Category Archives: Reviews

A couple of quickies: another Audible update, and better buds

First, no doubt being prompted and encouraged by my review of their last update, Audible has released another update to their iPhone app.

They added two more narration speeds (0.75x and 1.25x) and a shorter sleep timer option (8 minutes).

The 0.75x speed does slow the narration down, and the pitch correction stops your alto narrator from turning into a baritone (just like it stops said narrator from turning into a chipmunk when sped up).  Unfortunately it sounds all echoey with the two books I tried.

Why would you want to slow a book down, anyway?  Trying to stretch your Audible credits as much as possible?

The 1.25x narration speed works well, and sounds really natural.  I expect it will become the default speed for a lot of people, especially with non-fiction books.

But who asked for an 8 minute sleep timer?  Who falls asleep that fast?  Someone call a somnambulance.

They also fixed a bug with the sleep timer not working when running multiple apps — something I never noticed.  And they promise a volume control in a future update.  I guess people miss it.  I don’t, really.  I just use the normal volume up/down controls.

Second, I wanted to update my review on Jaybird JF3 Freedom Bluetooth earbuds.  I had forgotten to test the microphone sound quality for voice calls.

In my review of my first set of buds, I had said the microphone sucked.  Well I’m happy to report that it no longer does.

I have made several calls now and the voice quality is good on both ends.  It needs a quiet environment though — once I walked into an Arby’s while talking and my friend got a blast of background conversation, even though the place was relatively quiet.  Apparently they still need improvement on filtering out ambient noise.  It does work well outside though, even with a light wind.

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New Audible app pleases the eyes, too

Audible updated their iPhone app last week to version 2.0.  I don’t see a corresponding Android update but on their website but I’m sure it’s coming.   I’ve been using the new app daily (of course) ever since it came out and I love it.

Here are the release notes.

Not much there, right?  (sardonic grin with Rock-style eyebrow lift)

Well the iPad support is a big deal for those who have them, and being able to download more MB over 3G is nice for people with no wifi and lots of money (or unlimited 3G).

But the “complete visual overhaul” line bears some expansion…

First, there is a new icon — it’s cleaner and more industrial looking:

audible_icon

The main screen is also cleaner and more industrial looking:

audible_skin

You can see they removed the chapter skip buttons, which is reason enough to upgrade for me.  I kept hitting the damned things by accident when I wanted to pause.

They also removed the volume slider, which I miss a little, but we still have the volume buttons on the side (remember those?).  Plus my Jaybird earbuds have a volume control too.

I use the 20 second rewind button a lot, and that is right there.  It’s the audio equivalent of rereading that last sentence, because your attention wandered for a moment.  Or because the phone rang in the middle of a virtual paragraph and you lost the virtual thread upon its actual resumption.

Next to the Play button is the “add bookmark” button, which I am starting to use more and more.  A quick tap every so often helps you find your place if you lose it.  (Yes this is a problem for me.)

The sleep button in the bottom left will “sleep” the app after selectable 15 minute increments, or at end of chapter.  It’s now a simple dropdown instead of a silly spinner.  Note this is really a pause, it doesn’t sleep the phone or anything.  That’s up to your normal phone sleep settings.

The speed button on the bottom right is useful if you are in a hurry to read your book, but I enjoy my books, so I wouldn’t use that.  Actually I lied: I used it once to find my place in a chapter after my mind wandered for an extended period.

So where was I?  Oh yeah, the main screen.  Now, if you want to move forward or back a chapter, you have to use the chapter list.  This is much easier to get at though — just tap on the “Chapters and Bookmarks” button at the bottom.  It brings up the Details, Chapter, and Bookmark viewer, which is now just the Chapter and Bookmark viewer.  Other than losing the Details (see below) the interface is much the same as before, except updated for the new industrial skin.

The book details are now available anytime by hitting the little “i” at the top right of the screen.  This is an easily overlooked change that, to me, really ties everything together.  Just like the book jacket it replaces.  You can see it is not only pretty but is a tribute to the book, which is after all the reason you got this app in the first place:

audible_book_jacket

At the bottom is a swipe pad which brings up the button free screen.  Here you can use swipes to fast forward, rewind, pause, or add a bookmark.  The screen hasn’t changed, just is easier to get to.  Seems like a gimmick to me; I don’t use it.

Speaking of gimmicks, the “Me” menu hasn’t changed much.  It still has our somewhat interesting listening stats and those silly badges.  Cue the obligatory “we don’t need no stinking badges” joke.

As before, you get to the Me menu by tapping the back button from the main screen to get to the main menu area:

audible_main

You can see this is also much cleaner.  The library is now one level instead of several confusing submenus, with non-downloaded books simply greyed out.

And note the oversized book cover icon in the middle — that’s actually a button that zips you back to the main screen.

And note the star at the top left: this allows you to access help and modify some app settings, such as the 20 second rewind time.  You can make it a 10 second rewind time.  Or 30.  And yes, the button on the main screen updates with the new number.  Slick, huh?

Have you tried the new app yet?  What do you think?

Audible has cheap audiobooks

I’ve rattled on about Audible and audiobooks in a previous post.  Well, last week I found myself without one.  I had spent my two credits for the month… The Horror! … what to do?

Audible was showing a $10 credit for something, no idea where that came from (crossed over from Amazon?) so I figured I should spend it.  I tried looking for low cost books.  They used to have a category for that but it’s gone.

On a whim, I tried a search by keyword for “books under $5” and lo! I got a crapload of them.  Most were radio shows or excerpts (teasers) but I was able to filter them out by using the “Refine Search Results” in the left column.  Picking “audiobook” and choosing a length over an hour filtered out most of them.

I decided to go a step further.  Searching for “free books” got everything with “free” in the title… so I tried “books under $1” and got lots of free books.

Most were crap, but one was Legion, by Brandon Sanderson, the author of the excellent Mistborn series.  A well written and well narrated two hour short story, for free.  Not bad, eh?

After I finished that, I splurged and spent $5 on Oliver Twist as narrated by Dickens’ great-great-grandson.  He is turning out to be a pretty good narrator.

Anyone got other Audible tips to share?

Updated review of the “Jaybird JF3 Freedom” Bluetooth earbuds

In my previous review of the Jaybird JF3 Freedom earbuds I extolled their virtues.  I also said how tough they were.

Well, last week my beloved earbuds died.  They are indeed tough on the outside, but the inside, not so much.  The battery won’t take a charge anymore.

The little red button goes on when I plug it in, so it looks like it’s charging, but the little red button doesn’t do nuthin’ once it’s off the charger.

Sadly, I only got 10 months out of it.  But considering I used it every day, I’m willing to forgive.  It has a one year warranty so I’ll see if I can get a replacement.  That is, if my wife can find the original receipt, which is looking unlikely at this point.

I tried using a pair of wired earbuds for a day and managed to get them caught on my bike seat, my jacket collar, my car steering wheel, and my butt (I sat on the cord).

“Screw this,” I said.

So I went out to Best Buy and got a new pair.  Interestingly, at least to me, nothing has changed.  The package has changed (old one on the left, new one on the right):

But everything else is identical.  Same buds, same case, same accessories, same price, and to my disappointment, same performance.  I was hoping they would have improved transmission outdoors, but nope.

Ah well.  They are still damned good buds.

And so far I haven’t managed to sit on them while they are in my ears.

Why I can’t watch (un)reality shows

Taking a short break from my series on humor for a quick rant.

Reality shows: love ’em or hate ’em?

I never saw Big Brother.  The first reality show I remember is Survivor.  The previews built up the show like these people were stranded on a desert island and had to fend for themselves.  Except they didn’t.

Other than crowd pleasers like eating bugs and rats, there was very little demonstration of actual survival skills, such as building shelter and finding food.  Instead, survivors spent their time performing contrived stunts for “immunity” and sitting around on the beach backstabbing each other.  Which turned out to be the only really important skill, in fact.

The next season’s survivors learned from this.  They started backstabbing right away.  They were so good, in fact, they must have practiced backstabbing in the off season.

Then there was American Idol, which perfected The Reality Show Formula for all the imitators to follow:

(1) you need three judges: one nice, one neutral, one jerk.

(2) you start with The Freakshow.  Each episode starts by showing you the line of hopefuls that stretches around the block.  Focus on the ones with weird clothes and freaky piercings.  Being a talent show, you would think they would only want talent.  Nope.  The horrible singers get equal time with the great ones.  Remember William Hung?  He made a career out of being gleefully tone deaf, launched by the show that searches for America’s best singers.

On The Freakshow, the judges have their roles: the jerk-judge cuts them down, the neutral-judge offers advice, and the nice-judge smiles a lot.  Guess which judge everyone remembers.

(3) you move on to the actual competition.  It’s part soap opera, part Gong Show.  Each contestant tells a weepy story of how winning this competition will validate their life.  Then they sing.  The judges get to buzz them when the show starts to drag, and make up words like “pitchy”.  The jerk-judge pulls out his most creative insults at this time.  Then the cameraman zooms in to the contestants’ faces hoping they will cry.

(4) you introduce viewer voting.  Ballot stuffing is inevitable and encouraged, since it makes more money for their sponsor AT&T.  The judges can still insult the contestants, to influence viewer voting and make sure the correct demographic makes it through to the final.

(5) the last part of the formula is the results show.  The contestants stand on a stage in front of millions of people and look anxious and uncomfortable while the host builds up tension through melodramatic background music and unabashedly artificial pregnant pauses.

They could just announce the winners, but they have to fill the hour, so they sort the contestants into groups and move them around, and throw in musical guests with their own albums to sell, all the while eliminating contestants one at a time.  Of course, they carefully split the last set of results across a commercial break.  Then the cameraman zooms in to the contestants’ faces hoping they will cry.

This formula made the Fox Network enough money to wipe out the national debt so naturally all of the other networks cloned it.  They did play with the formula a bit.  What that means is, they focused on the parts that appealed to humanity’s basest natures: eating testicles (Fear Factor), crying (The Bachelor), backstabbing (The Apprentice), screaming (Hell’s Kitchen), violence (Jersey Shore), and Parisites (The Simple Life).

I do have one guilty pleasure: America’s Got Talent.  It’s pure formula, but through the magic of DVR I can fast forward through the artificial drama to get to the acts.  Some of them are world class, and the producers make sure there is a lot of variety.

The show jumped the shark this year, though.  They had less acts, and they spent endless time on banter between the judges and the host.  Who tunes into a talent show to watch the judges?

Plus the shows got shorter and they kept repeating them.  I assume that was to pay for the outlandish salaries these judges get.  Ironic isn’t it?  Reality show judges get $15-$20 million per season to do stuff we fast forward through.

The one that has impressed me so far is The Voice.  They tossed out The Freak Show and the judges don’t get to insult the contestants.  Plus the judges aren’t just talking heads — they are coaches who join in the competition.  There is no screaming, backstabbing, eating of pig rectums…

Come to think of it, does The Voice even qualify as a reality show?

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