A Slew of New Kindles

To Buy or Not to Buy

Today, Amazon announced it is releasing a whopping seven new versions of the Kindle and the Kindle Fire. I’m guessing this is an attempt to steal Apple’s thunder before the announcement of the new iPhone. If so, well played, because those who love and/or lust after tablets and eReaders will certainly take notice.

You can read more about it in this article from the LA Times, including these important details:

Amazon’s seven new devices are a cheaper Kindle e-reader for $69; two versions of its new front-lighted Paperwhite e-reader; an upgraded Kindle Fire tablet for $159; and three HD Kindle Fires: a 7-inch Wi-Fi version, an 8.9-inch Wi-Fi version and an 8.9-inch 4G model. Prices for these HD models range from $199 to $599. Paperwhite, which comes in $119 and $179 versions, features a higher resolution, up to eight weeks of battery life and a slimmer design. The Kindle Fire HD family features 25% less glare, dual antennas for faster Wi-Fi and a front-facing HD camera.

You can also read the CNET reviews of these new products:

I have to say, I was mighty mighty tempted by the Paperwhite. If you look at the specs on Amazon, the resolution of the Paperwhite seems much superior to the Touch. The built in light means no more turning on lamps or opening blinds so I can read.

However, a couple of things have put me off. The Kindle Touch holds up to 3,000 books. The Paperwhite holds up to 1,100 books. That’s a significant difference. The Touch also has a nifty audio function that can play audio books and even read your book to you in a robotic voice. I haven’t used it much, but I like that it’s there. It makes for less juggling between devices.

The deal breaker for me, though, remains the screen. I bought a Touch because I didn’t want a backlit or frontlit screen. I get tired of sitting in front of a computer all day. I was attracted to a device that was very much like reading a book. With a book, you do need to turn on a light or open the blinds. No big whoop.

Sadly, the Touch has been discontinued. However, a six-inch button-controlled Kindle with the unlit screen is available at a nice price, starting at $69, and a keyboard Kindle is still available as well.

You can see the new line-up of Kindles eReaders and tablets here.

Eurovision – My Top 10

Top 10 Performances

The following are my favorite performers in the Eurovision competition so far. I’ve posted their first rehearsal videos. Mind you, the acoustics are terrible. Part of the reason some of these artists made it to my top 10 is because they managed to sound good, or even great, despite being in a rehearsal situation with lots of background noise and distractions.

1. Loreen, representing Sweden with Euphoria

I love this song so much and Loreen has the voice and presence to give it power and transcendent beauty. Her dancing is growing on me, but I don’t know… I prefer she perform without all the movement. It’s not looking so good in rehearsal, but it is a rehearsal after all. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the actual performance.

2. Nina Zilli, representing Italy with L’Amore È Femmina

I have such a girl crush on Nina Zilli. She’s smokin’ hot, got great style and an amazing voice. Love the song and the swagger she gives the lyrics.

3. Ott Lepland, representing Estonia with Kuula

Best voice of the competition, I think. He sounds amazing even here. He’s a handsome man and he holds the stage effortlessly with the power of his presence, with no need for hype.

4. Engelbert Humperdinck, represented the UK with Love Will Set You Free

Another great ballad and amazing voice. The Hump needs no hype to hold the stage. At 76-years-old, I thought he might be the oldest performer at Eurovision, but it turns out that one of the Russian Babushki is a little older.

5. Soluna Samay, representing Denmark with Should’ve Known Better

I love her indie pop vibe and rock and roll voice. She’s got a fresh face, but knows how to hold the stage like a seasoned performer. Really wish she’d lose the epaulets, but oh well.

6. Greta Salóme and Jónsi, representing Iceland with Never Forget

I am a sucker for this kind of Gothic pop and they do it so well. I’m also impressed by anyone who can sing and play the violin at the same time. Their voices blend nicely, but I’m not sensing a lot of onstage chemistry. Hope they bring it on in the actual performance.

7. Anggun, representing France with Echo (You And I)

This is one of the songs that really grew on me to become one of my favorites. I would love a dance remix for my iPod. She’s got a great voice and strong presence.

8. Kurt Calleja, representing Malta with This Is The Night

Another song that became a fave. Great beat, great hook, overall an infectious tune that gave me an earworm or two. Kurt Calleja has a strong voice and good stage presence.

9. Roman Lob, representing Germany with Standing Still

Another indie rocker with a great sound. The band is tight and he’s got a strong, distinct voice. Kind of hoping he doesn’t change his indie look much. Keep the beanie!

10. Ivi Adamou, representing Cyprus with La La Love

This was the hardest spot to choose. There were a lot of good performances. The song itself is what made this my final choice. It’s a great dance tune. Ivi Adamou has a good voice and is fun to watch. Plus, I’m impressed by the backup singers lifting her over their heads.

These are my personal choices. Since I haven’t watched Eurovision before, I have no idea how the voting will go. By this time next week, we’ll know how right or wrong I was.

Eurovision – Ireland and the United Kingdom

Down to the last two countries on the list of Eurovision contestants, Ireland and the UK. Am I saving the best for last? Let’s take a look.

Jedward is representing Ireland with the pop song, Waterline

Glitter boots! Okay, so here we have identical twins singing a boy band song while dressed in Michael Jackson’s discarded wardrobe from the eighties. I hadn’t heard of Jedward before this. Apparently, they are an almost overnight phenomenon in Ireland and the UK, after having placed sixth on the X Factor. They also represented Ireland in the 2011 Eurovision competition with the song, Lipstick. They came in a respectable eighth place. So why send them again? Well, they won their national competition. I actually like the 2011 song, Lipstick, better than Waterline. As performers, their voices blend well and they have high energy. I never liked boy bands, not even when I was a tween, so Jedward doesn’t do much for me. I can see they have a potentially strong voting block, so I wouldn’t count them out of the finals.

Engelbert Humperdinck is representing the United Kingdom with the ballad, Love Will Set You Free

It’s hard to think of two performances more different than those of Jedward and Engelbert Humperdinck. Most of all, I appreciate EH’s lack of hype. He doesn’t need it as he such an established performer. He can hold the stage with just mood lighting and a single guitarist. Very impressive. As I watched this, it reminded me, just a bit, of Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt. This doesn’t have the same raw power, but this song ends with real emotional impact. EH sounds great and his voice is still strong. The UK deserves its spot in the finals with this performance.

That’s it! Through the list. Whew! I’m very impressed by the variety of the performances. It’s not as easy to pick favorites as I thought it would be. I’ll be posting my Eurovision top 10 later.

Eurovision – Belgium and the Netherlands

I saw this comment on YouTube for Belgium’s entry: “Reminds me of the Austrian entry last year, pretty girl but song not a stand out.” I have noticed with a number of the entries that pretty, be it male or female, is definitely a factor. Sentiment can also be a big factor. Look at the Russians. The Babushki aren’t pretty, but they are beautiful and who doesn’t want to see grandma kick up her heels and have a good time? When the finalists are chosen, it will be interesting to see how looks, talent and sentiment stack up against each other.

Iris is representing Belgium with the pop song, Would You

As was stated above, she’s a pretty young woman, quite young, 17-years-old. She is fresh-faced, wearing a very cute outfit and looks like a role model. If this was a junior competition, I’d think, “Wow, she’s good. She has a future.” But this is a major International competition and she’s not ready. Her voice is nice, but she doesn’t sing with the depth of emotion the lyrics require. Instead she smiles as she sings of heartache. In the interest of not being ageist, I know there are 17-year-olds who can sing with the required maturity. Not this one. Not a winner for me, but if she appeals to young voters, she could make the finals.

Joan is representing the Netherlands with the folk song, You And Me

My jaw dropped as I watched this. I guess she didn’t realize that, at least in the US, this stage presentation could be considered offensive. She did address this in an interview and spoke of her inspiration, playing cowboys and Indians with the boy next door. Another video shows her reliving this childhood memory and it’s very sweet. I’m certain she meant no disrespect. However, as seen in the video, a simple feather in the hair can hearken back to the memory rather than a full-on headdress. The dancers dressed in sexy fringe made me think of this. Wince.

Apart from the controversy, I give her props for singing a simple, heartfelt folk song. I really liked her voice. It’s very distinct and has a lovely, pure quality when she hits the high notes. Not quite a winner for me, but very nice.

Eurovision – France and Switzerland

France and Switzerland, love you, hate your official Eurovision videos. I’m not sure how this works, if Eurovision picks the videos or the artist/country submits them. Regardless, since the competition is supposedly based on live performance, I don’t understand why a number of the videos have been the theatrical kind that “tell a story.” In the case of these two countries, the stories are ridiculous and annoying. The one from France is practically begging for a literal interpretation.

I searched YouTube for better performances, which are featured below. The sound quality isn’t as good as the official videos, but in the case of Switzerland, the performance is so much better.

Anggun is representing France with the dance song, Echo (You And I)

You can find the official video here. As for the above performance, hot babe, great voice, good stage presence. I liked the song. With a good remix, it’s very danceable. Summer is coming and I can see this having a lot of seasonal appeal since it’s so light and frothy. Not a winner for me, but I’m not counting it out. This could be a contender.

Sinplus is representing Switzerland with the rock song, Unbreakable

You can find the official video here. Love this live performance. The band is high energy and the singer has a distinct voice and good stage presence. The song has a rock anthem quality that makes your head bop. Overall, really good. I liked the song, but I didn’t love it. Not a winner for me, but high up there. Could be a contender, depending on how many rock fans are voting.

I liked both songs and would be happy to hear either on the radio. If I were to choose between them now, I would go with Switzerland. If France were to put out a hot remix, though, that’s the one that would be on my iPod.

Eurovision – Portugal and Spain

When I was younger, I spent a month wandering around Spain. I was in Barcelona for La Mercè, a four-day celebration in honor of the city’s patron saint, Our Lady of Mercy. For a religious festival, it was a rip-roaring good time! There were free concerts and I have fond memories of dancing in the plazas to some great music. My one regret is that I didn’t make it to Portugal during that trip. No favoritism, though. I’m eager to hear how these two neighbors, both famous for dramatic music, compare to each other.

Filipa Sousa is representing Portugal with the ballad, Vida Minha (My Life)

Definitely dramatic. She’s got a great voice and great stage presence. The song itself, while good, is old-fashioned. Everything about this, from the backup singers to the staging to the music, seemed like something from 40 years ago. Perhaps she had to appeal to a certain age group or sensibility to win the country’s competition. I don’t think this stands a chance unless she finds a modern spin for the Eurovision semi-finals.

Pastora Soler is representing Spain with the ballad, Quédate Conmigo (Stay With Me)

Interesting to note, I couldn’t embed the official Eurovision video. I got a message stating, “Embedding disabled by request.” First time that has happened. No worries though. The above video is actually better. So, onto the song. Another dramatic performance by a woman with a great voice and great stage presence. Not very different from Sousa’s performance, though Soler definitely has the modern edge. I could see Mariah Carey singing something like this, which is to say, this wasn’t very original.

Perhaps Portugal and Spain are trying to appeal to each others base in hopes of votes. They probably succeeded, but I don’t know that they have much appeal outside their region. As I said, both women are strong singers, but there’s nothing very modern or original about either. Portugal gave a more powerful performance, while Spain was more contemporary. Neither one was a winner for me.

These videos are from the list of Eurovison 2012 contestants on YouTube.

Eurovision – Italy and Malta

Almost through the list. Just 10 more countries to go. I didn’t think I was going to make it through before Eurovision began, so whew! Heading back to the Mediterranean now to give Italy and Malta a look and listen.

Nina Zilli is representing Italy with the R&B song L’Amore È Femmina (Out Of Love)

Aw, yeah! She’s pretty awesome. She’s like Amy Winehouse without the bad tats and crazy. Great distinct voice and style. I loved watching her, but as I listened, I kept wishing she was singing in Italian instead of English. Then, near the end, she switched to Italian and it was so much better. She adds a sexy roll to her words that’s not possible in English. I found this video where the whole song is in Italian. Please, for Eurovision, drop the English. Other than that, brava, brava!

Kurt Calleja is representing Malta with the dance song, This Is The Night

As I started watching the Eurovision videos, I thought that countries like Malta with small populations would also have a small talent pool. However, Russia, with it’s huge population, gives us the Babushki, whose novelty wears off after a couple of listens. Malta gives us a solid performer in Kurt Calleja. He’s got a good voice and the song is upbeat and fun. Love the hook. I don’t know that this is a winner, but with a good remix, I could see it being a dance hit.

Viva Italia! I can definitely see her making the finals. Malta, good job, but not in the winners’ circle for me.

These videos are from the list of Eurovison 2012 contestants on YouTube.

Eurovision – Germany, Austria and Slovakia

Just for the record, I’m not skipping Poland and the Czech Republic. Rather they, along with Monaco and Luxembourg, are skipping Eurovision. Not all participant countries choose to compete on a yearly basis. From what I understand, it can be a considerable expense.

And speaking of expense, certain countries are major contributors to the EBU and Eurovision. As such, these countries, along with the host country, automatically qualify as finalists. This doesn’t seem quite fair to me, but then again, if they’re laying down the cash, they probably should see some benefit. Hopefully, they still feel the need to put their best performers on the stage. Germany is one of the automatic finalist, so I’ll start with them.

Roman Lob is representing Germany with the rock ballad, Standing Still

I really liked the official Eurovision video, but I wanted to hear him live, so I found this video. Loved this. He’s a good-looking guy with a great, distinct voice. His plaintive tone has a husky catch that gives power to the song. This sounds like an indie rock hit that you’d turn up when it comes on the radio. Good job, Germany. This could be a winner.

Trackshittaz is representing Austria with the hip hop song, Woki Mit Deim Popo

I don’t suppose anyone would be surprised to learn that “Woki Mit Deim Popo” translates as “Shake Your Ass.” The glow-in-the-dark ass shaking bit with the dancers toward the middle was silly, but fun. In fact, the whole song is silly and fun. Are the voices good? Not really. Is the song original? Not so much. I’ll give them high marks for an energetic performance, but as a song, it’s not a winner for me.

Max Jason Mai is representing Slovakia with the metal song, Don’t close your eyes

Don’t count metal out. After all, the heavy metal band, Lordi, from Finland, won Eurovision in 2006. (Thanks for the video, Markku!) To be honest, metal is not my thing. That being said, as metal songs go, this seems pretty good. He has a strong voice and the presence to carry the song. I wouldn’t vote for this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a finalist.

Three very distinct performances. This is part of what I’m liking about Eurovision: real variety. Germany wins for me, but Slovakia could pull ahead if there are enough metal heads in the voting audience.

These videos are from the list of Eurovison 2012 contestants on YouTube.

Eurovision – Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary

Hungary holds a special place in my heart because of a book I read as a child, “The Good Master.” It was set on the Hungarian plains and concerned the adventures of cousins Kate and Jancsi. I remember being enchanted by how different life was there. Serbia I know of because of the 1990s wars. Then I remembered that Nikola Tesla was Serbian. Very cool. Macedonia is a mystery to me. Sort of like Greece, but not really? Regardless, let’s see what these countries have to offer by way of music.

Kaliopi is representing Macedonia with the rock ballad, Crno i Belo

I like her voice. It’s got a husky, rocker quality that’s imperfect but has power. The song builds from slow ballad to rock and roll about half-way through. The hook has just a hint of traditional flavor. I liked it. It’s different from what I’ve been hearing so far. It’s not my favorite, but I’d definitely like to see her perform live.

Željko Joksimović is representing Serbia with the ballad, Nije Ljubav Stvar

He’s got a great voice. Very smooth and effortless. I liked the song, especially the traditional hook. Then I noticed in the YouTube comments that people were comparing this to Coldplay’s Paradise. So I listened to the two songs one after the other. Definitely some similarities, but this isn’t a rip-off. Of the two, though, I prefer Paradise. Again, this is good, but not my favorite. However, with that voice, I wouldn’t count him out.

Compact Disco is representing Hungary with the rock ballad, Sound Of Our Hearts

A message video! Rich or poor, both characters sexually harass women and are need of anger management therapy. So, the message is that we’re more alike than different? Dunno. In this video, the singer has a good strong voice that suits the melancholy power of the music. However, I found a live performance where he sounds pitchy and nasal. Gotta wonder about auto-tuning. Though maybe he has a cold. We’ll see what he brings to the semi-finals.

Of the three, I liked Hungary’s song the best. I’m uncertain about the true quality of the singer’s voice, so no winners for me here.

These videos are from the list of Eurovison 2012 contestants on YouTube.

Eurovision – Croatia, Slovenia and San Marino

I am familiar with Croatia and Slovenia by name, but San Marino? I had never heard of it before Eurovision. I have to thank this competition for giving me a much needed geography lesson. San Marino is a small republic within Italy and, according to Wikipedia, it is the “oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world.” Good to know. Let’s see how they stack up in a singing competition.

Nina Badrić is representing Croatia with the ballad, Nebo

It’s raining men! But not in the fun, disco way. Aside from video silliness, this is a nice, romantic ballad sung by a woman with a nice voice. So, yeah, nice. Obviously, I wasn’t real impressed by this. Then I found this remix on YouTube. Awesome! Love this. While it’s true that I have a thing for dance music, I do love a powerful ballad. As sung, this version didn’t have enough power and passion for me. We’ll see what she brings to the stage for the semi-finals.

Eva Boto is representing Slovenia with the ballad, Verjamem

Nice song, nice voice, but again, nothing special. I do appreciate that this was a live performance, but it felt stilted rather than fresh and exciting. I wanted to give her another chance, so I looked for a different video. I found this English version, and discovered that “Verjamem” means “Pure Love.” I liked it better. It sounded more lively and her voice had more power. Again, we’ll see what she brings to the semi-finals. Hopefully, the backup singers won’t be dressed as bridesmaids.

Valentina Monetta is representing San Marino with the pop song, The Social Network Song

Yeah. This really is about Facebook. What I find interesting is it seems like Monetta is trying to appeal to a younger audience, while many of the other official videos feature performances that appeal to an older base. If this was American Idol, which has a very young voting base, this would be a good move. I’m not sure about Eurovision. The song was too silly for me. Even though you don’t hear many (any?) songs about Facebook, there was nothing else original about this.

I’m going with Slovenia here, but only because of the unofficial, English version of the song. I want to reiterate that I like it when people sing in their own language and my preference here has nothing to do with language.

These videos are from the list of Eurovison 2012 contestants on YouTube.