Thursday, 2 May 2019

The Kindle Paperwhite is the best six-inch e-reader

Recently we’ve seen the expansion of e-readers in different sizes. I’ll dedicate three posts to three different screen sizes: six-inches, seven-inches and eight-inches. This post is dedicated to six-inch e-readers and in that category, the Kindle Paperwhite is the one to choose. I’ll justify the Kindle Paperwhite considering Amazon’s entry-level Kindle, what Kobo offers and why it is not sensible to consider a six-inch e-reader by alternative vendors:
  1. The price differential between the Paperwhite and Kindle Basic is reasonable. The £50 difference gets you twice the storage, near twice the resolution, better front lighting and water-proofing. The same cannot be said about the £110 price difference between Oasis 2 and Paperwhite. Overall, the Paperwhite gives you the best value – if only it came in different sizes! 
  2. The Kindle Paperwhite is also better than Kobo’s two six-inch e-readers (Kobo Clara HD and Kobo Aura Edition 2). The superiority of the Paperwhite is in Amazon’s firmware. Kobo might offer richer typographical features but is overall well behind. The main difference is Amazon extensive cloud-based infrastructure. Amazon syncs not only purchased books but also personal documents. The syncing service not only includes page location but also annotations, categorising e-books in collections, wirelessly sending e-books to a Kindle device and the ability to manage collections online. If you want to use an e-reader to organise a library of personal content, then the Paperwhite is the better option in comparison to Kobo’s six-inch offerings. 
  3. Finally, it doesn’t make sense to buy a six-inch e-reader from an alternative vendor. In my opinion, Boyue and Onyx e-readers fill the gap when it comes to larger e-readers that are suitable for PDF documents and note-taking. The six-inch size is suitable mainly for e-books and nothing beats the stable and intuitive firmware that you get on Kindle devices.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Recommended third-party applications for Android e-readers

I've recently started using the Onyx Boox Nova. Before using the Onyx Boox Nova I've used the Likebook Mars and Boyue T80 (rebranded as Icarus Illumina XL). Overall, I prefer Android e-readers to mainstream e-readers. One of the positives of Android e-readers is the possibility to install third-party applications. Below is a list of applications that work well on E-Ink Android devices:

Simplenote: Simplenote is a note-taking application developed by Automattic (the company behind WordPress). It is a no frill scaled-down application to write text-only notes. It is possible to connect a Bluetooth keyboard to an Android e-reader to write quick notes in Simplenote and then access these notes on other devices.

Moon+ Reader Pro: Moon+ Reader is, in my view, the best Android e-reading application. The application isn't optimised for E-Ink but works relatively well with the right changes, e.g. side loading fonts with added weight, choosing the bold option for thinner fonts and turning the background white and text black. Another positive is that Moon+ Reader mainly uses a grey palette for its menus that are legible on E-Ink devices. Also, many Android e-reader vendors now support extra features to optimise third-party applications for E-Ink. One useful feature is the contrast enhancement of menus that make user interface menus clearer.

KOReader: This one is a no brainer. KOReader is designed and optimised specifically for E-Ink. It is a stand-alone application that can be used to read e-books and PDF documents. I found the application is more stable on Kobo devices due to hardware uniformity. Android e-readers, on the other hand, vary a lot and use different processors. For example, KOReader is stable on the Likebook Mars but the screen flickers on the Onyx Boox Nova when selecting menus and highlighting text (the only way to stop this flickering is to turn on A2 mode).

Librera Pro: Librera Pro is designed to work on both tablets and Android e-readers. For example, the application includes a PDF scroll mode that makes navigating pages smoother on an e-reader. Other options include contrast and brightness enhancement to make text appear bolder and darker. The monochrome menus are also designed to work on E-Ink.

Writer+: Writer+ is a stripped-down writer application. Writer+ supports text markdown – a useful feature as there is no need for animated user menus. One negative is that there is no option to manually change orientation to landscape. This is a problem as most Android e-readers don't support auto-rotation and, so far, Boyue and Onyx don't allow the user to manually rotate the display in third-party applications. 

There are other applications that work on E-Ink Android devices. Other applications that are functional include Wikipedia, Kobo, Google Keep, Gmail and Amazon Kindle. However, many of these applications are designed with animated menus and colours that make text appear faded and navigation frustrating and slow. There are also very little options to manipulate text appearance in these applications. Both Boyue and Onyx support A2 mode to make downwards scrolling and internet browsing smoother, but the downside is a lot of ghosting. It is a definite positive that it is possible, for example, to read Wikipedia articles on an e-reader but it is more convenient to access these articles on a tablet, laptop or smartphone. The same applies to most Android applications.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

KOReader improvements

Recent nightly updates of KOReader have added useful features. First, the software is zippier than before - previously changing reading settings meant a lag as the user waits for their changes to take effect. I've also noticed that the recent Kobo build performs better than the Android version (I tested the Android version on a Likebook Mars). While KOReader's performance optimization has improved significantly it is still behind Kindle and Kobo's e-reading software. Hopefully, future updates will gradually improve performance. Other improvements include smoother highlighting of text and a gradient scale, similar to Kobo e-readers, to control margin and line spacing. To download nightly builds, visit this website.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

An instructional manual for the Likebook Mars

Boyue recently sent an update for the Likebook Mars. After the update, I noticed a new instruction application icon that opens a user manual for the Likebook Mars. The manual isn't extensive - it guides the user, for example, how to manage bookshelf settings, how to upload books via Wi-Fi, where to place dictionaries, how to access the third-party applications features menu and how to upgrade the software etc. However, it doesn't tell the user what the purpose of many of these features is.

Anyway, it is a positive Boyue are now working on providing instructional content. One of the weaknesses of the Likebook Mars is its confusing software and this manual does help guide the user where to find key features. 

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Amazon Fire HD 10 shortcomings

I like the Fire HD 10 a lot. The screen quality is very good, and you don't get big compromises with performance as you do with the Fire 7 and to a lesser extent the Fire HD 8. However, there are shortcomings that Amazon needs to rectify in future hardware updates if it wants to keep up with budget tablets offered by Huawei and Lenovo (some battery issues and the special offers problem stated below can be resolved with software updates). First, is the problem of battery drainage in standby mode. The battery discharges alarmingly in standby - I would estimate the Fire HD 10 loses 10% battery every eight hours. To remedy this problem, I permanently disabled Alexa and turned-off WiFi when not using the tablet.

Second, are the animated special offers advertisements. Many of these advertisements slow down the tablet when turned on and some freeze the tablet; to get the tablet working again you often need to force a restart. The problem of animated special offers is a bigger problem with the slower Fire 7 and Fire HD 8. Most of the animated advertisements are for games.

The biggest problem is battery life in general. Amazon overestimates the Fire HD 10's battery life to be "up to 10 hours". With more lighter tasks like reading, don't expect more than eight hours of mixed usage. On average battery life is 6 - 7 hours and that is not good enough. To improve battery life, it is a good idea to disable Alexa. I also noticed, sometimes, the top back of the Fire HD 10 can get very warm. The extra warmth means something is taxing the processor and draining the battery. For example, in one case, an animated advertisement froze my tablet for a short period and when it finally unlocked the back got warm.

There are other minor quibbles too. Of course, this personal preference, but I think the iPad's 4:3 aspect ratio is easier to hold and is better at displaying content. Amazon is more focused on Prime video content, so you get the 16:9 aspect ratio. The 16:9 aspect ratio is made worse with big bezels that makes the device cumbersome to hold. Huawei and Lenovo both use the same aspect ratio, but their tablets are designed with less footprint.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Kindle Basic gets an update

Amazon updated its entry-level Kindle. The biggest hardware upgrade is the introduction of a front light. With the hardware improvement, like the Kindle Paperwhite, there is a £10 increase (the price is £69.99 but expect the device to be regularly put on sale, e.g. on Prime Day and Black Friday). The updated Kindle Basic is slightly heavier than the previous generation – the previous generation weighed 161 Grams and the current one weighs 174 Grams – but I prefer the new design with its rounded corners.

The front light is a welcome addition, but it is the pixel density that should’ve been upgraded (the new Kindle Basic keeps the 167 PPI of the previous generation). An upgrade to 221 PPI would’ve made a big difference to the reading experience. In terms of trade-off, the pixel density is more important than a front light. On a positive note, Amazon did upgrade the screen technology to E-Ink Carta. If you don’t care for the front light and E-Ink Carta, Amazon now sells the previous generation for £49.99.

Overall, this is a predictable Amazon refresh with small upgrades. Amazon no longer seeks to innovate with its tablets and e-readers. Alexa powered devices are the focus and future of Amazon hardware.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

HP UK release the N4000 Stream 11 & HP Stream 14

HP UK now sells the Celeron N4000 Stream 11. Oddly, HP UK decided to release the laptop with 2GB RAM. This isn't a Europe wide decision, as HP Germany sell the 4GB RAM version. The 4GB version was released in North America months ago.

HP UK also decided to price the laptop similar to the Lenovo S130 and ASUS VivoBook E203. The pricing makes no sense as both the Lenovo S130 and ASUS VivoBook E203 are devices with twice the RAM.

They've also released the N4000 HP Stream 14. It is a positive, in my view, that HP decided to give the latest iteration of the Stream 14 an anti-glare display. Pricing has also slightly increased as the storage has been doubled to 64GB.