Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Kindle Paperwhite is finally updated

I thought Amazon wasn't going to update any Kindle in 2018 but I got it wrong. Amazon, with little fuss, updated the Kindle Paperwhite. The Kindle Paperwhite 4 is a typical Kindle update, i.e. incremental with just enough to justify an overdue refresh.

The Kindle Paperwhite keeps the six-inch display (something expected considering the 'premium' Kindle Oasis 2 has a seven-inch display). Storage goes up to 8 GB or 32 GB for the extra space required due to Audible support. There is also water-proofing, Bluetooth support, an extra LED for the front light, an adjustable front light and the weight is decreased to 182 grams.

The Paperwhite 4 is also more robust than the previous generation and is designed to withstand small drops. There is no indication that the Paperwhite 4 is using E-Ink Mobius, so it is not clear what Amazon did to make the screen more robust. Due to the extra features and storage, Amazon has increased the pricing from £109.99 to £119.99.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Pixel Slate is a niche two-in-one for dedicated Google users

Google just released the Pixel Slate. It is an impressive device but expectantly - following the Apple and Microsoft trend - pricing is inflated. The Intel Celeron model starts at £549 (add an extra £189 for a keyboard)! To compare, the Acer C302 Chromebook Flip with an Intel M3 processor is priced at £500 and can be bought on sale for £400. If the Pixel Slate sold the entry-level configuration with an M3 processor it might make the starting price acceptable.

Pricing aside, I think Google is taking a specific angle with the Pixel Slate: a device that synthesises desktop and mobile computing environments. The operating system is built around the desktop Chrome browser. At the same time, there is access to mobile platform applications. The Surface two-in-one line offers desktop computing and Apple's iPad-Pro line is a traditional tablet running a mobile operating system. Slowly Google is attempting to bridge the divide between desktop and mobile platforms and this can be further seen with the recent beta support of Linux applications.

Yet, despite trying to take on Microsoft and Apple, the Pixel Slate is a niche product. The Slate's inflated price might be a put-off for many users, especially considering that there are more powerful and better equipped Microsoft laptops at similar prices (Apple laptops are even priced similar to the high-end Pixel Slate configuration). The user-base of Chrome OS are not power users and might not need anything beyond an M3 processor. As stated, something like the ASUS C302 Chromebook Flip is a better choice. Of course, for Google fans, the Pixel Slate offers the very best of all things Google. For this small user-base, loyalty comes first and other products might not be considered. 

Saturday, 6 October 2018

What processor is the Kobo Forma using?

Kobo, on their official page, isn't very clear about the processor that runs on the Kobo Forma. You need to visit their media library webpage to find out that the Forma's processor is the same one that runs on the older Aura ONE, i.e. the single-core NXP i.MX6. The Kindle Oasis uses a more capable 1GHZ dual-core i.MX7 processor. The difference between the single-core i.MX6 and dual-core i.MX7 is noticeable - the Oasis is zippier than the Kobo Aura ONE. It is odd that Kobo decided to stick with the same processor considering the Forma is meant to be their now premium e-reader. Maybe the selection of the same processor was a trade-off due to the Forma's E-Ink's Mobius screen technology.

Kobo Forma mimics the Kindle Oasis's extra width

The Kindle Oasis's screen is one inch less than the Kobo Forma but they are both extra wide. Kobo, it appears, is mimicking the Oasis's focus on auto-rotation and landscape reading. I prefer the Kobo Aura One's dimensions - it is near identical to the iPad Mini's dimensions and has the feel of reading a medium-sized A5 notebook.

I don't think the extra width will affect PDF landscape reading as it does with the Kindle Oasis. The problem with the Kindle Oasis is Amazon's software and its limiting three size margins settings. This means the text on some PDF documents, even with the narrowest margin settings, appears too large (I haven't tried installing KOReader on the Kindle Oasis as you need to jailbreak the device). KOReader, in contrast, is an easy add-on to install on Kobo devices and supports far greater features to manipulate the viewing of PDF documents.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Kobo releases a top of the line e-reader

Kobo has released a top of the line e-reader: the Kobo Forma. The model, it appears, is not intended as an update to the Kobo Aura ONE (the Aura ONE is still listed on the Kobo website). Instead, it is meant to rival the Kindle Oasis but with a bigger screen. The device looks a lot like the Kindle Oasis and is priced similar too.

The Forma also supports landscape reading (I never understood why Kobo never supported this basic feature), auto-rotates like the Oasis and is slightly larger than the Kobo Aura ONE (the Aura ONE's screen size is 7.8 inches; in comparison, the Forma is 8 inches).

In my opinion, the biggest difference is the Forma's E-Ink Mobius screen. E-Ink Mobius is a plastic-based screen that is lighter and more rugged than the glass-based E-Ink Carta that is now used on most e-readers.

I found this video of an unboxing of the Forma (it is in French but you get a rough idea on the Forma's design and functionality).  From the video, it is clear that the Forma's design, in contrast to the Oasis, is more symmetrical and made of hard plastic. This might be a significant positive to many users that don't like the Oasis's large bump on one side and cold feel.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Amazon focuses on Alexa enabled devices and neglects the Kindle

Continuing the focus on Alexa functionality, Amazon announced a range of new Alexa enabled devices (I think some of these devices, e.g., the Amazon Basics Alexa-powered microwave, are gimmicky). We've also seen this Alexa focus with the so-called new update of the Amazon Fire HD 8 - an update that wasn't really an update but instead focused on the show mode charging dock.

I think Amazon will continue to market their e-readers but there is a realisation that e-reader ownership continues to drop. A new Kindle Paperwhite, for example, might not alter this trend. The Kindle Oasis, on the other hand, is marketed to the committed digital reader that will pay extra for a premium device. Considering the e-reader trend, I cannot see Amazon updating the Kindle Basic or the Paperwhite in 2018 and the Alexa related hardware event confirms the neglect of the Kindle. 

Monday, 17 September 2018

Laptops deals

I have noticed some good online laptops deals. While the devices listed below are from UK retailers most can be found in other countries. These are temporary deals, so expect prices to change:
  • eBuyer is selling the Lenovo Ideapad 120S (14") for £149.98. At that price, you expect bare-bones entry-level laptops (2GB RAM and 32 GB storage). The listed Ideapad, however, comes with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. The only issue is a non-IPS HD only resolution (1366 X 768). The device's weight of 1.44 KG is lightweight for its 14" size. There is also a version of the Lenovo Ideapad 120S 14" with a better quad-core Intel Pentium N4200 that can be bought for £189.98
  • TREKSTOR SURFBOOK A13B: TREKSTOR is not a known vendor but they have been selling electronic devices for some time and produced e-readers. The SURFBOOK A13B appears to be a re-branded laptop, as it looks like the Teclast F7 and Jumper EZbook 3L Pro. I have not used the laptop, so the recommendation is based on the specifications. The laptop is on sale for £179.99 and is configured with a Gemini Lake N4000 Celeron processor, 64 GB storage, 4GB RAM and a 13.3" full HD IPS screen. You also get one-year Office 365 included. The seller does not make clear the battery life on the laptop but, according to Amazon's listing, the average run time is only 4 hours. If this correct, then the battery life is a big negative. 
  • HP Chromebook 14: The laptop sells for £199.99 at AO.com but is now out of stock; it is also regularly on sale via other retailers. Like the Lenovo Ideapad 14", the official retail price (£229) isn't attractive considering the specifications. There is a lot to like about the HP Chromebook 14 - it weighs 1.53 KG, comes with 32 GB storage (more than enough for a Chromebook), 4GB RAM and an Apollo Lake Celeron processor. The battery life is particularly good - it is advertised as 'up to 12 hours'. The negative is the non-IPS HD only screen (1366 X 768). There are other higher-end versions of the HP Chromebook 14 but they are more difficult to find and seldom on sale. In my view, a Chromebook is an excellent children's laptop. 
I think the Lenovo Ideapad 120S 14" laptops (with the Intel Celeron and Intel Pentium processors) are the best deals. If you can find the Chromebook 14 for under £200 then it is a good deal too. The only issue with the TREKSTOR SURFBOOK is the battery life. You can find the Teclast F7 or the Chuwi Lapbook 14.1 at a similar price, but the battery life is superior.