Sunday, 24 April 2016

For & Against the Kindle Oasis

Generally the Kindle Oasis brought what was predicted, with incremental updates, including premium design features and a charging case, though not solar powered, that is more than an accessory. Surprisingly, there is no Bluetooth or waterproof features. Some complaints and objections came with the Oasis’s release, with its unjustified high price for little relative improvement. Overall, the Oasis, in my opinion, does not offer sufficiently substantial improvements to warrant its ‘premium’ tag or its price difference to the Kindle Paperwhite, let alone the Kindle Voyage. Below are arguments for and against the Kindle Oasis:

For the Kindle Oasis 

The Kindle Oasis offers an improved front-light and a case that is more than an accessory. In regards to front light improvements, we have ten LEDs, rather than the eight on the Voyage, resulting in a more evenly lit display. In this improvement Amazon aims to mimic the feel of ink on paper and we have what is better than anything on Amazon’s own Kindle range or available from other manufacturers. On the other hand, the bundled case is advertised to buttresses battery life to up to nine weeks. If we Consider the Oasis’s super lightweight (131 grams), better front-light, intuitive ergonomics and a bundled case that significantly prolongs battery life, then we could arguably justify an increase of £100 compared to the Voyage.

Further, regarding pricing, premium end smartphones retail considerably higher; the question arises if premium smartphone pricing, for example an Apple iPhone or Samsung S7, are more worthy for their cost. Further, many websites viewed the Kindle Oasis to be “crazy expensive” but this points to a broader issue with technology publications in how they often carry the bias of individual reviewers and what they envisage as use case scenarios for consumer devices. Thus e-readers are considered secondary devices, while smartphones would be primary ones, and some do not comprehend a ‘premium’ single-use device. Other technology writers seem to believe that many e-readers do the same thing and it would be frivolous to justify upgrades similar to upgrade cycles with smartphones. The point here is that the Kindle Oasis is intended for dedicated e-readers and, accordingly, they would want the best possible reading experience. For this intended segment of users an e-reader could be a primary device and the Kindle Oasis is a reading tool that beats anything out there for its size and features.

Against the Kindle Oasis 

Overall, the case is stronger against the Kindle Oasis. The main problem is in a device that maintains the same display size, e-ink technology (Carta), 300 dpi and even slightly worse contrast ratio to other Kindle models. These are hardware features on the substantive side of any e-reader; considering this, there is little reason to upgrade to or choose this Kindle over the Kindle Paperwhite (a similar argument could be made against the Voyage compared to the Paperwhite). In regards to a case prolonging battery life than e-ink e-readers offer more than enough battery. The same can be said with an improved front-light, mimicking the feel of printed paper - the Paperwhite’s front light is bright and even enough to make little difference.

What could make the Oasis worthy of its inflated price would be something that significantly improves the end-user’s reading experience with upgraded hardware, due to the near identical firmware features across Kindle devices. Hence this means either a larger display, e.g. an eight inch one, or Liquavista colour to complement a larger display. For the end-user hardware differentiation means better functionality with PDF files and text immersion with e-books. However, this would likely go against Amazon’s ethos of selling hardware as a gateway to their content. The point of the Oasis is not to just provide the best possible e-reader, at the moment, but to specifically provide the best possible e-reader to access Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem. For Amazon, It may not be effective to develop firmware to make use of hardware differentials, as the Kindle is primarily viewed as a device to access Amazon e-books, rather than a multi-functional e-reading hardware platform. The same may be stated with Kobo’s strategy, after exiting the tablet segment and concentrating on e-readers.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The new premium Kindle will bring incremental updates

Since Jeff Bezos announced an " all-new, top of the line Kindle almost ready. 8th generation" there has been speculation if this device will bring something different. Will it finally come with a Liquavista display? Is this a larger e-reader? Judging from Amazon's history with e-readers, I believe this will be an incremental update to their premium Kindle Voyage. Amazon tends react to what exists and then release a better end-product (similar to Apple). For example, Amazon reacted to touch and front-light after their introduction by Kobo and Barnes & Noble. Also, the pixel density of the mid-range Kindle Paperwhite was bumped to 300 ppi, after Kobo introduced the same resolution with its own mid-range Kobo Glo HD.

It is likely that Amazon will continue this trend with their upcoming premium device; instead of a Liquavista display or a larger e-reader (greater than 7 inches), we will likely see incremental updates to the Kindle Voyage. This means a likely 6/6.8 inch device, with a better processor, enhanced e-ink display, improved front-light, water-proofing, Bluetooth for content integration with Audible and Echo devices and a possible solar powered self-charging case. Amazon excels in content integration, across devices, and this update should emphasise better integration between this Kindle and the recent release of the Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Tap (adding to the range of Alexa supported devices).

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Apple's 'True Tone Display'

Apple introduced 'True Tone Display' with its iPad Pro (9.7 inch version), stating the technology as the first of its kind in a tablet. This means the smaller iPad Pro's display comes with four ambient sensors that measure the ambient light in a room to adjust the brightness and colour temperature. Despite the clich├ęd coverage of Apple's latest supposed 'innovation' (e.g. here and here), this is similar to a feature Amazon introduced with its fourth generation Kindle Fire HDX.

'True Tone Display' is part of a broader strategy by manufacturers to ameliorate problems with light emitting displays. For example, Amazon, Google and Apple all introduced different features to change the colour tone of screens to counter problems with blue light emission. Overall, while these features are helpful, reflective tablet screens are not suitable for prolonged reading. There are alternative technologies (e.g. E-Ink, Plastic Logic, Electrowetting and Mirasol) but many are currently underdeveloped for more featured reading (e.g. colour and multimedia). Also, in the case of E-Ink, the options, from Amazon and Kobo, tend to be restricted to six inch displays.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Recommended entry level e-reader

This is the first post in the series of recommended budget technology and one that relates to the best entry level e-reader. In this case, unfortunately, there is an easy recommendation due to the lack of choice with e-readers and the uniformity of the six-inch display size. There are options at 6.8, 8 and 9.7 inches but these would not qualify as an entry level device due to their relatively high price (larger sizes, due to their restricted availability, and niche demand, means the cost of many of these devices are inflated. Nevertheless, there will be future posts on larger e-readers). For this reason, two devices are selected - the Kindle basic and the Kobo Touch 2. There are other similarly priced options available but these two devices are more readily available. For example, other possible entry level e-readers would be the Bookeen Cybook Essential Muse or Pocketbook Basic Touch. However, both these are restricted in their availability.

Between the Kobo Touch 2 and the basic Kindle, the recommended device would be the Kindle. Amazon continues to improve its e-reader firmware and while it does not offer the best customization of the e-reading experience (e.g text alignment, line/margin spacing variation, adding fonts), it comes with its own rich features, with options to sync both Kindle and side-loaded e-books, send documents wirelessly to a user designated email, Wikipedia integration, Goodreads integration, translation, vocabulary builder and more.

While Amazon exclusively supports MOBI or it propriety version of MOBI (AZW3), rather than EPUB, it is possible to convert between e-book formats and this generally produces identical results (conversion can be through Calibre or on-line). This means you are able to store non-DRM converted EPUB e-books in the Amazon cloud and the e-book will sync across devices.

However, there is a significant problem with the Kindle's adoption of the MOBI based format, in the that there is no support with Adobe Digital Editions. What this means is that either a book is to be purchased in a DRM-free EPUB format, then converted, which some publishers offer, or the e-reader is locked in the Amazon store. This does not apply to the Fire tablets that can work with DRM protected books, through installing or sideloading applications compatible with the EPUB format (e.g. Mantano Reader can be sideloaded to access DRM protected books).

Generally, the basic Kindle is the better overall entry device but the Kobo Touch 2 is the better option if you wish for more flexibility in reading both MOBI and EPUB, due to both formats being supported and with further support with Adobe Digital Editions. Yet there will be a compromise, compared to the Kindle, in cloud storage and more extensive syncing services. This means if you wish to manage a large library across different devices, including personal documents, then the Kindle is the better option.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Alcatel Onetouch Pixi 3 introduces Windows 10 Mobile for tablets

Alcatel Onetouch Pixi 3, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting tablets introduced at CES 2016. It is a Windows tablet that runs, for the first time, Windows 10 Mobile. This is the same operating system that you get with Microsoft's Lumia phones and the LTE support means the Pixi 3 can also make phone calls. Windows 10 Mobile is a better platform for tablets (sizes between 7 - 9 inches), as it runs very well with mobile based processors and requires less processor power compared to Android. Further, what makes this the right direction is that Windows tablets, running the desktop operating system, tend to retail with 32GB storage, which is limited for full Windows 10; on the other hand, these restrictions do not apply to Windows 10 Mobile. Also, the desktop no longer takes up resources and this means, as noted, far better performance with Intel based Atom based processors.

However, there remains the problem in regards to a lack of applications, in comparison to Android or iOS, but this is also the case with the Windows Store available through the desktop version of Windows 10. Another concern would be with the translation of productivity applications, specifically Office 365, from the Windows 10 Desktop, to Windows 10 Mobile. Here the issue becomes the development of some form of continuity and differentiation of Windows 10 Mobile between smartphones and tablets, with the latter requiring more feature rich productivity applications. Even with these shortcoming, Alcatel's move to adopt Windows 10 Mobile for tablets should be the way forward if Windows 10 is to be a serious alternative to Android in the budget range of tablets.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Series on affordable entry level technology

As the price of technology is in a downward spiral, it is now possible to purchase entry level devices that are feature rich and serviceable for their use purpose. This means laptops, tablets and e-readers are available at prices that would be unfathomable only a few years before; further, entry level smart phones or laptops were hindered to the point of being unusable. Considering this, I will be introducing a series of posts on affordable technology, attempting to highlight entry level products that generally get it right and the potential uses they offer.