Sunday, 30 July 2017

Re-branded Onyx Boox N96 available on Indiegogo

An Australian company (cOmpanion) announced an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to release a re-branded Onyx Boox N96 (the version with no front-light) e-reader (the device is named nextPaper); a 'prototype' may be purchased for $280 (I would expect the official production unit to be priced over $300). The device comes with a 9.7" 1280 X 825 E-Ink Pearl screen and a dpi just over 150. Of course, the display specifications are underwhelming. Also, cOmpanion advertise that the device is cross-platform and allows the user to access Kobo, Nook and Amazon e-books. Technically this is correct but these are essentially Android applications designed for tablets and are unusable on e-readers.

Onyx produce different devices that aim to maximise on the potential use-case scenarios for E-Ink. Similar to reMarkable's 10.5" note taking e-reader - priced at $480 - there is Onyx's soon to be released Onyx Boox e-Note 10.3". Further, Onyx announced a 13.3" inch note-taking e-reader, an E-Ink laptop/typewriter and an E-Ink Carta refresh of their 9.7" N96 e-reader.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Review of Blu Life Max: A capable budget smartphone but with some compromises

This blog focuses on entry-level technology – many Chromebooks, though not all, being examples – and asks the question if an entry-level/budget device offers a good user-experience to meet the intended user's needs. I am impressed with Amazon’s Echo Dot, Kindle, Fire TV Stick, Fire 7 and Fire HD 8, in that they are case-examples of good budget devices. There are no gimmicks or branded hardware with these devices, just something that is genuinely useful and affordable. Just a few years ago it would be inconceivable to purchase good hardware below the £100/$100 threshold. For example, before the release of the first generation of the Moto G, many entry-level Android smart phones were almost unusable out of the box due to poor processor performance, storage and memory.

In this post I will be reviewing a budget smartphone – the Blu Life Max. Blu is a US based company that sells a range of phones but with a focus on the budget end of the smartphone market. Recently started to sell subsidised budget phones to Prime users (another incentive aiming to gain more Prime subscribers). These are phone that come with Amazon's 'special offers', similar to Amazon Fire tablets, and with pre-installed Amazon applications. One of the featured phones in this venture, in its two variants, is the Blu R1 HD. The less capable version of the Blu R1 HD - with 1 GB RAM and 8 GB storage - sells for just $50 unlocked.

After using the Blu Life Max for over two months, below are my impressions:

  • The Blue Life Max is an example of a budget smartphone that offers good performance, 16 GB storage and 2 GB RAM. The key differential between the budget end and mid-tier to premium end of the Smart phone market is now camera quality. The Blu Life Max's mediocre cameras substantiate this point. The camera needs optimal conditions - with no zoom - to generate good photographs. In other words, don't expect the Blu Life Max to be your primary camera. The camera is also passable, in lighted conditions, to work as a document scanner with the right Android application (I use Cam Scanner).
  • The device is named ‘Max Life’ to emphasise the larger 3700 mAH battery. The battery is replaceable and does get you an estimated two days of moderate usage (if you are streaming videos, the device will need to be re-charged more frequently). Despite Blu over-selling battery life – to differentiate the phone from its competitors – you still get better battery than many phones in the budget category. I did find stand-by time disappointing, with the phone's battery draining quickly after a full charge; I would estimate close to a 20% discharge over a period of eight hours. 
  • The display is serviceable. You get a 720 X 1280 screen across a 5.5 inch display. Of course, this doesn’t compare to flagship devices but I always thought anything beyond a full HD resolution to be excessive and even pointless on smartphones. Further, Apple's iPhone 6 comes with a slightly higher 750 X 1334 display; of course, Apple’s panels, expectantly, with the price differential, are superior, with far better colour reproduction/vibrancy and contrast. A more relevant comparison would be Wileyfox's Spark+, a device whose display I thought superior.
  • As this is an e-reader focused blog, I like the phone’s larger 5.5 inch display. The larger display makes it a viable e-reader for short reading sessions, especially in crowded places. Also, the larger display makes the phone a very portable mini-tablet to stream video content and read archived articles via Pocket.
  • The phone's processor - a 1.3 GHZ quad-core Mediatek processor - offers good performance for most tasks users expect from a smartphone. Further, The 2 GB RAM makes multi-tasking smooth and the 16 GB storage, considering this is an Android phone, doesn't restrict the user (8 GB being the previous benchmark for entry-level smartphones). 
  • Yes, there is a finger print scanner. I find finger print scanners to be a little gimmicky but not many phones - in this category - come with this hardware feature.
  • Overall, I like the Blu Life Max. However, I don't think it is a stand-out in the budget category. At the moment, it is possible to find phones with similar specifications at a similar price (under or close to £100/$100). I would recommend searching Amazon's Warehouse deals for further options. A good alternative would be Wileyfox's range smartphones – e.g. the Spark+ and Swift 2 – that are similarly priced to the Blu Life Max. You may not get a 5.5 inch display or relatively large battery size but you do get better build quality, display and significantly superior camera. Whatever the case, there are different options at the budget end of the market to obtain an unlocked capable smartphone for around £100/$100.

Monday, 3 July 2017

'I Am Not Your Negro' available to stream through Amazon Prime

'I Am Not Your Negro' is now available to watch on Amazon Prime. It is a great documentary that brilliantly narrates and weaves James Baldwin's writings with carefully selected historical clips and contemporary imagery.