Apples, Rokus, Kindles and Netflix Oh My

I love my Roku box. The Xbox 360’s recent update for Netflix was wonderful but I still need my Roku for Amazon content – namely the current season of Walking Dead. Why oh why must I wait until February for new episodes? I also need the Roku for my weekly Revision 3 content (HD Nation, Film State, plus Epic Meal Time for my daughter). Roku also has hundreds of other channels to try if you get bored with Netflix and Hulu Plus.

Roku now has an app for your the iPhone, iPod, and iPad to use them as a remote. It can be used on all Roku boxes and even multiple Rokus if you are so inclined. You can use gesture control and add channels. For those of you with Android phones (or like me, have the new Kindle Fire), a version is coming soon (we are the redheaded stepchild).

Amazon has sold millions of the new Kindle Fire so I would expect big improvements shortly. This past week in addition to the daily freebie, they have been running daily 10 cent promotions on at least three different programs a day. I had to erase season 1 of The Walking Dead from my Fire just to fit all the games I’ve been trying. The downside is that Puzzle Quest 2 finally showed up on the Fire and I have a hard time justifying a $4.99 purchase when all my other games are $0.10 or free.

Netflix has also had a major update (2.0) for the iPad. This update is very similar to the one they just did on the Xbox 360 and is a nice little Christmas present for iPad owners.


Lying with Numbers – Kindle Fire part 2

The other day I posted about the nifty Kindle Fire my wife bought me.

The Fire comes with a free month of Amazon Prime. If you order from Amazon regularly then Prime is fantastic. You get free streaming videos (more on that in a moment), a lending library for Kindle owners (one book a month), free two-day shipping on all orders, and one day shipping for $3.99 an item – all for $79 a year ($6.58 a month).

Here is my favorite nitpick. I cannot stand when people use numbers to effectively lie to people. It’s not that the numbers are wrong, it’s that they carefully phrase things so that the numbers are meaningless. Amazon Prime offers free streaming of over 10,000 movies and TV shows. This makes it sound like a competitor for Netflix.

Let’s start with a favorite of mine – the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now you might think this is one of the over 10,000 or you might think that it was seven if you were inclined to split up the individual seasons. In actuality this counts as 144 of the over 10,000 as Amazon counts each episode of a TV show. With many of the TV series carried by Amazon counting as over a 100 choices each, that 10,000 number is far less impressive. Lumping movies (which count as 1 each) with the TV shows makes the numbers meaningless. To add insult to injury, where they have an HD and a normal version both are counted.

If you want a better breakdown, a simple search reveals that they have 2,323 results under Prime eligible movies. Mind you this is an absolute maximum number as many TV episodes are listed singly under movies for some reason. Their TV section lists 903 titles and is mostly broken down by season.

Hopefully Amazon Prime’s instant video section will expand rapidly. I don’t understand why they don’t have a full catalog of public domain titles. I am concerned that because Amazon likes to rent and sell movies a la carte that there is less incentive to improve the free section. On the other hand Amazon embodies both the Netflix buffet approach and Blockbuster’s gouge them for every penny and we all know who won Netflix vs. Blockbuster.

How to Kindle a Fire

“There’s a nice deal on a Kindle Fire. That’ll make a great coaster for my iPad” – Stephen Colbert

I’ve always been a little jealous of my wife’s iPad. She uses it every night while we sit in front of the TV and surfs the web with big bold print, uses her blog reader, or just plays Bejeweled. A new iPad was definitely not in the budget this year but my wife saved her scheckels and kindly bought me a shiny new Kindle Fire from Amazon.

Kindle Fire: Everything I think about the Kindle Fire seems to have a but attached.

The Kindle Fire is a great price ($200 for a tablet versus a minimum of $500 for an iPad) but it does come up short against the iPad. The 7″ inch screen is a wonderful upgrade from a smartphone but print is still ridiculously small on most websites I tried. Yes you can enlarge the print and scroll around with your fingers but this is imprecise and a little cumbersome (but far superior to a smartphone).

The “revolutionary” Silk browser is not ultra-fast as Amazon claims. Firefox on my computer loads much faster. Silk is supposed to learn from your browsing history and speed up – I have only tested it a little bit so maybe my speed increase will kick in later. I certainly like the idea of a browser accelerated by Amazon’s servers. Silk does support Flash so that is certainly a point against Apple.

If you are used to Apple’s App store then Amazon’s App choices will seem a joke. Yes they do have the ubiquitous Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. Still one of the things I most  liked about the iPad was the ability to play board games. I looked up Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. All of them are available in nice editions on the iPad but none are available on the Fire. You can get Monopoly and Scrabble but I don’t care for Monotony and I don’t play Scrabble because of the rampant availability of cheat programs.

Fine – I went to my back up options. I looked up Puzzle Quest, Galactrix, and Puzzle Quest 2. Still a no-go on the Fire in spite of them being available on numerous other platforms. I went back to my trusty Plants vs. Zombies. It looks and plays great but it only has Adventure mode – no Zen garden and no mini-games which, as you might guess, are my favorite parts. Hopefully Popcap will update this like they did the iPod/iPhone version.

Amazon does feature a FREE app every day which is very nice. I always use my Fire daily if only to snag the freebie. I even got Bejeweled 2 for FREE and it is much better on the Fire than on a smartphone. I look forward to Amazon’s app store filling up at some point.

Netflix and Hulu Plus work great and are easy-to-use. The 7″ Fire screen is absolutely gorgeous. I was surprised to find how enjoyable the screen-size was. Sound is only okay as half volume is inaudible and full volume is just a normal level (mind you the family does accuse me of being deaf – personally I can’t hear them).

If you own movies and/or music from Amazon then it is very easy to transfer them wirelessly to the Fire. 8 gigabyte is not a lot but it fits all 13 episodes of The Walking Dead from Amazon plus two movies. Transferring movies from your computer requires a micro USB cable. I have one but have yet to try this feature as I suspect that I will have to play with video formats, sizes and resolutions.

Verdict: The Kindle Fire is no iPad killer and doesn’t even really play in the same ballpark. It is however an incredible value if you use it as a traveling movie machine with games. Also buying a Kindle Fire leaves you $300 to do something silly like feed your family.

Note: While I am critical here of the Fire, I am enjoying it quite a bit and am bound to enjoy it more as the Amazon market matures.