Moving and touching...

ZARA BAXTER
Last updated 05:00 26/09/2012
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FIRST TIME: What you should look for if you've never touched an ebook reader before.

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OPINION: SUMMER'S COMING, GET MOVING!

The advent of GPS technology in smartphones, cameras, watches and other gadgets has meant we can track exactly where we go when we're using those gadgets. Smartphones also have sensors, such as gyroscopes, accelerometers and compasses, that can tell what we're doing, whether we're walking up steps or running. Fitness apps such as RunKeeper, MapMyRide, miCoach and Nike+ use the information they gather from your smartphone's sensors to give you feedback on your exercise. Similarly, Garmin has a range of watches that can track your route, pace and details, such as how many hills you've climbed.

If that all sounds a bit, well, energetic, an alternative is FitBit, which PC World gave a five-star rating and a Platinum award. FitBit's concept is simple: it's a tiny gadget that clips on to your bra, belt or pocket to monitor how active you are. No need to press buttons or enter vast swaths of information, and no need to go running. FitBit quietly goes about its business of tracking how many steps you climb, how many calories you've burnt and how many steps you've taken while you wear it. It's a great way to see what you're actually doing in your day. FitBit prices start at $100.

3D PRINTING

In the United States, 3D printers are now available in retail stores. Previously they were only available to buy online. What could you do with a 3D printer?

Imagine making your own Lego - there's a huge library of 3D Lego designs online, and if you have a 3D printer, it's a simply matter of downloading and creating them. In the case of Lego, its patent has expired, so it's even legal to make your own, as long as you don't call it Lego. 3D printers can be used for objects more complicated than plastic blocks too. Someone has made a workable firing mechanism with one.

Initially, buying a 3-D printer and the materials to make Lego-like bricks will be uneconomical, but prices come down rapidly in technology. Six months ago, a 3D printer cost more than US$1000, but now they're US$600.

EBOOK READERS

eBooks are great for a number of reasons. You can carry many books on a small gadget, you can adjust the text size for easy reading and eBooks are often more affordable than their paper counterparts. Having said that, eBooks bought through one eBook store might not be compatible with another - you cannot read some books bought from the Kindle store on a Kobo, for example.

What you should look for if you've never touched an ebook reader before:

Touch or not?

Touchscreens allow you to touch the side of the screen (Kindle, Kobo) or swipe from one side to the other (Sony Reader) to turn pages. It's simple and intuitive. The alternative is buttons to take you forward or back.

Having the option of both is great. However, touchscreen models cost about $60 to $70 more than equivalent non-touch versions.

e-Ink or LCD?

Older models of eBook reader use e-Ink. Unlike a computer screen, which is powered all the time, e-Ink is powered only when you turn a page, so it uses very little battery power. E-Ink products, such as Sony Reader or Kindle Touch, last for many days on a single charge.

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LCD screens found on smartphones and tablets have the advantage of backlighting and high-contrast text, which can be easier to read. However, the recently released Kobo Glo and Kindle Paperwhite both offer what's called a frontlit screen. Rather than tablets, where the light is projected from behind the text outwards, these devices have light that projects down on the text. This makes it easy to read in darkened rooms without disturbing others.

My suggestion? Try out eBooks on your smartphone or tablet first. You can download a Kindle or Kobo app on almost every smartphone operating system, and there are many free eBooks to sample. A bonus is that these apps sync across devices - I can read on my smartphone, then grab my tablet and continue where I left off.

Zara Baxter edits New Zealand PC World and has been reviewing gadgets for more than 15 years. Visit pcworld.co.nz

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