Showing posts with label Amazon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amazon. Show all posts

Friday, 7 September 2018

Amazon updates the Fire HD 8

With no fanfare, Amazon updated their best-selling Fire HD 8 tablet. The differences between the 2018 and 2017 versions are minimal. According to Liluputing the hardware differences are:
But the new model has a 2MP front-facing camera (up from 0.3MP on the previous version) and works with microSD cards up to 400GB (up from 256GB). You can also install apps to the microSD card if the built-in storage capacity isn’t enough for you. 
Unfortunately, battery life gets a bump down from 'up to 12 hours' to 'up to 10 hours' mixed usage.

The update is focused on Alexa. With the latest Fire HD 8, it is possible to interact with Alexa anytime. It is not clear if this feature is hardware related - if it isn't, based on Amazon's firmware update track record, then the previous two generations should receive the software feature.

The tablet can also be purchased with a show mode charging dock. The dock charges the tablet and turns it into smart-display when docked. The dock isn't new, as it was released in July 2018 in the US but is only now made available in the UK. In the US there is also a version of the dock for the Fire HD 10.

Interestingly, Amazon UK doesn't sell the dock separate to the latest Fire HD 8 (Amazon US does sell the dock separately). I think Amazon UK want a reason for customers to buy the latest tablet, as the previous generation is compatible with dock. The latest iteration is about Alexa but the previous two generations should get the new Alexa software features. I also think the show mode charging dock will eventually be sold separately or made available through third-party sellers. This means if you don't care about the front-facing camera then there is no reason to get the latest model.

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.

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.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Is Amazon phasing-out the entry-level Kindle?

It appears Amazon removed the entry-level Kindle from their main Kindle listing page. Of course, this is speculation, but it seems Amazon is re-working their e-reader line-up. I expect the entry-level Kindle to be phased-out; instead, the line-up will be restricted to the Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Voyage, and Kindle Oasis. With the Kindle Paperwhite being the new entry-level e-reader, I also expect an updated Paperwhite model priced below $100. If the speculation is correct then I also expect the Kindle Voyage to be updated too. An 800 X 600 E-Ink Pearl screen entry-level e-reader is now out-dated, and no major vendor offers the technology (even the low-resolution Tolino Page has an E-Ink Carta display).

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Tolino Page Review: Excellent cloud support for personal documents but overall a frustrating device

I expected Tolino Page to challenge the Kindle Basic. Instead, I found myself frustrated and disappointed with the device. There is a lot to like about the Tolino Page, but software failings outweigh the positives. I will split the review between the positives and, more importantly, the negatives.

The positives 

Apart from Amazon, Tolino is the only other major vendor that offers extensive features to manage personal documents. Kobo recently acquired Tolino but considering the slow momentum of e-reader software development, I doubt Kobo will implement Tolino’s cloud features any time soon. 

Technically, utilising Tolino’s web services requires an account with an e-book store located in one of Tolino’s supported countries. Nonetheless, there is a work around to use the online services in any location. First, register an account with the e-book store thalia.de (there are other e-book stores supported). After creating an account with thalia.de, register a Tolino Cloud account via eBook.de (see below to identify the right section). After logging-on to a Tolino account, it is possible to set the interface language to Dutch, English, French, Italian and Spanish. Importantly, in account settings link the Tolino account to thalia.de. After linking Tolino Cloud/web reader to thalia.de, it is possible to register any Tolino e-reader through thalia.de and access uploaded personal documents.

Accessing Tolino web reader on eBook.de (click image to enlarge)

Through the Tolino Cloud, it is possible to categorise uploaded personal documents in collections. Once uploaded, an e-book can be read directly in the web browser, Tolino's Android/iOS application or with a Tolino e-reader. Further, current page location and annotations are synchronised across devices. While there is no way to export annotations via the web browser or Tolino's Android/iOS application, there is the option to access annotations via a text file stored locally on a Tolino e-reader. Regrettably, the stored annotations are only those made on the e-reader.

Cloud support makes managing an online library so much easier. For example, factory re-set a Tolino device and in a few minutes, you are ready to go again. The library can be managed online without any need to side load documents, and with page location and annotations backed-up from your last online synchronisation.

While Amazon’s synchronisation across devices works better, Tolino’s online document management is more intuitive and with superior features. For example, it is possible to upload e-book cover images, add/delete documents and organise e-books in collections. In contrast, with Amazon’s online content management, it is possible to delete archived documents but there is no way to manage collections. Kobo and Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, do not support cloud synchronisation and management for personal documents.

Tolino also supports the side loading of fonts and I found side loaded fonts render well. In contrast, Amazon does not support the feature at all.

The negatives 

The main issue with the Tolino Page is software implementation. Below are some problems with the software:
  • Highlighting is not smooth or accurate and it is not possible to continue highlighting a text if it extends to the next page of an e-book. 
  • Strangely, and this seems to be a software bug, turning a page can result in text appearing de-focused. Re-focusing the text requires a few seconds, after instigating a full-page refresh (when this occurs there is a prompt to turn two or four pages back). The problem is frequent and annoying.
  • Performance is sluggish compared to the Kindle Basic. It is not a major issue but with prolonged use, it is noticeable.
  • PDF support, similar to Kobo, is poor. It is not possible to highlight text and there is no tap to scroll. The need to scroll down manually in landscape mode, something necessary with the six-inch screen, is a problem due to the device’s slow rendering of PDF documents. In the case of Kobo, it is possible to resolve the issue of poor PDF support with KOReader but this option is not available, so far, for Tolino e-readers. If reading PDF documents is necessary then it is a good idea to avoid the larger Tolino Epos.
  • Overall, Tolino’s software is very basic in its features. In reading settings, the options available include setting the number of screen refreshes when reading and installing dictionaries. 
On paper, the Tolino Page has an E-Ink Carta display. In actual usage, in my view, the Kindle Basic’s E-Ink Pearl screen has better contrast, with darker text.

Overall, I liked Tolino’s extensive support for personal documents but bare-bones features, sluggish performance and software bugs means the device is frustrating. If you are looking for a no frills entry-level e-reader that just works then the Kindle Basic remains the best option.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Supporting the font bolding feature in a MOBI e-book

Amazon does not allow users to send AZW3 e-books to a Kindle device via WiFi. However, I noticed that it is possible to send a MOBI e-book to a Kindle e-reader and still make use of the font bolding feature.

The solution is to use Calibre to convert an e-book to MOBI in both old and new formats. In Calibre, under MOBI file type output, select ‘both’ as the MOBI file type. After conversion, it is possible to send the e-book to a Kindle device via email or Send to Kindle.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Fire HD 8's grainy screen

I've noticed that the 7th generation Fire HD 8 has a grainy coating on its glossy screen. Usually this graininess is a feature of matte displays, but I've seen it before on low-cost glossy screens. It is likely Amazon bulk ordered these low-cost IPS screens to further cut down the price. It is a not a major issue and considering the up-shot in specifications compared to the 5th generation (the 6th and 7th generation Fire HD 8 are near identical) the compromise in display quality is worth it. There is little difference between the 6th and 7th generation display but the 6th generation didn't have the coating.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Amazon Go & automation

The Amazon Go store concept is an interesting innovation in retail. Following the opening of Amazon's Seattle store, I noticed some websites stating their fear for the future of retail in the loss of human interaction and more importantly jobs. The latter issue of job loss is common sense, in market economies, as wage labour is ascribed ultimate value as a means to a living and social standing - it doesn't matter if many jobs are actually needed.

In my view, automated technologies are just material means that make adaptation to our natural order less dependent on direct human activity. Thus technologies offer positive possibilities in freeing human activity and resources in other directions. The real issue is the value orientation that informs how these technologies are used. In the case of Amazon Go, these technologies operate in a market economy centered on exponential growth. In contrast, in the context of mutual alternatives the use of these technologies could mean a positive re-thinking of social goals in ways that are responsive to more human possibilities of living.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Kindle Oasis Review: The Oasis sets the new benchmark for an e-reader

Without doubt, the latest iteration of Kindle Oasis is the best e-reader from Amazon. Yet, this is expected considering the pricing and premium tag. The question is if the device offers that much extra to justify the price differential in comparison to other e-readers. Overall, while Amazon should have done more to distinguish the Oasis, the device sets the benchmark for a feature rich and immersive e-reading experience.

An a-symmetric design that doesn’t work 

I am not a fan of the device’s design. The metallic back, without a case, is cold to the hand and the device’s lopsided design makes it uneven to hold. Amazon designed their official case to attach magnetically to the thicker end to provide a flat reading surface. Unfortunately, this leaves part of the metallic back exposed when the case is closed (Amazon withdrew the official case due to design flaws).

The buttons are a real plus. They are located at the thicker end and make page turning so much easier with one-handed reading. The buttons can be used left and right-handed, as the Oasis supports automatic rotation.

Extra-size makes a difference

The extra inch makes a significant difference. The device is seven inch across and this means a thirty percent increase in reading screen estate. There is also extra width; the device’s width is closer to the Aura One than the Paperwhite. I find the extra space helps with text immersion and the extra width makes PDF text more legible in landscape mode.

Nice screen but nothing special

If you are coming from the Kindle Paperwhite then you will notice little difference in screen quality (both devices come with an E-Ink Carta screen and 300 DPI). I found the Oasis’s contrast slightly lacking but the text sharp.

The adaptive front-light has twelve LEDs that produce uniform lighting with little shadowing. The front-light is the best I’ve seen on an e-reader and significantly better than the Kobo Aura One. The Kindle Oasis, unlike the Aura One, does not support front-light colour shifting for night-time reading.

Kobo Aura One vs. Kindle Oasis front-light comparison 

Solid and stable software

As stated in a review of the Kindle Basic, Amazon’s Kindle software is feature rich and stable (I have provided an overview of the Kindle’s operating system in the Kindle Basic review. Also, I have previously posted on the Kindle’s good PDF support here). Amazon runs the near same software on all its e-readers. Software differences that do exist cater for device specific hardware features e.g. Bluetooth support and adaptive display lighting.

One software issue that continues to frustrate is the limited control over text display. Font size options are set in absolute size and the difference between, for example, size two and three is too disproportionate (the issue is accentuated with a relatively high 300 DPI screen). A possible solution, to get something between size three and four, is to increase font-weight to two. Unfortunately, this option only works with AZW3 e-books. Hopefully, in the future, there will be a software update that extends font weight options to MOBI e-books.

The Oasis comes with in-built Bluetooth support and Audible integration. I would recommend going for the 32GB Oasis if Audio books are something important (audio books take a lot of storage). Personally, I find something like a smart-phone, laptop or tablet better suited for audio books.

Battery life & waterproofing

This is Amazon’s first e-reader with waterproofing. I haven’t tested the feature but Amazon advertise the device with an IPX8 rating that can withstand immersion in up to 2 metres of fresh water for one hour.

I expected better battery-life, considering the pricing. Based on personal estimation, I found the Oasis’s battery life to be behind the Paperwhite but still last longer than the Aura One. This is not surprising as the Paperwhite has a larger battery capacity (the Paperwhite has a 1320 mAh battery capacity. In comparion, the Kindle Oasis 2 has a 1000 mAh battery capacity). Of course, battery life depends on, for example, front-light intensity, indexing and WiFi.

Too expensive for an e-reader?

Is the Oasis too expensive for an e-reader? Many technology websites answer in the affirmative. I think the device is dedicated to the e-reading community and for this segment of users, the Oasis might be worth-it.

The better question to ask, directed at dedicated e-readers, is if the Oasis is worth-it considering the existence of, for example, the cheaper Kobo H20 and Aura One? In my view, if it is merely a question of hardware then the Aura One would be the better choice. Even so, Amazon’s superior and polished software experience makes the Oasis the better overall e-reader.

Verdict

Initially, when the Oasis was released, I judged the Oasis to be priced too high for what it offers. After using the device, I have change my mind. Yes, the bigger screen finally distinguishes the Oasis compared to the Paperwhite and Voyage. However, more than just hardware, the software is what makes the Oasis standout. Most things just work better, compared to other e-readers e.g. smoother highlighting, syncing of personal documents across Amazon devices/apps, consideration of PDF support and the ability to export annotations in different formats etc.

The downside with the Oasis is that it is not innovative enough. I expect more from a high-end Kindle e-reader. For example, stylus support, a larger screen, better contrast and improved battery life. I think the broader issue is not just cost but also Amazon’s conservative strategy in the development of its e-readers.

To conclude, before the Oasis, the Aura One was the benchmark for a larger e-reader. Yet, if you are willing to go one inch smaller, the Oasis is the one to go for.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Fire HD 10 review: A tablet defined by its screen

Overall, the Fire HD 10 is the best tablet Amazon released since taking the budget route. Take away the cameras, many vendors match Amazon's specifications, at a similar price, but few, if any, offer similar screen quality and 32GB storage in its base configuration.

Display & Storage

Based on the 6th generation Fire HD 8 update (late 2016), I was expecting a lacklustre screen with the Fire HD 10 2017, to keep the cost low, and still offer a full HD resolution (the 6th generation Fire HD 8 came with a downgraded screen and cameras). Instead, I was surprised with the Fire HD 10's display - the colours are vibrant and contrast is very good. However, similar to the 6th generation Fire HD 8 update, there is a downgrade in build quality, drastic downgrade in camera quality and added weight to the device. The downgrades are worthwhile, as you get a better screen, better battery life, more RAM, faster processor and twice the entry level storage. To compare, the 16 GB 5th generation Fire HD 10 (released late 2015) cost £170 and this generation's 32 GB costs £150. 

The extra storage options is part of Amazon's Fire tablet strategy: a family-centric medium to access Amazon's services and Prime content. As these tablets are targeted as family devices then the extra storage is meant for offline content for multiple users. For example, the 7th generation Fire HD 8 is near identical to the previous generation but offers extra expandable SD Card storage (the tablet supports up to 256GB expandable storage).

Build Quality, Performance & Battery Life

The device's design and build quality, keeping with the general ethos of Fire tablets, is utilitarian. The plastic back-casing feels solid in the hand and the tablet does not feel flimsy. Unfortunately, similar to the Fire HD 8, the Fire HD 10 is no light tablet. The weight is close to 500 Grams and the heft is clearly felt. Further, added to the weight, this is no compact device with large bezels at the top and bottom. 

Performance is good: the Fire HD 10 opens applications instantly, there is hardly any lag and multi-tasking is handled comfortably. Battery life is advertised as 'up to 10 hours' and from consistent use that seems to be the best-case scenario (low brightness and non-intensive tasks e.g. e-reading); in reality, with mixed use, expect closer to eight hours. The Fire HD 10 is the fastest performing Fire tablet but the Fire HD 8's battery life lasts longer. 

Fire OS

I like Fire OS 5.6; it is a heavily modified version of Android 5 Lollipop that doesn't come with Android's large footprint. Thus, more storage space is available 'out-of-the-box' with less bloat and space taken with built-in system applications that push Google services. The down-side is that the Fire OS doesn't come with Google Play. Amazon's app store does offer a good range of applications but is inferior to Google Play's catalogue. Further, many key applications are missing, including Google's suite of applications. However, it is possible, even for the novice user, to install Google Play on the tablet (the process doesn't take more than ten minutes).

At the moment, the Fire HD 10 is the only Amazon tablet that supports Alexa hands free. This means Alexa can be activated by voice alone. Pair the tablet to a Bluetooh speaker and the device offers the functionality of an Echo device. 

The Negatives

As is the case with Amazon's tablets there are corners cut to keep the cost low. The Fire HD 10 is no different and the biggest downgrade in this iteration, other than build materials and weight, is the Fire HD 10's cameras. There is a back 2MP camera and front-facing VGA camera; the VGA camera is just about serviceable for Skype calls and the back camera is better not used at all. I tried to photo scan a printed document, in good conditions, and the result was barely legible.

Despite the negatives, I think Amazon, once again, cut the right corners and produced a very good value tablet. Sacrificing camera quality in a tablet makes sense and this meant Amazon were able to release a tablet with a screen that is above its price category.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Barnes & Noble updates the Nook GlowLight

Barnes & Noble updated their Nook GlowLight e-reader and I really like the throw-back design and return to physical page turning buttons (the design is a refined version of the Nook Simple Touch and Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight). The specifications, however, are disappointing: again we have another six inch e-reader and the water-proofing has been removed. The main updates are in storage (8 GB) and Night Mode (Night Mode is similar to Kobo's 'Comfort Light' that allows the user to shift to a warmer front-light for bedtime reading). The updated Nook e-reader is a US only device (Barnes & Noble ceased selling digital devices and content in the UK in 2016).

I predict Barnes & Noble will continue to maintain their digital division (Nook) in the long-term. This means the Nook e-reader will continue to be B&N's flagship device for its digital content. B&N does offer tablets but these are Android devices sold in partnership with Samsung that are pre-loaded with Nook apps and widgets. The $50 Nook tablet is the first Nook branded tablet released since the Nook HD and HD+ but, similar to the Samsung tablets, is another Android device. Previous Nook branded tablets, in contrast, were released with a tailor made version of Android that integrated an app store, video store and reading content (similar to Amazon's strategy with Fire tablets). Barnes & Noble has since down-sized, scrapping their app and video store, and focused exclusively on reading content. Len Riggio, Barnes & Noble's executive chairman, admitted that "B&N didn't have the culture or financing to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google".

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.

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.

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.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Review of the 8th generation Kindle: The best budget six inch e-reader

Amazon’s 8th generation Kindle is priced similar to other entry-level e-readers but what makes it, in my opinion, the best budget e-reader is its refined operating system. The device itself is very capable and there is no skimping on performance. The compromise is in the absence of a front-light and a lower 167 dpi E-Ink Pearl display. Compared to the Kindle Paperwhite there is a clear difference in clarity and sharpness; however, there is an upside with the lower resolution with the entry Kindle's better text scaling (clarified below). The E-Ink Pearl screen itself has good contrast and is superior to, for example, the previous generation of the Icarus XL with its E-Ink Pearl screen. Further, fonts are given more weight, to appear darker, and off-set the lower resolution.

The absence of a front-light, for some users, might be a deal-breaker; if that is the case then the Paperwhite – the overall choice six-inch e-reader – would be the better option. Personally I find the absence of a front-light a non-issue, as zero light emission is the primary reason I choose to read on E-Ink screens. Front-lights, in e-readers, still generate less eye strain compared to back-lit LCD screens and are useful in low-lit environments.

What I prefer in the entry Kindle is the superior text scaling, compared to the higher-resolution Kindle models. It seems the higher dpi of the Paperwhite means more text appears on the screen for each font level. However, the Paperwhite's scaling is problematic in that the difference between each font size level is too high. Thus, the third level is too small but increase the size to four and it is too large; this is a signifiant issue with the limited screen estate of a six inch e-reader. In comparison, the entry Kindle’s size increase is more balanced – level three is a balanced medium setting that works well (see picture below for font scaling comparison between the Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite). As will be clarified below, in regard to software, this issue may be resolved by providing the end-user with greater control over reader settings.

Finally, another positive, is the device’s light-weight compared to the Paperwhite; the device’s light-weight (161 grams) makes it ideal for one-handed reading.


Font size at level three - the entry Kindle is the white e-reader (please click on image to enlarge)
Font size at level four (note the Paperwhite's large increase in size between levels three & four)

Software 

As noted, the hardware is capable and the display is good-enough, considering the lower dpi, but it is the software that makes this the choice entry e-reader. Amazon’s software is near identical across its Kindle devices and so the software used in the entry Kindle offers near identical features that you get with the premium Kindle Oasis. First, some negative issues need to be flagged:
  • There is no way to organise content in collections through folders created on the device’s local storage. Further, for a personal document to be stored in the cloud and synced across devices, it needs to be sent to the user’s designated Kindle email. Greater flexibility and integration between local storage, device collections and cloud synchronisation would simplify the process of organising user content. 
  • There is limited control over text; in comparison, Kobo’s operating system (Nickel) provides superior features. Nickel gives the user greater control over font size, text alignment, margins, line spacing and the further option to side-load fonts. For example, expanding reader settings features might resolve the problem of scaling that comes with a higher dpi screen. One possibility might be to allow the user the option to increase font size by selecting an exact font number (Android e-reading applications, e.g. Moon+ Reader and Bookari, support this feature). Greater control over reading settings and a the absence of a larger Kindle, in my opinion, are the two central issues that Amazon needs to change. 
  • An odd quirk with Amazon’s Kindle software is the extension of selected reading settings from one document to another. Thus, settings selected in one e-book/PDF document is then applied to the next document opened. For example, change screen orientation to landscape, to read a PDF document, and the same orientation is applied in the next e-book opened. It is a small issue but there is no reason why this problem should persist. 
  • There is no page number support; instead, there is location number or percentage of book read. Again, Nickel is better in this area; Kobo allows the user to display page number in reference to the current chapter or entire book.
Below are some positives; these are not exhaustive but, overall, they are examples on why the entry Kindle is the best budget e-reader:
  • Good PDF support – Both Barnes & Noble and Kobo e-readers offer poor PDF support. Amazon’s Kindle software, in contrast, does consider PDF reading and allows the user to highlight text, annotate, look up definitions, write notes and search in a PDF file. The only problem is that there is no Kindle model beyond six inches to optimise the different use-cases of these features (seven inch is the minimum size to read PDF documents comfortably in landscape mode). 
  • Exporting notes and highlights – Amazon allows users to export their annotations and highlights for both Kindle e-books and personal e-books. There is further control on the format of the notes and highlights exported (citation styles include APA, Chicago Style, MLA or none). The exported document produced even categorises the annotations and highlights in reference to e-book location and categorises the output in its relevant chapter and section. 
  • Touch response is excellent; this applies both to the user interacting with menus/settings and highlighting. 
  • Sync support for non-Amazon personal documents – Amazon synchronises personal e-book if they are emailed to the Amazon cloud; this means notes and highlights are available across devices and may be exported via a Fire tablet or Kindle application. 
  • Vocabulary builder – Look-up words and they are then archived for later access; this feature and Word Wise (Word Wise provides simple definitions for potentially difficult words) are useful for learning. 
  • Wikipedia support – If WiFi is turned on the user is able to select a key term and look up it in Wikipedia.
Overall rating: 8/10

Friday, 19 May 2017

Thoughts on Amazon's refresh of the Fire 7 & Fire HD 8

Amazon announced an incremental update to their Fire tablets. The Fire 7, released in Autumn 2015, gets an expected update. Amazon keeps the resolution the same (1024 X 600) but with an improved IPS screen that comes with better contrast and clarity. Other upgrades include a decrease in tablet weight and a bump in battery life to 'up to 8 hours'. Surprisingly there was no Fire 10 HD update, despite the HD 10 being released at the same time as the original Fire 7. The 10 HD also features less prominently on Amazon.com and this might mean it will be gradually discontinued. The Fire 10 HD is priced closer to a mid-range tablet and with more attractive alternative, from other vendors, Amazon may now exclusively target the budget end of the tablet market.

The surprise was in a supposed 'update' of the Fire HD 8, considering the Fire HD 8 was only updated late 2016. Despite Amazon's claim of an 'all new' Fire HD 8, there is no upgrade here and the near identical HD 8 2017 only brings the possibility to use a microSD slot for up to 256 GB of expandable storage. While Alexa comes with the 2017 HD 8, it will also gradually roll-out to the previous generation of Fire 7 and HD 8. In other words, this is a marketing gimmick to attract more users to Amazon Prime, rather than an attempt to convince owners of the previous generation to 'upgrade' their hardware (it may be argued that Amazon does not aim to convince users to purchase their hardware updates since the release of the Fire 7 and focusing on the budget end of the tablet market).

The goal, in this marketed refresh, it appears, is to make the Fire HD 8 even more attractive to first time users by further discounting the price of the tablet. The difference between the entry Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 is now £30 but this gets the user a larger screen, higher resolution, twice the storage (16 GB in contrast to the entry 8 GB with the Fire 7), more RAM, dual Dolby Atmos speakers and significantly better battery life. If the 2016 release was a success, I predict the Fire HD 8 to do even better and attract more users to Amazon's services.

There is no turning back to the more premium HDX line of tablets. The goal now is to get users - in a family-centric approach - to subscribe to Amazon Prime via different hardware mediums. For example, Prime Video is not available, at the moment in the Google Play store, and needs to be side-loaded to be installed. I think this is an intentional strategy to encourage users to access Amazon content via Fire tablets that are meant to offer a user-friendly 'out of the box' integration of the Amazon eco-system.