Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shutterfly Holiday Cards

This post is part of a series sponsored by Shutterfly. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do. 

I like to think I know what I'm doing when it comes to graphic stuff. I muck about with making banners and birthday cards and whatnot. And then, when I realize that I totally don't know what I'm doing and whatever I'm creating looks like a dog's breakfast and I have an immediate need to order something gorgeous at the last minute, I then proceed to go check out the web and see what I can find to solve my dilemma with the most gorgeousness in the shortest amount of time possible.  This is what happened with the invitations to my daughter's first birthday party.  Open up Photoshop, draw some circles, write some text, tweak tweak tweak oh god this looks like it was done by a rabid monkey, throw hands up in despair, decide to leave it to the professionals, search the web, come across Shutterfly, weep with thankfulness, order, done. They've got a really wide range of designs, an easy-to-use interface and lots of different ordering options. And I was really pleased with the Shutterfly experience. They arrived quickly, were exactly what I expected, were packaged nicely but not overpackaged (hooray for efficiency!) and I got tons of compliments on them.

So when Shutterfly and CleverGirls said, hey! Come look at our Holiday cards! My first thought was, huh. People actually plan things like Christmas cards in advance of the absolute last minute?  Who knew! And I clicked through. And this year's designs are just beautiful.  There's nearly 300 designs, some photo cards, some non-photo designs, and plenty to suit any taste.  I love these Damask Noir cards - so elegant. These Floral Black cards are in the same vein, but are folded rather than postcards so they're a bit more versatile especially for standing them up on the mantle. Both of these designs are right up my alley - simple and eyecatching, not overdone, tasteful. You know? I also love this one - the With Love Chartreuse Folded Card. Simple and colorful and classic with lots of opportunities to use a bunch of favourite photos.

So if you're planning on printing cards for the holidays, Shutterfly is a great place to check out. There's Christmas Cards and holiday photo cards and New Year's Cards and a whole lot more.  And,  here's a sweet holiday treat for you. Interested in getting 50 free cards from Shutterfly? You can. The details are here. Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

eReading: Kindle vs Kobo vs iPad.

I am a lucky woman. This I realize. I got a Kindle 2 last year for Christmas. Then when the iPad became available later in the  year, I bought one of those because I am a Mac junkie. Then at the recent She's Connected conference in Toronto, I was lucky enough to receive a free Kobo reader from the kind folks at Kobo. I've now gotten the chance to use all three. So what do I prefer to use for reading? Read on, and I'll tell you.

First, a couple of notes. The Kindle 2 is no longer available for purchase and has been replaced by the Kindle 3. I considered writing the review solely on my experience with the Kindle 2, but that wouldn't be useful, given that you can't buy it anymore. So I have referred to my experiences with the Kindle 2, and have also noted any significant differences to be expected with the Kindle 3.

Secondly, the iPad is not an e-reader. It is a tablet computer and has much more broad functionality than either of the e-readers. However, I decided to include it for comparison because in discussions with pretty much everyone, the iPad inevitably comes up as an option for people looking for an e-reader. 

So, here's a handy little chart that tells you some of the vital statistics for the three devices such as weight, capacity, and phone numbers.

Note that all the details above, I've taken directly from the manufacturer's sites at Kobo, Amazon, and Apple.  If something's really off, I probably typo'd it. Sorry.

So as you can see above, the Kobo and Kindle are quite similar size-wise and visual-experience-wise. Both have a 6" screen with E Ink display (which is totally cool if you've never seen it) and are so close in weight for the difference to be completely negligible in a practical sense. The iPad is much larger and heavier.

Reading Interface

Once you have books loaded on the device, all devices let you go through your list to select a book to read. Navigation on the iPad is via the touchscreen. The Kindle 2 has a little "joystick" button that allows you to navigate up and down (this is also used for various other things such as highlighting). The Kobo has a nice big navigation pad that allows you to carry out all the scrolling and selecting functions with a push of your thumb.

The display of the loaded books on the Kobo is much nicer than that on the Kindle. The Kobo gives you a list that shows you the book cover as you scroll through, and also tells you how far you've read in the book. The Kindle simply lists the books you've loaded.  The iPad is at the mercy of the app you're using to read books, but in general the display is much nicer.

Once you load the book, each device allows you to change the settings of the display such as font sizes. The iPad's touchscreen gives you the most versatility for changing these settings. The Kobo allows you to increase or decrease the font size using the same navigation pad it uses for page turning - simply push the pad up or down.

I actually cannot find the option for increasing or decreasing font sizes on the Kindle 2. Anyone?

Page Turning

On the Kindle 2, you flip the pages using buttons positioned about halfway up the device on either side. So if I want to go to the next page, I hit the Next Page button with my thumb. If I want to go to the previous page, I hit the Prev Page button with my other hand since the button was on the other side. (On the Kindle 3, there are > and < buttons to navigate pages on both sides of the device).

On the Kobo, on the other hand, if I want to go to the next page, I hit the right side of the soft squashy navigation button located right where my thumb is already sitting on the device. If I want to go to the previous page, I shift my thumb about 15 mm to the left and press the left side of the squashy button. I find this much easier, especially when reading in bed.

The page turning speed on the iPad is the quickest of all three devices. The Kobo and Kindle 2 are virtually equal in their page turning times. The Kindle 3 is apparently quicker. 

Book Shopping on the Device

The iPad has the advantage here, because you can shop for e-books however you want. There's a Kindle app giving you access to the Kindle store, a Kobo app giving you access to the Kobo store, an iBooks app giving you access to the Apple iBooks store, plus who knows how many other reading apps there might be in the app store. The Kobo and Kindle can only shop via their native shops.

The Kindle store has a much more robust selection - a search for "baby" returned 504 hits on the Kobo store, and over 2,000 on the Kindle store. Kindle also has many more options for newspapers and magazines than the Kobo store does.  The keyboard on the Kindle is a huge advantage to on-device shopping. Being able to type in your search parameters with two thumbs instead of using the Kobo's hunt-and-peck keyboard (at right) with their little navigation pad makes life a whole lot easier.

However, the layout and display of the store is much nicer on the Kobo than the Kindle, very similar to the layout of the "I'm Reading" screen.

If you decide to shop on your computer and sync your items, you can shop for Kindle books on, which will then wirelessly download themselves to your Kindle. I tend to find the site frustrating, especially as a Canadian since it keeps asking for different logins for different sites. For the Kobo, you can download a clean, intuitive desktop application which is far more pleasant to the eye than the crowded Amazon pages.

Display and Contrast

The iPad, being backlit, has the best contrast of all devices. The Kobo and Kindle, both being E Ink, are not pure white background with pure black text. Rather, the background is light gray, with text that appears to be darker grayscale, but not pure black.  Between the Kobo and the Kindle 2, the Kobo's display has better contrast. The background seems lighter than the display on the Kindle, which gives it better readability. (The Kindle 3 has reportedly improved contrast over the Kindle 2.)

Wireless Connectivity

The iPad comes with wireless connectivity, with optional 3G.

The Kindle comes with its built-in Whispernet technology, which is free and 3G based. Not entirely certain why they added wireless, but they did.  It's always on unless you turn it off or you run low on battery, when it will turn itself off to preserve power.

The Kobo comes with wireless access, which you annoyingly have to manually connect every time you want to use it. It's annoying. (Yes, I repeated that. It's annoying enough that I said it twice.)

Battery Life

The iPad seems to run for days on a charge,  especially if you're only reading books. It's really fantastic in that respect.

The Kindle, in my experience, will last several days on a charge.

The Kobo seems to run dry within 2-3 days.

Other features

The iPad can do anything at all. I think it could actually drive a car. I bet there's an app for that. As far as the eReader apps go, you can view in portrait or landscape, change font sizes and typefaces, the whole nine yards.

The Kindle, while it cannot drive cars, still can do a lot. It has portrait or landscape views, allows you to easily highlight text, has many font sizes (although only one choice of typeface, as far as I can tell), has a text-to-speech program that sounds like Stephen Hawking so has limited practical usefulness, and even has a web browser. The Kindle is really trying to straddle both worlds between eReader and tablet laptop.

The Kobo pretty much allows you to load and read books. That's its raison d'etre. 

Summary and Conclusion

It's no contest: the iPad is the most pleasant reading experience for the eyes. It's also quickest and is most feature-rich. However, its weight and size mean that it isn't an ideal, versatile, go-anywhere eReader. There are places where it's just not comfortable - laying in bed being a big one. And if you can't use an eReader comfortably in bed, it's no good for me. So fundamentally, if all you want is an eReader, the iPad is a bad choice. There are plenty of other fabulous reasons to get an iPad, don't worry, but if it's just an eReader you're looking for, it's far more expensive and far less versatile in terms of being able to comfortably read wherever you want to read.

So that leaves the battle between the Kindle and Kobo. The Kindle is far more feature-rich and tries to straddle the gap between e-reader and tablet computer, with a certain amount of success. The Kobo doesn't try to be anything other than it is: a comfortable, easy-to-use eReader.

So ultimately, which one do I take to bed at night?

I've taken the Kobo. Every time.

The feeling of the device in my hands. The quilted back on the Kobo makes it feel more comfortable and less industrial. No, it doesn't feel like a book, but it does feel softer, not like a metal back. My Kindle 2 has a metal back, so holding it is less comfortable.

Secondly, the page turning functionality. The Kobo navigation button is just easier to use. I don't really have to shift my thumb far at all to go page forward, page back, or increase or reduce font sizes. It's easier for me.

However, I have the luxury of choice. If there's something I can't do or read on my Kobo, I can just pick up my Kindle. And for that reason, the Kindle has the edge - because it does things and loads publications that the Kobo can't yet.  My heart is absolutely with the scrappy little Kobo - but my head, right now, is with the Kindle. I'm excited to see what the Kobo will do to add features and publications within the next 6-12 months to make this a real battle.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Samsung Captivate

AT&T very kindly loaned me a Samsung Captivate for use during the weekend of BlogHer. I had sent out a request to the internet asking for someone to help me with this, because i had signed up to be an official photo-taker during the Tutus for Tanner run (more information here: and I was meant to upload and live tweet the event. Roaming charges while in the US are nausea-inducing for most Canadian carriers, especially for data, and I was frustrated about the fact that I would need to spend money that way instead of using it more constructively - such as giivng it to Tanner's cause. So when I sent out my request to the ether and AT&T responded I was extremely delighted - not only would I get to try out a new smart phone, but I was also able to give the money I would have spent on roaming fees to Tanner's cause.  Win all around.

The Samsung Captivate was waiting for me when I arrived at the Hilton NYC. I eagerly opened the box to find the phone nestled attractively in smart packaging. The protective film across the front and back gave me helpful information, such as instructions on how to install the battery. However, since I fail at "paying attention", I missed the crucial "install the battery" detail and spent several minutes wondering why on earth the phone wouldn't turn on. Once I rummaged through the box and discovered the battery floating around inside, it all made sense. The back snapped off easily, I inserted the battery, snapped the back on securely and turned on the phone.

The boot up took approximately a minute, playing a little song and showing various splash screens as it worked. Once it was ready, I inspected the screen. Being used to other smartphones, I was intrigued by the virtually empty screen on the Captivate. Four little buttons along the bottom carried out the functions (settings, home screen, back and search) and the icons on the main screen took me to the phone, email, browser and applications. The apps folder held all the applications that the designers felt you wouldn't need right away, but I believe everything's modifiable so with more time I would have been able to customize my home screen as I wished. By default, an icon for the camera was on the main screen as well.

After using it for a few days, I found there was a lot to like about the Samsung Captivate. Such as:

The device felt good in my hand. Perhaps a bit lighter than I'm used to, with more cornered edges. But I was able to flip it around as needed, and use one hand to carry out many tasks, which is crucial.

The main uses I had for the device were using the camera and uploading to Twitter. The camera was much more robust than I am used to, with many customizable settings usually found on a regular point and shoot camera. This led to good picture quality in good lighting, although as with any flashless camera the quality degrades with the light. The browser was quick and the keypad easy to use, even with fast and fat thumbs.

The phone itself had good sound quality and I never experienced a dropped call.

Size and weight. The device felt good in my hand.  I felt it wasn't going to fly out of my hand when I was walking, but it was also light enough that it wasn't a pain.

The screen display. Big (bigger than my current device) and clear and bright. I had no issues adjusting from indoor to outdoor use.

The Camera. I loved being able to customize the photo taking experience to nearly the same extent I would have been able to do with a point and shoot camera. The picture quality in good lighting was excellent.

The device gives a little shake when you press buttons. There's probably a way to turn it off, but I liked it. I liked having physical feedback of key presses.

The battery life was truly excellent. I went two full days of pretty heavy use of the viewscreen without a charge (not many phone calls, though, to be fair).

The mail app showed the my gmail folders as tabs. This was truly brilliant. I haven't been using folders effectively in Gmail, but if I had this device permanently it would probably permanently affect the way I used folders, because I can see this being very useful.

However, nothing is perfect. Here are a few things the Samsung Captivate needs to work on:

As you get deeper in to the UI, there were times when I felt like I'd gone down a rat hole. In certain applications - particularly the camera - I would be in a certain area and I had no idea how to get out. Now, admittedly I can be a bit of a flake, but after pressing every button and hitting the screen and trying everything seemingly obvious and finally resorting to removing the battery and rebooting the entire device to get out of the camera screen, I was frustrated. It turns out that there is a lock switch in camera mode I must have inadvertently turned on, which is no good - if I can turn on a lock without knowing it, I also don't know how to turn it off.

Auto correct. While the auto correct on my current device does drive me mental at times, I very much missed it when it wasn't there. Now, there may be a setting to turn this on, but I felt it should have been on by default.

Clearing your data - when I was preparing to return the phone, I was attempting to erase my data and email accounts from the device. I searched for quite some time and was not actually able to delete my email account from the device. The only way I found to get my personal data off the phone was to reset the phone. Now, this won't be a big issue for anyone who owns the phone and won't be planning on giving it back, but it seemed strange that there was no way to remove that account from the phone.  Also, in resetting the phone, it didn't erase the photos I had taken, which seemed odd as it stated it was going to remove all data.

Final impressions:

I'm an iPhone devotee. In my own experience, if using a device comes close to the experience you get with Apple, it gets high marks from me.  I'm not talking about doing things exactly as Apple does them; I'm talking about figuring out how people truly want to do tasks with a phone and making your device operate intuitively based on that. And the Samsung Captivate has gotten it right. It was virtually no transition from using my iPhone to using this device, even though they do operate fairly differently, because they've taken the time to figure out what people want at their finger- (er, thumb-) tips. The device is intuitive, plain and simple. So if you're in the market for a device with reasonably equivalent functionality to the iPhone, I definitely advise you to take a look at the Samsung Captivate.

Once again, thanks to AT&T to providing me the phone to try out and use during the BlogHer weekend. Thanks to them I was able to donate $100 to Tanner's cause on a day which raised more than $25,000. This money will now be used by his family to modify his home appropriately to have a live-in caregiver and allow Tanner to stay at home, which means more than words can say. Thank you, AT&T.