Sunday, 29 October 2017

Kindle special offers

Amazon sell their e-readers and Fire tablets with and without special offers. Special offers, in the case of Fire tablets, are not intrusive. Tablets are multi-functional devices and the special offers that appear on the lock-screen do not intrude on the user accessing their applications. Kindle e-readers, in contrast, are single purpose devices and turning on the device means returning to an e-book (the device shouldn't get in the way of its single purpose i.e. reading). Special offers appearing on the sleep screen means the user needs to turn on the device and then swipe to bypass the advertisement to then return to an e-book. Even worse Amazon imposes an advertisement banner at the bottom of the screen when navigating the Kindle. With the restricted screen estate of a 6 - 7 inch Kindle e-reader this is a nuisance.  Special offers displayed on e-readers, in my view, are an imposition and should be removed altogether. A possible alternative might be to place a designated permanent icon to access special offers in the top tool bar (similar to the GoodReads icon).

Thursday, 26 October 2017

First impressions of the Fire HD 10

I am currently using the recently released 7th generation Fire HD 10 regularly. So far, I am impressed with the hardware and, specifically, the screen quality is better than expected. Overall, this is the best tablet Amazon released since discontinuing the HDX line and taking the budget route. There are drawbacks with weight, very poor cameras and excessive bezel size but for the price, it is difficult to find similar value from other vendors. I will post a review soon.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

What to expect with an updated Kindle Paperwhite?

The current Kindle Paperwhite was released spring 2015 and, I believe, the three year mark will see the release of an update (Spring 2018). The updated Paperwhite will probably keep the six inch screen - the seven inch size being restricted to the Oasis - but get the majority of hardware features and near all software features of the Oasis. This means expect a device that comes with waterproofing, Bluetooth support, a lighter and more compact form factor and a slight bump in processor power. Hardware features that will stay the same include the same number of front light LEDs, 4GB storage and a 300 PPI E-Ink Carta screen. If the Voyage is updated, rather than discontinued, then it will probably get an upgrade in the number of LEDs and 8 GB storage, to justify, in comparison to the Paperwhite, its higher pricing. Software will be near identical to the Oasis (Amazon aims to keep firmware features the same, with slight differences related to hardware differences between the different Kindles) and that means Audible integration with the updated Paperwhite.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Kindle Oasis and PDF support

KOReader, in comparison to Amazon's native Kindle operating system, offers more features for PDF documents. However, KOReader's software is not stable and the interface is convoluted; the KOReader project is an excellent community driven project but there has been no stable release since November 2015. Thus, to get the right version to work with recent devices, e.g. the Kobo Aura One, it is necessary to download and install a nightly build.

Despite the extra features that KOReader supports, I still prefer Kindle's software. In my opinion, what makes the Kindle's software preferable is its simplicity. The menus are simple and clear - there is one display settings menu that changes orientation, margins and increases contrast. The pinch to zoom, relative to other E-Ink e-readers, works well. Further, highlighting is smooth and dictionary, Wikipedia and translation look-up are all supported. In other words, Amazon put some thought into their PDF support and get the necessary features right. This good PDF support is a significant factor that makes the recently announced Kindle Oasis, with its extra screen estate, an attractive e-reader, despite its relatively high pricing.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Simple solution to export annotations in Nickel

Nickel (Kobo's operating system), by default, does not allow the user to export their annotations. However, the feature can be enabled by adding some code. Similar to enabling full screen mode, to remove both header and footer, the user needs to add the following code to the bottom of Kobo eReader.conf using a text editor (the file is located in .kobo\Kobo):


With the feature activated, a new option appears to export all annotations to a text file. After exporting the annotations, it is then possible to access the text file in the Kobo drive. For further options, please visit this MobileRead thread.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Amazon's typographical features remain behind Kobo

Amazon released a new firmware (5.8.11) for their Kindle devices (6th generation and up). The firmware update is a significant one, as it aims to provide extra typographical features to their e-readers (a weak point with Amazon’s Kindle firmware).

Despite some improvements, significant problems persist. First, the option to increase font weight only works with AZW3 file, so if you have a library of  MOBI e-books the feature does not work. Further, Amazon, oddly, does not support sending documents to your Kindle e-mail in the AZW3 format. This means the only way get an AZW3 on a Kindle is to side-load the document but this means the e-book is not archived in the Amazon cloud and synced across devices. Second, font size selection is still poor and the increase between different sizes - in the new font scale - remains disproportionate. It would have been better if the firmware allowed the user to select an exact number for font size.

Amazon, overall, offer a stable and feature rich firmware experience, in comparison to other vendors. However, in the case of typographical support, they remain behind Kobo. Yes, Kobo also have issues with font size but, at least, there is more flexibility in size selection. Further, they allow the user to increase font weight in both EPUB and KEPUB e-books (the feature only works with Kobo designated fonts and not side-loaded ones).

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Second generation Kindle Oasis released

Amazon released an updated version of their premium Kindle - the Kindle Oasis. I still think the Oasis does not justify its price and the label 'premium' is more marketing than anything substantial. However, at least with this iteration there is something, on paper, that justifies its existence. The important upgrade is the screen size - the updated 7 inch screen is the first non-six inch e-reader that Amazon has released since the Kindle DX. The size increase, finally, is a welcome addition but the size does not justify the device's pricing; the same point, to a lesser extent, applies to waterproofing, Audible integration, 8GB storage and greater number of LEDs for a more uniform front-light.

I don't expect a refresh for the Kindle Paperwhite or Voyage soon and when a refresh arrives it is possible these device will not get the larger screen. I think the significant demand for a larger screen - something admitted by an Amazon employee here - is being used to differentiate the high-end Oasis (the first generation offered relatively little for its 'premium' label) in comparison to other Kindles and to entice users to purchase the higher-end device. In my opinion, at the moment, the Paperwhite remains the best Kindle to purchase. For a larger e-reader the better option is to go for the 7.8 inch Kobo Aura One or the first generation 7 inch Kobo Aura H20.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Tech for studying (1) - choosing a budget laptop

There is a tech website trend to present  a 'back to school/university' feature, between September and October, that  recommends devices that improve studying and learning. This posts - part of a series of posts - continues in that trend but extends the focus beyond formal education to cover budget tech for studying, researching and learning in general. This first post is dedicated to laptops and considers a budget laptop choice as both a primary and secondary device:

Primary device

A budget laptop that can be used as a primary device is usually found at the higher-end of the category and, in my opinion, should, as minimum, weigh less than 2KG, come with a full HD 13 inch or larger display, a capable quad core mobile class processor (e.g. Intel Celeron N3160, N3450 or Pentium N4200), 4GB RAM and 64 GB storage. Two devices, from established vendors, meet this criteria - the Asus Swift 1 and Asus Vivobook L403N. It is is possible to purchase an imported laptop from smaller and lesser known vendors - e.g. the Chuwi Lapbook 14.1 - but there is always a risk with after-sale support should any problems appear with the device.

The overall best option is the Asus L403N, in comparison to the Acer Swift 1 13.3, and below are some reasons:
  1. The Asus L403NA, even when not on sale, is priced at £330; on sale the price ranges from £279 - £300. The Acer Swift 1 13.3 is priced higher at £350.
  2. Asus advertises an 'up to 14 hours' for the Vivobook L403N but this an over-estimate (PC World list a more accurate 'up to 8 hours' estimate). From personal experience a better estimate would be closer to 7 - 8 hours. This lower estimate includes low brightness and running the device in battery saving mode. The Acer Switch 1, on the other hand, advertises an 'up to 10 hours' and this also is an over-estimate. I haven't used the Switch 1 but based on this review of the US version, expect closer to 6 - 7 hours (the US version is given the same estimate). Even with the over-estimation by both vendors, the Asus Vivobook has the better battery life.
  3. It needs mentioning that the Acer Swift 1 comes with an IPS display; in comparison the Asus L403N does not. Despite the IPS screen advantage, the L403N comes with a larger 14 inch screen and the extra screen estate makes a difference.  
  4.  The Asus L403N is bundled with a one year subscription of Office 365. The Acer Swift 1, based on its listing, is not. 
  5. Overall, Asus produces superior hardware
Secondary device

If a powerful desktop PC or laptop is the user's primary computing device then it makes sense to use a secondary device for on-the-go computing and the lightweight Lenovo 110S meets that purpose (I previously reviewed the previous generation). While the entry-level 110S comes with only 2GB RAM there are other unique advantages that includes a better quad core N3160 processor, a full year subscription of Office 365, acceptable 'up to 8 hours' battery life and an IPS screen (there are different models of the laptop and it seems not all come with the IPS display). At the moment, the 110S sells for £159 brand new on Amazon. Another issue to consider when purchasing an entry-level laptop is the ability to install a Linux distribution. This makes sense, with low-end hardware, as Linux distributions, in general, are less resource intensive in comparison to Windows 10. Lenovo laptops, in general, work well with the major Linux distributions. Acer, unfortunately, make it difficult to install Linux on their laptops and require a relatively good technical know-how to boot the device from the user's chosen distribution.