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.
Tuesday, 16 April 2019
Sunday, 24 March 2019
Boyue recently sent an update for the Likebook Mars. After the update, I noticed a new instruction application icon that opens a user manual for the Likebook Mars. The manual isn't extensive - it guides the user, for example, how to manage bookshelf settings, how to upload books via Wi-Fi, where to place dictionaries, how to access the third-party applications features menu and how to upgrade the software etc. However, it doesn't tell the user what the purpose of many of these features is.
Anyway, it is a positive Boyue are now working on providing instructional content. One of the weaknesses of the Likebook Mars is its confusing software and this manual does help guide the user where to find key features.
Wednesday, 19 December 2018
I'll write a review of the Boyue Likebook Mars soon. In this post, due to the same screen size, I want to compare the Likebook Mars to the Kobo Aura One. Below is a brief bullet point comparison between both devices followed by an answer to the question on which e-reader is best:
- Screen: Both the Aura One and Likebook Mars have a 300 PPI E-Ink Carta screen. However, the Kobo Aura One's screen colour is lighter, and the text has better clarity. This is not to say the Likebook Mars's screen is bad, but the Kobo Aura One has one of the best screens I've seen on an e-reader. In my view, the Likebook Mars's screen is comparable to the Kobo Aura H20 Edition 2. One Likebook feature that I particularly like is the ability to change text and image contrast. This feature enhances the reading experience as text and image black levels can be altered. Kindle e-readers, in comparison, only support font bolding for AZW3 e-books.
- Battery Life: It is too early to give an opinion on Likebook Mars's battery life. However, it is clear that the Likebook Mars should not be used as an E-Ink tablet. For example, keeping the WiFi on, running Android applications and browsing the internet taxes the battery. The Likebook Mars doesn't even reach the average tablet level battery life when used as something other than an e-reader. So far, based on initial impressions that can change, when used as an e-reader the battery lasts roughly two days of heavy usage. The Kobo Aura One, relative to other e-readers, has a small battery capacity but it still outlasts the Likebook Mars.
- Versatility: The Likebook Mars, running Android 6, is a more versatile device. The native e-reading software is not bad after you get used to its idiosyncrasies. If the native software doesn't render a PDF document to meet your needs, then there are other applications. You can install KOReader and Cool Reader on a Kobo e-reader, but you need to exit Nickel (Kobo's operating system) to access these applications.
- Performance: The Likebook Mars's performance is better than the Kobo Aura One. The Aura One also performs worse in comparison to the Kindle e-readers. The Likebook Mars's 2GB RAM and octa-core processor makes the device the most powerful e-reader I've used - the performance boost makes a big difference when reading and navigating PDF documents.
- Software: Boyue's firmware is underdeveloped and buggy. In comparison, Kobo's software is more polished, intuitive and stable. However, there are features in Boyue's native e-book reading software that Kobo neglects, e.g. the ability to export annotations, the option to change both text and image contrast in e-books and more font size options. Needless to say, Mars's PDF support is far superior to Kobo's basic PDF viewer.
- Front light: The Aura One's front light is better. It is warmer, more even and brighter. The Aura One's comfort light also changes colour intensity (at the maximum intensity it is an orange/red mix). The Likebook Mars night light, in comparison, has no gradation. The light is either on or off but with a similar colour tone to the Aura One's orange tint at 70% intensity. It should be noted that front lights can vary between units. Front light comparison pictures can be seen below.
- Expandable storage: The Likebook Mars has 16GB internal storage but, unlike the Aura One, storage is also expandable via an SD Card slot. The Aura One only supports 8GB internal storage (there is a 32GB Aura One limited edition that is not widely available).
- E-book formats: The Aura One native e-book format is KEPUB - a variation of the EPUB format. On paper, the Aura One supports EPUB and MOBI e-books, but I found it renders both poorly. The Likebook Mars supports both formats with no issues.
Which one is best?
The answer depends on the user's needs. If the intention is to read e-books only on a user-friendly device, then the Kobo Aura One is the better option. The software is more polished and the battery life lasts longer due to Kobo's integration of hardware and software. If, on the other hand, the user wants an e-reader that supports e-books and also handle all sorts of PDF documents then the Likebook Mars is the better option. The Likebook Mars can handle large PDF documents easily and with no slow down. If you don't like Boyue's native PDF software, then there is the option to install KOReader and EBookDroid. Similarly, if you don't like the native e-book reading software there is the option to install, for example, Moon+ Reader, KOReader, Bookari Reader and AIReader. KOReader supports Kobo devices but you need to relatively proficient to install the software and then exit Nickel to access the application. Further, KOReader, due to Aura One's hardware, struggles to handle large PDF documents.
|Front light comparison between Likebook Mars and Kobo Aura One. The Aura One's front light is warmer and evener. (click on the image to enlarge).|
|Kobo Aura One's comfort light at maximum intensity. The Likebook Mars, in comparison, doesn't support the altering of light intensity (click on the image to enlarge).|
Thursday, 13 December 2018
I've been using the Likebook Mars recently. I like the Likebook Mars but there are issues with the firmware that needs to be resolved - the main issue is the buggy and limited native e-reading software. Below are my initial impressions:
- Don't expect to use the device as an E-Ink tablet. With ghosting, refresh and flashing, most Android applications don't work well on an E-Ink display. The design and use of Android applications are also taxing on the battery - I found the device's battery drains quickly if used as something other than an e-reader.
- The native e-reader firmware isn't bad but there are bugs, strange rendering of an e-book's formatting and missing features. For example, the e-book software forces indent at the beginning of a paragraph and large spaces between sections. There is the option to change the settings but certain formatting issues cannot be changed.
- The translation of the interface and menus from Chinese to English (I assume this applies to other supported languages) causes confusion. For example, if you long press on an installed application there is an option to turn on 'application bleaching' but it isn't clear what 'bleaching' means.
- The device's firmware is not intuitive and I couldn't find a manual to clarify how to find and use different features. The e-reader aficionado might find the discovery of different features and applications fun; however, this might not be a device for the general user that wants an e-reader that just works.
- The device is zippy due to the octa-core processor. I tested large PDF files and the device handled them without issue. Due to optimisation and integration, I found the native e-reading software works best but I also used KOReader when needed.
- I've used a Boyue e-reader before - the Boyue T80 that was re-branded by Icarus as the Illumina XL - and found the screen quality poor. The T80's resolution was relatively low but the real issue was the lack of contrast and serious problems with ghosting in third-party applications. The Likebook Mars demonstrates that Boyue e-readers are improving and while ghosting issues remain there are some features added that help with the problem.