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Ebooks and Ereaders

Ebooks and Ereaders

Ereader review: Samsung Galaxy S2 Nook, by Barnes and Noble

Gummy Drop on the S2

Gummy Drop on the S2

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while will know I’ve been eying Barnes and Noble askance for some time. I’ve taken major issue with their website thanks to their last round of changes, enough that I haven’t bought an ebook from them since. And I’ve also been looking askance at some of the changes they’ve been implementing in their brick-and-mortar stores as well.

Why did I buy another Nook tablet?

Given this, one would be justified in wondering why exactly I’d want to pick up another tablet from them. Simple: I wanted to upgrade from using the last tablet I’d bought from them, the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook, because it was still stuck on Android KitKat and I wanted something with a bit more power to it.

Plus, B&N has been running a trade-in promotion that let me bring in my old Nook HD and trade it in for a $50 credit off the price of a new device. So I decided to take them up on that offer, while wiping the Galaxy Tab 4 back to factory defaults so that I could give it to Dara and let her use it as an upstairs web-browsing type device when she didn’t feel like breaking out the laptop. (And also because we can get all Star-Trek:-The Next-Generation-y with the ability to just pick up a tablet and do stuff in our house.)

Thanks to the credit, not to mention the VISA gift card I’d gotten from the day job as my last work anniversary gift, I was able to get a new tablet from B&N more cheaply than I could from anywhere else. And even though I find Samsung frustrating in how long it takes them to deploy upgrades to the Android operating system, I did like the Tab 4. After playing around with an S2 in a B&N recently, I decided I’d probably like that tablet, too.

Which, at the end of the day, pretty much means I liked the idea of having a new Samsung Galaxy tablet more than I disliked buying anything else from B&N. So there ya go.

Main things that I like

So here’s what I like about the S2. You can take this as you like, if you want to consider buying a Samsung tablet–whether via B&N, via Samsung, or via some other vendor.

One, I like the size. It’s not quite as big as my iPad, and it’s ever so slightly lighter, which means a bit less weight in the backpack on the commute. And that’s always a good thing. It’s a little bit bigger than the Tab 4, but that’s offset by how it’s also thinner. Even with an 8-inch screen, it’s still well within the range of device sizes that are comfortable for me to handle.

Two, the processing ability is better than the Tab 4. Which means, for my purposes, that’s it’s a better gaming tablet. So I can happily play Gummy Drop and Dungeon Boss on it. Sometimes with both running at once, similar to what I can do on the iPad, a trick I don’t think I could have pulled off on the Tab 4.

Three, the adaptive screen is kind of neat, though I don’t know how much of this functionality is the tablet and how much of it is coming in with Android Lollipop. By adaptive screen, I mean that there are settings that can automatically adjust the brightness and color saturation for certain apps under certain conditions. I’ve actually turned this off since I find that it makes Gummy Drop and Dungeon Boss both look over saturated–but I appreciate that the tech is there. There are other settings I’ll have to try on it, like Reading Mode.

Four, it comes by default with 32GB on board, which means I no longer have to rely upon having an SD card in the device to carry a suitable portion of my digital library with me. Which also means a bit of a performance improvement as well, since the OS doesn’t have to read stuff off the card.

Engaging with content

In terms of engaging with content, the experience is much the same for me as it was on the Tab 4. This is, after all, a full-on Android tablet, so I can install whatever apps I want on it. So I’ve got the full fleet of book apps that I currently need for my arsenal–not only the Nook apps that come bundled with this build of the OS, but also Kobo, Kindle, Overdrive, and Calibre Companion. (Still working on deciding which app is best for reading my indie books that aren’t immediately accessible via the other apps.)

I’m not planning on using this as a device to watch movies or TV–that’s what I’ve got the iPad for. (All the video I buy is on my Apple account, anyway.) So I can’t really comment on whether this device would be good for that. If I get a chance to try that out, though, I will update this post with that data.

It was super-easy to get my previous apps back onto it, I’ll have to give it that. This is all on Google, though, since the Tab 4 had been backing up to my Google account. So when I set up the S2, it was all “OH HEY do you want me to restore everything from that backup?” So props for that.

Possibly of interest for my writing

The S2 came bundled with Microsoft Office apps for Android. To wit: there are now Microsoft Office apps for Android. And a bit of playing around with Word showed me that the free apps, even without an Office 365 subscription, will finally let you actually do things like edit and save documents. And, they’re even acknowledging the presence of other cloud services besides Microsoft’s. The Word app on this thing seems perfectly happy to talk to not only OneDrive, but also Google Drive and Dropbox.

And once I actually opened one of my manuscript files in it, I found out that the free app does actually give me access to the Track Changes functionality of Word. Which, aside from the ability to just write and save documents, is what I use Word for.

All of which tells me that I could actually write on this thing in a pinch. Whether I’d want to edit on it without an actual keyboard is another matter entirely, though. To date, I’ve found that if I need to edit a story, I really need a full keyboard and mouse pointer to do it smoothly.

But hey, the apps are here, and a bit of googling on the part of a coworker indicated that non-B&N Samsungs are also coming bundled with these apps. Which means you’d get them if you bought the device from somewhere besides B&N. Which is worth thinking about in general if you’re in the market for an Android device, and you have any need to do work in Microsoft Office on it. Especially if you’re a writer. (I think I have fodder here for an entire other blog post!)

Accessories

Since this is a tablet I expect to be carrying around on my commute, I did actually buy a cover for it as well from the B&N store I went into. Sure, it’s a Nook-branded cover, but I did like the color scheme on the one I chose. It lets me look at the tablet in both orientations. And it’s got a nice little magnet flap to hold the thing closed.

In short

Should you buy this tablet? So far it seems lovely to me, a reasonably small, light device that nonetheless has a decent amount of power for what I need it to do. I’d say that if your device needs are similar to mine, this one’s worth looking at.

Should you buy it from B&N? That’s another matter entirely. It’s worth considering if you have an older Nook you can trade in on. But if you’re not already a B&N customer, you may well be better served buying directly from Samsung or from other stores near you that sell electronics.

Ebooks and Ereaders

Ebook geekery of the week: footnotes in EPUBs

So as per my last post I’ve been amusing myself with throwing together an ebook edition of The Starblade of Radmynn, one of the first two novels I ever wrote. (Specifically, the later one of that name, which was actually set chronologically earlier.) One of the things I’m doing with this file is adding footnotes to the text, calling out things like “this character is an early edition of a character that showed up later in the Rebels of Adalonia” or “this nation actually had its name changed because of X and Y” and such.

But in the course of dealing with this, I discovered to my vexation EPUB has erratic support for footnotes.

I’ve seen them in ebooks I have in my own library–the ebook edition of The Lord of the Rings, for example, is packing a whole hell of a lot of ’em. But they’re all stuck at the end of the ebook file, and you have to tap on the footnote to go to it and then try to get back to where you were previously in the text. If the ebook isn’t set up smoothly enough, this can be problematic.

EPUB3 has better support–it actually includes support for popup notes, so that if you see a footnote marker on something, you can just tap on it and a little bubble will pop up and show you the note. Then you can dismiss it.

I’ve seen contradictory references, though, as to whether the major ebook vendors are actually properly supporting this. iBooks is referenced a lot as doing so, but I’m not seeing anything definitive re: whether the Nook or Kobo does. Complicating the matter is that a) I’m also seeing data that suggests that Smashwords only supports EPUB2, and b) right now, the tool I have available to me for generating EPUBs, i.e., Calibre, doesn’t talk EPUB3 either. Calibre’s creator is on record as saying he’s not particularly interested in developing EPUB3 support, although he’s held the door open for other devs to do so.

So now, I’m thinking I need to figure out if I want to play further with EPUB3, just for the sake of teaching myself something. In which case I’ll need a tool capable of generating an EPUB3 file. And I’ll need to figure out whether it’s possible to do footnotes in a way that’s backward compatible with readers that don’t talk EPUB3. This will be interesting to explore!

I know a lot of writers swear by Scrivener, and Scrivener has EPUB support. But I’m not convinced I want to bring in a tool of its magnitude just to solve a single problem. I also know a handful of authors who use InDesign to generate their books, but again, not entirely convinced I want to jump to a tool of that magnitude. More likely, I will be investigating reports that Sigil has woken up again–it’s the EPUB editor that Calibre slurped into its own code base. And there’s an EPUB3 plugin for Sigil.

More data on this as events warrant. Any indie authors care to comment on what tools you use to build your books?

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, 2015 edition, Part 2: Android

This is the second post in my updated series on how to read ebooks, reflecting my knowledge of what’s available as of 2015. The previous post was on reading ebooks on iOS. This one will cover how to read books on Android devices.

When I say “Android device”, what do I actually mean?

First things first: Android users know that, of course, their devices come in far greater varieties than iOS ones do. This is simply because Android as an operating system is not limited to any specific device. The ones I have immediate experience with are Google Nexus ones and Samsung ones, both phones and tablets.

But, anyone who has half an eye on the various ereaders that are available today will also know that many of the non-iOS tablets are in fact running some form of Android on them. This is particularly true of the Samsung Galaxy Nooks, which are straight-up full Android devices, albeit with Nook apps installed along with Samsung’s own proprietary stuff.

Kindle Fires, on the other hand, are running a heavily mutated version of Android that Amazon calls FireOS. Likewise, the older Nook HD runs a mutated version of Android that uses a proprietary B&N launcher.

So for purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that “Android device” means “any device that’s running a full install of the Android operating system, as opposed to a proprietary version specific to a given ereader”.

With that established, let’s talk about your reading options.

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Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, 2015 edition, Part 1: iOS

A while back I did a series of posts about how to read ebooks. But this is a fast-moving technology, and a lot of what I said in those posts is now no longer precisely true. So since digital books continue to be highly relevant to my interests (because hi, yeah, Victory of the Hawk and Bone Walker are both now available in digital form!), I wanted to do some newer posts to reflect my updated understanding of your options if you want to read books in digital form.

This post will focus on reading on iOS. Subsequent posts will cover Android, desktop computers, what your current options are for dedicated ereading devices, ebook subscription services, and checking ebooks out from the library. I’ll add other topics by request or as I think of them.

And this post is long, so most of it will go behind a fold!

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Ebooks and Ereaders

Barnes and Noble death rattle?

I had a bunch of articles build up in my RSS feeds while I was away at Fiddle Tunes, but I’ve been working on getting caught up–and today on Dear Author, I see this post that reports, among other things, that B&N is pulling out of trying to sell ebooks in international markets. They’ll be pulling back to US and UK only.

The Digital Reader reports that B&N had expanded into international markets through Windows 8, and that now they’re pulling back on that. Sales will continue only in the US and UK markets.

Except that apparently B&N launched an updated Nook site that is significantly broken. The Digital Reader reported on this on the 2nd, detailing several very worrisome ways that the new Nook site is very badly broken.

And now, as of tonight when I tried to get at my Nook account data, I couldn’t even log in in Safari. When I tried to click on the “Sign In” link in the upper left hand corner of the revamped site, the page grayed out. What I THINK tried to happen here is that they probably tried to load a sign-in overlay, and that overlay is not loading. I’m about to check this out on other browsers to see where else it might repro. Given their track record of stupid problems on their website, though, I’ll lay you even money that it’ll work on Windows browsers and not on Mac ones. LET’S FIND OUT, said the web page tester.

If you’re a Nook customer, what this tells me is that if you haven’t already, you’d damn well better try to make backup copies of all your purchases with them as soon as you can. If you’re a Mac user, the Nook desktop Mac app still works in Yosemite–I haven’t gotten rid of my copy yet, though I’m only using it for purposes of downloading purchases, since, annoyingly, they’d already also removed the ability to download your purchases from the website.

And if you’re an indie author, be keeping a sharp eye on this and what it may mean for your sales on the Nook platform.

I gotta say, at this point I wouldn’t object very hard if B&N sold its customer base to Kobo. Sony apparently already did that when they pulled out of the ebook market. And I wouldn’t mind condensing the two biggest parts of my fractured ebook library.

But dammit, B&N, why’d you have to go and screw this up so badly? I so wanted you to hang in there.

ETA: I have just now confirmed that I cannot log into my B&N account on any browser except Internet Explorer on Windows. This is pathetic. I’m offended not only as a Nook customer, but also as a QA professional who tests web pages for a living. I mean honestly, who okays “inability to log into customer accounts on most of the major current web browsers” as an acceptable bug to push out to your production site?! Furthermore, the Digital Reader’s report on the site launch was a week ago. If this bug has been in production on the site for a full week, somebody on their engineering team needs to be fired.

FWIW, at least, Dara’s mucking around a bit and has discovered that if you are on Safari on the Mac and you have the Developer menu turned on, you can set your User Agent to pretend to be IE 8 or IE 9 and get it to work. I have confirmed this on my own laptop. So there’s a workaround for Mac users, at least.

ETA #2: I’m getting told by a few friends across the Net tonight that they can confirm ability to log in on non-IE browsers on Windows. But on the other hand, one fellow NIWA author reported that while she was able to log in via Chrome on Windows, she is reproducing the behavior I’m seeing on her laptop. I also note that at least twice when trying to hit the B&N index, I have triggered an error message in general rather than actually reaching the page. So just trying to hit the site at all appears to be chancy. And you may or may not be able to log in from the Sign In link.

Additionally, once I was actually able to log in on IE and get to my Nook library, I was able to confirm what the Digital Reader reported. You can do fuck all with any of the books in your library except archive or delete them. You can’t read them. You can’t download them. GoodEreader.com reports that B&N has been getting swarms of angry customer feedback about how you can’t even get at your past purchases, but I hadn’t realized there was an inability to get at samples either. Which, yeah. I can add a sample to my library via the website, but since I can’t actually read it on the site, that’s kinda useless, at least if I don’t actually happen to have my device with me.

I specifically have to jump over to my actual physical Nook to read the thing. I can at least confirm that a sample added to my library is downloadable and readable on the actual device, so that’s something.

ETA #3: Checking this morning, I’m finding I am able to log in via Safari on the B&N site. For now.

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to sideload a mobi file to Kindle on an Android device

When Victory of the Hawk dropped in April, a friend of mine in Kentucky won the draw I did for the entire trilogy. Which was all YAY! So I set her up with EPUB copies of the three novels, and also told her that if she wanted to read them on a Kindle device or app, I could convert them to MOBI as well.

However, we ran into a snag. Linda told me that she was having trouble getting the MOBI files into the Kindle app on her device–which in this case was a Samsung Galaxy Android tablet. Since I happen to have one of those as well (i.e., the Samsung Galaxy Nook), and since I am after all a QA Engineer in the day job, I decided to see if I could repro her problem.

(This is kind of long, so details behind the fold!)

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Ebooks and Ereaders

For folks who keep hitting my site looking for Kobo Mini battery data

I’ve turned off URL archiving of my tweet history–but I had been getting a lot of hits on one tweet I did about my Kobo Mini and finding a battery for it. This suggests to me that a lot of folks out there are having the same problem I did, which is to say, you have a Kobo Mini with battery problems. So I thought I’d put up a little post talking about what I did. The tweet people kept hitting didn’t exactly have much in the way of useful data, after all.

When I originally got the Mini I saw a lot of weird behavior with it, as described in my Mini vs. Nook SimpleTouch post, and the followup on Mini vs. Nook SimpleTouch post. It had issues with battery life, and would often lose track of where I was with any given book, or whether it had synced stuff back to Kobo’s mothership in case I wanted to pick up reading a book on something else (like the desktop app, or my phone). I eventually realized that a lot of what I was seeing could be traced to a bad battery. A little bit of googling suggested other Mini owners had had the same problem.

The trick is, actually finding a battery to replace the one in my device. I eventually had to have Dara order me one from a seller on eBay. The seller was in Toronto, so it took a while for the battery to actually get to me. But it did arrive and it did work. I’m not using my Kobo Mini much now, but as of the last few times I played with it, it did indeed appear stable. So if you’re having issues with your device, I’d recommend you do a scan through eBay and see if other sellers have batteries available.

Of course, if the only available sellers are in North America and you’re not, I agree that this presents some problems. To wit, the likelihood that you’ll risk postage costs being more than the battery is actually worth–at which point you’ll need to ask yourself whether it’s worth it to try to find a replacement battery, or just get a new device. That, I suppose, will depend on how much you like the Mini as an ereading device.

(You will note that I’m no longer actively using mine; I’m a power reader and I have found that the Mini doesn’t really suit my reading needs anymore. So if anybody wants to buy mine, hey, talk to me!)

All that said… if you do actually find a battery, what then do you do with it? Well, I found it reasonably easy to take my device apart and install the newly acquired battery. So if you’re not afraid to disassemble an ereader and you have the appropriate tools, go for it. I found this tutorial on Kobo surgery helpful.

Let me know if you have any questions!