forced to do. If you really think about it, it sorta feels unfair. Who else besides Amazon and Apple that have a bustling economy for tablets? Google I’m sure tries very hard but I don’t think they will be a factor any time soon. If Amazon for example loses about $30-$50 per device sold, they can easily make it up (plus a big profit) during the lifetime of that device in the user’s hand because during that time, he/she would most likely purchase digital content from Amazon which in turn helps recover the initial lost. I’m no business entrepreneur but I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.

Amazon understands that not everyone can afford a $500 tablet! By cutting out some features (ok, a lot), they can capture this crowd. Personally, I admit that the $199 price tag is one of the biggest reason why I got the Fire tablet. That along with the fact that I am already sucked into the Amazon economy and I got a tablet that works for me.

Amazon EconomyScreen Size

The Fire comes in a 7 inch screen form factor and I think it’s the perfect size for my personal use. I’ve tried using both the 7 inch Samsung Galaxy Tab and the 10 inch iPad 2. I found that the former is much, much more comfortable to handle. The iPad just felt a little too big and uncomfortable, especially when reading eBooks. The 7 inch screen of the Samsung Galaxy was just perfect for reading because that is what I’ll be using the Fire tablet mainly for. I was extremely sad to sell my Kindle Keyboard because of the e-ink display but I wanted a device that can do more than just allow me to read comfortably. I wanted to be able to browse the web from time to time, watch a movie on the couch and play a game or two whenever I needed a reading break. If you want to watch a lot of movies on your tablet device, the smaller screen might put some people away but I have no issues with it. In fact, I actually prefer to watch movies on the smaller screen. I guess I’m just weird like that. Ever since I got glued in front of the computer when I was kid playing video games, I actually hated the idea of now playing on my big screen HDTV when I got my Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I eventually hooked up my Xbox to my 21 inch monitor but I couldn’t do the same for my Playstation because the monitor was not HDCP compliant.  Sometimes bigger is not always better, at least in my opinion. Many of my friends thought me weird for stepping down in size instead of up but they just don’t understand me enough!

Kindle Fire Screen

Storage

This is a huge gripe for some. The Kindle Fire only comes with 8GB of on-board storage. Yes, I also agree that a little more would have been sweet but here is the kicker: any digital content you purchase from Amazon (movies, music and books) can be stored on Amazon’s cloud servers for free! You can access them anytime with a Wi-fi connection and you can even choose to download them directly onto your device (if applicable). Any other personal content and media that you store on the Kindle Fire itself counts towards the 8GB. Amazon also offers you the ability to purchase additional cloud storage for your personal media. I believe the cost starts at $20 per year for 20GB of cloud storage. I was a little disappointed that Amazon didn’t include a micro-SD expansion slot and this further proves the point that Amazon wants you to purchase digital content from them only!

Personally, I can definitely do with the 8GB of personal storage. I definitely can’t load my entire personal music library onto there but then again, I don’t really want to. I still believe that a tablet cannot replace a traditional laptop/desktop just yet. Rather, I consider it a good companion instead. With little storage space, I now have to be more selective in what I store on my Kindle Fire. Once again, due to me using this tablet as a e-reading device first, 8GB is still plenty enough to store my PDF documents and eBooks. The rest of the storage will mainly go to apps, personal movies and music.

Kindle Fire Storage

Lack of Features I Don’t Care About

OK, so for just $199, just what are some of the features missing from the Fire tablet? Well, there’s the lack of a 3G network capabilities, Bluetooth, built-in microphone, and camera. I’m being completely honest with you right now in saying that I don’t care for any of those. Am I being a fanboy when I say that? Absolutely not and here is why:

3G – I do not, I repeat, I absolutely do not want to pay on top of my already very expensive phone bill yet another data connection that I rarely use. I am one of those rare techies that do not need a constant 3G connection to remind myself of how important I am. In those instances where I do need a 3G connection, I mainly use it to only check my email and do some occasional radio streaming. With the Kindle Fire, I will be mostly using the device at home and so I have a constant Wi-fi signal. Yes, having a 3G data connection is definitely better than no connection but I just can’t see myself paying for yet another data plan. This is one of the main reason why I got the Wi-fi only Kindle reader. Although the 3G connection was provided free of charge from Amazon, the device itself was a little more expensive and so why pay for something I’m not going to use? I’m sure Amazon will provide a 3G version of the Kindle Fire in the future if the demands of this tablet skyrockets.

Bluetooth – One of the main purposes of having Bluetooth capabilities on a tablet for many is due to Skype. The Skype app definitely adds a huge benefit in allowing a tablet to make phone calls such as in the case with the iPad. I was a little sad at first when I learned of this but then I realized that I hardly even use Skype to begin with! Yes, it is nice to have calling capabilities on the Kindle Fire but I don’t see it as that important. I mean that’s why I have my expensive iPhone, right?

Built-in Microphone – Not having this feature means not being able to communicate with your Kindle Fire. That means no speech-to-text. Well, once again, this is not something that’s going to keep me up at night. I hardly even use speech-to-text that much anyways because it’s not accurate. By the time you correct your errors, you might as well just have typed the damn thing out instead. Of course, your miles may vary.

Camera – Here we go. This is considered one of the biggest missing feature of the tablet. Do you already have an idea of what I’m going to say next? *sigh* Yes, you’re right. I hardly care for a camera on my tablet because I don’t use it and neither do many other people who just wants a tablet to consume their media! Going by the price tag, even if Amazon did include a camera, I doubt it would be a very good one.

As you can probably tell by now, my main use of the Kindle Fire is to consume digital media. Of course, I was a little sad when I learned of all the missing features but then I looked at the $199 price tag and that immediately put a huge smile on my face once again. It’s very simple folks. If you cannot live without these features, the Kindle Fire is clearly not meant for you!

Amazon’s App Store

I admit that this is one of my biggest concerns at the moment regarding the Kindle Fire. You see, the tablet’s underlying structure is built upon the Android operating system. Amazon themselves don’t want to admit this openly but everyone pretty much knows this already. Initially, people like me got excited because as with most other Android based tablets, consumers get access to Android’s Marketplace which is the equivalent to Apple’s App Store. Sad to say it, this is not going to happen on the Kindle Fire. Instead, Amazon will force users to use their own app marketplace instead. You see, the biggest disadvantage of doing this is due to the many missing apps in the store. You have some of the more popular one’s such as Angry Birds and Pandora but many, many more are missing. In fact, I couldn’t even find the Facebook and Dropbox app! This obviously is a huge drawback because without awesome apps, the tablet loses a lot of appeal and potential.

The good news is that not all hope is lost. Once Amazon sees the demand for the Kindle Fire continue to grow, they will refine their app store and include many more popular one’s on there. At least this is what I’m hoping for. There’s just no way customers will be satisfied with Amazon’s app economy with the way things are now. No way. I have a lot of faith in Amazon because they rarely disappoint me and so I still decided to go with the Kindle Fire even though I’m worried about this issue.

Kindle Fire Apps

Prime Membership Trial

Included with every Kindle Fire purchase is a free one month membership of Amazon prime. For just an amazing price of $79 a year (much less if you are a full time student), you get free tw0-day shipping on many qualified items! I live in Hawaii so unfortunately, this offer doesn’t apply to us.

Where the Kindle Fire is concerned, being a Prime member also allows you access to over 10,000 movies and TV shows, all for free which does apply to me! I rarely go to the theaters anymore because they are just expensive and quite frankly, a lot of the new movies suck big time. Although Amazon’s library includes many old movies and shows, it actually gives me a chance to enjoy them as surely they can’t get any worst than the crap they put out today right? Plus with the Fire, I can now stream these movies comfortably on my couch or on my bed at night. Think of the library as Netflix’s streaming library. They have a lot of old stuff but once in a while, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a hidden gem. I doubt many people will sign-up for the Prime membership just to have access to this video library from Amazon but you can’t deny that it’s a huge bonus.

Please keep in mind that the Kindle Fire is geared towards Amazon’s own services first, unlike other traditional tablets. Amazon wants you to purchase content from them and from them only. Therefore, don’t be surprised if the Netflix app never make its way to the Amazon app store. Although it makes more sense for me to pay a little more per year to get Netflix’s streaming service instead of Amazon Prime, I would have no way to access the streams via the Kindle Fire.

UPDATE 11/09: Amazon just issued a press release today saying that big name services such as Netflix, Pandora, Twitter and Rhapsody will indeed make their way to the Kindle Fire, day one! This is huge!

UPDATE 11/11: Amazon just announced that Hulu Plus and ESPN Scorecenter will also be available when you get your Kindle Fire! Having both Netflix and Hulu Plus services on the Fire takes away most competitive advantage of the Nook Tablet.

Kindle Fire Prime MembershipIn the End…

I can hardly wait until my Kindle Fire arrives in the mail. Finally a tablet arrives in which many people will be able to afford. This isn’t just any ol’ third party tablet. It is backed up by one of today’s biggest company. Therefore, I don’t have to be afraid of the device becoming obsolete anytime soon. Like with many other devices, the entire experience is so much more than just the hardware itself. If you’re already bought in to the Amazon’s incredible ecosystem, the Kindle Fire makes perfect sense. If you are looking for a jack-of-all-trades tablet, you should definitely stay away. The $199 price tag makes this a perfect tablet for me because it can do the things I want it to do. Why pay more for things you’ll rarely use? When I’m not consuming an insane amount of eBooks and PDF documents, I can take a break and play some games and check my email while listening to my music collection. When I’m feeling brave at night, I’ll pick a random movie from Amazon’s Prime library and watch it on my couch or bed while all the time praying that the movie won’t disappoint me.

What do I think about the Kindle Fire at the moment? I think it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s definitely no iPad killer as many people immediately claim whenever a new tablet arrives in the market. However, do we really care any more? Does a device really have to beat another just so you can enjoy it? At first, many considered the tablet to be just another fad and that eventually, users will get tired of it. Well, that didn’t prove true at all. You’ll still have to pry my laptop away from my dead hands before I’ll let it go but you just can’t deny how beneficial a tablet can be. Initially, I didn’t care too much for tablets because I didn’t really give it a chance. As time went by, it really is the perfect device to consume all your digital media and content without having to lug your laptop around.

I want to conclude this article by saying this:

If you have no interest at all in any of Amazon’s plethora of digital services, the Kindle Fire will not be a tablet that you would likely want to purchase.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 Review

Although I admit that I have no particular use for a tablet, it is extremely cool and fun to own one. In my opinion, users get the most out of a tablet if they have a mobile lifestyle, which do not apply to me. For time wasters while on the move, I have my handy iPhone. Well, one of my good friend asked my help in researching of a tablet which he can use while traveling to different countries. He has a couple of requirements in that the tablet must be of relatively small size (convenience factor), takes a SIM card, has 3G capabilities and be able to make phone calls. Oh and of course, the tablet can’t break his wallet. Obviously at one point or another, we had to consider the iPad. The iPad is fortunately factory unlocked so you can use it in other countries and still receive 3G signals (as long as they provide SIM cards). My friend already has an iPhone so he’s familiar with the interface and how everything works, to a degree. Unfortunately, the iPad does not have native phone calling capabilities and requires a third party app (Skype). Also, not to mention the screen size was too big for him and the iPad 2’s Wifi +3G model was around $630. After a little digging around, we found the Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000. While this is an older model, it pretty much met all of my friend’s requirement as the perfect travel companion tablet.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 is the international model of the tablet as compared to the one being offered in the US. The former is unlocked and allows you to use any SIM card from any country and you’ll still be able to get 3G provided that the frequency matches as well (other restrictions may apply). The product comes as is from Amazon and there is no warranty on the product so purchase at your own risk! Be absolutely sure the product does what you think it can do before buying. Feel free to ask any question you may have and I’ll try to answer them as accurately as possible. You can purchase the Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 here on Amazon.

Bigger is Better?

You know how people joke initially that the iPad was nothing more than a bigger version of the iPhone but without the phone calling capabilities? Well, the Samsung Galaxy Tab (SGT) P1000 actually takes that meaning literally. It really is just a bigger version of an Android phone. For US versions of the SGT, Samsung decided to lock the phone calling feature. The P1000 is an unlocked model and with it, the phone calling feature also has been unlocked. This pretty much means that nothing distinguishes the SGT from a regular Android phone! You really can make a phone call on the SGT just like how you could on a regular phone! Before continuing, let’s take a look at the actual specifications of this tablet:

Size Dimensions
190.1 x 120.5 x 12 mm
Weight 380 g
Display Type
TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 600 x 1024 pixels, 7.0 inches
TouchWiz UI
Multi-touch input method
Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate
Three-axis gyro sensor
Touch-sensitive controls
Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
Swype text input
Sound Alert types
Vibration; MP3, WAV ringtones
Speakerphone Yes, with stereo speakers
3.5 mm audio jack
Memory Phonebook
Practically unlimited entries and fields, Photocall
Call records Practically unlimited
Internal 16/32 GB storage, 512 MB RAM
Card slot microSD, up to 32GB
Data GPRS Yes
EDGE Yes
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth Yes, v3.0 with A2DP
USB
EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900 MHz,
HSDPA 7.2Mbps/HSUPA 5.76Mbps Tri-Band 900/1900/2100 MHz

At 7 inches, this is the perfect travel companion. It does weight a little bit on the heavier side but holding it in one hand is still possible and doesn’t feel awkward at all. Here is a picture of what came in the box:

Unboxing

  • Electrical plug with US adapter (very nice!)
  • Samsung headphones
  • Samsung Galaxy Tablet USB cable
  • Samsung Galaxy Tablet
  • Quick start instructional booklet
  • Warranty information (only because I purchased through Amazon and not third party)

Right side with SIM and microSD slot:

SIM and SD slot

Right side volume rocker and power button:

Volume and Power

Left side with microphone:

Microphone

Bottom side with speakers and charging port:

Speaker and Charging port

Top side with 3.5mm audio port:

Audio Port

Samsung Galaxy Tab next to iPhone 3Gs:

Comparison

Android Operating System

This is one of my first chance at being able to spend so much time on an Android based device. After initial monkeying around, I really have to say that I am quite loving it!

Navigation

While Apple devices just give you one home button, the SGT actually gives you four touch sensitive buttons. At first, I didn’t know how to react since I’ve been using Apple devices for so long but after a while, I truly feel that it is far superior of the two. With four buttons, you have more control over what you are doing on the tablet. In fact, the home button on the iPad doesn’t do anything once you are in an app (pressing it will bring you back to the home screen). With the SGT, you have more control. The four buttons from left to right is as follows:

Navigation Buttons

Menu Button – Pressing this button immediately gives you options pertaining to that app or window opened. For example, if I am within the Gmail app, pressing this button will immediately give me option buttons to compose a new message, search my inbox, view my labels, refresh the screen and etc. Obviously all of these can also be done on the iPad as well but pressing the menu button is so much easier in my opinion.

Menu Button Options

Home Button – Pressing this button will bring you back to your home screen. What’s cool is you can press and hold the home button and the Recent window will popup. Within, it will show you what apps you have recently opened and you can quickly switch to any one of them with a click of a button. This is a very neat multi-tasking feature. The SGT also have a task manager! Inside it, you can view currently running applications and exit any one you choose to. You can also easily see the amount of RAM and CPU consumption a given app is consuming. Another awesome function is being able to clear the memory. If your device feels a little sluggish, clearing the memory of inactive processes can help.

Recent AppsTask Manager

Back Button – In my opinion, this button is the most useful. I really can’t explain how easy navigating the tablet has become just with the addition of this one button. For example, let’s say I opened the CNN app. Suddenly, I need to check my email so I open the Gmail app. After checking my messages, I simply tab the back button a couple of times and I am right back to whatever I was looking at within the CNN app. I could have also hold the home button and switch back to the CNN app but for some reason, I found myself using the back button the most. Yeah, I’m weird.

Search Button – The search button is one I use the least. If an app has search capabilities, pressing this button will immediately allow you to do just that.

Notification Bar – Many iPhone users jailbreak their phone and one of the first thing they install is SBSettings. This gives the user a drop down menu from the status bar which then allows them with a tap of a finger to control settings such as turning on/off their data connection, Bluetooth, Wifi, GPS etc. The Android OS has this feature built in and to access it, you simply swipe your fingers down from the top status bar. Once the bar slides down, you get to see your recent notification activities along with the ability to quickly turn on or off certain functions of the phone. This is much more easier to work with than the popup status alert messages/notifications on the iPhone. By default, these settings include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Silent mode and orientation lock. I’m sure with a little research, I can add other functionality as well to this notification area. This is extremely useful because who wants to dig through menu after menu just to turn a feature on or off?

Notification Bar

App Navigation and Uninstall

Of course, within the heart and soul of every tablet is the app economy. This is the first time I got to really explore the Android Marketplace and it’s very similar to the Apple Store. You can easily browse featured apps or you can browse through categories, which is how I usually do it. Each category itself allows you to sort via the top paid, top free, top grossing, etc. This makes it very easy for you to see what’s going on within the app world. Of course you can also search for a specific app as well. The one very cool feature I like about the Android Marketplace is simply the fact that developers can embed a Youtube video on their app page so that users have an idea of what to expect of it before purchase/download. It’s a very simple feature but one that helps tremendously. Although the marketplace doesn’t have as much apps as the Apple Store, let’s face it, many of them will never see the day of light. As long as the major apps are available on both platforms, I should be fairly happy. Quality over quantity!

FeaturedFilteredVideo Preview

As far as the app marketplace and whatnot, it’s very intuitive and I’m sure even novice users will feel right at home. Interestingly, navigating the apps after it has been downloaded is quite weird, at first. Newly installed apps don’t immediately place themselves on your home screen. You have to first open the Applications panel where you see all of your apps, find the newly installed app and touch and hold the icon for 2 seconds. The app would then stick itself on the home screen. On the home screen, long-pressing the app icon allows you to remove the app from the home screen by dragging the icon to the Remove icon. However, this doesn’t uninstall the app but only serves to remove the icon from your home screen. If you head back into the Applications panel, the app itself is still there. To actually uninstall an app, you have to first go into Settings, select Applications from the menu selection, then the Manage Applications option, and then you’ll see a list of all your third-party apps  on the device itself or on the SD card. Apple’s method of uninstalling the app right in the home screen is a lot more easy if you ask me but it’s not a deal breaker. Just something you have to get used to.

App Uninstallation

Widgets on the home screen is very useful. I really like the idea of Windows 7 Phone’s live tiles feature and the Android widgets is as close as I’m going to get. Whereas the traditional app requires you to actually open the app to view information, widgets give you a quick glance at some of those information without having to enter the app. For example, I can set a news app widget on my home screen that will show me the newest feeds. If an item interests me, I can click on it and it will then take me inside the app. Very useful!

Widget

Browser

I am very impressed with the default web browser of the SGT. It’s very fast and responsive.  Again, I was surprised at the speed because this is an older SGT model and so I didn’t expect a whole lot from it in the speed department. Also, it has Flash support so many websites that incorporate Flash (which many do) will look very close as if viewed on a desktop. Many websites do have optimized mobile versions but having Flash support does feel good nonetheless. Browsing once again feels very intuitive and if you’ve used a browser before on a touch screen device, nothing much has changed. Scrolling does feel a bit weird though. Sometimes, letting go of my finger after sliding down a bit to advance the page causes it to actually scroll like crazy. Of course, I’m not a power user so there’s definitely actions and gestures I’m not aware of but for the most part, I like it. However, I quickly installed the Opera Mini Browser (recommended by many) and am using that as of now.

Learning Curve

The Android OS definitely takes some time getting use to if you’ve been using Apple devices for the most part. Android just feels like it is more open (maybe because it is?) than the restricted IOS. Of course, that can also mean that there is a bigger potential for users to accidentally screw something up on the more open system. If you are familiar with using the Android operating system on a phone, you should feel right at home here. Like I said earlier, this really is just an over sized phone! I can’t help but keep comparing the SGT to the iPad because that’s what I was most familiar with prior to using this. But make no mistake about it. The Android OS definitely has a steeper learning curve than the IOS.

Misc.

– Making calls with the SGT indeed works after inserting in my AT&T SIM card. 3G also worked without any problems. While you could use the tablet itself to make calls, it is definitely better if you use a Bluetooth headset instead. If not, then the call will have to go to speaker and when you talk, you’ll have to make sure you are talking towards the mic, which is on the left side of the tablet.

– I was disappointed to learn that I could not charge the device via USB through my computer while the device is turned on. This however is not the SGT’s fault but that of USB instead. It just can’t supply enough power. However, the charge will go through once you shut off the device and plug the USB cable to the computer.

– Initially, I could not get Windows 7 to recognize the SGT. After some searching, I realize I had to download a driver of some sort to make it work. A forum suggested to download the Samsung KIES application. This application in similar to iTunes for the iPhone and allows you to transfer data to and from the SGT and your computer. Once installed, Windows 7 recognized the SGT and allowed me to transfer media to it. These can include your contacts, music files, photos, videos and podcast.

– Importing my iPhone contacts to the SGT was very weird. There are two main methods of doing so. You could either use iTunes to directly sync your contacts to your Gmail account or you could export the contacts to Windows, export them as a CSV file, and then manually import it to your Gmail account which would get synced on your tablet. I’ve tried the second method and the contacts were listed on my SGT but the many of the phone numbers did not show up!

– You really need to push your headphone jack into the 3.5mm slot to have a good connection.

Youtube Videos of the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Overall Thoughts

Android LogoAfter using the SGT for a couple of days now, I can say it was a very pleasant experience. This is great because I really want my next phone to be Android based and so this was a great trial run for me. Personally, I think the 7 inch tablet fits me more than the iPad being at 10 inch. The SGT is more low profile and the size is just perfect. Not too big so that it feels awkward in your hands yet not too small so that you have to squint your eyes to see what you are doing. I always thought a tablet was a device meant for media consumption and not creation and I still stand by that point. Nothing beats a mouse and keyboard. However, during those nights where you just want to lie in bed and watch a movie rental, it’s really hard not to whip out the tablet. I obviously still have much more to learn concerning the Android OS but other than the weird procedure of uninstalling apps, I don’t think I have much bad things to say about the tablet. Surely there will be things I won’t like about it but for now, it definitely feels exciting (yes I know, I’m late to the game) to use a device with a name that doesn’t start with the letter ‘i’ in front of it. There’s nothing wrong with those ‘i” devices, mind you. It’s just that you need a breath of fresh air once in a great while.

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Thoughts on Amazon’s New Kindle Lineup

Amazon made the Internet shake on Wednesday September 28 by announcing their all new line up of Kindle e-reading devices along with the introduction of their long rumored tablet called the Kindle Fire. Since I am a huge Amazon fan, I want to share some of my initial thoughts on these new devices. When I initially saw what was made available, I immediately nodded my head because finally, a company learns what is one of the most important thing a consumer looks for when purchasing a device (or pretty much any other thing in general): the price. While there are obviously tons of other things that have a impact on whether a consumer pick one device over another, you just can’t help but acknowledge that the price has a lot of influence. Within this article, I’m going to first talk about the all new Kindle electronic readers. Afterwards, I’ll talk about the Kindle Fire.

Killing Them Softly….

Amazon’s introduction of their new Kindle lineup pretty much just killed the competition. I mean total annihilation! There is just no way any other company who manufactures e-readers can compete with Amazon, especially with such a low starting price point. No way. Before we go into that, let’s actually take a look at the new Kindle’s starting lineup!

Kindle for $79 ($109 without special offers)

Kindle
You can get a lot more information on this Kindle model by visiting its main product page on Amazon here.

This is the lowest and most basic Kindle model. For only $79, you can own one of the best e-reading devices. Of course, being only $79, there will be drawbacks but if you sit down and look at the specifications, some of them may not even matter to you. For example, this Kindle model has no audio capabilities whatsoever. Therefore, you won’t be able to load your MP3 music onto it as there is no output speakers or headphone jack. Equipped with only 2GB of storage, some may consider that paltry. However, do realize that a eBook is very, very small in size and so it will take a lot of purchases for you to completely fill up the storage. Also, since Amazon keeps a backup of your purchases in the cloud, you can easily store what you want on the Kindle and keep everything else off of it. When you do need those items, you can easily re-download them via the cloud. As there is no dedicated keyboard, typing notes and whatnot will be a little more difficult as you now have to use the controller to navigate an on-screen keyboard (which always sucks).  However, if all you do is read and don’t have to take a lot of notes like me, this is a non-issue. Also, there is no 3G version of this basic Kindle model.

I think this entry level Kindle will be very hard to beat. Seriously guys, $79? This should make it much more easier for you to decide on whether to purchase it or not and if you do, you won’t feel guilty about it afterwards. If you so happen to lose the device, you can have a peace of mind that it was only $79! A lot of people were waiting for the Kindle to drop to that magical $99 price point. Well, Amazon has done that and more! Their new motto is giving customers premium products without premium prices. I really have to admit that I am a Amazon fanboy. I just can’t see how anyone wouldn’t be.

Kindle Touch for $99 ($139 without special offers and $149 for 3G version)

Kindle Touch
You can get a lot more information on this Kindle model by visiting its main product page on Amazon here.

The Kindle Touch is Amazon’s first touch screen Kindle. Barnes & Noble, which produces the Nook and is one of Amazon’s main competitor in the e-reader arena, already has a touch screen reader out for some time now. For only $20 more, you get a Kindle with more functionality and perks than the basic Kindle model. These include having the Kindle read to you (possible due to the external speaker), 4GB of on-board storage, and the ability to listen to your music via a headphone or speaker. Having the ability to use your fingers to navigate around the Kindle is a lot easier than say if you had to use a control stick. If you are one of those users who wants to get the most out of the device (for example, using it other than for the sole purpose of reading) than the Kindle Touch is definitely the model you want to get. Personally, I don’t care too much about having a touch screen Kindle because I fall into the group of users that only utilize the Kindle for heavy reading and not much else. Once I open a book, the only thing I concern myself with is the next page button and that’s it. Therefore, I don’t really benefit from the ease of navigation afforded to me with the touch screen. However, I would still need to get this version because I love to listen to music while reading. While I could use a different device, it’s much more convenient to do it on the Kindle.

The previous Kindle models will now become the Kindle Keyboard edition. If you want a dedicated keyboard without the touch screen, this is the model for you. It has dropped down to the $99 price point for the Wi-Fi only model with the 3G model becoming only $139.

Pricing is Everything

Like I said earlier, Amazon has gotten the e-reader market locked up with their new Kindle lineup. Sure, there are definitely other e-readers out there that achieves the same purpose of the Kindle but then they don’t have the same brand recognition as does Amazon, which is the biggest online retailer right now. Sony, Barnes and Nobel and whoever else making these devices really have to refocus their strategy. What I really like about the Kindles with the special offers is how unobtrusive the ads are. Amazon can help you save a couple of bucks if you get a Kindle loaded with advertisements. These advertisements show themselves when you turn off the Kindle (the screensaver) and on your Home screen page. It does not ever rear it’s ugly head in when you are actually reading a book! I’m hoping this is exactly how it works on the new Kindle lineup as well.

The iPad Competitor Has Finally Arrived?

The main attraction of Amazon’s new lineup of devices is without a doubt the Kindle Fire. People are already claiming this to be a iPad killer while many others think otherwise. In my honest opinion, this is far from being the iPad killer but then again, I don’t really think that was Amazon’s ultimate goal to begin with. The market is definitely big enough for two players. It seems as if Amazon is not really focused at what others are doing but only on how they should be doing. With the Kindle Fire, Amazon can really call it the perfect companion to the Amazon fan because it truly connects them with their digital content, which of course was bought or rented through Amazon themselves.

Kindle Fire for $199

Kindle Fire
You can get a lot more information on the Kindle Fire by visiting its main product page on Amazon here.

The Kindle Fire is a 7 inch tablet device that has a lot more functionality than the dedicated e-reading devices. One of the main differences is that the Kindle Fire has a traditional LCD display whereas the regular Kindle have a special e-ink display. This makes reading on the Kindle Fire for long amounts of time just as painful as on the iPad or on your computer. Whereas the original Kindle is mainly a dedicated e-reading device, the Kindle Fire allows for much more such as browsing online via Amazon’s special Silk browser, download apps from Amazon’s Android app store, and allowing customers to purchase music and watch movies online. In other words, Amazon wants you to buy the Kindle Fire so that you can access the other content you have purchased through the same company a lot easier. Many people compare the Kindle Fire to what the razor blade companies are doing. They practically hand out the shaving sticks for next to nothing while recuperating the costs by selling users the razor blades themselves. With that being said though, the Kindle Fire has a lot of things lacking once you take a good look at the specs.

After a quick look, the Kindle Fire will only include 8GB of internal storage space and lacks 3G, Bluetooth and a camera. This is surprising because how can this device compete with the iPad with so many features missing? The answer in my opinion is that Amazon isn’t trying to knock off the iPad, at least for now. Some are not even willing to consider the Kindle Fire as a true tablet device. I think Amazon wants the Kindle Fire in everyone’s hand because that way, they make more money in return since those customers will most likely be purchasing things directly from Amazon as well (the razor blade analogy). Also, the Kindle Fire really shows how Amazon is starting to lean towards cloud storage as a storage mechanism. No matter how you look at it, 8GB is not that much and so users will definitely need to get use to the idea of storing their data in the cloud.

The Kindle Fire is based on the Android operating system but Amazon doesn’t want you to think that. They have built and altered the operating system for their own needs and so the result is not a tablet or device that you would be familiar with just because you have used an Android device in the past. The Kindle Fire will include Amazon’s own app store so users can download apps just like how others can in the Apple Store and Android Marketplace. The very cool thing about this is that Amazon includes a special free app of the day that anyone can download and install at no charge. This is definitely enticing and helps promote different app developers.

Anyways, my initial take is that while the Kindle Fire cannot knock the iPad from the top of the tablet world, it can definitely give them a run for their money. In fact, I don’t even like to compare the Kindle Fire to the iPad. For $199, the Kindle Fire will definitely appeal to a much different crowd and that’s what it’s all about. Competition. I myself purchase a lot of things from Amazon and so I can see the appeal of the Kindle Fire. A lot of people have no use for a dedicated camera (like myself) and 3G as well (probably because they can’t afford it, like me) but I was a little disappointed with the Bluetooth functionality missing. Now that I do use. With Bluetooth, users can use Skype or another VoIP application to make phone calls. Rumor has it that Amazon will release a more feature rich tablet a little later on to cater to the hardcore users and so I think many people will wait things out a bit before putting their money down. I would gladly pay a little more for the added Bluetooth functionality, provided that an app in Amazon’s app store allows me to utilize it to make calls over Wi-Fi.

What This Ultimately Means

What Amazon did here is unique. We all know that both Amazon and Apple are power house companies. What about all the others? For many years, dozens of companies have tried to compete with the iPad and have failed miserably because they just don’t have what it takes. A very recent example of this is the HP tablet fiasco. You would think that if other companies can’t beat the iPad by trying to match their price point, what makes HP think they can do it? Of course, they couldn’t and decided to cut off the their tablet and this is only after 3 or so months after its release! The crazy part is they had to liquidate their products so they gave the green light to mark the devices down to only $99. Guess what. It flew off the shelves and was sold out everywhere in just a few days. Point I’m trying to make? Pricing is everything!

Now that Amazon offers their tablet for $199 and Apple for $499, anybody stuck in the middle is going to have it hard. Another big issue to consider is brand recognition. Even if a company manages to push out a tablet below the $199 price point, many users will still choose to pay a little extra more to get a Amazon-backed product. Some Android based tablets might be able to make room for themselves, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab but others will definitely feel the pressure in the tablet market. Amazon was smart and rather than pricing their tablet at near the same price point as the iPad, they choose to go the other route. I’ve always thought doing so, along with having a strong marketing campaign, can be the difference maker. Now that Amazon has done it, it’s only a matter of time to see if this strategy will play out as expected. There’s a lot more I want to talk about concerning these devices but don’t want this article to go overboard. Hopefully, Amazon will grant my wish and send me a review unit of the Kindle Fire once it releases so I can write about it.

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CopyTrans Manager for iDevices

It’s been a while since I used Sharepod to manage my iTunes music library. Why? Because it doesn’t work anymore with IOS 4 devices! It’s such a shame because that little utility was perfect for users wanting to manage their music library on their iPhone/iPod/iTouch/iPad without having to use iTunes. Your reasons for hating iTunes I leave completely up to you but for me, it just feels so bloated. Unfortunately, I have no choice but to keep using it on my computer because it’s the only way to sync apps and to backup my iPhone 3GS. However, that doesn’t mean I have to use every feature of that program. SharePod allows a user to independently manage their music library on their IOS devices manually without iTunes. SharePod hasn’t been updated in a while and at this point, I don’t think it ever will (developer probably dumped project) . So, I’ve done my complaining and whining like any user would who grew attached to a certain software that suddenly just croaked one day. It’s time to move on and find a different solution.

CopyTrans Manager

The answer to SharePod is CopyTrans Manager (CTM). It’s a stand-alone IOS device music manager similar to SharePod yet it doesn’t require iTunes at all. One thing I want to make clear right now is that one the biggest differences with SharePod vs. CTM is that the former is able to export songs from your iDevice back to your computer. This is useful, for example,  if your computer crashed and took all your songs with it. By performing an export of the songs on your iDevice back to your computer (once it’s fixed), you can rebuild your library. Interestingly, although SharePod doesn’t allow you to transfer new songs to your device, it still allows you to perform an export! Therefore, if you need to perform an export, you can use SharePod for that purpose. Or, you can support CTM and purchase the full version which allows you to export your library back to your computer for $19.99. CTM is completely free as is if you do not need these advance features.

One thing I do not like about how the company behind CTM operates is that they do not define what you are getting in the paid version vs. the free one. This makes it hard for users to decide which version is best for them. It would have been a lot easier on their customers if they had a comparison features list between the two different versions. You can download CopyTrans Manager from here for free. CopyTrans has a lot of other different products that also relate to how you can use your iDevice on your computer without the need for iTunes.

TM has both a full installation and a portable version of the software (Zip). I highly recommend you to use the latter. First, as with other portable software, there is no installation of CTM. Simply download the zip file, extract the single executable file within it and run it. That’s it. Secondly, you can stick this portable executable of CTM onto a USB thumb drive or directly within your iDevice and be able to use it to transfer songs to your device from almost any computer you use without having to re-download it. For example, if you’re on a friend’s computer and it just so happens that they have a couple of songs you want on your iPod as well, simply fire up CTM and drag the songs directly to your device and that’s that. No more messy iTunes syncing, worrying about whether your library will be erased or not, etc.

CTM DownloadOnce you’ve extracted the CTM executable, fire it up and you’ll be asked to plug in your iDevice.

CTM Main InterfaceOnce done so, CTM should immediately recognize your iDevice and present you with the media within it. From then on, adding new songs consist of just dragging and dropping them into the main library area and hitting the update button at the top. That’s it! However, CTM can do much more than just add and delete songs from your iDevice. You can also easily create new playlists, add songs to those playlists and even edit the metadata for your songs such as adding new cover art and track title information.

CTM LibraryMy iPhone library is pretty boring at the moment but CTM allows you to also add different media file types besides just music. Items such as audio books, video files, podcasts, TV shows and ringtones along others can also be imported with CTM as evident by the photo provided by CopyTrans on their website. If you right click on the column bars, you can choose from a big list of other status informations to help you organize your library.

There’s not much going on in the Settings menu. CTM works perfectly right out of the box and nothing needs to be configured.

CTM SettingsThere really isn’t all that much left to talk about with CTM. If you don’t like having the idea of using iTunes to manage your media, then you definitely need to give CTM a try. Even if you have no gripes with iTunes, you still might want to keep a copy of CTM on a thumb drive in case one day you need to transfer songs to your iDevice but the computer you’re on doesn’t have iTunes installed.

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Reclaim Space by Converting 1080p Videos to 720p

So one of my friendly clients got a new problem for me to solve. He uses a Sony digital camcorder that allows him to record videos in true high definition with a resolution of 1920×1080 (1080p). Well, he uses that camera a lot to record his dancing video lessons and suffice it to say, he is tired of not only having to make room on his existing hard drives for these humongous videos but also from having to buy new one’s. Prior to purchasing the camera, I’ve warned him that by recording in 1080p resolution, the file size for each video will be skyrocket high. He insisted that he wanted to record his videos in the best quality possible. Of course, I suggested to record in 1280×720 (720p) resolution but he felt that by doing so, he wouldn’t be doing the camera justice! Well, that was a couple of years ago. Today, he’s desperately seeking a solution to trim down his existing 1080p video library while still trying to preserve the quality of them. And yes, the process has to be as easy as possible.

Notes to Consider

– The videos I’m working with here consists of files made up with the .mts file extension. Consider this as the file container for the video file. The actual codec used to encode the video is AVCHD. If you also have a digital camcorder that can record in high definition, especially 1080p, there’s a good chance that your video files are also using the same codec and container. I cannot guarantee that you will get the same results shown here if your video files are of different types.

– I am basically cheating here by converting his original 1080p videos into a lower resolution of 720p. If you are put off by this tactic, then I apologize if you’re original intent was to keep the file resolution the same. After much debate with my client, I finally got him to agree with the downgrade in resolution. In fact, he doesn’t even have that many 1080p playback devices! He was just greedy with being able to record in the highest resolution possible so he took advantage of that without fully understanding the consequences nor the reasons for following that route. If you take a look at your video collection right now, ask yourself if every single video needs to be in full high definition.

– My friend was happy with the results of the conversion because the converted 720p file still looks very good when compared to the full blown 1080p version. Of course, your miles may vary and everyone has different opinions on what looks good or not. If you are curious as to how your converted video will look like, then simply follow the tutorial below. Your original 1080p file will not be altered in any way, shape or form so no harm will be done.

Using Format Factory

Once again, the utility I will be using to convert the videos will be none other than the super awesome Format Factory, my favorite media converter. Below, you’ll see the original file size of the video I am trying to convert. This video comprises of only about 2 minutes and 42 seconds of video footage! My friend’s digital camcorder records in files of about 12-13 minutes each before splitting it into a new file. Each file is about 3GB in size.

Original Size

You can download Format Factory from here. Post Format Factory installation, you’ll noticed the Ask Toolbar installed on your browsers along with your homepage being altered as well to the Ask.com’s search page. Although this is a very shady tactic of any software, you can easily uninstall the toolbar and reset your homepage to what it was before
  1. Open up Format Factory. One the left pane, simply select the “All to AVI” button.
  2. Click on the Output Setting button in the resulting window.
  3. You’ll see a lot choices and options to play with in the new window. We’ll need to configure only about 2-3 different settings. First is “Video Encode”. This is the codec used to encode our new video. Remember, AVI is the container but the codec is the setting that ultimately decides how our video will look. You can leave the option set to the default (MPEG4 Xvid) or use AVC (H264). I found the latter option allowed me to save a little more space as the resulting video was a bit smaller than one encoded with Xvid. However, the video looked the same when compared to each other.
  4. Next we have the “Video Size”. This option allows us to set the resolution of our video. I highly suggest you to select the 1280×720 (HD Device) option. 720p is still considered high definition. Of course, 1080p is better but the purpose of this project is to save space while still trying to preserve quality.
  5. The last option we need to set is the “Aspect Ratio”. The video’s I’ve seen recorded in 1080p or 720p for that matter usually yields a aspect ratio of 16:9. This ratio is meant for widescreen monitors. So, that’s the option I’ll suggest you to select here.
  6. Once we have selected our three options, hit on the OK button. Now we need to browse for our original video file to be converted. Click on the Add File button and browse to your video file. If you’re doing a test run, it’s best to just select a small sample file to convert first so you can preview the results. Hit OK once you’ve added your files.
  7. You should now be taken back to the home screen of Format Factory. Each video to be converted is considered a “job” or “task”. Hit the ‘Start” button at the top to begin the conversion process.

All to AVIOutput Setting ButtonVideo Encode OptionVideo Size OptionAspect Ratio OptionAdd FileStart Conversion

Video conversions are usually very CPU intensive. The bigger and better quality your original video file is, the longer it should take for the job to complete. Of course, it also depends on what options you have selected. Once you’ve gotten an idea of how long one video takes to be converted, the other videos (assuming they are of same quality and size) should take about the same amount of time.

Once the conversion process has finished, you can then access the video file. By default, Format Factory will store your converted files in:

C:Users* || username* || Documents|| FFOutput

Below you’ll see the file size for my converted video, which I’ve managed to shave off 310MB give or take, from the original:

Converted Video Size

Of course, it’s really hard for me to show you the video quality differences between the original video and the converted video so you’ll just either have to take my word for it or perform this little experiment yourself if you are looking for ways to shrink your recorded high definition videos. The process I’ve described above in my opinion is fairly easy to perform and I’m sure you would agree as well. I’ve managed to help my client save about 1/4 the hard drive space for each of his 1080p video file. So, for every 1080p file he had previously (each file being 12 minutes long and about 3GB in size), he can now fit 4 of them in its place. These savings are huge considering how much videos he has in his collection. I’m sure he had a lot of fun performing the conversion process. OK, maybe not.

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