Should I buy the new Kindle Fire?

November 22, 2011

Well, it depends.  What do you want it to do for you, and what problems with your current devices are you looking for it to solve?

My Kindle Fire arrived at noon on Friday, and it hasn’t left my hands since.  (Full disclosure: I paid full price and am not being compensated by anyone for this review.) I use my smartphone, laptop, and desktop every day, for different uses, but I bought the beautiful new Kindle Fire to help me in a very specific instance:  to consume media and keep up on my social media networking while I’m relaxing or otherwise away from the computer.

The 7.5 inch screen (the size of three iPhones together) is welcoming and easy to read, the perfect size and weight for holding in your hands, whether sitting or relaxing comfortably or standing in line for an appointment.  The Kindle Fire has a glossy glass screen, black case, and a state-of-the-art dual-core processor, changing the quiet e-reader Kindle experience into more of a multi-media internet experience, capable of meeting most of a casual internet user’s needs now – and hopefully all of our social needs shortly, once their apps store is more mature.  Indeed, when I think about how I plan to use this tablet, e-reading is just one of my options.

In just four days, the Kindle Fire has already become my go-go device for games, movies, social networking (albeit not with some adaptation), notes, reading web pages or books online, and keeping up with my friends’ blogs – and knowing the number of blogs I’d like to read every day, that alone would be worth the $199 investment!

The Kindle Fire excels at:

  • Quick launch – the device and its apps and browsers are up and running in under a minute;
  • Quick loading of web pages – they say, thanks to the Amazon Silk browser.  For independent testing, you’ll have to look elsewhere, but the described approach is way cool and the reason I bought mine.  Since the browser relies on past visits to web pages to “preload” your requests in the cloud, my Fire is still “learning” my favorite pages, but I am very excited about this!;
  • Easy access to your most-used applications – placed on the bottom shelf of the Kindle’s bookshelf-like opening screen.  While this is really a grid, of course, it makes it look both homey and high-tech.  Flipping through the apps with a flick of the finger makes them fall gently to the side, not unlike the album imagery on the iPod and iPhone;
  • Immediate access to Yahoo mail – keep the Yahoo app on the bottom shelf, and you’re up and running in less than a minute.  Read, reply, forward, it all works fine, and the built-in virtual keyboard (standard layout) means you won’t lose any time typing.  Email triage is easy using the Fire, just like on smartphone; answer or delete the easy ones on-the-go, and you’ll have more time for the ones that spawn work back at your desk.  While a major drawback is the lack of a gmail app, Gmail can be accessed easily via the “web” tab at the top of the screen;
  • Blog reading – the screen size is perfect for reading two or three column blogs!  I can read most blog posts in a single screen and then scroll to the comment area to leave comments easily, in type large enough that I can see what I’m saying.  You smartphone commenters know what I mean – this solves the problem!  I’m already reading more blogs than when I primarily used my smartphone to check in on my friends – and leaving comments is a perfect gift for the holiday season;
  • Movies or TV using the Netflix app – while I’ve seen others complain about quality, I only experienced pixelated viewing for a moment while the selected movie loaded; after that, it was beautiful viewing and I could hold the screen in my hand;
  • Movies and TV shows from Amazon – tens of thousands are free with an annual subscription to Amazon prime.  A 30-day subscription comes with the device to encourage users to get used to it and make it their go-to subscription site.  Since we already pay for Verizon, which includes on demand, and Netflix, I don’t see our family continuing this additional $79 subscription unless it proves much better than Netflix, but it’s an option.  Without Amazon prime, individual tv episodes are $1.99 and movies are $2.99;
  • Games – Angry birds, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles look great on this tablet, 3 times larger than the iPhone.  I would show you with a picture, but my kids are pretty busy playing the birds in the background so I can write this post;
  • Ereading – Now, my husband was an early adopter of the first Kindle, so he should be here selling the virtues of ereaders for reading books on demand, but this is the first time I’m dipping my book-loving toe into the waters of reading books on anything but paper. It’s taking some getting used to, but the instant gratification of going from a conversation on Facebook about a new book to actually reading the first chapter for free in a matter of seconds is pretty amazing.  Plus, for me, I can now read all his purchases for free 🙂
  • Ereading for less – There are an incredible number of books available from the Amazon store for under $4, but new books are often $10-$15, offering savings over their dead-tree cousins, but not as much as one might expect.  The Kindle does let you borrow books from your local library, happily – and from other Kindle users once a month!;
  • Ebooks – Small ebooks are everywhere now, and the Kindle Fire helps me read them easily and quickly. The more difficult part is finding quality ebooks on interesting topics; but
  • Buying Kindle books from the Amazon storefront is easy peasy.  In fact, buying *anything* from the Amazon storefront is very, very easy, as my first-day-of-Black-Friday purchases (with free two day shipping, or $1 song credit for free regular shipping, included with Amazon prime!) can attest.  (Oops.)

Despite Kindle heritage, the Kindle Fire is built on the Android platform, making this essentially a first generation tablet, with all the expected issues.  The two major flaws are the accuracy of the virtual keyboard and the immaturity of the app store.

On the keyboard:

  • I find myself leaving periods between words instead of spaces.  The space bar must be just a little shorter than on the iPhone or my desktop keyboard, which will take some adjustment on my part; and
  • Clicks and taps on the touch screen are not always acknowledged; some are missed, while occasionally the screen catches up and whisks me away to a site I selected over a minute ago.  This is disconcerting, but they should be able to fix it with a software patch.

The Appstore for Android (note: not the Android Market) is pretty small, particularly for someone used to the bounty of the iPhone. Major apps are still missing, including Facebook, Twitter, and gmail.

  • The Kindle Fire comes preloaded with what looks like a Facebook app, but get this – the app is actually just a shortcut to the Facebook web site!  It loads m.facebook.com quickly, sure, but there is no interface especially sized or suited to the Fire;
  • The “Twitter Mobile Web (Kindle Fire Edition)” in the app store is again just a shortcut to the Twitter homepage.  Now that is Just. Not. Right.  (and also an explanation for why I haven’t been on Twitter this weekend, but that is going to change!);
  • There’s no Tweetdeck app for Fire either, but I’m enjoying using Seesmic for the first time in place of the native apps, and hoping that Tweetdeck, Facebook, Gmail, and the others create Fire-friendly apps very, very soon.

In the end, the Kindle Fire is a fantastic e-reader, blog reader, and shopping device that also handles email and games very well.  It fails on social networking sites (other than blogs) only because of the apps currently available in its app store; I hope that this will be remedied soon so that I can recommend it wholeheartedly.  If you’ve been putting off buying an e-reader or you’re frustrated with the options available for reading blogs away from your desk, the Kindle Fire may just be the answer for both your next purchase and what to buy that special someone for the holidays.


500 Acres and No Place to Hide

September 12, 2011

500 Acres and No Place to Hide - book When I picked up 500 Acres and No Place to Hide a few weeks ago, I was expecting a fish-out-of-water book, like Betty McDonald’s 1945 classic The Egg and I, or beloved columnist Jeanne Marie Laskas’ 50 Acres and a Poodle.  You know, city girl turns farmgirl — and hilarity ensues.  I was looking for a comforting, slightly funny book, and I’m happy to say that while this book was both, it was also so much more.

The book starts where Susan McCorkindale’s first book, Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl, leaves off, with Susan and her family firmly planted in a wonderful old farmhouse (Nate’s place, as it conjured up images of where Nathanial Hawthorne might have lived) in rural Virginia.  Susan is having trouble with her archenemy, the chickens, who roost in her windowboxes.  It gives them comfort, you see, and they insist upon it, as they’re still a little disturbed from a bad night when the fox visited and took out the rooster and six hens (the seventh died later of minor injuries).  Still shaky from that night and afflicted with poultry PTSD, they roost in the windowboxes and stare at the chicken coop until they get so peeved that they attack each other.  Again.  So off Susan goes, to replant the pansies.  Again.  But Cluckster just can’t leave well enough alone, and ….

Trust me.  By the time you’ve finished the first few pages (and the hilarious footnotes that could give Shallow Gal a run for her money), you’ll be entranced by this tractor tell-all detailing the life of a fashionable 30-something who trades in a comfortable life in the suburbs for the hard work of a farm – but won’t give up her heels.

The book is thoroughly up-to-the-minute, with occasional emails of the day’s happenings, frets about Facebook friendship and which truths to post, blogging bits, and even a recipe for the Hemingway Daiquiri, created by the good ladies of the Solomon Schechter Day School book club in New Milford, New Jersey, who the family left behind in presence but not in spirit.  Every detail rings true and believable, and whether she’s wearing one of Mommy Needs a Cocktail’s sweet t-shirts, sweating as photographer and friend Kim teaches Jazzercise, or planning to turn the bird-friendly storage shed into a completely modern dance studio, the reader feels right there alongside her.  And that is a hilarious – and comforting – place to be, as I found out at her book signing and reading in Georgetown last Wednesday.  Just look at all those books of hers behind us!

SusanMcCorkindalebooksigningsept72011

The tone changes a little – just a little – in the last third of the book, when Susan’s beloved husband Stu is diagnosed with cancer.  The neat thing is, LIFE GOES ON.  The animals still have to be fed.  The children still have to do homework.  The tractors still need to be driven, and we still see Susan traipsing around the chicken coop in heels, flustered chickens flying about her knees.  Just as they did before.  The difference is, now Susan becomes the primary farm manager and, gradually, her husband’s caregiver.  Don’t stop reading – there’s something important here.  In one of the first passages where cancer is mentioned, Susan berates herself for not counting the pain pills left in the bottle before the weekend.  A refill, of course, is a big deal, since we cancer patients need opiates and those scrips have to be picked up in person.  And, as you can imagine, the oncologist is not just around the corner when you live on a farm.  She makes it hilarious, but also teaches us just a little about the extra details that pop up when you’re both partner and caregiver, and I APPRECIATE THAT more than I can say in words.  LIFE GOES ON after cancer, and sometimes, it’s still even funny. 🙂 Susan manages to stumble over tragedy, confess her writer’s block, and then move on with both the book and with life, and for that, she is one of my new heros.

Disclosure:  I absolutely adore this book.  I was sent a copy of this book for review, but I loved it so much I bought two more copies for gifts on Wednesday and spent my day at chemo talking it up to all the nurses.  They were delighted that both cancer treatment and pallative care were mentioned in a positive light, and I agree with them wholeheartedly.  This book is a winner, and it’s a great idea as a holiday gift for bloggers, for families with cancer, and for anyone who deserves a little more laughter in their life.  


Ready for Summer!

May 27, 2011

Susan May 2008, post-surgeryHere at the WhyMommy house, we are totes ready for summer!  We have our flip flops, our summer t’s, and our rashguards all out and ready for action — and this weekend we get our first taste of the lazy hazy days of summer.

What’s a rashguard?  I was asked that twice this week, so I want to show you.  You can see the general look in the picture at the left, one of a very few that we took after my double mastectomy, when I was nervous about going to the beach with the beautiful people.  I had lumps and bumps everywhere after surgery — except in the places you’d expect.  But I wasn’t ready to give up on the beach or the pool forever.  In fact, we were headed to the beach to relax and recuperate!  After some conversation on twitter and the blogs, we came up with this solution — and now, I’d recommend it for anyone who’s tired of feeling overexposed at the pool.

A rashguard is like a t-shirt made of swimsuit material.  You can get them fitted to your body for serious swimming or looser (unisex style) for additional coverage of post-baby tummy or post-mastectomy scars.  I *adore* the rashguard look and the ease of which the kids and I can get ready for the pool – there’s no struggles with vast quantities of sunblock on their pale tummies and backs anymore, or worries about missing a spot, because except for their limbs, neck, and face, they’re covered!  We can be ready in a flash — everybody throws on board shorts (the boys) or bikini bottom (ok, that’s me) and their rashguard t, and we’re off to the pool!

Ah, summer.

This post inspired by Curvy Girl Guide’s Project Real – National Swimsuit Confidence Week!  Real women all over the internet are donning swimsuits and showing the world that it’s ok not to be perfect or to look just like the models in the catalogs.  The project is popping up on blogs all over and has even been covered by Marie Claire!  I’m not part of the campaign — I’m just a fan!  Let’s get back in the pool! 


Giveaway: Blue Man Group

March 19, 2011

Blue Man GroupHave you heard?  Blue Man Group is coming to the Warner Theatre in D.C.! 

Five years ago now, when my oldest child reached toddlerhood, I bought him length after length of PVC pipe* and connectors and let him bang away to his heart’s conent.  We connected them together to make all kinds of shapes out in the yard, rolled marbles through them, and draped fabric over them to make a tent.  He giggled uncontrollably, and so did I. 

We had a fabulous time.  When my friend Marty heard about our fun, she kidded that Widget would grow up to join the Blue Man Group one day — not exactly my vision as I was standing in Ace Hardware buying random hinges, connectors, dowels, and pipe for him to play with.  But once I clicked on their site on the web, I was blown away.  Awesome.

It’s five years later, and I’ve still never been to a show.  Have you? 

Would you like to go?  I’ll pick a random winner from the comments here on Monday at noon EDT, so leave me a comment if you’re interested and available Wednesday night, March 23, for a show at the Warner theater in D.C.  Blue Man will be playing here until Saturday, April 2, and you can get $5 off with the discount code BLISSFUL on shows Wednesday, March 23rd, Thursday, March 24th, and Sunday, March 27th.  Call 800-551-7328 for tickets. 

* I’ve since become aware that PVC pipe is not a good plaything for toddlers because of all the chemicals.  But Boomwhackers are an awesome substitute — and they make REAL MUSIC!  Thanks, Marty for the tip and that long-ago gift — ours have been well-loved!

** Ticket giveaway provided by Blue Man Group.  I have not been compensated for this post in any way; it just sounded like fun.  For additional chances to win, enter the contests at Tech Savvy Mama, I’m Not the Nanny, and Suzie Reviews.