Sunday, 22 April 2018

Chrome OS in a tablet form factor

Acer released the first Chrome OS tablet: the Acer Chromebook Tab 10. The tablet is directed at education and supports a Wacom pen. I like the idea of a Chrome OS tablet and can realistically envisage it to be a laptop replacement (of course, many users may prefer a larger display). In contrast to the iPad Pro series, Chrome OS runs a desktop PC environment that also supports mobile applications via the Google Play store.

The problem with the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is the high-end specifications that means a relatively high price for a device targeted at education. If these tablets are to be adopted in schools then it is important that vendors make the right compromise between pricing and specifications. For example, a good camera, long battery life and stylus support are necessary but a resolution beyond full HD is not. This is the first Chrome OS tablet and more affordable ones are a strong possibility.

Apple's recently released iPad with Pencil support is another attempt at gaining access in education. Apple aims to take on Chromebooks that are now gradually dominating the sector. Apple's size means that it will always have a place in education; however, what makes the Chromebook model a better fit is the simplicity of deployment and affordable hardware. The latest iPad may be priced lower relative to other iPad models but the pricing, after introducing the Apple Pencil and external keyboard, makes it a costly option even when compared to the high-end Acer Chromebook Tab 10.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Amazon adds extra features to online content management

I have noticed that Amazon supports online management of collections. It is possible to create a new collection and add/remove Kindle e-books and personal documents from an existing collection. In addition, if you have a large library, the restriction on selecting a maximum of ten documents at a time has now been removed. I still think Tolino’s online content management interface is more intuitive and easier to use. Tolino's web reader is integrated into online content management and it is possible to view/change e-book covers.

Update: I forgot to note that Tolino's online content management allows the uploading of documents from a local hard drive. As far as I can tell, Amazon doesn't support the feature. The only way to send documents wirelessly to a Kindle e-reader is via either the Send to Kindle application or email.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Tolino Page Review: Excellent cloud support for personal documents but overall a frustrating device

I expected Tolino Page to challenge the Kindle Basic. Instead, I found myself frustrated and disappointed with the device. There is a lot to like about the Tolino Page, but software failings outweigh the positives. I will split the review between the positives and, more importantly, the negatives.

The positives 

Apart from Amazon, Tolino is the only other major vendor that offers extensive features to manage personal documents. Kobo recently acquired Tolino but considering the slow momentum of e-reader software development, I doubt Kobo will implement Tolino’s cloud features any time soon. 

Technically, utilising Tolino’s web services requires an account with an e-book store located in one of Tolino’s supported countries. Nonetheless, there is a work around to use the online services in any location. First, register an account with the e-book store thalia.de (there are other e-book stores supported). After creating an account with thalia.de, register a Tolino Cloud account via eBook.de (see below to identify the right section). After logging-on to a Tolino account, it is possible to set the interface language to Dutch, English, French, Italian and Spanish. Importantly, in account settings link the Tolino account to thalia.de. After linking Tolino Cloud/web reader to thalia.de, it is possible to register any Tolino e-reader through thalia.de and access uploaded personal documents.

Accessing Tolino web reader on eBook.de (click image to enlarge)

Through the Tolino Cloud, it is possible to categorise uploaded personal documents in collections. Once uploaded, an e-book can be read directly in the web browser, Tolino's Android/iOS application or with a Tolino e-reader. Further, current page location and annotations are synchronised across devices. While there is no way to export annotations via the web browser or Tolino's Android/iOS application, there is the option to access annotations via a text file stored locally on a Tolino e-reader. Regrettably, the stored annotations are only those made on the e-reader.

Cloud support makes managing an online library so much easier. For example, factory re-set a Tolino device and in a few minutes, you are ready to go again. The library can be managed online without any need to side load documents, and with page location and annotations backed-up from your last online synchronisation.

While Amazon’s synchronisation across devices works better, Tolino’s online document management is more intuitive and with superior features. For example, it is possible to upload e-book cover images, add/delete documents and organise e-books in collections. In contrast, with Amazon’s online content management, it is possible to delete archived documents but there is no way to manage collections. Kobo and Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, do not support cloud synchronisation and management for personal documents.

Tolino also supports the side loading of fonts and I found side loaded fonts render well. In contrast, Amazon does not support the feature at all.

The negatives 

The main issue with the Tolino Page is software implementation. Below are some problems with the software:
  • Highlighting is not smooth or accurate and it is not possible to continue highlighting a text if it extends to the next page of an e-book. 
  • Strangely, and this seems to be a software bug, turning a page can result in text appearing de-focused. Re-focusing the text requires a few seconds, after instigating a full-page refresh (when this occurs there is a prompt to turn two or four pages back). The problem is frequent and annoying.
  • Performance is sluggish compared to the Kindle Basic. It is not a major issue but with prolonged use, it is noticeable.
  • PDF support, similar to Kobo, is poor. It is not possible to highlight text and there is no tap to scroll. The need to scroll down manually in landscape mode, something necessary with the six-inch screen, is a problem due to the device’s slow rendering of PDF documents. In the case of Kobo, it is possible to resolve the issue of poor PDF support with KOReader but this option is not available, so far, for Tolino e-readers. If reading PDF documents is necessary then it is a good idea to avoid the larger Tolino Epos.
  • Overall, Tolino’s software is very basic in its features. In reading settings, the options available include setting the number of screen refreshes when reading and installing dictionaries. 
On paper, the Tolino Page has an E-Ink Carta display. In actual usage, in my view, the Kindle Basic’s E-Ink Pearl screen has better contrast, with darker text.

Overall, I liked Tolino’s extensive support for personal documents but bare-bones features, sluggish performance and software bugs means the device is frustrating. If you are looking for a no frills entry-level e-reader that just works then the Kindle Basic remains the best option.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

KOReader's improved battery life on the Aura One

KOReader has gradually improved battery life on the Kobo Aura One. At first, KOReader drained the Aura One's battery that it was necessary to carry a charger. However, the same can be said with Kobo's own software (Nickel). It took far too long but Kobo's recent updates finally resolved the erratic battery problems. Personally, I prefer Nickel for e-books and KOReader when reading PDF files (there is no E-Ink platform that matches KOReader's PDF features). Fortunately, it is relatively easy to switch between Nickel and KOReader on the Aura One.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Supporting the font bolding feature in a MOBI e-book

Amazon does not allow users to send AZW3 e-books to a Kindle device via WiFi. However, I noticed that it is possible to send a MOBI e-book to a Kindle e-reader and still make use of the font bolding feature.

The solution is to use Calibre to convert an e-book to MOBI in both old and new formats. In Calibre, under MOBI file type output, select ‘both’ as the MOBI file type. After conversion, it is possible to send the e-book to a Kindle device via email or Send to Kindle.