Showing posts with label Android. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Android. Show all posts

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Recommended third-party applications for Android e-readers

I've recently started using the Onyx Boox Nova. Before using the Onyx Boox Nova I've used the Likebook Mars and Boyue T80 (rebranded as Icarus Illumina XL). Overall, I prefer Android e-readers to mainstream e-readers. One of the positives of Android e-readers is the possibility to install third-party applications. Below is a list of applications that work well on E-Ink Android devices:

Simplenote: Simplenote is a note-taking application developed by Automattic (the company behind WordPress). It is a no frill scaled-down application to write text-only notes. It is possible to connect a Bluetooth keyboard to an Android e-reader to write quick notes in Simplenote and then access these notes on other devices.

Moon+ Reader Pro: Moon+ Reader is, in my view, the best Android e-reading application. The application isn't optimised for E-Ink but works relatively well with the right changes, e.g. side loading fonts with added weight, choosing the bold option for thinner fonts and turning the background white and text black. Another positive is that Moon+ Reader mainly uses a grey palette for its menus that are legible on E-Ink devices. Also, many Android e-reader vendors now support extra features to optimise third-party applications for E-Ink. One useful feature is the contrast enhancement of menus that make user interface menus clearer.

KOReader: This one is a no brainer. KOReader is designed and optimised specifically for E-Ink. It is a stand-alone application that can be used to read e-books and PDF documents. I found the application is more stable on Kobo devices due to hardware uniformity. Android e-readers, on the other hand, vary a lot and use different processors. For example, KOReader is stable on the Likebook Mars but the screen flickers on the Onyx Boox Nova when selecting menus and highlighting text (the only way to stop this flickering is to turn on A2 mode).

Librera Pro: Librera Pro is designed to work on both tablets and Android e-readers. For example, the application includes a PDF scroll mode that makes navigating pages smoother on an e-reader. Other options include contrast and brightness enhancement to make text appear bolder and darker. The monochrome menus are also designed to work on E-Ink.

Writer+: Writer+ is a stripped-down writer application. Writer+ supports text markdown – a useful feature as there is no need for animated user menus. One negative is that there is no option to manually change orientation to landscape. This is a problem as most Android e-readers don't support auto-rotation and, so far, Boyue and Onyx don't allow the user to manually rotate the display in third-party applications. 

There are other applications that work on E-Ink Android devices. Other applications that are functional include Wikipedia, Kobo, Google Keep, Gmail and Amazon Kindle. However, many of these applications are designed with animated menus and colours that make text appear faded and navigation frustrating and slow. There are also very little options to manipulate text appearance in these applications. Both Boyue and Onyx support A2 mode to make downwards scrolling and internet browsing smoother, but the downside is a lot of ghosting. It is a definite positive that it is possible, for example, to read Wikipedia articles on an e-reader but it is more convenient to access these articles on a tablet, laptop or smartphone. The same applies to most Android applications.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Review of the Remix Mini

The Remix Mini is a small mini PC that runs Remix OS. Remix OS, while based on Android, overlays it with a desktop like environment. This is an innovative attempt to make a mobile operating system work as a desktop PC and in different ways, it works with the right device. However, the key is that Android is a mobile operating system and no overlay can overcome inherent limitations and problems.

Remix OS doesn't offer simple multi-tasking, running two applications on the screen, there is also the ability to run applications as desktop windows, as you would, for example, in Microsoft Windows or Ubuntu. There is also a notifications panel that you can drag from the right, again similar to Microsoft Windows, handling notifications that would appear at the top in stock Android. Keeping with the desktop theme, applications appear as icons on the desktop, with a rubbish bin icon too. Instead of a Windows start menu, you have a Remix one that leads to you to all your installed application. Again, this is the best implementation of Android to mimic a desktop environment.

However, the drawback, as noted, is that no overlay can take away that Android is a mobile operating system. You have no choice but to rely on the Google Play store and this means running mobile based applications. Inevitably, there are significant problems and the user often looks for a workaround that leads to the question if Android, considering its infrastructure, is even a feasible as a desktop PC. For example, many Android applications are optimized for touch interfaces and this, expectedly, leads to some hassle. Pinch gestures don't work, for example, and utilising the mouse for that purpose is hit and miss. Simple functions like dragging across a text to highlight, to copy or cut, is possible but not with ease as what you expect from a desktop environment. At the moment, you will find in the experimental features, available through settings, the option to simulate finger gestures through a mouse and this helps, even in its experimental mode, but it is nothing like finger gestures.

There is also the problem of scaling in regards to mobile applications that don't work well in a full desktop window; Remix OS has a workaround through re-sizing the window but often the applications do not respond to this. Further, it is counter-intuitive to re-size a window to get the right scale; once again the question may be asked here - why attempt to get Android applications to work in a desktop environment if it is clearly not intended for that use case scenario? Similarly, important applications like Chrome are seriously hindered in features compared to the full desktop version of the browser. Further, much web-related content is rendered in mobile format; it is possible to request a desktop version but, in many instances, this does not work and even when it does, the device is underpowered for full desktop browsing. Other problems include interacting with images, video content embedded in websites and filling in forms.

In terms of hardware, the Remix Mini is underpowered. It scores low in Chrome Octane tests (around 2500) and you notice this when rendering desktop versions of websites. Consequently, using desktop-based versions of Evernote, Blogger or Google Docs, inside the Chrome application, can be sluggish and compromise serious productivity. This doesn't mean the device cannot be used for productivity, as many stand-alone applications such as Evernote or Microsoft Word offer adequate performance. Yet even with these applications, the versatility of a desktop PC cannot be delivered by the Remix Mini. This does not mean Remix OS is without its use-case scenarios - in the case of the Jide's Remix Ultra-tablet, a beefier processor and a touch optimised form factor means Android turns into something more productive than something like Google's Pixel C.

The problems identified with the Remix Mini are both hardware and software related and while hardware upgrades are always possible, in future iterations of the device, the same cannot be said with the inherent limitations of Android. Considering the good design and aesthetics of Remix OS, it might have been a better idea to develop a Linux distribution with unique features. Remix OS improves Android for the two-in-one niche but this doesn't translate well to a full-blown desktop PC.

Friday, 25 December 2015

The Pixel C is meant to be experimental

The Pixel C, on many dedicated technology websites, is being compared to the iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface range of devices. First, as posted before, it is a mistake to compare the iPad Pro to the Surface devices. Similarly, it would be a mistake to compare the Pixel C to either the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro. A docked tablet, for enhanced productivity, is nothing new and I don't believe Google intends this to be something different, in that way (docked Android tablets was first made mainstream with the Asus Transformer range). Nevertheless, it can be stated, that the metallic keyboard dock released by Google is genuinely its own product, compared to other manufacturers.

The Pixel C is part of Google's Pixel range, in which full ownership is taken for hardware and software. The Nexus range of products, on the other hand, are partnerships with other manufacturers, with Google taking ownership of the operating system. There is also a difference in purpose - the Pixel devices are more experimental, while the Nexus ones are more finished consumer products. Further, Ron Amadeo, at Ars Technica, may be correct in his speculation that this may have been an experimental Chrome OS convertible device; however, where he goes wrong is to point to the mismatch between hardware and operating system features to then buttress his speculation. I believe this mismatch is intentional and is consistent with what Google aims to showcase with the Pixel products. In other words, the Pixel range is meant to show the potentials of Android and Chrome OS, as is the case with the Chromebook Pixel - the Pixel C is just another example. Further, there appears to be a design in the the current mismatch; for example, from aspect ratio to four microphones, the idea is to future proof upcoming features such as enhanced voice recognition to split screen multi-tasking.

To sum, this isn't meant to be a productivity device compared to Apple's iPad Pro (Apple explicitly markets the iPad Pro as a possible laptop replacement) but is part of Google's attempt to develop both hardware and software, in-tandem, with the Pixel range being an experimental showcase for Android's future direction. Even with this experimental ethos, it can still be argued that the Pixel C, at this moment, is the best Android tablet out there and one that will only get better with future updates

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The ultimate e-reader?

The Good E-Reader is aiming to produce an 'ultimate' e-reading device, running Android, that offers all the premium features desired by dedicated e-readers. However, the product concept puts forward a device that already exists - albeit through niche and lesser known sellers. Icarus, Onyx, Hanvon  and Boyue, for example, all offer open Android firmware on dedicated e-readers. Another point is that Android, in my opinion, is not suitable for an an e-ink device. Most dedicated e-reader applications, available through Google Play, are designed for tablets and e-ink refresh rates render the use of these applications bothersome, to say the least. Also, the proposed device misses the point in regards to firmware - the problem with re-branded e-readers from Chinese manufacturers (sold by, for example, Icarus and Onyx), before the adoption of Android, was poor functionality and an overly complicated and unintuitive interface.

To develop an 'ultimate e-reader' requires not only the bulk ordering of hardware with premium specifications, but also, more importantly, the development of dedicated firmware that would compare and even surpass the experience available on the Kindle. This is problematic as Amazon offers a user experience that is difficult to match - this includes everything from extensive cloud syncing, send-to-Kindle and free conversion to mobi file format. However, there is a workaround to this through the integration of third-party applications into an operating system; this may include existing cloud storage services such as Evernote, Onenote and Dropbox. For example, Kobo offers the option to send web articles to their devices through Pocket, though this lacks the all-round versatility of Amazon's send to Kindle features. The point here is that Android is not a platform that works with e-ink; dedicated e-reading devices require the development of firmware that makes use of the unique strengths of e-ink, while considering its current limitations.

I do think the project of an 'ultimate e-reader' is a good idea but it needs something more extensive and collaborative. May be an alternative direction would be to crowd fund, at first, a project to develop a dedicated operating system for e-readers. Delivering on this means whatever iteration follows from this 'ultimate e-reader' would already have an existing firm basis. The trajectory of Android, as a mobile operating system, and its uses by other manufacturers for their own purposes, demonstrates this. Ultimately, this would be a bigger project but something that is sustainable beyond a one-off premium e-reader; further it may offer variety, in the future, beyond six inch devices that dominate at the moment. Of course, this does not solve the problem of cost that comes with ordering hardware for larger devices but it might, at least, kick-start the process for an initial six inch reader. If this synergistic experiment of both excellent firmware and hardware works, then this may be expanded to larger e-readers.