My Grumpy Afternoon

Hilde and I went to Best Buy yesterday afternoon.  Best Buy is one of those stores that keep showing up on lists of "Major Chains That Will Probably Go Out of Business Soon."  I used to shop there fairly often, but their selection isn't as good as it used to be and their customer service likewise has gone downhill.

But we needed to go there, because  we were shopping for an e-reader, specifically an Amazon Kindle.

I don't like to shop with Amazon. I don't like their predatory business practices or their monopolistic aspirations.  I don't like that they saddled the Kindle with a proprietary format.  But we're trying to find an ebook reader that Hilde can use and the Kindle appeared to be the only one on the market with a "Voice Command" capability.

Hilde's had severe rheumatoid arthritis for forty-five years.  Besides the damage to the rest of her body; her hands and fingers have grown twisted and weak.  On top of that, over the last ten or so years she's developed a bad "essential tremor" in her hands and forearms, a shaking that can get so extreme I've seen her shake a soda straw out of a water bottle. She has, on a good day, maybe 5% of a normal person's use of her hands.  She can't use a keyboard, or a touch pad, or a mouse.  (Ever wondered why I show up on the Internet so much, but she doesn't at all?  That's why.)

She's able to turn pages in a book, sometimes using the edge of her palm, but even that's growing more difficult for her. 

Eventually, Hilde won't even be able to turn pages in a book by herself.  So we've been trying to find if there's an e-reader on the market that will turn pages and other tasks by voice commands.  And the Kindle seemed to be the only one with any kind of "Voice Command" listed as a feature.

But I couldn't find much actual information online about the Kindle's Voice Command, so I wanted to try it out before we spent the money on it.  And Best Buy appeared to be the only place where one could actually handle and try out a Kindle before buying.

I'd come across some online accounts of people who'd gone to Best Buy back around 2011 to do a hands-on with the Kindles there, only to find that the display models were all locked in demonstration mode, with only limited functions available.  Since that's friggin' stupid, I figured Best Buy might have freed up the Kindles' functions by now.  So I called up the closest Best Buy and asked.

"Are your Kindles locked in demonstration mode?"
"No, they're not."

You know how this story's going to end, don't you?  Not quite yet, though.  Because when we went to the closest Best Buy, their wi-fi network wasn't working.  (An electronics store that can't keep a wi-fi network up and operating.  Ponder that thought for a moment.)  And they said the Kindle needed wi-fi to use the Voice Commands. 

Wait, what?  There aren't any printed circuits between the microphone and the processor chip?  It has to broadcast your voice an entire inch or two to the rest of the machine?

Years ago, I came up with Geek Rule #1: Whatever can be done with a computer, must be done with a computer.   I think the 2013 version may be: Whatever can be done via wi-fi, must be done via wi-fi.

So, no Kindle try-out there.  Back in the car and off to the second closest Best Buy.  And of course you know what we were told there:

"All our Kindles are locked in demonstration mode, so we can't show you that feature."

That was a waste of about an hour and a half and a gallon of gas.  Frustrating.

If a customer calls with a question you don't know the answer to, answering "I don't know" is acceptable customer service.  Answering "I don't know, may I put you on hold while I get someone who does?" is even more acceptable.  Making Shit Up off the top of your head is NOT acceptable customer service.

No wonder Best Buy is going down the tubes.  I'd thought about shopping there for a new keyboard after looking at the Kindle, but after hearing the Kindle's were locked in demo after all, we left without looking at anything else.

To top it off, after getting home, I did some more searching online and finally found a better description of what the Kindle's Voice Commands actually does:  It takes the command options off various menus and reads them out loud to you.  It's actually an accessibility feature for visually-impaired or blind users, not for people with impaired dexterity or unable to use their hands at all.

So there don't seem to be any hands-free options available for e-readers.   I find that not only frustrating, but perplexing.  I can tell my smartphone to make a phone call; I can tell it to make a Google search.  But I can't tell my e-book apps to "Turn Page" or "Go Back" or "Go To [page ___, or Chapter ___ ]".  The closest thing I found was an app for people with reading-comprehension problems that highlights a few lines at a time and moves the highlighted area slowly down the pages; but that's still not voice-operated, you just start it with a button push and stop it with another.

I would think there'd be a market for a hands-free e-reader, and not just for people with disabilities.  Cookbooks, craft instructions (knitting patterns?), car repair manuals, other activities where your hands are in use and/or greasy or soiled; a hands-free option would be great for those kinds of books.

What?  "There's always Dragon," I hear someone saying.  The only online article  I could find about trying to do that with a Kindle is this one from all the way back in 2009, and it still requires being able to use the mouse a lot.  I couldn't find anything that said you could use Dragon with a Nook, and several spots that said you couldn't.  And Hilde's tried to use Dragon before, and found the learning curve dreadfully frustrating and steep.  (She may give it another try, after some dental implants are completed at the end of this month and her regular speaking mannerisms are back.)

In the meantime, it looks like we wait until someone comes out with an actual hands-free reader.  *grump*

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