One of the things that has been especially useful during the year of COVID-19 isolation has been my Kindle PaperWhite ereader.
I was an early convert to ebooks, and not just because I worked on ebooks at The Voyager Company. I’ve always had vision problems. Being able to set the font and size of type in ebooks has made reading much easier. I started buying ebooks first for my PowerBook 180 (Voyager’s Expanded Ebooks running on HyperCard), moved to a Palm PRC and Mobi ebooks, and now, read ebooks via my Web browser, my iPhone, my iPad, a Chromebook, and for the last year or so, my Kindle Paperwhite.
The Kindle Paperwhite was the first Kindle that looked even mildly interesting to me; previous versions of E Ink were, as a friend once said, “like reading wet newspaper.” The version of E Ink on the Paperwhite (E Ink Carta) is much better, though it still lacks the glorious readability of Apple’s Retina screens. The base model Kindle is still pretty poor in comparison to the cost, screen quality, and utility of the PaperWhite, especially if you have vision issues.
What convinced me to buy a Kindle Paperwhite was that it was clear that I was going to be away from my books for a while, without an easy way to go to the library, which means I’d be mostly reading ebooks. My third generation iPad, while extremely legible, is awkward to hold for long periods of reading, and not really a great option for reading in bed (though I still use it for image-rich ebooks, and digital manuscript facsimiles). The Kindle Paperwhite is lighter and easier to hold than my iPad and displays more text on a screen than my iPhone (which I still use to read ebooks regularly), which definitely offsets the poor image display, and the fact that it’s grayscale, rather than the rich Retina color display of my iPad.
The Kindle Paperwhite is Amazon’s mid-range Kindle e-reader, with higher resolution (300 ppi) than the entry-level Kindle, and a back-light. I didn’t get the 3G version with cellular access; WiFi and USB is all I need. The storage on my 2017 model is 4 GB, less whatever the OS uses; mine has several hundred ebooks, and about 2 GB of free space. The current Kindle PaperWhite holds base model has 8 gigs of memory and is a bit safer with respect to water than my previous generation PaperWhite. That said, I bought mine in 2017, use it daily, and generally get a week’s worth of reading before needing to recharge.
The 300ppi resolution, and the ability to set the darkness or contrast of the type, the type size and font (from a pretty decent list), means I can read the Kindle Paperwhite screen even without my glasses; the back light means I don’t need an external light source, and I can read the screen fairly easily even in sunlight.
My Kindle Paperwhite is perfect for late night and early morning reading. I can hold it with one hand, swiping to turn pages isn’t stressful for my hands (the high-end model, the Kindle Oasis has a slightly larger screen, more control over the backlight, and page-turn buttons). The back light isn’t bright enough to be disturbing to others but it’s bright enough. My Paperwhite holds enough ebooks to keep me happy even away from my own library and easy access to WiFi. When there is access to WiFi, borrowing ebooks via the public Library’s Overdrive collection is quite simple (I use Overdrive’s Libby app on my iPhone and iPad, and Mac, and can easily send books to my Kindle with Libby). I use Calibre to manage my own ebooks on my Kindle, which makes reading drafts of my own work very easy.
My Paperwhite has also helped my resolve to reduce my printed books to just the ones I use or re-read regularly, or that are otherwise not really suitable candidates for e-reading. More importantly, in the age of COVID-19, the Paperwhite has eased the misery of insomnia.
Buy me a Coffee! If you find this post or this site interesting, and would like to see more, buy me a coffee. While I may actually buy coffee, I’ll probably buy books to review.
I used an Amazon gift card to buy a DOSS SoundBox portable Bluetooth speaker in 2017 when I realized I would be away from home and my stereo for an indefinite time. It’s worked really well, a charge lasts me almost a week of a few hours of daily use, and it’s easy to set up. But the sound quality isn’t much of an improvement on the speakers on my Mac.
In November I used an Apple Gift card to buy an Apple HomePod Mini. It arrived today. You need to have an iOS device running iOS 14 to set up a HomePod Mini, but it took me less than 5 minutes, including unboxing. You unbox the Mini, plug it in to the AC adapter, connect the adapter to an outlet, unlock your iOS device, and hold it near the HomePod Mini. The iOS device screen instructs you to hold the iPhone so that you center the top of the HomePod mini in the camera’s view; you set up a room location (living room, etc,) with a tap in the iOS Home app, the HomePod gets your WiFi and Apple account data, and you’re good to go (though you can tweak Siri via the Settings on your iPhone).
The HomePod Mini takes up about as much space as a navel orange on my night stand. You can turn off Siri if you want, and just use your iPhone to send audio to the HomePod Mini. The top glows when Siri is active, and there’s a touch sensitive + and – to use as volume controls (or you can use Siri). Tap the flat area on the center top of the HomePod to toggle between pause/resume audio, double-tap to skip forward, triple tap to skip backwards. A long press puts Siri in listening mode (an alternative to using Hey Siri to signal Siri that you have a request).
The HomePod Mini sounds amazing. No, it’s not like listening to my stereo, or even high-end headphones, but it’s much better, richer and with much more range, than my Bluetooth speaker or computer, and Siri works surprisingly well. I’m delighted.
I’ve been exploring what Siri can do with a HomePod that I’ll find useful. I’ve added the Home.app widget to my Control Center. You can set options for room control and smart devices in the app. You can also play audio on the HomePod from your iOS device in several ways, including turning on BlueTooth and holding the iOS device near the HomePod to transfer currently playing audio to the HomePod, or vice versa. I should note that I have Apple Music, but you can also play music and podcasts you have purchased or downloaded on your iOS device (pod casts default to Apple’s Podcast app).
Things You Can Do with Hey Siri:
Play [Bruce Springsteen’s] latest album.
Tell me a joke.
What time [day, date] is it?
Play [RSVP] podcast.
Play Night sounds
Play Rain sounds
Play Ocean sounds
Play Fireplace sounds
Play Stream sounds
Play Forest sounds
Set up a Sleep Timer
- Start a track, playlist or ambient sound playing (Hey Siri play [Ocean Sounds Playlist]
- Ask Siri to set the timer: Hey Siri set a sleep timer for [45 minutes]
Siri will play the audio for the specific duration, then audio will fade out.
I wanted a way to see the time at night without constantly checking my phone. I was initially looking for an analog watch, but this Wirecutter review of alarm clocks caught my eye, especially the Oct17 Wooden Alarm Clock caught my eye.
The clock is shaped like a very large Toblerone chocolate bar, has a small footprint and can be set to display the time when you tap it. The wooden clock comes in several different finishes, including an attractive light bamboo. The time display is very readable, even without my glasses. The clock can be set display the date and time in alteration, or the time, temperature and humidity. The alarm sound (you can set several alarms) is really annoying, but the alarm would wake me up if needed. As the Wirecutter review notes, setting the clock is a little tricky; it’s modal and involves correctly pressing one of the three tiny buttons in the correct sequence. Setting the clock is manageable however, and for the price (under $20.00), this clock is a bargain.
The clock is powered by a USB cable and AC adapter plug; my clock arrived with a non-functioning plug, but the company replaced it immediately. The plug has a power light that shows when the adapter is working. The clock uses three AAA batteries as a backup power supply (not included). What I like best about the clock is that I have it set so the display is off unless I tap the clock, or make a loud enough sound to wake the display. This clock does exactly what I needed, is attractive, easy to read, and takes up very little space.
I couldn’t be happier.
I bought this NIXPlay Advance 10-Inch Widescreen digital frame for my mom after reading this WireCutter review of the Nix Seed. My mom doesn’t have WiFi, so the NIX Seed wasn’t an option for her. She loves her Nix Advance. It holds a giant amount of images and videos, and so the image is always fresh. And the clock function is useful too.
The NIXPlay Advance has a beautiful wide-screen display. The frame came with an 8 GB UBS thumb drive but it can also take SD/SDHC cards. It displays JPEGs and MPEG-4 videos, including sound. It also has a calendar and clock, and you can set the time to display on the lower right-hand corner. The motion sensor can be set for a duration so the frame display “sleeps” when there’s no one around to appreciate it. You can have the images and/or videos play back in sequence or randomly, with a variety of dissolves.
The remote is easy to use, as are the button options on the back of the frame. There are a variety of sizes and features available, including NIXPlay frames with WiFi support. It took me all of 10 minutes to set up the frame after coping files to the USB thumb drive that was included with the frame.
I wanted this for my mom, but it’s a great gift for grandparents or other relatives. Pick out the videos and images you want to display on the frame, then when it arrives, copy them to the included USB drive or (the cloud for WiFi versions) and they’ve got a gift rich with memories and joy. Plus, it’s easy to pop the drive off the back of the frame and freshen it with new images. There are a number of options in terms of NixPlay digital frame sizes and WiFi support, including both smaller and larger frames.
- Photo & 720p HD Video Playback: Mix photos (JPEG) and video (MPEG-4) in the same Slideshow.
- 1280x 800 High Resolution IPS (16:10) LED Backlit Display
- Hu-Motion Sensor: Turns the frame on when you enter the room and off when you leave the room, with several durations.
- 8GB Thumb Portable Thumb Drive Memory Included, frame accepts USB & SD/SDHC Card.
- Small well-designed remote control, with batteries pre-installed.
- Clock/Calendar Function, Stereo Speakers, Full One Year Warranty.
The Brydge iPad keyboard began as a Kickstarter project. New owners based in Singapore took over in 2014, and the current models are improved. You should look at the Brydge Keyboards Website for a high resolution tour of the Brydge keyboard models. Better still check out this video.
There are three versions of the Brydge iPad keyboard:
• Brydge+ with Speakers $99.00 USD
• Brydge+ Speakerless $89.00 USD
• Brydge+ Polycarbonate $79.00 USD
These prices are current as of today; the usual list prices are $149.99, $139.99, and $99.99. The keyboards are compatible with the iPad 2, 3rd and 4th Generations.
Brydge sent me a Brydge+ with Speakers and the Brydge case for the covered iPad for review. I’ve tried two iPad Bluetooth keyboards that function as a cover, the Adonit and the Zagg, and the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. The Brydge Keyboard is, for me, the best of the three. There’s a lot that I like about it, but the primary feature for me is the keyboard feel. The keys can stand up to serious typing, from a rapid typer. While it’s not as comfortable in some respects as using Apple’s standard Bluetooth keyboard, the Brydge is portable, and realistically, the Apple is not.
What’s In the Box
The package comes with the keyboard, a quick start guide, a micro USB charging cable, and shims. The shims are silicon caps that slide over the aluminum hinges on the Brydge depending on whether you’re using an iPad 2 or an iPad 3 or 4.
The Brydge + is made of anodized aluminum, with a look that matches the iPad case of my iPad 3 exceedingly well—it’s very Apple like in look and in feel. The Brydge has rubber feet on the bottom of the Brydge, and small rubber pads below the keyboard on the palm rest so that the screen of your iPad doesn’t contact the keyboard. Depending on which iPad you’re pairing the Brydge with, you slide the shims on the aluminum hinges, then slide your iPad in the slot of the hinges, turning the iPad so the camera and controls are not covered by the hinge of the Brydge.
Pairing With Bluetooth on your iPad
The instructions for pairing the Brydge and an iPad are very clear, and fairly standard. However, the built-in speakers on the Brydge need to be paired separately, though, again, the process is standard and the directions are straight forward.
This is not a standard keyboard layout. It has a number of special function keys for the iPad:
- Home | Displays the iPad home screen
- Brightness | Up and Down keys control the iPad screen brightness.
- Keyboard | Hide/Show Hides or shows iPad on-screen keyboard.
- Slide-Show | Plays a slide-show of saved pictures.
- Search Displays the iPad search screen.
- International Keyboard | Toggles between international keyboards (Depending on the iPad’s Settings International panel).
- iTunes keys | Previous Track, Play/Pause, Next Track, Mute, Volume Up and Down.
- Lock | Toggles Wake/Sleep on the iPad and displays the Lock screen.
I really like the responsive feel of the keys on the Brydge compared to other iPad keyboards I’ve tried. I’m accustomed to using a laptop keyboard, and am quite comfortable typing on an 11 inch keyboard. I adjusted very quickly to the Brydge keyboard. Now, having said that, the first hour or so I used the Brydge, I twice hit the special Lock key on the top right, which triggers the iPad’s lock screen. I very quickly adjusted to being slightly more cautious about which key I hit when aiming for the Backspace key. Some reviewers had difficulty hitting the Shift key, since the up-arrow cursor key is just to the left of the Shift key; this wasn’t a problem for me, but I routinely type on small keyboards. Even placing the iPad with the Brydge on my lap and keyboarding, the Brydge feels solid and stable. I did find myself forgetting that I wasn’t using a laptop in that I would attempt to use the non-existent touchpad, instead of using the iPad screen. I especially like the presence of the standard Mac Control, Option and Command keys; the presence of standard Apple keys are one of the reasons I like Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard so much. It’s enormously efficient to use standard keyboard commands for Copy and Paste while editing images, for instance. You have the image editing advantages of the iPad’s touch screen, and the advantages of the keyboard as well. The cursor keys are also extremely useful.
The sound is surprisingly good, much better than I expected. It’s certainly more than adequate for watching videos or films, playing games or casual music listening. The angle of the iPad seems to affect the acoustics in positive ways. You can toggle the Brydge speakers off and on by pressing Control-B on the iPad keyboard. Pressing and holding Control-B will un-pair the speakers so you can pair another device. The speakers don’t automatically pair; you need to deliberately pair them if you intend to use them.
Battery and Charging
Once the Brydge is paired and connected with your iPad, the back of the iPad becomes the top of a clamshell. “Closing” the clamshell by lowering the iPad until it touches the Brydge keyboard works much like closing a magnetic-hinged iPad cover; the magnetic hinge on the Brydge tells the iPad to sleep. The Brydge automatically sleeps if it’s on and not being used for a few minutes. Pressing a key (and waiting a second) wakes the Brydge. Pressing Ctrl-B on the keyboard for a few seconds turns the speakers back on.
I used the Brydge and the iPad for most of my computing this past week (the exception was using SFTP). That includes lots of writing, not only blog posts, but email and longer pieces using several apps. The fact that the Brydge supports standard Mac keyboard commands for italics and high ASCII characters makes it easy and efficient for serious writing. I also listened to music, watched videos, and finally, had to resort to streaming music for the last two hours in order to run down the battery and see how long it took to recharge. The recharge to a full battery was a little over two hours. I absolutely believe that casual use would allow the battery to remain charged for weeks.
I am really impressed with the quality of the Brydge manufacturing and design. It’s style is very much in line with Apple’s iPad aesthetics. The Brydge keyboard feels really solid, though I would have expected a warranty longer than six months. This is by far my favorite of the portable iPad keyboards I’ve tried, and compares very favorably with a quality laptop keyboard. I’m now deeply curious about the low-end polycarbonate model; it strikes me as the perfect companion for a student using the iPad to take notes etc.
Another Macworld buying guide round up from Dan Frakes: Find the Best iPad Keyboard.
Since I’ve replaced my iPad 1 with an iPad 3 [sic], I’m thinking about buying a case and an Apple Wireless keyboard, instead of the Adonit WriterPlus or the ZaggKeys ProFolio+. That’s not because I no longer like the Adonit keyboard/case, I do like it, but I’m traveling less and writing more on the iPad as I use it almost as much as I use my MacBook.
In the course of working on an article about the iPad and various stands, I discovered that two of my favorite stands from Belkin, both designed for kitchen use, are on sale at Amazon at pretty decent discounts.
First, the Belkin Kitchen Cabinet Mount for iPad 2. As you can see from the image, this is a stand that attaches to a kitchen cabinet. A strong but adjustable clamp grips the cabinet, and the iPad goes in the rubber-coated brace. The brace fits tablets ranging from 7 to 10 inches, so it would work with other tablets. I like very much that the Cabinet Mount is designed to be installed and removed fairly quickly without tools, so that you could stash it in a kitchen drawer and set it up as needed. Belkin’s list price is $49.99; Amazon has it for $33.31.
I also like the Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus. (Amazon for some odd reason calls it the Belkin Kitchen Stand and Wand“). It’s a stand that allows you to use the iPad on your kitchen counter, with a companion stylus, keeping the iPad out of the way, yet usable, and food-free. Right now at Amazon, it’s $21.98, vs the list price of $39.99.
I note as well that for those with a spare iPad 2 lying around, the Belkin Fridge Mount for iPad 2 is pretty nifty. It uses removable 3M mounting strips to attach the mount to the fridge, and the mount has magnetic clips that use the built-in magnets on the iPad 2 to grasp the iPad.
Increasingly, people are using iPads for creating content, as well as reading and viewing content. While the iPad digital keyboard is nifty (especially if you know these clever typing shortcuts) a stylus, or keyboard, or keyboard-and-stand combination can all make writing, editing, and creating on the iPad much easier. Dan Frakes has a thorough review of iPad keyboards in his Macworld Buying Guide: iPad keyboards. Frakes also favors Adonit’s Writer folio case and Bluetooth keyboard, the one I wrote about here and have been using quite happily (though I’m still planning to pick up Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard to use with my iPad and with an iMac).
For non-keyboard cases, this Macworld Buying Guide: iPad Cases seems to be the most thorough and helpful collection of reviews. I might as well confess that Apple’s red leather smart case for the iPad 2 (or possibly the navy blue leather one) are awfully tempting—though not quite enough to tempt me into buying an actual iPad 2. Instead, I bought a padded neoprene slip cover case that neatly fits in the padded laptop compartment of my backpack. That said, I’ve been eyeing the design-your-own cases and protective hard shell covers from Zazzle and Cafe Press.
My current obsession, personally, is with the utility of using a stylus to write and draw on the iPad. I’m about to post a review of the Griffin GC16040 Stylus for iPad/iPhone and Other Touchscreens. I’ve been fascinated to see how well it works, and yes, the Griffin Stylus really is an asset. I note that once again the Macworld Buying Guide: iPad Styluses seems to provide the best coverage.
At the high end, they like the Wacom Bamboo (and it’s available in multiple colors) at around $25.00. I’ve heard good things about Wacom’s Bamboo Stylus from others too. I note that a lot of my friends are buying the BoxWave Capacitive Stylus; like the Griffin Stylus, it’s about ten dollars, but the Boxwave comes in colors, and people seem to be buying two or three at a time.
I finally received my Adonit Writer I. The Adonit Writer I is a Bluetooth keyboard and cover combination. So far, I quite like it. I note that the keyboard, while it has a nice response, is very small and won’t work well for some users without a lot of practice. I’m accustomed to using laptop keyboards, and was fairly comfortable after about ten minutes.
I do notice that I need to be very careful about bumping the screen lock key when reaching for the Delete key. Oddly, some of the iPad’s keyboard shortcuts, like pressing the spacebar twice for a period and trailing space don’t work.
But The Adonit Writer makes things like blogging much easier than using the digital on-screen iPad keyboard. I’ll likely keep trying other keyboards as well, but I was primarily looking for something to use while away from home, and the Adonit Writer I does look like it will serve that purpose quite well. I’m still thinking about an Apple Bluetooth keyboard for home use as an alternative to my laptop, in case of emergency.
Adonit makes the Adonit Writer for iPad 1 for first generation iPads, and Adonit the Adonit Writer 2 for iPad 2 for second generation iPads. Both are available from Amazon.
I’m looking for an iPad keyboard and case combination. It’s for a first generation iPad, and I’m trying to decide between the Zaggmate and the Adonit Writer for iPad 1. They’re both about the same price. Here’s the official Zaggmate page, and here’s the official Adonit Writer page
I note that the Adonit for the iPad 1 is a bit scarce, though you can still
Charlie Stross says of the Zaggmate:
If you can cope with a small keyboard with non-standard cursor keys and want a keyboard case, the Logitech/ZaggMate case wins hands-down. With the iPad in the case, its dimensions are very similar to the iPad with a standard cover. Probably not as good for sustained typing as the Apple and Targus keyboards.
But Alex Piper brought the Adonit to my attention, so now I’m looking really really hard at it. Alex notes:
My issue with the various soft Bluetooth keyboard cases was that they felt strange and mushy. My issue with the Zaggmate was that awful lip on the edge of the keyboard. Neither applies here.
The keyboard feels good and solid, at least with the use I’ve put it through so far; better than the keyboard on my real netbook (Dell mini 9), in all honesty. When you open the case, it ‘sticks’ magnetically into whatever position you’ve picked, so it stays put. The response is excellent, and if you can type on a small keyboard like an eee PC or a mini 9, you’ll have no problem with it.
This is a review of the Adonit Writer.
I want an iPad keyboard and case combo for travel purposes—or I’d just buy an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, because for someone used to typing on laptops, it’s a limousine.
And yes, I’m even open to buying Apple’s Wireless Keyboard and a separate case for the iPad and keyboard.
So: What are you using? Do you like it? What do you suggest?buy the Adonit Writer for iPad 1 at Amazon.