Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why I'm Returning the Kindle Fire

When Amazon announced the $199 Kindle Fire, it was the first time I was intrigued by a tablet other than the iPad. I'm a big fan of the Amazon value proposition and I was impressed with their focus on content consumption at a reasonable price.

I didn't have any disillusions about the device being an iPad replacement. I had plans for it being two things: A kitchen counter web browser usable by everyone in the family -and- a replacement for our portable DVD player.

But as it turns out the device doesn't provide a very satisfying web browsing experience and (due to the fragmented content marketplace) it's not a very good value as a portable video player.


Leading up to the device's release there was a lot of information swirling around about which Android apps would be available on the device. By default, you purchase apps through a special section of the Amazon App store, and there are indeed a number of apps there.

But as you push forward and attempt to make the Kindle Fire perform like your iPhone or even your iPod touch you start bumping into limitations. Read this article to get a sense for what it's like install non-approved Android apps on the device. Within an hour of opening the box I'm wandering around the web learning about .apk's, sideloading, and rooting. The fragmented app situation on the device is a total mess.

Web Browser

Amazon made a big deal about the "Silk" web browser when they announced the Kindle Fire. It was said to speed download times as it predicted where you were going to browse next. My complaint isn't so much with the time it takes pages to load as with the lousy overall experience of navigating web pages on the device.

Often you have to tap on hyperlinks several times to be effective, Apple's brilliant "double-tap" to fit a column of text gesture is missing, and some pages don't function properly. I thought the larger screen size would enable the Fire to be a usable web browser, but on the contrary, the device is slightly worse than a 3 year old 2nd generation iPod touch - which has a much smaller screen - in terms of web browser usability. Browsing the web on an iPhone 4S is a much more pleasant experience than on the Kindle Fire due to the iPhone's speed, excellent page rendering, responsive touch screen and intuitive and effective gestures.

Since web browsing was one of the primary things I was looking for in the device it's a big disappointment.


I've never owned an e-ink Kindle, but so many people say they love theirs, I figured this device was a good time to get in on that experience. Unfortunately I'm not feeling the magic. I thought it was pretty nice that I could borrow "Moneyball" for free from the Amazon Lending Library with Amazon Prime, but I find the experience of reading on the Fire a little awkward given how heavy it is.

Compared to an e-ink Kindle, the battery life of the Fire and lack of 3G connectivity is also a concern. I think I'd be better off getting an entry level Kindle e-reader - they start at $79now.


Next to the web browser this was my second area of interest and also a big disappointment. Video playback looks great and purchasing/renting content from Amazon is a breeze (if you know what you want, navigating the Amazon store for free content is still a bit of a morass in my experience).

My beef is with the still-fragmented market for digital content. It's still often cheaper to buy a hard copy than it is to rent or buy. Take for example Rio. $8.99 to buy the DVD (free shipping with Prime) or $14.99 to buy the digital copy. Cars 2 isn't available for purchase - you have to rent it at $3.99 a pop. I see similar with books.

I can guess why this is, but it doesn't make me any more enthusiastic about accepting it. Until it's more convenient and affordable to buy digital content it feels like digital just doesn't make sense yet.

Ripping DVDs for playback on the device is also a complicated mess. After experimenting for a day with the best file format and resolution I still can't get a video to make use of the full screen. It's a total pain in the neck.


The magazines I want to read (for example Wine Spectator) aren't available. I want a model where I pay one price for a subscription and I can consume it any way I want to. Print, online, on the go. I don't think this is any better elsewhere but it's certainly not good on the Fire.


It's not so much that the Kindle Fire is a lousy product. It's that Apple spoiled us and Amazon is doing the best they can within the confines of the ecosystem they're operating within.

It's been magical watching our kids intuitively navigate their way around the iPod touch and iPhone. The Kindle Fire has them peppering me with questions about why things don't work. "You've got to tap it a few times sometimes," says our 6 year old. The iPhone found the perfect intersection of being intuitive, looking gorgeous, and being immensely effective.

About the only thing I like about it is the random high resolution images that greet you after waking the device. Unfortunately, the novelty wears off as soon as you swipe your finger across the device and you're reminded of the laggy, herky jerky responsiveness you experienced last time you touched it.

My experience playing with the device the past few days has made me appreciate what a breakthough device the first iPhone was. And what an amazing device the iPhone 4S is. The core interface of the iPhone hasn't changed much since it was released - it's just gotten better and better. Will Amazon be able to pull the same trick? Release a valiant 1.0 and continually improve it through software updates? We'll see, but I don't think I'm going to be along for the ride.


74/100 points - Not Recommended

Here's a link to this same review on Amazon.com

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Who and How Much? Replacement Windows from Newpro, Marvin, and Window World

It's amazing how when you're shopping around for an expensive item or embarking upon a home improvement project how businesses that never crossed your mind suddenly catch your attention. Or should I say consume your attention. For about three weeks this Fall I became Mr. Replacement Windows as I sought replacement of 4 windows in our 1940s New England colonial home.

Hurricane Irene was the straw that broke the camel's back. Of the four windows in the modest addition that is my home office, one had a cracked pane, one was extremely hard to open and now that the wind was blowing rain sideways, one leaked. It was time to replace these 4 double-hung 6 over 6 windows. Who to call?

When it comes to a job like this I like to call out the most familiar in the field -and- a reliable contractor I'm familiar with to get a sense for the cost of the project.

With that in mind I called up Newpro on Red Sox color commentator Jerry Remy's recommendation. Mention the Remdawg, he said in the ad, and I'd get half off plus free installation. Sounded good to me! I scheduled an appointment for an estimate later in the week. I also scheduled an appointment with a contractor we'd done a substantial amount of remodeling with on our kitchen previously. Somewhat strangely they funneled me over to "the window department."  What is it with replacement windows? Why is it such a specialty item?  I'd soon find out.

Here's the way it goes: Professional looking guy in a foreign luxury car pulls up in front of your house right on time. He's very likeable and is very good at what he does. He captures your hopes and dreams for the project, casts them upon replacement windows, and describes in sometimes excruciating detail why these windows are the most incredible things you've ever seen. By the end of his presentation you're convinced these are going to be a substantial upgrade to your life. When you're replacing all (or most) of the windows in your house the energy savings could reduce your heating bill substantially - and I could see buying into the story. But since we're talking about only 10% of our home we were able to avoid letting our desires get the best of us.

After much discussion we finally, mercifully got a quote from Newpro for our 4 very ordinary, right down the middle, double-hung replacement windows. For some reason I had in my head the job should cost around $2,000; $500 per window including labor. I don't know why I thought this. I guess it had something to do with other windows and doors we've had replaced in the house. $500 per seemed about right to me.

The quote? $6,000. $1,500 per window. You've got to be kidding me! They sounded like nice windows but the thing is - after talking with colleagues, friends and associates who have Newpro windows - they're not even that great. People I spoke with reported all kinds of problems with Newpro windows they inherited after purchasing a house. I can get behind a premium price if the product warrants it - but I wasn't convinced their windows were that great long term.

The familiar contractor representing Marvin came in over $4,000 - still more than $1,000 per window. What the heck was going on here?

I casually mentioned to a client I was working with at the time my dilemma. I just wanted some reasonably priced windows that would slide up and down easily, wouldn't leak, would look nice, and would provide better insulation than my current drafty windows. He said replacement windows should cost about $350 per and that I should call Window World.

I'd never heard of them but a Google search turned up WindowWorld.com - home of the original $189 (installed!) replacement window. I had no illusions about paying only $189 per window, but I liked the starting point. I scheduled an appointment for later in the week.

The salesman came out just like the prior two did. Right on time, very professional, checked out the windows I needed replacing, showed me his product, described the company, and efficiently worked towards a quote.

First off, there's no such thing as a $189 window - at least not in Massachusetts due to efficiency standards in effect here. But the add-ons were sensible. More efficient glass, grids in the glass, disposal fees, etc, etc. But as he's building up the quote I'm thinking to myself: "He could add on anything he wants and he still won't come close to the numbers I'd heard from the other two salesmen who proceeded him."

When he presented me with the total cost of $1,700 for all four windows ($425 per window - below my target cost of $500) I had to contain myself. There might be an opportunity to hold out and get some rogue discount like there was with the other guys. But he made it pretty clear - this was the best he could do today. We agreed to move forward with the project pending our calling a couple nearby references. They checked out and we went forward.

Along the way I kept thinking in the back of my mind that something was going to go wrong. The installation was going to be crap or the windows were going to be lousy. Or they'd increase the installation cost when they found some unforeseen catastrophe. But there was no such event.

An estimator came out for detailed measurements and the windows were ordered. About 5 weeks later an installer came and politely and cleanly removed the old windows and installed the new ones. A day later a different installer did trim work on the outside to tidy things up. I think they look great.

I immediately felt that my usually chilly home office was warmer. More a part of the house rather than a flimsy addition. The windows look great and they slide up and down with ease. They're perfect. They're just what I was looking for and they didn't cost a fortune.

How nice is that? And what in the heck ever happened to Remdawg's "half off plus free installation" offer? What a bunch of hot air that was. $6,000+ after discount? You've got to be kidding me. Sometimes I feel like I'm too negative about businesses that fall short of my hopes and expectations. And in this case I'm disappointed with some. But with Window World I'm happy. A fair price for a square deal and a pleasant experience. You can't ask for much more than that.

So check 'em out if you're in the market for replacement windows: Window World
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