Sunday, July 27, 2014

Small eReader, Large Smart Phone, Both, or Neither?

Money is no object.  Money is a subject.  Okay, those lines are really bad, but I needed to say something about it up front.  In considering your optimal portfolio of gadgets, of course how much they cost matters.  I couldn't call myself an economist and assert otherwise. But in this brief review, I'm not going to consider how much things cost.  I will focus entirely on the convenience need and ignore the cost side of the equation.  Before getting to the review, let me note here quickly where the cost side will ultimately show up.  It will either impact the number of gadgets you use regularly or the average age of the gadgets you use.  And then it might also impact the quality of the gadget at the time you make a replacement purchase.  At the end of this piece I'll review the gadgets that I have, just to illustrate these points.

A little more than a week ago I got an older version of the Kindle Fire.  It's 7" screen fits within the small eReader category in my title.  I promised a review of that product.  I might still deliver something specifically on the Kindle Fire in the near future.  But I thought this post might be more useful.  The ultimate message is that what works for you will depend ultimately on your use patterns, which are likely to be fairly idiosyncratic. That will matter more than that some technology is simply better than its competitors.  So what follows are a few of my idiosyncratic uses.  Here's one quick technology point first.

There is a great deal of overlap now in function between eReaders and smart phones.  If you need to have the phone function itself for texting and the occasional voice call, you might wonder whether you can get by with just the smart phone and no eReader.  The Kindle app on my iPhone works reasonably well, but reading in the Safari browser does not (the font is just too small.)  It is also true that you have to scroll more or less constantly with the Kindle app on the phone, since the screen doesn't hold that much text (at the magnification where I can comfortable read it.)  So for me, the phone is not sufficient, at least a phone that is of regular size.

What about having a large size smart phone?  Here is my first idiosyncratic use.  I like to walk outside, then listen to music from the phone while I'm walking, with my earbuds plugged in and the phone in the left pocket on my shorts.  (The right pocket is for wallet and keys.)  I tried slipping the Kindle Fire into the left pocket.  It is possible, but it is clunky.  The bulk of thing would be too noticeable while I'm walking.  Conceivably one might have a large strap on the left arm that would mount the larger device.  Or perhaps it could be placed in a backpack.  I've not tried either of these alternatives.  My Kindle Fire does have wi-fi but doesn't have a data plan associated with it, and I don't intend to purchase such a data plan.  Yet much of the music I listen to while walking is from the Internet.  So I'm in no rush to perform the experiment with the backpack.  In the meantime, I'm pretty much convinced that for me I will stay with a regular size phone when I replace the current one, sometime this fall. 

I have tried the alternative (using a laptop instead) and for an eReader it is much more convenient to use a "slate" device, with no keyboard.  This is especially true if you are not sitting at a desk.  When I am at home I will read quite at bit at my computer, but then I will also bounce between several activities, a geezer's version of multiprocessing.  When I am not in my office and sit in a comfortable chair with the eReader, I'm more prone to read and bounce less that way.  (I wish I could say I don't bounce at all, but that is not true.  And sometimes the bouncing is directly caused by the reading; I want to check a reference that occurs to me based on something I just read.) 

If my eReader use were at home only, there would be no reason to have a small one; the larger the screen the greater the fraction of time spent reading, with less time spent for advancing pages or scrolling within a Web page.  The virtue of the smaller screen is for mobility.  The device weighs less.  This fall I will teach with my laptop, but also have my phone and my eReader with me, so after I'm done teaching I might simply hunker down someplace and read for a while.  For the laptop I also carry around power cord, external mouse, VGA adapter and HDMI cable. Adding the Kindle Fire in with the rest of the stuff shouldn't make the bag too heavy.

What if I weren't teaching?  Would I then need the laptop?  One of my other idiosyncratic needs is the writing of blog posts, as long or longer than this one.  I want to do that at a keyboard.  While I've tried email posting to the blog, it really screws up the formatting that way.  So I prefer to compose my blog posts in the browser and use the Blogger editor for that.  I did just verify that the Kindle Fire browser works for posting in Blogger.  (Safari on the original iPad did not.)  But with the on-screen keyboard, that leaves very limited screen real estate for what's already been written, and typing is slow with the on-screen keyboard.   So if I'm in town, then my preference is to compose my posts on my home computer.  In that case, I really wouldn't need the laptop away from home.  Nor would I need it on the road if there weren't going to be substantial downtime where I'm alone with my thoughts.  On a more lengthy trip, I'd use both the eReader and the Laptop, and I'd have the phone with me too.

Let me switch to a discussion of battery management.  Last spring when my house was being renovated, I came to campus on a daily basis just to avoid the construction noise.  I was on campus from something like 9 AM to 4 PM.  What I discovered is that my laptop didn't have enough juice for all that time.  So I would have to find a place where I could plug it in while using it to give it a recharge.  But my preferred spot was in the Business Instructional Facility, where it wouldn't be plugged in.  So I learned over time that If used the screen of the laptop for reading/writing but used the phone for listening to the music, then I could make things last longer.  For reasons I don't understand, listening to music on the phone, even when the music is streamed over the Internet, doesn't suck too much power.  The phone can otherwise go into sleep mode.  The music still plays then.  The phone uses a lot more juice if you make regular email/facebook/browser checks.  You would do all of this if the phone were your only device.  What I'm saying is that a multi-device approach with use in parallel is a good strategy for power management.  But you do need to have a bag with your to tote everything around.

I promised a list of all my devices.  Let me begin with the three that are long in the tooth but still functional in some respects, and are still somewhere in the house, though I no longer use them at all.

Defunct Devices

Original Kindle
iPod Nano
Original iPad

A nostalgic reader might find this mockumentary mildly amusing.  It is from spring of 2008 and explained how I then used the original Kindle in tandem with the iPod.  The iPad allowed for only one device and had other functionality as well.

Current Devices

iPhone (about 2 years old)
Sony Vaio Desktop (Windows 7 Home Edition, Office 2010, 20" screen, 4.5 years old)
Sony Vaio Ultrabook (Windows 8, 11" screen, not quite 1 year old)
Kindle Fire (7" screen, only a couple of weeks old, but last year's model)

Let me close with one final thought.  Should your devices all be from one vendor or should you deliberately opt for some Apple, some Microsoft, so Amazon, and let's not forget Google, though I don't have a Google device now?  The argument for staying with one vendor is plain enough - it's easier to have fewer operating systems to learn.  The argument against is that the vendors go in and out of vogue and if you want to to get seems like the best deal at the next time of purchase, you need some flexibility in your use.  I hate to be locked into a vendor.  But I've also turned into an old dog.  So it's a conundrum.

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