Thursday, 12 July 2018

Surface Go hands-on

Acer Chromebook Tab 10 Review

Below is Chrome Unboxed's review of Acer's Chromebook Tab 10. It is the first Chrome OS tablet that is targeted for use in the classroom. The stand-out I got from this review is the relatively weak processor (Rockchip OP1). The processor works well for tablet tasks, e.g., content consumption and basic productivity (e.g., note taking), but is not powerful enough to support desktop environment tasks.

Acer gets it wrong with the processor, in my view, as it is a tablet that runs Chrome OS. Due to the operating system, the Tab 10 is more comparable to a desktop two-in-one device, e.g. the recently released Surface Go or the HP Chromebook X2. Both the Surface Go and HP Chromebook X2 run more powerful Intel processors that can do more within the desktop environment. At the price ($329), considering this is being marketed as an 'educational tablet', it might be better to choose an Apple iPad. Overall, in the classroom, a laptop Chromebook is the cost effective solution.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Amazon devices & quality control

I've had negative quality control issues with Amazon devices in the past. Recently I’ve had issues with the Kindle Oasis and the Fire HD 8.

The Kindle Oasis is the premium Kindle, so I was surprised with the problems I've experienced. When I first received the Oasis there was a permanent dark spot located at the centre of the screen. Amazon sent a replacement with no issues but recently the replacement also developed a dark spot! Again, I was sent another replacement. Unfortunately, the replacement device had a pin sized bright spot and was also registered to another user (light tears and bright spots are common with front-lit E-Ink screens <1>)! I speculate the replacement was a returned device from another customer due to the screen blemish. Amazon then sent a further replacement – this replacement was near perfect but had a barely noticeable permanent dark speck mark at the top of the screen. Thankfully the speck doesn’t affect the reading space, so I kept the device.

I also had a recent issue with an Amazon Fire HD 8 – but this is expected considering the entry-level pricing and cheaper screen. The screen developed a pressure mark – a common occurrence with LCD screens – and was swiftly replaced.

These are only two recent examples of quality control issues I’ve personally experienced with Amazon devices. I am not alone and similar blemishes are reported by other customers in their reviews on Amazon websites. Maybe it would be less wasteful and more cost effective if Amazon paid more attention to quality control.

The positive, from my personal experience, is that Amazon respect their warranty cover and do not impose unnecessary measures to test the legitimacy of claims.

<1>  I’ve had the same issue with the Kobo Aura One. Kobo sent a replacement but I had to first post the original device to Germany from the UK (Kobo, when I contacted their support, stated they don’t provide prepaid return labels). The Aura One replacement was brand new; to contrast, Amazon tend to send refurbished devices to replace defective ones. To be fair, the refurbished replacements I’ve received were in near perfect cosmetic condition; the only issues I’ve experienced were screen blemishes.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Teclast F7 Review: A lot of laptop for an attractive price

The Teclast F7 is the first laptop I have used that is not manufactured by an established vendor (HP, Acer, Asus etc.). The device is priced below $250 (on sale it can be purchased closer to $200) and for that price you get a lot of laptop. The device is configured with a quad core N3450 Pentium processor, 64 GB eMMC hard drive, 6 GB memory and a full HD IPS display. In comparison, the Acer Swift One, with similar specifications, is priced closer to £300. To put things in perspective, the Teclast F7's pricing is comparable to mainstream entry-level laptops, e.g. the HP Stream series.

The display is very good and the full HD resolution is relatively sharp. The IPS screen means colours do not shift when viewed from different angles. The screen is vastly superior to the 1366 X 768 TN panels you get on entry-level laptops. The laptop I received came with a matte display, but other users report a glossy screen with their devices. Light distribution is not the best with some light bleeding viewable at the edges of the screen. However, this is common issue even with more expensive laptops, and it is only noticeable with lighter backgrounds.  

The laptop weighs close to 1.3 KG which is lightweight for a 14-inch laptop. Many 11.6 inch laptops, e.g., ruggedised Chromebooks, are of similar weight.

The F7’s processor is an Intel Pentium Apollo Lake N3450 - a processor that has enough power for everyday tasks, e.g. word-processing, browsing the internet and streaming multimedia content. Overall, in comparison to lower-end fanless processors that you see in entry-level laptops (Intel Celeron N3060 or the Intel Celeron N3350), performance is a significant step-up. Further, with 6GB RAM multi-tasking is smooth. The 64GB eMMC hard drive generates speeds between a SSD and a spinning hard drive; however, eMMC speeds are closer to a SSD than to a spinning hard drive (as a rule of thumb avoid all laptops that are configured with large storage spinning hard drives).

The precision touchpad is large, smooth and accurate. The quality is so good that there is no need to carry a mouse (an issue I had with poor touchpads that are common with entry-level laptops). Also, the 720P HD front facing camera is very good for Skype calls.

Of course, there are drawbacks. First, brightness could be higher at its maximum settings. In direct sunlight, with the matte display, the screen is just about legible at maximum brightness. Second, battery life could be better - with mixed usage expect between 6 to 7 hours at medium brightness. In comparison, the similar EZBook 3 Pro gets an extra hour of use. TECHTablets states the EZBook 3 Pro’s extra hour is due to the power limit in the bios being set higher in theTeclast F7:
Later testing Chrome with 6 tabs, streaming and some general multitasking like using Photoshop, transferring files to and from USB pen drives. It’s down to around 6 hours of runtime. So it varies on use of course. But I think most would be able to manage 6 hours to 7 hours. This is an hour less than the EZBook 3 Pro under similar use. But using a 6W TDP, the F7 is set to 9W out of the box. So lowering the power limit in the bios under CPU advance settings from 9W to say 6W should increase the battery life.
Third, the audio output isn’t the best. It is passable for the price category but it is advisable to use headphones.

I wouldn’t say the drawbacks are deal breakers. The biggest issue is battery life but lowering the power limit setting in the bios might help. However, even with an extra hour, this isn’t a full day laptop.  

Pros

A lot of laptop for the price.
Good Trackpad.
Relatively lightweight for a 14-inch laptop.
Capable processor.
Very good IPS screen.

Cons

Battery life could be better.
Audio is mediocre.
Maximum brightness could be higher.

Update: Teclast released a higher priced version of the Teclast F7 with a larger 128 GB SSD storage.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Firmware 5.9.6 & Arabic e-books

I stated in the previous post that I will provide an overview of firmware 5.9.6's support for Arabic e-books. Below are my impressions after testing the feature:
  1. E-books purchased from Amazon worked well. I sent two sample e-books from the Kindle store and the text aligned right to left. By default, two fonts were supported and even side-loaded fonts worked too. It is also possible to look-up definitions and use an Arabic keyboard to write annotations. Font bolding, however, is not supported in Arabic e-books. 
  2. I wirelessly sent two MOBI e-books and had significant problems. The major issue was the time it took to open an e-book - in both documents tested the Kindle completely froze. Further, even basic functions, e.g. turning pages, stalled the device. I further tested a side-loaded e-book and had the same issues. 
I am not sure if this is a problem with the Kindle firmware, as I didn’t have these issues when I opened the same e-books using an Amazon Fire tablet. I think there is something wrong with firmware 5.9.6 and Amazon could be working on a further update to resolve these problems.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Amazon's Kindle e-readers now support side loaded fonts

Amazon released a firmware update for their Kindle e-readers (5.9.6). The highlight of the update is the support for side-loaded fonts. Unfortunately, similar to the bolding feature, side-loaded fonts do not work in MOBI e-books. I found that converting an e-book, in Calibre, to both new and old formats of MOBI sometimes resolves this problem. The other option is to convert the e-book to an AZW3 e-book but this works only through directly side loading the document via USB, as Amazon doesn’t allow users to send AZW3 e-books wirelessly to their Kindle device. A major issue with side loading an e-book is that it will not be archived online in personal documents and synced across devices.

Another new feature with the firmware update is support for Arabic e-books. I’ll the test the feature and provide an overview in a further post.