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Kobo Books and eReaders

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Kobo BooksOver the last year or so, I have been experimenting with eReaders and eBooks on my BlackBerry.  While at first it definitely took some getting used to, I feel quite comfortable reading on my device now.  I will admit that on a cloudy day at home, nothing is better than real book in your hands.  However, the convenience of having my book in my pocket all day is something else.  I can even read on my lunch break at work without having to carry a book around with me all day (I’m already carrying my phone so it’s no extra baggage).

Initially, I downloaded the BlackBerry app from eReader.com, primarily because it was the first eReader app I found for BlackBerry.  I definitely liked their app and their online selection was great.  No complaints whatsoever.  My only drawback is that eReader.com is owned and operated by Barnes & Noble.  Barnes & Noble is a great company, but they’re not Canadian.  Another eReader option that everyone is familiar with is Kindle (Amazon’s handheld device).  Now, Amazon has definitely brought eBooks into the mainstream, so we can thank them for that.  And they have released an app for the iPhone so Apple lovers can partake in the fun.  However, Amazon has not released an app for BlackBerry, or any other device for that matter, yet.  And also, not Canadian.

But just this past November (2009), without much fanfare, Kobo Books was launched, backed by Indigo Books & Music.  Now, I have always been a fan of Chapters and Indigo.  Especially because they are a Canadian company in a time when US companies seem to be swallowing up every successful Canadian company.  That, and who can complain about having a fresh Starbucks with you while you peruse the store.  And when purchasing online, I’m always slightly more comfortable when I know it’s with a reputable Canadian company.

Kobo has a good, and always expanding, collection of eBooks available online.  And according to their website, part of their mission is “assembling the world’s best catalogue of eBooks, no matter which device [their] customers use.”  Fantastic!  Additionally, their eBooks are also available without any digital rights management.  Meaning that you can download these books to any device you choose.  They provide apps for PC and Mac, BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile devices, Symbian (Nokia), and other devices.  And you can even download your purchased eBooks to a Kindle Reader or a Sony Reader if you happen to have spent your money on one already.

One of the other reasons I like Kobo, as opposed to eReader.com, is that they have a lot more Canadian-published eBooks available.  And for most books, you can preview the first chapter or two before you buy – just like being in the store.  They also have a decent selection of free classics that you can download to test things out before shelling out any cash.

I only found out about Kobo earlier this week, so I installed it on my PC and BlackBerry and have been trying it out for the lost couple of days.  So far, I love it.  Both the BlackBerry app and the PC application (Adobe Digital Editions) are free and work exactly as expected.  I will post an update once I’ve had a little bit longer to get accustomed and put some more mileage on it.

To download the BlackBerry app in App World, click HERE or you can find it on the Kobo website HERE.

Update Feb 18: Today Amazon released Kindle for BlackBerry; however, only to people who live in the US (i.e. still not available to Canadians).  So, I guess Amazon is almost there as well.  But, I am more than pleased with how Kobo is working, so Amazon is a bit too late on that one.

Update Jun 1: Still use it.  Still love it.  A lot of mobile apps have a tendency to fade out of usefulness.  Thought I’d keep the records straight here.

Poynt vs. Urbanspoon (score 1 for Poynt)

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

PoyntI posted earlier about my excitement that Urbanspoon for BlackBerry had finally been released (see original post here).  However, I have to put a plug in for Poynt here, based on a vacation I took this week.

I took my wife to Harrison Hot Springs in south-western BC for a couple of days during the holidays.  Once we were settled into our hotel and ready to go for something to eat, I fired up Urbanspoon on my BlackBerry.  I was disappointed to see that the nearest location was Chilliwack (approximately 30 minutes drive away).  This didn’t provide us any useful information as to where to eat.  So while I do use Urbanspoon frequently in a big city, it is completely useless in a small town.

So I opened Poynt and searched using the ‘Restaurants Near Me’ feature, which quickly brought up a list of restaurants, noting each of their distances from my present location.  Poynt uses Yellow Pages listings and Open Table restaurant listings to find restaurants.  Although we could not read reviews or ratings on any of these restaurants, we could find which ones were closest, directions to get there, and an idea on what type of food to expect.

So, while sometimes I like to read a few reviews on a restaurant before dining there, in a small town with 1 sushi restaurant and 1 bar/grill, I only really need to know what’s available and how to get there.  Score 1 for Poynt!  I must also admit that Poynt is one of the most used apps on my BlackBerry.  Everything from movie tickets to a nearby liquor store or gas station can be found.  Incredibly powerful tool, I just never thought I’d also use it to find restaurants in a pinch.

Urbanspoon for BlackBerry

November 26, 2009 1 comment

UrbanspoonI’m a little behind on this one, as I’ve been away in Europe for the last couple of weeks, where my Bell Canada CDMA BlackBerry 8330 does not work.  But here we go…

I installed Urbanspoon for BlackBerry earlier this week, and have been playing with it for a few days now.  I must admit that I have been anxiously anticipating this release ever since the first time I saw this app on a friends iPhone a few years ago.

So far, I have been pleasantly surprised with the application.  Prior to this release for BlackBerry, I have been using Poynt and OpenTable’s BlackBerry apps to search for restaurants.  Both of these apps are location-based search apps, but have their limitations.

The OpenTable app is well designed and works well, but had a couple of glaring limitations that were quite frustrating.  First, there was no way to read restaurants reviews in the application.  Therefore, it would find restaurants in my area, but other than a short description of the restaurant, offered no additional information.  Secondly, the app is limited to restaurants that sign on to the OpenTable reservation program.  So a great app, but quite limited.

Poynt is a great location-based search tool, but searches directories (i.e. YellowPages) and therefore, provides restaurant names, contact information, address, and directions, but does not provide any additional information, such as reviews or descriptions.  So while Poynt is one of my favourite and most used BlackBerry apps, it is not entirely suited to finding restaurants.

Enter Urbanspoon.  I like that it has the ability to search based on proximity, type of cuisine and price range.  The randomization (spin) feature is nice, but is purely aesthetic.  I do, however, really like that it offers ratings (% of people who like it) and reviews for each restaurant.  Additionally, the app integrates really well with BlackBerry Maps to provide navigation and/or step-by-step directions.

However, the app leaves room for a couple of improvements.  First, each time I open the app, the sound is turned on, even if my phone profile is set to quiet or vibrate.  Easily turned off, but easy to forget.  Second, the reviews open in the browser instead of in the app itself.  While still functional, would be nice to see this functionality built into the app itself.  And lastly, the app opens with a background image of a cup of french fries.  Not exactly the haute cuisine I am searching for.  If I want fries, I can always find the Golden Arches.

Overall, a great app, and it is great to see that it has finally been added to the BlackBerry lineup.  The app is available in the BlackBerry App World or from the Urbanspoon directly.

Wine App for BlackBerry

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been searching for a wine review / cellar management application for my BlackBerry for quite some time.  With the release of the iPhone, it’s become even more frustrating with the flood of applications of this sort that were developed for the iPhone.  For some reason, however, the BlackBerry was entirely overlooked by developers.  Enter BlackBerry App World.  So now that BB owners finally have a centralized distribution channel to search for BB apps, we are still waiting for certain apps to materialize.

Well, over the last year, I have been contacting a few of these iPhone wine app developers and a few online cellar management companies to see if anyone has plans to develop a BlackBerry version of their app.  And as of today, I finally have some good news to report.

I received an email from an anonymous source today to let me know that Cor.kz has been working on a BlackBerry app that will provide wine reviews and cellar management using data from CellarTracker!.  Currently, they have an iPhone version of the app that has received great reviews and is rated as one of the top 5 wine apps for the iPhone.  I emailed the developers at Cor.kz and received confirmation from them that this is no rumour.

Cor.kz Wine App

The best part of this story is that CellarTracker.com is a great online cellar management tool that is used by 84,000 users already and has reviews/information on over 14 million different bottles of wine already.  It’s a great database to manage your cellar and read reviews.  And it happens to be the tool that I currently use to manage my own cellar.  So it’s great that this is the data the Cor.kz BlackBerry app will be using.

I’ll post an update once I hear anymore information.  But it’s great to be able to say that someone is working on it.  We’re almost there.

Update, December 6: I received an update from Cor.kz saying that they are still working on the app and will let me know as soon as they have a better idea on their timeline.