The New Kindles

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In a pre-emptive strike against the expected announcement of a smaller iPad in the new few weeks, Amazon yesterday unveiled a series of new Kindles in both e-reader and tablet form. Must be nice to have a marketing machine so powerful that it forces all of your competitors to show their hands before you even publicly acknowledge the existence of a rumored new product.

Here’s a quick run-down of what’s new:

Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ and Kindle Fire 8.9″ 4G: Slightly smaller and lower-res screens than an iPad. Basically non-existent app selection, but Amazon Prime members get streaming movies and TV shows and Kindle e-books. Then again, so do iPad owners, via Amazon’s iPad apps. The $499 4G model is too expensive for what amounts to a mobile video and reading gadget, but the $299 Wi-Fi model will hit the sweet spot for many folks, especially those who are tired of having their iPads hijacked by the kids for games and movies. Note that all the new Kindle Fire models are ad-supported (blech), which, combined with Amazon’s admission that they’re selling these basically at cost, would explain the low prices.

Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD: You can ignore the $159 Fire – if you’re shopping in this category, you might as well pony up for the nicer screen on the $199 Fire HD. The Fire HD will challenge the Nexus 7 for title of best 7″ tablet, at least until a 7″ iPad is released and lays waste to the market.

Kindle Paperwhite: This will be the biggest hit of the bunch this holiday shopping season. An all-new Kindle e-reader with a better screen and a built-in light. The 3G model is $179, but I don’t see the need for most people, since Wi-Fi is commonly available almost anywhere you go these days. The standard Kindle without a light has dropped to $69.

Improve Dropbox and Gmail Security With Two-Step Authentication

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In the wake of Mat Honan’s massive, worst-case scenario hacking a couple weeks ago, a number of cloud services have introduced two-step authentication, a feature that drastically improves the security of your online accounts.

Two-step (also called “two-factor”) authentication refers to two independent ways of verifying your identity when attempting to log into an account: a typical username/password combination plus some other method, usually a temporary code sent to your smartphone via SMS or a special app. This way, a potential hacker would have to physically have possession of your smartphone, in addition to your username/password combo, in order to get into your account.

For many people, especially those who have sensitive emails, documents, or other data in the cloud, enabling two-step verification is a no-brainer. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it pales in comparison to the headache and expense of having your online life compromised. Just ask Mat Honan.

Gmail has had this feature for some time, though most people don’t use it or don’t know it exists. As of today, Dropbox now has a two-step verification option as well.

To get started, follow Macworld’s step-by-step guide (you’ll need your smartphone and the latest preview release of the Dropbox software).

Use Amazon’s Apps To Send Content To Your Kindle

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I’ve had a Kindle for years, and the only way I’ve ever put non-Amazon content on it has been through Instapaper’s Kindle delivery feature. But that requires saving things to Instapaper first, and then waiting for the scheduled delivery to my Kindle – not ideal if I need it go through now, and Instapaper doesn’t support PDF documents.

But I just discovered this handy set of apps and browser extensions from Amazon which allow you to send content from your web browser, computer, or email straight to your Kindle.

With the browser extension for Google Chrome, you can send any blog post or article on the web to your Kindle for reading later. The PC and Mac apps let you send documents by right-clicking on them, and the email feature will add the appropriate attachments to your Kindle’s library.

Sell Your iPhone to Gazelle And Trade Up

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Thinking of trading up to the new iPhone when it comes out next month? Don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling your current iPhone on Craigslist? Gazelle has an offer you can’t refuse:

For those planning on upgrading to the next iPhone model in September, Gazelle is taking the gamble out of early trade-ins with an extension of its price-lock guarantee.

Consumers who plan on selling a used iPhone to Gazelle can get a price quote locked-in now, but don’t have to mail in their iPhone until October 1. It’s widely rumored that the next iPhone model will go on sale September 21. If rumors are true, this would give sellers enough time to hold onto their current iPhone before replacing it with a newer model.

As of today, a 16GB iPhone 4S in “good” condition will fetch $277 on Gazelle, more than covering the expected cost of a new (subsidized) iPhone. If you’re not eligible for an upgrade, it could at least take some of the sting off the $600+ off-contract price.

How Mat Honan Recovered From His Epic Hacking

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In a follow piece for Wired, Mat Honan, whose online life was basically wiped out when hackers socially engineered their way into his Amazon and iCloud accounts, describes the process of piecing things back together:

When my data died, it was the cloud that killed it. The triggers hackers used to break into my accounts and delete my files were all cloud-based services — iCloud, Google, and Amazon. Some pundits have latched onto this detail to indict our era of cloud computing. Yet just as the cloud enabled my disaster, so too was it my salvation.

If you haven’t read the original piece yet, go ahead and do so. It should be required reading for anyone with cloud-based accounts such as Dropbox, iCloud, and Gmail/Google Apps.