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Cyril Kowaliski

Kindle Paperwhite
I don't actually own a Kindle Paperwhite. I don't own a Kindle Paperwhite because Amazon inexplicably and systematically takes months to start offering new Kindle devices north of the border. That said, if it were available right now—or if Amazon let me import the thing from its U.S. website—I would buy the Paperwhite in a heartbeat.

I played with a friend's Paperwhite the other day, and I was immediately seduced. The device shares all the positive traits of my current Kindle Touch: it's light enough to hold comfortably with two fingers without getting tired, it's readable in broad daylight, and it uses convenient touch input. However, Amazon has improved the formula by adding adjustable display illumination, increasing the pixel density, offering fonts other than the default Caecilia and Helvetica, and implementing capacitive touch input. The previous model uses infrared sensors to detect touch, which forces the display to be recessed more deeply and leads to annoyances, like the corner of your sleeve triggering input.

Sure, you could just as well do your reading on a tablet. The problem is that tablets are heavier, offer substantially shorter battery life than any Kindle, and have conventional LCD screens with harsher backlighting. Those screens don't fare well in direct sunlight, either. The Paperwhite's display is incredibly easy on the eyes even with the backlight enabled—and thanks to the higher-density e-ink panel, text looks beautifully sharp.

My only gripe with the Paperwhite is that the picture above isn't totally accurate. In reality, the backlight looks a little blotchy and uneven in places. Still, the device is more comfortable to read on than any tablet I've used to date, and it's worlds better than a cheap paperback. Considering the $119 price tag, this is a no-brainer.

Dishonored
This fall, like every fall, we seem to be buried under an avalanche of sequels—Assassin's Creed III, Borderlands 2, Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and so on. Warfighter is apparently terrible, while the others seem to range from good to great. That's all fine, but even the best sequel is still just that—a sequel. It's old gameplay mechanics and a familiar visual style transplanted into new levels and bad guys with, hopefully, a little extra eye candy.

Dishonored is like a bubble of fresh air amid this torrent of encores. Bethesda, unlike other publishers, thought it might actually be a good idea to give some new intellectual property a chance. And unlike other publishers, Bethesda didn't insist on shoehorning in a multiplayer component. The firm allowed developer Arkane Studios to focus on the single-player campaign and polish it to a mirror shine.

The result is a game that looks and feels like a total departure from the parade of old-hat shooters on the market today. The story is engrossing, the art style is unique and memorable, and the gameplay is both captivating and fun. I wrote at length about why Dishonored is such a good game on my blog back in October, so I won't regurgitate more of my praise here. Suffice it to say Dishonored is easily worth the $59.99 asking price.

Adobe Photoshop CS6
Okay, so this is a little out there. Everybody knows Photoshop, but outside the professional world, few bother to purchase it. Sometimes, that's because cheaper tools do a good enough job. Other times, it's because... you know. Yarr.

I bought an upgrade to Photoshop CS6 on a whim last week, and I couldn't be happier. Adobe has made a few tweaks to the interface and polished up many staple features. I love the new crop tool, which moves and rotates the source image instead of the cropping frame and allows non-destructive cropping. Adobe has also fixed up the healing brush to work better around picture edges, and it's implemented some very powerful blur and angle correction tools. There's even an improved version of the animation tool, which now basically allows for video editing.

For me, though, the biggest selling point is the new Camera Raw 7 plug-in. I've been shooting in RAW format for years, and Camera Raw has become integral to my workflow. The new version feels like it totally leapfrogs past releases. There are separate sliders to control the image's shadows and highlights, and because Camera Raw operates on 12-bit lossless source files, these are much more powerful than simple gamma and levels controls. With a little tinkering, I can approximate a multi-exposure high-dynamic range shot from a single photograph. Add some lens correction, and the result looks like this:


The pseudo-HDR version looks much, much closer to the actual scene as I perceived it before taking the photo. The regular, non-HDR version blows out the sky and makes the areas around the trees a lot darker. It looks okay, but it's not what I actually saw.

If you have a camera capable of shooting in RAW format—or if you just need good software for image editing—then it doesn't get much better than Photoshop CS6. By the way, Adobe says folks who own Photoshop CS3 or CS4 are eligible for the $199 upgrade price until December 31. Alternatively, you can sign up for a $19.99-a-month subscription to Creative Cloud. Even at full price ($530 on Amazon right now), Photoshop CS6 is well worth it.