Saturday, 23 September 2017

Amazon cuts the right corners again with the updated Fire HD 10

Amazon announced the release of their Fire HD 10 and, again, they've cut the right corners. The Fire HD 10 2017 gets a similar 'upgrade/downgrade' and slash in cost as the 2016 Fire HD 8 update. Yes, there is a higher resolution, better battery, more RAM/storage and faster processor. However, at the same time, the back camera has been significantly downgraded and the overall weight of the tablet increased. I would also speculate, judging from the 2016 Fire HD 8 update, that the 2017 HD 10's screen quality is downgraded compared to the previous generation (screen quality is just as important as resolution). Overall, Amazon are cutting the right corners again, as they did with the 2016 Fire HD 8. The latest iteration, on paper, is the the best value large tablet.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Download Open University short courses

Open University offer a large number of short courses, in the form of Kindle e-books, to download for free. To my knowledge, this is the largest repository of e-books that any university has released; hopefully other institutions will offer online course books and textbooks to download. Open and free digital diffusement is a means to counter imposed artificial scarcity by state funding, publishers and higher education institutions.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Acer Aspire ES11 Review: A good entry-level laptop let-down by its sub-standard battery life

The Acer Aspire ES 11, compared to other Windows entry-level laptops, stands out with its standard 4 GB configuration; in comparison the HP Stream 11 is only available in the UK in its 2 GB version. If HP released the 4 GB version of the HP Stream 11 then it would be, in my opinion, the better option with its significantly better battery life. Yes, on paper, the Acer ES 11 comes with a slightly better Apollo Lake N3350 processor but the difference is negligible in real world use. After using Acer's ES 11 for some time below are my main impressions:
  • I was attracted to the Acer ES 11 due to its Apollo Lake N3350 processor (I was previously underwhelmed with the HP Stream 14's Celeron N3060). After using the processor in the Acer Aspire ES11, I found little difference between the the Apollo Lake N3350 and Celeron Braswell N3060. For a smoother user-experience the Braswell Celeron N3160, Apollo Lake Celeron N3450 and Apollo Lake Pentium N4200 perform significantly better (many budget laptops now run with quad core versions of these processors).  
  • Laptops in this category offer adequate performance for everyday computing but expect some slugishness. None of these laptops are recommend as a primary computing device, so it makes sense to primarily consider the smaller and more portable 11.6 models. The HP Stream 14, while relatively lightweight for its larger form factor, comes with a poor display and low DPI (to be fair, poor screen quality is a broader issue with laptops in general. Vendors tend to over-price their laptop hardware and it is common to even find mid-tier laptops with 1366 X 768 screens). Acer also sell a larger 13.3 inch Acer Aspire ES13 that weighs 1.7 KG with near identical specifications. Again, the extra weight and larger form factor are not suitable for the purposes of on-the-go mobile computing.    
  • Relative to other devices in this category, the Acer ES11 comes with a nice matte display and the pre-installed blue light shield software is one of the better implementations of the feature I've seen. 
  • Considering the importance of portability in this category the Aspire ES11's battery is some way behind similarly priced laptops. Acer tends to over-estimate battery life and the advertised 'up to 8 hours' is considerably off; with battery saver on and mixed use, the more accurate estimate would be closer to six hours. In comparison the HP Stream 14, that I used and tested, advertised a more accurate 'up to 10 hours' (the HP Stream 11 is advertised with an even longer 'up to 10 hours and 45 minutes').
Overall, the Acer ES 11 is a good choice for a portable secondary computing device. Another possibility is the Lenovo's 110S; the 110S comes in different configurations but the 4 GB version, that also comes with 64 GB storage (double the storage compared to the Acer ES11), goes beyond the £200 threshold. This raises the issue if a low powered mobile device is worth the extra cost. In other words, once going over the £200 threshold it might be better idea to go for a better and more powerful budget option that can be used, by many users, as a primary device e.g. the Asus VivoBook L403. Another issue to consider is that refurbished Acer ES11 units are widely available and can be found as low as £115.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Reading on a Windows tablet

Using a Windows tablet as an e-reader is not something I would recommend but there are some applications that can make it work. Below is a list of recommended applications:

E-Books - The choices are limited for e-book reading applications, in comparison to Android; Book Bazaar is the best standalone option, with Frida being a second option. Amazon's Kindle is poorly supported and the only viable option, after Amazon discontinued their Windows Store application, is to download the cumbersome and poor PC version of the application. Oddly, Amazon support an Audible application in the Windows Store. Both OverDrive and Kobo support good applications that are downloadable from the Windows Store.  

PDF documents - Adobe Reader Touch, XODO PDF Reader & Editor and Foxit Mobile PDF are all good options that allow the user to annotate and edit PDF documents.

Note taking - OneNote is the better option as it is fully integrated into the Windows eco-system and there is no subscriptions cost restrictions similar to Evernote.

Cloud storage - similar to OneNote the choice would be to use Window's native OneDrive for cloud storage to sync reading between devices. However, there is a Dropbox application in the Windows Store.

Finally, there are a lot of refurbished Windows tablets but three issues should come first when choosing the right one - (1) battery life; (2) minimum 2GB RAM; (3) minimum 1280 X 800 resolution.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Windows 10 S devices being released

Microsoft announced the release of Windows 10 S a few months back, to take on the success of Chromebooks in the education sector, and now major vendors are releasing budget devices with the operating system. One of the earlier options is the Asus VivoBook W202NA; the laptop is designed to be used in classrooms and can withstand drops from up to 3.9 feet. The device is not priced as an entry-level device and comes with a weaker Apollo Lake Celeron processor (N3350), 4GB RAM and 64GB eMMC. Overall, I am sceptical about Windows 10 S for different reasons but one of the biggest problems is the relatively sparse selection of applications compared to Google Play that is being made available on more Chromebooks. Laptop Mag published a review of the W2020NA that can be accessed here.