Review: Amazon Kindle apps for Mac, Android, iPad #fail

Wednesday, 15 February, 2012

I am very disappointed with my Amazon Kindle apps for Mac, Android, iPad and I am giving them a big #fail !!!

Destroyed Highlights & Notes

After the recent Amazon Kindle app update, all my pages and pages of highlights and notes are lost! And after some googling, this problem has been around for months! I am one of those readers that add lots of markups and notes to books I read so that I can go back to interesting passages months and years later. To me, a blank new book is pretty much pointless because I can always get a new unmarked book (or an unmarked ebook) from the book store!

Poorly designed and unreasonably slow UI

The User Interfaces of Amazon Kindle apps for Mac, Android, iPad have been poorly designed and thought out. When you select something on the top 1/3 of a page to add notes/highlight, the menu blocks the next few lines. And then to make matter worst, a simple highlight can take not 2, not 3, not 4 seconds to complete! It has taken 21, yes, TWENTY-ONE beeping seconds to highlight a few line of text! What the beep is going on with the Amazon Kindle app when there is nothing running on my Mac (with nothing else running, right after a restart)?

I haven’t got around to complain to Amazon to try to get the lost notes back (I have synced to the Amazon cloud) but I am not optimistic. Until and unless Amazon fix its bugs, admit to these problems and improve its apps, I don’t think I would buy another e-book from Amazon.

I am surprised to see Kindle out for so long when these apps with simple and minimum functions being so buggy and unreliable! Feel free to share your Kindle app experiences.

Update: After a day of missing highlights & notes, they seem to be back on the ebook on the Mac Kindle app now. But the highlights and notes are still missing on the Kindle Android app and the sync didn’t sync the notes!

Update 2: Some notes are back on both Mac and Android apps. Unforunately, some notes in some chapters are missing! Beep!

Guardian’s iPad Eyewitness app – Love it!

Saturday, 23 April, 2011

I’ve been using the Guardian’s iPad Eyewitness app for a while and I love it!. Here is a YouTube demo of the app by a photographer. [HT Guardian eyewitness]

Here is another explanation.

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese speech-to-speech translation app

Saturday, 5 March, 2011

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 2

What is Jibbigo?

Jibbigo is a “speech-to-speech translation app for your mobile device. You talk in one language, it talks back in the other. […] No data charges required–just your voice. Jibbigo is available in eight different language pairs on iTunes and the Android Market.

Apple iPad app:  “Jibbigo ” (link to iTune)

Price: US$ 24.99

Star rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

*** Background ***

Machine translation is a very difficult problem even for desktop/large computers. I see translation in three levels of difficulties, beginning with the hard problem of text-to-text translation, then speech-to-text translation, and the toughest one is speech-to-speech translation (the one Jibbigo tries to do). Why? Because speech-to-speech translation requires,

1) the original (e.g. English/Chinese) human voice be recognized and converted correctly into (English/Chinese) text;

2) the translation of recognized text into target language text (Chinese/English) be performed correctly (very hard in itself); and

3) the translated target text being read out in the target language correctly (should be easier but not always as you will see here).

I’ve spent days and many hours testing and exploring the Jibbigo iPad app (feeling like testing software in one of my previous jobs). The following is my review plus an edited video highlighting some of the tests I’ve conducted.

*** The Good/OK ***

* Translation of simple greetings (“Good morning.”, “Good Afternoon.” etc) were done correctly most of the time.

* Some simple English sentences were picked up and translated to Chinese correctly.

(e.g. “How much?” ==> “多少钱?”; “How about two million five hundred thousand dollars?” was translated to “2500000美元怎样?” (note: ; 2500000 was read as 2 million, 500 thousands); “Do you have orange juice?” ==> “有橙汁吗?”; “I live in Canada.” ==> “我住在加拿大。”)

* Jibbigo allows user to enter names and their Chinese translations. For example, I entered my name Kempton and my name in Chinese. Jibbigo was able to recognize my name “Kempton” in English and translated it to Chinese. Unfortunately, Jibbigo failed to pronounce my Chinese name correctly. More on this in the next section.

* Some simple sentences were translated somewhat correctly.

(e.g. “What time do I need to get up in the morning?” was translated to “我想要什么时候起床?” The translation missed the word “morning” “早晨/早上” and confused “need to” with “想要” (the word for “wish to”).

“Where can I rent a car?” was translated to “我在哪能租车吗?” . This Chinese translation is understandable but a better one may be “我在哪里可以租到车?” since the “吗” at the end is not really necessary. And being the picky me, I think “哪里可以” is stylistically better than “哪能”.

* To “protect” the user :), Jibbigo won’t display or translate profanities. So if you said “F*ck off!”, the Jibbigo will show it detected/picked up “<beep> off.” and actually create a beep and display “<beep>.” instead of doing any Chinese translation!

*** The Bad/Not-so-good ***

* The simple sentence of “Do you have steak?” was translated to the non-sensical “你有排怎么做?” instead of the correct one of “你有牛排吗?”.

“I am having steak for dinner.” was incorrectly translated to “我的牛排吗。”, missing the word/idea of “dinner” and adding the question word “吗” for no good reason. A better translation may be “我的晚餐是牛排。” or  “我吃牛排晚餐。”

* “The machine part number is 123456789.” was translated to “这个机器号码是123456789分。” The last word “分” is not needed and indeed confusing and misleading.

* “How much is your machine?” was badly translated to “你是多少钱?” meaning “How much are YOU?” Jibbigo missed the important word of “machine”. A better translation is “你的机器是多少钱?”

* “I need it next month.” was incorrectly translated to “我需要它。” missing the translation for “next month”. A better translation may be “我下个月需要它。”

* I think this one may be tough but important to crack. Jibbigo has problems with proper nouns. e.g. “China Airlines.” was translated to “中国航空公司。” when the proper Chinese name for this Taiwan-based airline is “中華航空公司”. Imagine, someone at the airport trying to fly “中国航空公司” and being told there is no such airline!

“How about two million Canadian dollars?” was badly translated to “加2500000美元吗?”, misplacing the word “加” (for Canada?) and missing the fact that it is “Canadian dollars” and not US dollars “美元”. The correct translation should be “2500000加元怎样?”

* When the Chinese tester said hello and her Chinese name (which was entered into Jibbigo), the app picked up, “你好。我交换怀孕。” and translated the words to, “Hello. I am exchange.” Jibbigo goofed badly because “交换” and “怀孕” are the words for “exchange” and “pregnant”, very far off from her name!

* “Bee” was translated as “啤酒”, the words for “beer”! The correct Chinese words for bee are “蜜蜂”.

* And for some strange reason, Jibbigo failed to translate the following list of words when they were said individually. “Talk, Speak, Speaking, Love, Month,

*** Software stability problems and errors ***

* When iPad went into sleep/auto-lock mode (I set my iPad to go to sleep in 5 minutes) while Jibbigo is running, it will crash and will fail to record voice/function properly when the iPad is woken up.

*** Concluding comments ***

As a computer geek and someone who wants to see Jibbigo‘s technology working, I am disappointed to find Jibbigo failed to work as advertised. Based on my extensive testing, I cannot recommend Jibbigo. And as one Jibbigo user commented in his review, “I wouldn’t dare use this on a trip for fear of getting laughed at or smacked!“. To be truthful, I don’t think he was being excessively harsh.

I think the Jibbigo English to Chinese translation app development team needs to spend some time in resolving the various translation and stability problems in the current version of the software (Jan 21, 2011, Version 1.12226). I wish the Jibbigo team the best of luck.

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 3

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 4

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 5

P.S. The user can choose one of two language pairs, “English International <==> Chinese” or “English USA/Canada <==> Chinese”, I picked Canadian English.

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation

iPad app review: Moving Tales’ Unwanted Guest

Thursday, 3 March, 2011

Moving Tales' Unwanted Guest - pix 1Moving Tales' Unwanted Guest - pix 2

Apple iPad app:  ”Unwanted Guest

Price: US$ 4.99

Star rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Unwanted Guest“ is great story and wonderfully designed app by the creative people at Moving Tales. The story about a poor old man, down on his luck and living in a tumbledown house, is visited by an unwelcome house guest was very engaging that I ended up finishing the app/book in one reading! The animations are beautifully imagined, stunningly designed and rendered. The English, French, and Spanish voice-over all sounded very engaging and worked great with the story. I can imagine some parents using the foreign languages option to teach their children one or more of the languages. I highly recommend you check out ”Unwanted Guest“.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Moving Tales‘s first story app ”The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross“, have a look of my 2010 August app review and you may want to get that app too. By now, I have seen and reviewed producer/director/animator Matthew Talbot-Kelly’s Moving Tales team of creative people’s last two out of three story apps and they are setting very high standard for the industry!

The following is a promotional clip of the app from Moving Tales.

Robert Louis Stevenson 160th Birthday – Treasure Island FlyingWord iPad app

Friday, 12 November, 2010

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 1

Thanks to Google, we learned that today is the 160th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Well, as it happened, a few days ago, I posted my FlyingWord Treasure Island iPad app review and my interview with Joe Weber FlyingWord CEO about their Treasure Island iPad app. Check them out.

Nov 15 Update: Here is a link to the Treasure Island app on iTune.

Joe Weber FlyingWord CEO interview – “Treasure Island” iPad app

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 2

The following are video clips of my Skype video interview with Joe Weber, CEO and co-founder of FlyingWord, to talk about their Treasure Island iPad app based on the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (beautifully narrated for about 7 hours)

Also check out my FlyingWord “Treasure Island” iPad app review.

Here are part 1 of my interview with Joe.

Part 2

Part 3

Here is a promotional clip of FlyingWord’s Treasure Island,

iPad app review: FlyingWord’s “Treasure Island”

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 1

The following is a review of the pre-release version of FlyingWord Treasure Island iPad app. And I will post my video interview with Joe Weber, CEO and co-founder of FlyingWord, later.


Apple iPad app: “Treasure Island” by FlyingWord based on the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Price: $7.99

Launch date: Nov 13, 2010

Promotional clip of FlyingWord’s Treasure Island

Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


– Lively and very engaging narration of the original full-length classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (beautifully narrated for about 7 hours)

– Excellent music and sound effects at the right places.

– Historical original Treasure Island illustrations by N. C. Wyeth and Walter Paget.

– Nicely rendered 2D illustrations into “3D projections”, camera angle controllable by readers. [Note: the 3D here is not real Avatar 3D, but closer to what Ken Burns does with his “layers” of photos in a scene.]

– Some of the pages have objects for readers to play with. For sure to check out the cannon. (These objects have “physics engines” behind them to allow users to move them around.)


– The initial version of the app has a few bugs that I’ve reported to FlyingWord.

-The app has problems waking up from “sleep” or “auto-lock” modes. Narration fails to restart gracefully. In a few instances, waking up after sleep actually tripped the narration and it got stuck in repeating a word/sound.

– If the reader flip to a page where part of the text in the paragraph is in the previous page, the narration will read from the text in the previous page. This result can be very confusing for the readers as they may not know this is the “expected behaviour”. To me, readers may expect when flipping to a new page, the narration will match the text she/he reads on the page.

– Many of the objects are a bit too small and difficult to control.
+ e.g. in the breakfast scene (bottle is ok, but the egg, plate, and sword are difficult to manipulate)
+ in the scene with the apple barrel, the barrel can be easily moved but the apples are not controllable even though the readers will likely spend time to try to move it. It may be more enjoyable if the apples are made bigger and controllable by readers like the barrel.

– This one is technical. Currently, the space outside of the edges of the 2D to 3D projections are blank (set to black space). I think it will look nicer and gives a more immersive experience if the whole background are filled and readers won’t see black space around the edges of the original 2D frames.


As discussed in the Pros section, the narration is lively and very engaging and I really love it. At the same time, the app may have been a bit ambitious in using the full-length original Treasure Island in its launch version. The good news is that an abridged free update will be released in a few weeks after the initial launch. To me, the abridged version with shorter audio (~1.5 hour long) and text will be a nicer fit for kids who will appreciate the physics engines games and 2D-to-3D effects more.

To write this review, I also found and checked out a LibriVox free audio book version of Treasure Island on the app store and it has the original text and the audio is reasonably good but definitely not as exciting/engaging as FlyingWord‘s version.

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 2

Coming Soon

FlyingWord‘s next book is ‘Twas the night before Christmas (tentative price: about $4.99).


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