Chromecast 2 review

I can remember that I watched dvd’s on portable dvd player in bed. After that I switched to my notebook when I got a bed table (one of those on wheels that stick out over the bed) and quickly bought a tv and media player. Over time I bought a set top box for digital tv with a hard drive (so I could record) and last year I bought a blu-ray player which could also be used to watch Netflix. Switching between them was a bit of a hassle (although it got easier when I got a HDMI switch) and the blu-ray player was really slow with loading Netflix.

Last week I bought the new Google Chromecast, hoping that it was quicker with Netflix and with the added bonus of being able to play YouTube videos. I had my doubts about practicality; wouldn’t the battery of my tablet or phone go down faster and I wasn’t sure how I would like not having a dedicated remote control. But since the little device was only €39 I thought it was worth the chance.

The first version of the Chromecast looked like a big USB stick, that you inserted in an HDMI port on your tv. From what I’ve read some people had problems with it when the HDMI port was awkwardly place and there wasn’t enough space for the Chromecast. This new version looks like a small hockey puck, it’s connected to the HDMI plug by a short cable. Like the previous version it also comes with a USB cable and a USB adapter for power. If your tv has a (free) USB port you can plug the cable into it, or you can use the adapter.

I got it on Saturday and in the evening I set it up, which only took minutes (looking up my wifi password took longest). And that night I happily switched between watching YouTube videos and Netflix. On Sunday morning I disconnected the blu-ray player, leaving it in case I ever want to watch a dvd or blu-ray.

On Sunday I also checked out various websites to see what the must-have apps are that you can’t do without when you’ve got a Chromecast. Most of them mention an app called Plex. It’s an app that you install on the device you use with your Chromecast, in my case my tablet, and then you install the app either on your computer or your NAS (if it’s powerful enough). You let it index the media files you want to be able to access (videos, music, photographs) and you can stream it from  your computer or NAS to your Chromecast.

This meant I could also unplug my media player. I bought a new USB 3 external hard drive, copied all my media files onto it and now I can play all my films and tv series on my Chromecast. I just have to make sure my computer doesn’t go to sleep. If you want to use a NAS to play your files you have to take into account that you’ll need a more powerful (and more expensive) one. The Chromecast can’t play a lot of video formats, if you play something that isn’t supported Plex will convert it. This isn’t a problem for a computer, but a simple NAS might not be powerful enough (on the Plex website is a list of which NAS are supported and which quality videos those are able to convert).

As an added bonus Plex looks very sleek and it makes it very easy to find the film or episode you want to watch. When loading your media library you have to choose which folders you have save your tv series in and which you use for films. It automatically downloads the film poster and a description. Tv series are automatically get subdivided into seasons. You can also use Plex to play your media on  your tablet and if you get the Plex Pass (subscription or a lifetime pass) you can even download media from your server/computer to your phone or tablet for offline viewing.

I was afraid for quick battery drainage, but that fear was unfounded. You use your phone or tablet to tell the Chromecast what to play and the Chromecast takes over whatever your streaming, it doesn’t go through your phone or tablet. I also don’t mind using my tablet as remote control. It’s easy and it offers a lot more options than a conventional remote control.

There are two downsides to Chromecast. First of all, it doesn’t work if you haven’t got an internet connection. So if you go somewhere, e.g. on vacation, and you haven’t got internet or if it’s very slow you’re out of luck. Also, even if you want to use it on a network which redirects you to a website to log in (like in hotels) your out of luck. Which is why I decided to put all my media files on an external HDD. When I go on vacation and I know the Chromecast won’t work I take my external HDD and my small media player with me. That way I can still watch offline.

Second, the Chromecast only remembers the last wifi network you logged into. Our home is big with several thick walls. I’m one story and two thick wall away from the nearest wifi repeater and I’m lucky to get a weak signal. I do have an ethernet connection and I created my own wifi network with the help of an access point. I did name my network differently than the wifi network downstairs. If I hook my Chromecast up to the tv in the livingroom or in the store I have to enter the wifi password for that network. When I take it upstairs with me I have to enter my own password again. I can understand why Google did this; they want to motivate people to buy more Chromecasts. However, it would have been nice if it was able to store a limited number of networks, 3 or 5, so you can more easily take it with you to friends, family or work.

Reading challenge 2015 – progress

It’s November already. This means that the reading challenge for 2015 is starting to wrap up and the challenge for 2016 is on the horizon.

This year has been good. Not as good as 2013 and 2014, but still not bad considering I’ve been spending more time on other hobbies. My main challenge of reading four book of 700 pages or longer has been completed. Interestingly, in previous years I’ve read a lot more longer books than this year. Which means that I’ve picked the right challenge.

At the moment I’m, according to Goodreads 11 books ahead of schedule (for 100 books), I’m currently reading my 97th book of the year. And the average length is 368, which is lower than last year but about the same as in 2013 and more than in 2012.

What I haven’t managed to do is keep the number of active series down. I’ve read quite a lot of first books in series this year and decided not to continue with most of them but lately I’ve been starting series I like. There are several series that only have three or less books in them before I’m up to date with the series, so I’ll be focussing on those for the remainder of the year.

In previous years I always had one genre I seemed to prefer. This year that isn’t really the case, though lately I’ve been reading a lot of ghost stories and horror books. The trend this year seems to be reading books by new to me authors, of the 97 books I’ve read 42 new authors.

I’ve already decided on a challenge for 2016; each month pick a theme and read at least four books related to that theme. I’ve already set up a page for it with more details. I also want to do both more updates on my progress and start writing reviews again on this blog, something that didn’t happen this year.

Reading Challenge 2015 – progress

Already the first three months of 2015 are gone, which means it’s time to see how my reading challenge is going.

So far I’ve read 27 books, 9674 page and have given up on 1 book. Compared to 2013 and 2014 I’m behind (in pages read) and just a little ahead of 2012. However, last year I went on a lazy vacation in March where I got a lot more reading done than I normally would. I did read works by 8 authors new to me, I’ve started 6 new series (2 of which I’m probably not going to continue with) and finished 5 series.

So far this year I’m enjoying both crime novels and fantasy/paranormal novels. Lately I’m reading a lot of horror books.

I am behind on my 700+ page books challenge. I want to at least 4 of those this year, but I seem to be drawn to shorter books so far this year. I have started the second book in the Outlander series (almost 1000 pages long) and I usually read one or two long books in summer when I’m house sitting, so I should be able to finish this challenge.

Also, at the end of this month I’m going to Antwerp for a couple of days. I should be able to read more than I normally would both on bus trip to and from Antwerp and at the hotel.

One of my favourite books so far this year is Sycamore Row by John Grisham, which is the sequel to A Time to Kill. I also like the Lincoln Rhyme series, the first book of this series, The Bone Collector, has been made into a film (the book is better).

I abandoned Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting after I realized that I didn’t care if the little boy in danger lived or died. I also felt the story, after reading over half of it, didn’t go anywhere.

That said, I generally liked the books I’ve read so far. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep picking the right books.

Reading plans 2015

There are less than two weeks left in the year, which means it’s time to set my reading goals for 2015.

Like the previous two years I won’t set a number of books I want to read; I want to have fun and not feel pressured to skip longer books and feel I haven’t got time to pursue my other hobbies. For my GoodReads challenge I’ll probably initially set it to 52 and up it if I get close.

First of all I want to have fun. Read whatever I feel like, be it classics, “literature”, or fluff.

Second, I want to keep the number of “active” series to a reasonable amount. I did well in 2014; I currently have only 5 active series. It does help that I have become a lot more picky about which series I want to invest time in. What a reasonable number is is hard to define. It really depends on how many series I have active that are either made up out of long books (like the Outlander series) or series that have a lot of books in a series that I haven’t read yet (like the Guido Brunetti series).

Finally, I do want to read some of the longer books that have been lingering on my To Be Read list, so my only real challenge is that I want to read at least 4 books which are longer than 700 pages (so far I’ve read eight 700+ page books).

I was thinking of instead of having an X number of books challenge to have an X number of pages challenge. But I’ve decided against it because some books read a lot faster than others. I feel both the number of books and the number of pages I’ve read doesn’t say much about my reading.

Kindle Paperwhite 2: first impressions

I always loved the idea of having an ereader with build in light. When Amazon announced their first Paperwhite I was very excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. Luckily, Amazon release their Kindle first in the US before the rest of the world because after reading the reviews I decided not to get one. There were a lot of problems with the screen; pinholes (holes in one of the layers, resulting in bright light shining out) and colour blobs (green, blue, yellow and pink patches on the screen). In 2013 Amazon released the second version of the Paperwhite (PW2), but again there were problems with the

In September Amazon announced the Kindle Voyage. Which didn’t only have a build in light, it also came with page turn sensors (which all the previous touch screen Kindle didn’t have) and some other nice options but it had a very hefty price;  €199. This time I decided to wait for the reviews. Again there seemed to be screen problems, this time the top is yellow whilst the bottom is blue-ish. But also there are a lot of reports of Kindle Voyages freezing and having to be exchanged. The reports on the updated PW2 were good. Amazon secretly upped the storage from 2gb to 4gb and the screen problems seem to be mostly in the past.

When Amazon opened their disappointing Dutch webstore it also resulted in us being able to order Kindles from Germany or the UK, a lot cheaper than having to order it from the US. That same week I was on vacation and the apartment didn’t have very good lighting. At night I had to move a floor lamp next to the sofa so I could read on my Kindle 4. After seeing that Amazon.de had the PW2 on offer for €99 I decided to get that one instead of a Voyage. Last week I ordered it and on Friday it arrived. And I love it.

Screen & lighting
One of the most important things on an ereader is the screen. You don’t want any pinholes, dust between the layers, uneven lighting or colour blobs that distract you from your reading. The text is very sharp and mine doesn’t have any colour blobs or pinholes. If I look very carefully I can see a bit of spotlighting at the bottom of the screen when I have the light on. You can see cones of light where the LEDs are at the bottom of the screen, resulting in slightly darker triangles between the LEDs. I had expected this and I only see if if I have the light at a certain level, turning it up or down helps reduce it. I can live with this.
The screen of my PW2 is also a lot whiter than that of my Kindle 4, which was more sepia toned. When the light is on at a level you can see it it has a cooler hue (this differs from Kindle to Kindle).

Font
Whereas my Kindle 4 only had three different fonts to choose from the PW2 has six options, but the same three settings for line spacing and margins and eight for font size. Although I love Kobo’s options when it comes to font settings after setting it up the first time I hardly ever changed it. I don’t want the text to fill the full screen, like many people do. I find it much more readable with margins (I use the widest margins) and a bit of space between the line (middle setting).

Touch screen
Although I haven’t used my Kobo Aura HD since May I still have to get used to the Kindle touch screen, where to touch to go back (on the left side of the screen, the area is narrower than on the Aura HD) and to pull up the menu. But everything is in a very logical place. It’s also a lot faster than the Aura HD, selecting a word to look it up in the dictionary is easy, as is selecting text to save it. It’s a lot more precise. The Aura HD had an IR touch screen, so it will respond to anything that touches the screen. The PW2 has a capacitive touch screen, which means that if you got some dust or crumbs on your screen you want to get rid off you can swipe it off with a bit of cloth without have a menu pop-up or a page turn. I also  love the feel of the screen, which is very paper-like and seems less sensitive to fingerprints than the screen of the Aura HD.

Software
So far my PW2 has been as stable as my other Kindles. No crashes, reboots or freezes. Besides the dictionary you can now also look up words in Wikipedia (wifi must be on) and if it’s enabled on the book you’re reading there is a feature called X-Ray. Where you can look up names, see how often this person is mentioned in the book. But also places and other things. With the latest update Wordwise is introduced. When switched on it gives short definitions of difficult words between the lines over the word. I have this switched off. Also new is the Family Library, where you can link different accounts and share your books. There is also GoodReads for those living in the US and Canada.
What I do use, often is Page Flip. You have to open the menu by tapping at the top of the screen, then on the bottom, above the chapter title is an arrow upwards. If you press that a new window pops up where you can scroll through the book without losing your place. It’s great to look up a map or drawing. I also discovered that when you choose the Go To option in the menu there are now page numbers next to the chapter titles. This makes it easy to check how many pages you have to read to finish your chapter.
At the bottom of the screen you can see how far you are in the book. By tapping the lower left corner you can select different views: page number, time left in chapter, time left in book, location and nothing. The first four options also display the percentage of pages read in the lower right corner.

Miscelaneous
Although the PW2 weighs more than the Kindle 4 it isn’t too heavy and feels like a good quality device. The Kobo Aura HD always felt a little too plasticy to me. The on and off button has a nice clicky feel to it. The one on my Kindle 4 never really clicked and is, at times, unresponsive. However, if you buy the right case you hardly ever need to use the power button because the PW2 can be switched on and off by the case if there’s a little magnet in it (like many tablets and other ereaders).
I bought the official Amazon case for the PW2, in black. It’s an okay case, but I would have like the front to be thicker to protect the screen better. I think I’ll end up ordering an Oberon case for it. Which is a lot heavier and bulkier than the official case but, in my opinion, offers more protection and is a lot prettier.

All in all I’m very happy with my PW2 and I’m glad I waited for so long to buy it. The lighting makes up for the absence of page turn buttons. Now, if only Amazon improves their Dutch webstore (wishlist, payment by iDeal, etc) I would happily switch my account to it.

New Kindle

After going backwards and forwards between getting a Kindle Voyage or a Kindle Paperwhite 2 since the announcement of the Voyage in September I’ve decided to get the Paperwhite 2 (PW2). Mostly because of the problems with the Voyage (screen problems and freezing). Hopefully next year’s Voyage will be better and if it is I might consider upgrading.

Last week Amazon.nl was finally opened, and it turned out to be a disappointment. They only sell ebooks, you can order a Kindle but are sent to the Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de website to do so. Also you can’t put things you want on your wishlist. For now I’m staying with Amazon.com!

However, you can now also directly order a Kindle from Germany or the UK and the PW2 was on offer for €99, a €30 discount. I ordered it on Tuesday and with a bit of luck it should arrive tomorrow, on Friday.

I’m keeping all my finger crossed (in my mind, otherwise it would be hard to do anything) that I get one with a good screen. After last year’s problems with getting an acceptable Kobo Aura HD, I had to exchange it 3 times to get one without pinholes in the screen, I think I deserve a great PW2 :).

Amazon.nl is finally here

Amazon has finally opened their Dutch webstore. Other Dutch webstores were afraid of this, the current sale many webstore have at the moment is reportedly because of Amazon being about to open their Dutch webstore. This opening turns out to be a bit of a disappointment (in my opinion) and many webstores shouldn’t be afraid, yet.

Only Bol.com should be afraid because Amazon.nl is currently only selling Kindles and ebooks. And even then Bol has the advantage of accepting payment by iDeal (a Dutch online payment method for debit cards) and Amazon.nl only accepts credit cards. A lot of Dutch people don’t have a credit card and iDeal is the standard method of online payment in the Netherlands. Hopefully giftcards will be available soon so people can use that to pay for their purchases.

A big disappoint for me personally is that there is no option to put ebooks you want on a wishlist. On Amazon.com I have a long wishlist of ebooks I find interesting.

Also, they only sell Kindles and ebooks. Not even accessories for the Kindle, such as chargers and cases can be ordered.

Because I read only (e)books in English I’ll be staying with Amazon.com for now, if it’s possible. I will be ordering a new Kindle soon (I know I said it was going to be a Paperwhite but I’m now again leaning towards getting the Voyage), but I’ll be registering it at the US website.

No Voyage

Ever since the announcement of the new Kindle Voyage ereader I’ve been looking forward to it. I love the idea of a front lit ereader with both a touch screen but also page turn buttons. And it looking like Amazon was going to give us all that, be it at a premium price.

But just over a week after it’s release in the US (UK release will be on the 4th) I have decided I will go with the updated version of the Paperwhite 2.

User reviews report a two-toned screen, blueish on the bottom and yellow on the top of the screen. This ranges from “I really had to look carefully to see it” to “it looked like my cat peed on it”. This is very reminiscent of the release of the Paperwhite 1, which had problems with “colour blobs” and a lot of  pin holes in the screen. The latter doesn’t seem to be a big problem with the Voyage, though there are some reports that it happens occasionally. I’ve also read about problems with the Voyage freezing, hopefully this can be solved with a software update. What can’t be solved by new firmware are reports of the touch screen issues, where the screen doesn’t register touch properly and reports that the page turn sensors are places too low, even for people with smaller hands, to use comfortably when holding the Kindle Voyage in one had.

Because of these problems I’ve decided to buy the updated version of the Paperwhite 2. Amazon recently increased the disc space from 2gb to 4gb (which is not really that important to me since I usually keep less than 100 books on it) and people noticed that the screen is more even in colour and light than when the PW2 was first released.

Another reason to choose for the PW2 is because I want as little chance of getting a defective unit as possible. Living in the Netherlands I am currently still forced to buy Kindles from the US website. Returning a defective Kindle is a hassle, even if Amazon pays back the shipping costs.

I’m planning on ordering a PW2 plus case in a couple of weeks’ time.

Selective reading

In the past when I started a book series and I even remotely liked it I would continue and unless the series became really bad I would finish it, at least all the books that were released up until I started the series.

Ebooks has given me easy access to books; instead of waiting days, or even weeks, to get the book I want to read I can now order it and have it on my ereader within minutes. With the help of forums and recommendations from Amazon and Goodreads I’ve discovered a lot of series I (might) like. And there is the problem, not only have I discovered a lot of series I want to try but there are also the stand alone books I want to read.

Over the past year or so I’ve noticed I’ve become much more picky when it comes to series. Instead of giving it at least two or three book to see if I like it I usually decide after the first book if I want to continue or not. Unless I’m told by several posts/people/reviews that it gets a lot better after after the first book. I’m also not forcing myself to keep reading a series if I lose interest or the story goes into a direction I don’t like.

So far this year I’ve started 15 new series. Most of them were okay, a couple were a complete waste of time (for me), but I only decided to continue with six of them. There are also several series I do like but I know I’ll only read a book if I’m really in the mood, so I’ve taken those series off my “ongoing series” list.

I’m currently reading the first book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. Although it isn’t a fast read it’s enjoyable, but I’m not sure if I want to continue with it. This might be one of those rare cases I will give the second book a try and decide then.

Reading Challenge 2014 – three months to go

Already three quarters of the year is over. Which means it’s time to take a look at how my reading challenge is going and to start thinking about next year.

According to GoodReads I’m 4 books ahead of schedule for 100 books (I really don’t care if I make it but it’s a number to fill in). In September I was ahead a bit more but the combination of a long book and a couple of days to Newcastle, so not much time to read, has made me slip a little. I’m still ahead compared to previous years in page count, too. But only just. In November I’m going away for a full week alone, I’ve booked an apartment in my favourite holiday park. Besides one or two trips to the nearby town of Harderwijk (depending on the weather, of course) I’ve can read as much as I like. Usually during one of those weeks I manage to read 4 to 6 books so I’ll be able to make up some lost ground, if I haven’t done so already by that time.

Lately, I’ve been starting new series without finished the one already on my active list. And my list of want-to-try series is growing and growing. There are two series I’ve almost finished, so I think I’ll concentrate on those for my next couple of reads.

My favourite new book series is Vera Stanhope by Ann Cleeves. I love the tv series based on the books and was apprehensive about starting them because often when I start reading a book series that has a tv series based on it the books disappoint (Midsomer Murder, Inspector Lynley). But I also love the books, even more than the tv series. I love how Vera is herself; ugly, blunt and nosy. That’s just who she is and people just have to live with it.

It’s also time to start thinking about what to do for next year’s challenge. A lot of people set as goal to read a certain number of books of a certain (sub)genre of even make a reading list of books they want to read that year. That doesn’t work for me. So I think I’ll keep going with the ones I already have; have fun and try to keep the number of active series to a reasonable number.

I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that the new Kindle Voyage will be available for order in the Netherlands soon. Either on the US website or, even better, on the maybe soon to open Dutch Amazon website.