The Friday Echo: Alexa Can Now Track Your Amazon Packages!

echoI recently bought both the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Tap. We’ve actually been having a lot of fun with them around here. ūüôā I will be writing reviews on the products over the next few weeks (I’ve had the Tap longer and wanted to be able to fairly compare it with the Echo before I reviewed.)

One of the things I have discovered is that there is a bit of a learning curve to using Alexa. Not for her, but for the humans trying to learn to use her. Alexa is all about phraseology and keywords, I have found. (It is a bit different than Siri or OK, Google (Google Now) because Alexa does different things.) So, I am currently working on learning how to work with both the Echo and the Tap. As I learn what the two can do, I will be sharing news articles, tips and so on in a new column, The Friday Echo. Bet you can’t guess what day it will be posted on! ūüôā

Alexa Can Now Track Your Amazon Packages! (Love My Echo) This is an incredibly nifty new feature for Alexa. She can now tell you when your next Amazon package will arrive.¬†She only seems to be able to handle one package at a time, so I wouldn’t be giving here order numbers just yet, but this is a promising integration with Amazon’s system that personally, I would like to see more of.

This battery makes the Amazon Echo portable (The Verge) Okay. So a company made a battery stand for the Echo so that you can then move it around the house. That’s like basically turning it into an Amazon Tap without the button right? Well, not exactly. The Echo can only connect your home network. The Tap is designed to connect to other networks and hotspots. ¬†While I can see the allure of moving Alexa around the house (sometimes I want her in the kitchen), this is a unusual solution, especially as Amazon already solved the problem with the Tap. Note that the Verge’s article employs humor and a hint of sarcasm.

Report: Google has an Amazon Echo competitor coming named ‚ÄėChirp‚Äô (The Next Web) The Echo has proved to be pretty popular and Amazon has¬†sold out of them several times. Now Google wants one, too.¬†It’s not clear if that desire to create a home device comes from is the number of Echo and Tap units sold or the data that is being collected¬†from the device’s use. But seriously, “Chirp”? It¬†needs a better name than that to compete with the likes of Alexa, Siri and Cortana. Okay, Google?

One year after Alexa: Amazon‚Äôs Echo has found a small but smart niche (Ars Technica) This article is an interesting case study in what it is like to like to use the Amazon Echo and Alexa. I found the pros and cons pretty much consistent with my experience of using the Echo and the Tap. And check out the video! It gives you a nice real world run through of the Echo’s features, although it doesn’t give you Alexa’s “I wasn’t able to understand the question I heard” response.

Echo Guides: There are quite a few guides written for the Amazon Echo. Not surprisingly, many of the guides written for the devices are available in Kindle Unlimited. I have started reading through them so I can make some recommendations for good basic beginner’s guides. Stay tuned.

Just for Fun: Ask Alexa what zodiac sign she is.

The first 10 things you should do on your new ereader or tablet

tablet_bowNote: The order in which these are completed may vary¬†from device to device. I was also trying to make sure this advice applied as much as possible to most e-readers, tablets and phones. Therefore, I may have broken some sort of a world’s record for the number of times I use the word device, LOL! Sorry! ¬†ūüôā

First thing, charge the device. The device probably comes partially charged. Is a good idea to make sure it has a full charge before you start any kind of heavy use. You can usually still use the device for setup and personalization while it’s plugged in and charging.

Read/watch the tutorial. If this is a new device, go through the tutorial and familiarize yourself with the device.  Kindles, for example, generally only show the tutorial the first time you boot up the e-reader. Other devices, like Samsung tablets, allow you to choose whether or not to show the tutorial again. Watching the tutorial helps to familiarize yourself with how the device works. If this is an upgrade from a previous model, this will clue you in to what you need to know to understand the changes.

Set up the Wi-Fi (and the cellular¬†service). Generally, Wi-Fi controls are found under settings. Most devices will scan for available Wi-Fi networks, ask you to choose a network¬†and then ask you to enter your password. If your device uses GSM, you will need to insert the Sim card ¬†and then follow your carrier’s instructions to activate it.

Don’t skip the update! ¬†The first thing many devices do is to perform a software update. Don’t skip this step! Your device will run much more smoothly and securely with the latest software version installed.

Set up your accounts. Most of today’s devices are personal and designed for one person’s private use. Whether it’s a phone, ¬†a¬†Kindle, a Chromebook or an iPad, setting up your account is crucial. It personalizes your device and auto fills most of your profile information. Essentially, it does most of the hard work for you. If you have a device which allows you to set up family or multiple profiles, it is easiest to add them right at the beginning. Remember, if you have accounts¬†with services such as Amazon, iTunes, or Google play, all your content is tied to your account. By setting up your account on the new device, you authorize all your content to be available for the new device.

Personalize. Every device has a settings and or preferences section. Here, you can personalize and send aspects of the device to your personal preferences. These settings can include basics such as setting how the clock displays, choosing a time zone, or changing the colors and setting your home screen. There are also advanced settings where you can manage preferences such as passwords, parental controls, languages, dictionaries and connects social media accounts.

Download and re-load. Depending on the device, you may find content already waiting for you. Kindles and Fire tablets allow you to send purchased content to the device before it is even delivered. If you already own content, you can find your previously purchased content in the cloud, waiting to be downloaded. Some tablet manufacturers (such as Samsung and Apple) will install everything from your old device onto a new one from a recent backup.

Get yourself a cover! Do yourself a favor and get some sort of a skin, cover or case for your device. Accidents happen and you want to protect your investment. There is a wide variety of accessories available, making it easy to find something you like at a reasonable price.

Play with it! The best way to familiarize yourself with a new piece of technology used to use it! Allow yourself some time to play with the device to learn how it works and get comfortable with it. Try to use the device under low stress situations until you’re used to it. You’ll learn more and have a lot more fun.

Keep it plugged in! I know. You were told that this blank had an incredible battery life, right? So, why am I telling you to keep it plugged in? Most electronics batteries perform better after several charges. In the case of Kindles,¬†the e-reader actually reads every book you put on the device. This process is called indexing. It allows the Kindle to search for a particular word or phrase. This process occurs every time you add a book to the Kindle, even ones that use sideload manually. The indexing process uses a lot of battery power and if you’re adding a lot of books or adding them on a regular basis, for best performance, keep the battery plugged in.

Any questions, leave it in the comments and I will try to help. ūüôā

You can more resources for new e-readers and tablets on the New e-reader? Start Here page.

Ten Tips for the New eReader Owner

Please note: This article assumes you have already registered your device to your account and set up your wi-fi connection. Unless otherwise noted, these tips apply to Kindles, NOOK and Kobo readers.

1. Get a Cover

New eReader owners frequently ask, “Do I really need a cover?”

The answer is yes, you do. Really. Or a sleeve. Or a zippered pouch. But you do need something to protect the investment you’ve just made in your eReader. The screens can crack and eReaders do get dropped, stepped on and worse.

As far as covers go, there are lots of choices.  There are covers with lights like the Amazon Lighted Cover.  There are handcrafted leather covers like those from Oberon Design. You can also get sleeves and pouches. Prices range from $10 to $100, depending on size, style and material. Most are in the $30 to $75 range.

You can purchase covers anywhere eReaders are sold (including eBay). Craft sites like Etsy.com offer a variety of unique, handcrafted, one-of-a-kind covers. And if your talents run in that direction, you can find patterns and directions for DIY covers on many eReader message boards and forums.

2. Leave the eReader plugged in

Yes, I know. The ad for your eReader said that you could read for weeks on a single battery charge. And that is absolutely true. But those figures are just for reading. That’s not accounting for downloading and indexing.

Most eReader instructions¬†are pretty clear about letting you know that you should keep the Wi-Fi turned OFF when you’re not downloading if you want to get the maximum battery life.

What they don’t tell you is that when you first start putting books on your device, it starts indexing the books so that they are searchable. This indexing causes a¬†huge drain on the battery.¬† If you are a frequent book buyer or you are loading your reader up for a trip, you are going to need to recharge more frequently unless you keep it plugged in when not in use. (That applies to sideloading books as well – they still need to index.)

(And FYI, if you have one of the $79 Kindles with Special Offers,  that particular model has a shorter battery life than some of the other Kindle models. Be prepared to charge more frequently.)

3. Re-read a favorite for your first book

Imagine that someone handed you a book. You are reading along, totally engrossed in the story, until it is time to turn the page– but you don’t know how to do that. Purchasing a beloved¬†favorite as your first book gives you a comfortable book that allows you to concentrate on learning to work the device. For example, the first book I bought for my very first Kindle was Anne McCaffrey’s¬†The Dragonriders¬†of Pern.¬†

That technique can help when learning a new model of the Kindle as well. When I first got the new Kindle Touch, it was so different from the older Kindle models, it took me a bit to figure out how to use the device. I was used to buttons, and when I was trying to use the swipe technique to tun the page and wound up advancing 10 pages. My husband, who had never used a regular Kindle, had no problems at all with the Touch. So, sometimes, even an experienced user needs to spend some time with a new reader.

4. Send it to the cloud

You do not have to wait for your Kindle, Nook or Kobo to arrive to buy books. You can purchase and send books to the cloud before your device even arrives.  On the Nook and the Kobo, the books go to your online library and then you download to the device (or app) or your choice.

On the Kindle, purchases made before your eReader arrives will be in your archive and then appear on your device once you register it. If you have more than one Kindle, you must choose which one you’d like to send the book to when you purchase the book.

But what if you want to keep your Kindle home page uncluttered? There is a way that you can send them to the cloud and not have them taking up memory on your device. Here’s how to use the feature:

  • On the right side of the screen, choose Transfer via Computer from the drop down box.
  • Click Buy Now with 1-Click.
  • If you have more than one Kindle, a screen will ask you what Kindle you plan to transfer the book to. Since you aren’t actually going to transfer the book, it doesn’t matter what you choose. Click continue.
  • A thank you screen appears:

If a dialog box opens prompting you to save, click cancel. Otherwise, click the continue shopping in the Kindle store link.

5. Try a sample

Buying digital books is a bit different than¬†going to a bookstore. Since you can’t thumb through the book, instead, you have the opportunity to download¬†a sample of the book to your device. The Send a Sample dialog box is on the right side of the purchase screen, underneath the purchase box.

Samples vary in length up to about 10% of the length of the book, so shorter books have shorter samples. Most are usually about a chapter or so. This gives you the opportunity to try the book before you buy it. If you like it, you can buy the book from within the sample.

6. Gift cards and budgets

One thing that eReaders do is make it easy to buy books! If you want to keep yourself on track with a budget, try this tip: Purchase a gift card for yourself and redeem it. Then, when you make purchases,  your account  balance is used first. This allows you to set (and hopefully stick to) a budget for book buying.

7. Returning a book

Understand each vendor’s eReader¬†return policy: Barnes and Noble’s website gives a 14-day window for returning an eReader. Amazon and Kobo have a 30 day return period on devices purchased from them. For all vendors, check with customer service for restrictions and any applicable re-stocking fees. Ereaders purchased at local stores are subject to store return policies.

Returning ebooks: I could not find a stated ebook return policy on either Kobo.com or Barnesandnoble.com. Amazon gives readers 7 days to return an ebook,  although I have seen anecdotal evidence that customers who constantly abuse this feature have been contacted by Amazon about their behavior.

8. Need a little help?

Your eReader manual, customer support¬†and the company’s website should answer many of questions about your new eReader.

Each eReader also has books available for purchase that can further your understanding of you device. For example, for the Kobo, there is the Kobo Touch Survival Guide (ironically available also in a Kindle version  as well as one for the NOOK,) There are guides for NOOKs and for the Kindles.

9. Find a community

If you want to learn more about your device or simply to discuss ideas with other users, there are a number of forums dedicated to eReaders. Here are just a few:

Most boards have a section for people with other brands of readers. The boards are also a good source of information when looking for accessories.

Mobileread forums are intended for users of many different types of device and the discussion covers  a wide variety of subjects. It is a great resource for recommendations and help on ebook format conversion and other advanced topics

10. Check out the freebies and bargains

I have written pieces on where to find legal free books for eReaders. You can read that article here.

If you are looking specifically for free books for one of the Kindles, Amazon does a list of the top 100 paid books and the top 100 free books here.

Another good source for Kindle books¬†is Amazon’s Kindle message forum.¬†Since Amazon created its Kindle Owners Lending Library for Prime members, there has been an average of 250 to 400 free books offered per day. Look for a discussion in the Kindle forum marked FREE BOOKS and the date (like this example). ¬†There, you will find links to various free titles. And remember to always check the price before you purchase some books are free only for a very limited time!

Amazon also offers a Kindle Daily Deal, where one book is featured at a discount price for that day only.

You can more resources for new ereaders and tablets on the New e-reader? Start Here page.