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Books on a Phone; Bye Bye, Stanza; Hello, Kobo!

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PART I: BOOKS ON A PHONE

I use my iPhone heavily for reading books. It may sound strange and the general perception of straining your eyes may lead you to think of this as an unhealthy practice. However, on closer examination you would realise that text size on most phones’ eBook readers is scalable, which means that you can resize the font to any level you’re comfortable with. Another reason why people are shy to jump into this domain is because they believe that most phones’ screens are too small to practically read books. In fact, this isn’t the case at all! Most of today’s smartphones are perfect for reading. Think about it; when you’re reading a physical book, your window of attention doesn’t encapsulate the entire page. It doesn’t even cover half the page in most cases. The window of attention is just a tiny block covering four to six words sideways and two to three lines vertically. In this way, a phone’s screen is a very suitable medium to display Books. A third argument people pose against reading eBooks is the concept of the phone emitting harmful rays that damage the eyes. Well, scientific research has shown that this is just a cautionary tale and has no basis to prove its validity. Also, reading in dim light also doesn’t cause any damage to the eyes. Often, my parents tell me to switch on the lights when I’m using my phone in the dark. When I tell them that the light’s purpose is to bounce off non-luminescent objects so that our eyes can perceive them and that phone-screens produce their own light, they don’t seem convinced and remain worried πŸ™‚.

Well, coming back to reading eBooks on one’s phone. If you’re somehow taken by the idea of switching your reading life over to the electronic world, but are inhibited from taking the next step because you don’t have an iPhone or a fancy Android phone, don’t worry! Before I had the iPhone, I had the Sony Ericsson K810i. This phone supports Java applications. There’s a PC application called TequilaCat, which allows you to convert text/doc/pdf files into mini Java apps. You can customise these JARs to the font size, font colour, screen colour and other formatting of your choice. It’s such a wonderful application that I have read at least five books on my K810i without any problems at all. TequilaCat books will work on most phones that support Java apps.

PART II: BYE BYE, STANZA

Last night, I upgraded my iPhone to iOS 5. In the process, I lost the untethered jailbreak that I’d been clinging on to since iOS 4.2.1. I didn’t have much to regret, however, since most of the jailbreak features I’d been using on 4.2.1 have now been covered by iOS 5, out of which, notifications is the most important.

However, one thing hit me like a punch to the jaw by Iron Mike: Stanza, my favourite eBook reader no longer worked. On launching, I got an unwelcoming Unhandled Exception popup, which kept reappearing every time I touched Continue. If you haven’t heard of Stanza, understand that it is a beauty of an app. In my opinion, iBooks, Apple’s own eBook reader is a feature-lacking skeuomorph that doesn’t do any justice to book-lovers. It may have a fancy page-turn effect for aesthetics, but what else does it have? The margins on iBooks are too wide and leave very little space for legible text. The page turn effect is irritating to initiate and is very distracting. Moreover, there is no option to turn it off. Stanza, on the other hand, allows to you to choose between a page turn effect, a slide effect (which is what I had used) and no effect at all. It lets you categorise books based on title and author. It allows you to edit book titles, modify author names and download book covers from within the app. Not only this, but it also lets you transfer your ePubs via iTunes file sharing. iBooks, however, relies on the clunky sync-through-iTunes method. It ties you down to one computer. It’s pre-historic and over-promoted. Stanza did everything to satisfy my reading needs. I was not at all prepared for the shock I would receive after the iOS 5 update.

Frantically, I Googled “Stanza iOS 5 Unhandled Exception” and started racing through forum posts to find some answer. Any little fix! There was none. I found out that the developer who created Stanza had been hired a while ago by Amazon – makers of the Kindle eBook reader. Now, Kindle already has an iPhone app and it could have been a conflict of interest situation for the developer to have continued working on Stanza. In effect, this means that Stanza may never recover. However, many forum users pointed out that there’s another app called BlueFire. Although this app isn’t as good as Stanza in terms of editing titles and changing their book-covers, it does the basic job, at least better than iBooks. However, I didn’t like BlueFire enough to make it my prime Reading app. The page sliding was clunky and uncomfortable, the menu was too distracting and the settings were not extensive enough. I needed something that would fill the gap between Bluefire and Stanza.

PART III: HELLO, KOBO!

Kobo. Kobo is an eBook reader made by Toronto based Kobo Inc. Kobo is an anagram of Book. Very pretty. Kobo, however isn’t nonsense. I had heard of the app before, but had never bothered to download it since I had Stanza to do my bidding. Last night, I reached out to this neglected child after the first born had abandoned me πŸ™‚ . Kobo has proved to be an exceptional eReader app. I must confess that it’s better looking than Stanza. It’s got a good choice of settings where I can change the font size and brightness. It lets me flip to night-mode (light text on a dark background) and a sepia background. In addition to that, you have a choice of four fonts. The text renders beautifully and the app hasn’t crashed (yet!) However, the thing that I like most about this app is the vertical scrolling ability! I can’t tell you how badly I wanted this. Every other eBook reader has a somehow inexplicable page-turn concept, where after finishing a block of text on the screen, you have to swipe horizontally to encounter another block. On a psychological level, this didn’t feel very satisfying and it fragmented my reading experience. I had previously read many books on my computer. There, the natural tendency for me was to scroll vertically. Why would I ever want to flip horizontally across unsatisfying chunks of text? The good people at Kobo somehow read my mind and their app lets you scroll vertically for the entirety of a whole chapter, after which, you touch the > button to go to the next chapter and start the process all over again.

One shortcoming I noticed in Kobo was the inability to search books. Yes. You can’t do a random search via text. You have to scroll through your book-list. You can’t sort by author and you most definitely can’t edit book-info and author-info. Downloading book covers is out of the question. However, as I have mentioned above, I was looking for something that filled the gap between BlueFire and Stanza. Had Kobo been as good as Stanza, it would’ve been number one since the beginning, as it scores better in the looks department. However, now that big brother is ill, little brother can have its moment in the sun. Let’s hope the developers see this as an opportunity and enhance the app. So, until the next big thing comes out, Kobo is my eBook app of choice, and it may even continue to be so because of its vertical scrolling feature.

If you have tried any of these apps or know about a better eBook app, please do share your experience. Also, do let me know what you feel about reading eBooks in general. Do you find reading eBooks emotionally satisfying? Or do you prefer the charm of flipping pages while sipping on a coffee, never worrying about running out of battery?

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Written by parrymathur

October 15, 2011 at 1534

Posted in tech

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The Daddy of the Mac

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[UPDATE, 6/10/2011: Steve Jobs passed away on 5th October 2011]

The picture above in itself is iconic. It shows some of the most influential entrepreneurs of the internet age, dining with US President Barack Obama, toasting to the digital future that they’ve partly helped to shape. On the night of 17 February, 2011; Barack Obama, during a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, hosted a dinner for the country’s top tech CEOs. The guest-list included Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and the iDude himself – Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs. These are the people who carry the internet-age’s torches in their hands, leading the pack from the front. This fact itself makes one want to print this photo and preserve it in a scrapbook. However, what this photograph is being increasingly noted for is something else. Seated to Obama’s left is a frail gentleman dressed in black shirt that seems a size too big for him. Although we can only see him from the back, his forearm looks like it could use pounds of flesh. If the media is to be believed, Apple CEO and co-founder Steven Paul Jobs may have as little as six weeks to live.

This is what you get on Google Suggest when you search for “Steve Jobs”

In January this year, Steve Jobs took a medical leave of absence to focus on his health. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, and has since undergone a liver transplant in 2009. A few days ago, The National Enquirer – a US tabloid that prints what to sane minds appears speculative nonsense – stated that Steve Jobs may only have six more weeks until he meets his maker. The Enquirer’s analysis was based on following Jobs around for an entire day, taking pictures of him and then handing them over to the two Doctors Gabe Mirkin and Samuel Jacobson to analyse and comment on. None of the doctors are oncologists or have met Steve Jobs personally [SOURCE]. Although most – including me – would be quick to dismiss the Enquirer’s report as trashy speculation; many people are genuinely worried that there could be a hint of truth in this report.

Steve Jobs is a man who has created magic partly with his two hands and mainly with his hundred billion brain-cells. He founded the company in 1976 with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. The rest, as they say, is history. Under Jobs’ dictatorship leadership, Apple created products that weren’t just state-of-the-art, but were eons ahead of anything that people had ever seen. In 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh – a computer like none other; a computer that cast the template for how a personal computer should be. After Jobs was fired in a boardroom coup in 1985, Apple entered a slump-age. They briefly made innovative products like the PowerBook, which set the standards for the design layout of the modern laptop; however they soon ran out of ideas and were termed a dying company. The company’s rise to profitability was seen soon after Jobs was re-hired in 1996. As soon as he became the CEO, he tightened the leash on the company and made sure that they products they made were top-notch and utterly desirable. Using sharp marketing, creative design and clever business strategy, Apple brought to us some of the toys that consist of many a kid’s and adults’ festival-dreams. The iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad are some of the objects that redefined how we use digital technology. All of this has been the handiwork of one man – Steve Jobs.

His charisma is incomparable. It is under his leadership that Apple has entered the Golden Age it is in. The man knows how to sell what he makes, and he does it well. Blame Apple all you want for being too secretive, too patent-hungry, too greedy and too restrictive. Tell Steve Jobs all you want that his cell phone doesn’t even have FM radio and can’t send files on Blutooth; but the truth is that you can’t stop drooling when a shiny iToy is dangled in front of your face. You want it, and you want it bad. The polish and refinement that is put into iProducts is what gives them the edge. Their fine attention to detail and an uncompromising attitude towards quality shows well in the gadgets they make. Who calls it an MP3-player? All portable music players are called iPods, whether they’re made by Apple or not. The iPhone was followed by the blackberry-touch, Android-based touch phones and Windows Phone 7 – based touch phones. The iPad was quickly followed by a worried Samsung with their Galaxy Tab. HP and Dell joined in the panic soon by making the Dreamscreen and the Streak. If Apple will make a car, they’ll redefine it, and everyone else will be quick to copy them. You can thank Steve Jobs for that.

Some would call me a (very devout) fanboy after reading the last paragraph. I’m not. The only Apple products I possess are an iPhone 3Gs and a now defunct iPod nano 4G. Like most people, I’ve cursed Apple for their restrictive policies, I’ve vented my frustration at the fact that I can’t do my own battery-removal, and at times, I’ve regretted the lack of FM in my cell phone. However, the last paragraph doesn’t lie. It tells the tale as it is. You’ll still drool when you see the new iPhone 5 if it launches this summer.

It’d be a sad and abrupt end to the Golden Age of Apple if the S-man passes away too soon. Again, like most people, I don’t believe in a single word the Enquirer has printed based on their long-distance diagnosis. They may have swayed the AAPL stock a bit, but that should be it. I hope Steve Jobs recovers soon and comes back to running the show at Apple for at least another ten years. After all, who would want to see a presidential toast to the digital future burn to a bitter-crisp?

Written by parrymathur

February 18, 2011 at 2352

Samsung Galaxy 5 – Android Awesomeness

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Recently, my mom’s stone-age Nokia whose name I cannot even remember, had started giving her problems. She had really been wanting a new one, and I had my eye on Samsung’s Galaxy 5 smartphone as the perfect choice for her. The Galaxy 5 is a Corby with engines replaced. Instead of Samsung’s propreitary OS, it runs Google’s Android 2.1 Γ‰clair. At INR 9000, it is the most affordable Android smartphone in the Indian market. So Today, on the occasion of Vijaydashmi, I went to my local Mobile Store and bought it.

The phone delivers all that it promises. Samsung has cleverly lowered the processor speed, screen resolution and camera resolution of higher end phones , and has crafted a power-packed smartphone that is affordable. Its touch screen is not disappointing at all. Unlike most inexpensive touch phones, where you need to press hard and coax the UI to budge to your commands, this phone glides as smooth as its big brothers: The Galaxy S and The Milestone. I am really happy that Samsung has taken this step to increase the reach of its smartphones farther across its market. This phone is an excellent choice for anybody who wants to experience quality mobile software at a budget or someone who wants to make a switch from Nokia. I daresay, at the risk of being mauled by Nokia fans, that this is a good alternative to the E63. It lies in the same price-bracket, is more feature-rich, and adds a much needed touch of coolness to a smartphone.
For detailed tech-specs, you can see GSMArena’s listing for this phone at: http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_i5500_galaxy_5-3371.php

Android’s an awesome platform. So people who’ve got E63s or Corby’s on their minds should definitely consider this first.

Written by parrymathur

October 17, 2010 at 2232

Posted in tech

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