Archive for the ‘Holiday Gift Guides’ Category

2014 ILMK Holiday Gift Guide

December 1, 2014

2014 ILMK Holiday Gift Guide

There are a lot of options in gifts to consider from Amazon this year…and that’s both a good and a bad thing.

It’s good, because you may find something that fits your needs better.

It’s bad because it’s harder to find it! 😉

That’s a bit like books…so many more possible choices, and yet, it’s challenging to make one.

 Let’s start out with devices to use to read e-books.

Skipping the Fire Phone for now (I’ll come to that), there are two main categories:

  • EBRs (E-Book Readers): the Kindles
  • Fire tablets: (formerly “Kindle Fires”)

They are two pretty different classes of devices. In fact, a lot of people, like me, use both.

An EBR is great for reading books. You can read them outside without a problem, the reading experience is very comfortable, and the battery life is measured in weeks, not hours. If someone is a bookworm, this is a good choice.

Notice that I didn’t say the “best” choice. 🙂 Different people use their devices differently, and what is best for one person might not be best for another.

For example, if someone wanted to read magazines, or perhaps textbooks, in color, an EBR (at this point) won’t do that. If someone reads a lot of novels and they read National Geographic, you are going to have to make the call as to what’s most important for that person (or, as I mentioned, figure on the person using both).

The Fires are “backlit” (you read what is on the screen by a light coming from behind a screen….like your cellphone, laptop, or desktop computer) tablet computers. You can read on them (I do), but you can always watch movies, TV shows, use apps (including popular games), visit websites, and so on.

If you have someone who is “all about those books”, I’d go with the EBR. If you’ve got somebody who is also going to want to do videos, apps, and robustly use the internet, I’d go with the tablet.

Let’s talk EBRs first.

There are basically three models this year, at three price ranges. I’m going to start in the middle, then tell you what you’ll miss or gain as you go up or down.

Kindle Paperwhite 2 (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
Price at time of writing (all prices in the USA at, and may go down and back up during this season): $119 to $189
Options: $20 lower for an ad-supported model; $70 more for a model with 3G. Ad-supported models are a lower initial price, and you agree to see ads on the “sleep screen” and where you select the book to read…but not inside the book. Since they’ve been released, the ad-supported models have been more popular than their unsubsidized, full-price counterparts. 3G is a second way to connect to the internet (including Amazon’s servers). With wi-fi only, you need to be on a short-range network (you may have one in your house for your devices: some businesses, like Starbucks and McDonald’s may have it). With 3G, you connect like a cellphone would, so you can connect in more places, possibly like in a park or at the beach. It may be worth noting that 3G is easier to use (oh, and there’s no charge for it), since you won’t have to enter a password.
4.5 stars out of 5, 22030 customer reviews

This is my EBR, and I like it a lot. It is the most comfortable reading experience I’ve ever had…including paper. It has the latest software update.

It has a built-in “frontlight”…that’s not like the backlight on a tablet. It’s more like having an onboard booklight. You can read it easily indoors or out, and has great battery life.

This is a good, solid choice.

If you want to go for the top of the line, you move up to the recently introduced

Kindle Voyage (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
Price: $199-$289 (options priced same as above)
3.9 stars, 644 reviews

What you gain:

  • It’s sleeker (lighter, thinner, smaller)
  • It has a special way to change pages, just by lightly pressing (you can change the sensitivity) on the edge where you hold it (as opposed to touching the screen with the Paperwhite). This should make for an even more friction-free reading experience
  • It automatically adjusts the brightness
  • It has more PPI (Pixels Per Inch)…that’s the number of dots on the screen being to make the letters and images. The more pixels, the stronger the graphic

What you lose:

  • Some people like playing games on their EBRs (called “Active Content”). Active Content is not being made available for the Voyage, supposedly to give a more focused reading experience
  • There are combo deals for the other two models with Kindle Unlimited (more on that later) right now: that’s not available for the Voyage

If you want to get the most affordable Kindle, there is the:

Seventh generation entry level Kindle…I call it the “Mindle Touch” (it replaces the old “minimum Kindle”, and has a touchscreen) or the “K7″ (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
price: $79-$99 (no 3G available)
4.0 stars, 839 reviews

What you lose:

  • There is no light on this. If you want to read in a dark room, you would need to deal with it like you do (did?) with a paperbook
  • No 3G option
  • Lowest PPI (Pixels Per Inch…see above)…least sharp

What you gain:

  • Lowest price
  • Lighter than a Paperwhite (but heavier than a Voyage)

If you are buying someone a first Kindle, or you want to give someone an extra Kindle to have (some people like having two…one could be a “spare”, or be used in two different locations), or want to have a guestroom Kindle, this is a great choice. If you aren’t sure if somebody is going to like a Kindle, this is the least risk (although all current Kindles have a generous thirty day return policy from Amazon).

Overall, I’d say that the light does make a big difference…if you are comfortable spending $40 more for a better experience, I’d go for the Paperwhite over the Mindle Touch (again, just my name for it). Go for the Voyage if you want the “best”.

Next, let’s talk the Fire tablets.

It’s a little bit harder to pick a middle model here. I’m going to start with the one I use every day. 🙂 It’s actually a generation back, but it is still being sold new by Amazon:

Kindle Fire HDX 7″ (at AmazonSmile*)
price: $199 ($179 Black Friday sale)-$294

  •  With 4G (an additional way to connect to the internet, including Amazon’s servers): +$100
  • Go from 16GB on board memory to 32GB: +$20
  • Go from 16 GB to 64GB: +$60
  • Ad supported: -$15

I’ve been very happy with this device! I use it every day. I

  • read books
  • read magazines (in color)
  • use text-to-speech in the car (software which reads books out loud to you, unless the publisher has blocked the access. That’s no longer available on the current EBRs, because they do not have sound)
  • listen to music
  • watch videos
  • use apps (both games and utilities…it’s my main news source, using the Flipboard and Watchup apps)
  • check the weather
  • read and answer my e-mail
  • use it as my nightstand clock (including the alarms)
  • “mirror” it to my TV…anything on my screen appears on my TV through my Fire TV or Fire TV stick (more on those later)
  • and many more things

The onscreen tech help, Mayday, is amazing! Within fifteen seconds, you can have a technical advisor appear on the screen (you can see them, but they can’t see you). They can take over your device (if you want), tell you how to do something, or show you by drawing on the screen.

While it is the previous generation of hardware, it has the current generation software (Fire OS 4).

While no technology is perfect, it has been one of my favorites to date (knock virtual wood). 😉

Want to move up from there?

Fire HDX 8.9 (at AmazonSmile*)


  • Add 4g: +$100
  • Go from 16GB to 32GB: +$50
  • Go from 16GB to 64 GB: +$100
  • Ad supported: -$15

What you gain:

  • Bigger screen
  • More pixels per inch
  • Faster processor: 2.5GHz versus 2.2GHz
  • Another hour of battery life (despite the larger screen)
  • Better wi-fi connectivity
  • Adds an additional 8MP rear-facing camera (as opposed to the front-facing camera only on mine…the latter is really designed for video calls, and isn’t great for taking pictures or video of things besides you)
  • Current generation (you aren’t likely to see it replaced as soon as the one I have, so you might avoid “buyer’s remorse”)

What you lose:

  • It’s significantly bigger and heavier
  • Costs a lot more

The rear-facing camera is the biggest difference (besides overall technical quality), and some people love the bigger screen. I had an 8.9″, though, and often found it to be too big to carry around comfortably.

If you want to go less expensive, there are three varieties of the HD:


  • Going from the 6″ to the 7″ screen: +$10 on the regular HDs,  +$40 on the Kids’
  • Going from 8GB to 16GB (not available on the Kids’): +$20
  • Ad supported (not available on the Kids’): -$15

What you lose:

  • No 4G option
  • Lower PPI
  • Slower processor
  • Worse wi-fi connection (single-band versus double-band)
  • Onboard storage options smaller
  • Mayday

What you gain:

  • Lower price
  • Kids edition is “ruggedized” and guarantees a replacement if broken
  • More colors for the case

I would consider the Kids version for younger kids, or ones that you think would be more likely to need the extra protection (kids vary). You’ll have to balance off the lack of a rear-facing camera on the 7″ HDX with the additional cost and size of the 8.9″ HDX. The lack of Mayday on the HDs is a serious deficit, in my opinion, but I bought one of those to be our “guest Kindle” this time around…and it’s working out quite well.

Those are the EBRs and tablets, although Amazon often has refurbished ones of the older, discontinued models.

Certified Refurbished Kindles (at AmazonSmile*)

Those will be less expensive, and may include those older models. They come with same basic warranty as new ones, but they are “used”, so you need to take that into account.

Before I move on to other Amazon media devices, I want to mention a few things that can go with the EBRs and tablets.

Amazon Gift Cards (at AmazonSmile*)

They can not be used for subscription items (magazines, newspapers, blogs), but can be used for music, videos, e-books, the above devices, accessories (covers and such), and apps.

They come in lots of designs, and you can even customize them. You can do odd amounts, and even send them by e-mail.

I’ve seen something saying that gift cards top people’s wish lists…I think there used to be more of a stigma to them before than there is now.

Gift Subscriptions to Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s subser (that’s what I call a “subscription service”) for e-books. You can have up to ten a time out, and there are over 700,000. While you won’t see every currently popular book, there are a lot of great choices. I think this is a wonderful gift for a serious reader…or even for someone you want to encourage to read. Even if they are already a subscriber, this will extend it: and they can exchange the gift, if they want.

I’ve written to them suggesting that they do one month gift subscriptions (I’d buy quite a few), but they are currently available in these amounts:

  • 6 months for $59.94
  • 12 months for $119.88
  • 24 months for $239.76

I don’t know how long it will last, but they are also doing bundles of a Mindle Touch and six months of KU for $99

Kindle and 6M KU for $99 (at AmazonSmile*)

That’s a savings of $39.94!

The bundle offer is also available for these devices (not for the Voyage, at least currently:

I think those bundles could be life-changing gifts!

If you get a tablet, you get a free month of Prime…but gifting a year’s worth would be appreciated by just about anybody:

Amazon Prime (One Year Membership)
at AmazonSmile

Okay, this has gotten to be quite long! Let me give a quick rundown on Amazon’s other media devices:

Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
4.0 star, 13302 reviews

I also use this every day. Currently $99, they have had some sales on it already. You plug it into the HDMI on your TV, and you have access to lots of Prime content, apps for other services you may have (Netflix, Hulu+), your photos, and you can mirror your device. If you want to “cut the cord” (stop using or cut back on cable or satellite), this will be a big help.

Fire TV Stick (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
3.9 stars, 1796 reviews
$39 at time of writing

This is the Fire TV’s smaller sibling. I just got mine yesterday…and it’s quite impressive. It’s like the Fire TV, but is a much smaller device. I will say that it was noticeably slower at doing things (although once you got into something like a video or an app, it was fine). It doesn’t come with the voice search remote control that the “big” Fire TV has, but you can put an app on your smart phone and do it. One place I plan to use it as at work: you can mirror your compatible tablet or smart phone. We often have big TVs in conference/training rooms, with an HDMI input. I would just need to put the Fire TV stick on the network, and then I could mirror my device to it. That’s so much more convenient than using bulky projectors!

Amazon Fire Phone (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
$199 unlocked at time of writing
3.7 stars, 137 reviews

This one notoriously hasn’t succeeded. I own one, and it’s a good phone with some unique features, but not an outstanding one…yet. They are still supporting it and playing with pricing. If they gave it a unique ability to work with the Echo (see below), that could be a big push for the Fire Phone. I’d be cautious about gifting it, though…I’d look at what brand of phone the person wants to have. It’s pretty hard to switch between an Android phone and an iPhone, for example.

Amazon Echo (not yet available for general purchase)
$99 for Prime members who get invites currently: expected list price, $199

This is the one where people would say, “How did you get one of those?” If you haven’t been invited (you can request an invite at the above link if you are a Prime member…doesn’t mean you’ll get one), your only hope is places like eBay.

What I’ve been reading from people who have one is very positive…I’m hoping I can get one, either by invitation, or by them opening it up to the public!

It appears to be improving every day, and I think that this device will become commonplace in the next few years. It’s sort of like the computer on the original Star Trek’s Enterprise, or like SIRI for your house. You talk to it: it does things (especially playing music, but answering questions, putting things on shopping lists, setting alarms…and I predict it will do a whole more in the next year).

That should give you some guidance and ideas! If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.



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