Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Chromebook specs & performance comparison chart

The variety of Chromebook models and versions can be confusing. I think Acer is the greatest villain in this regard. If you want better clarity to compare between different models, then visit Zipso's excellent Chromebook specs & performance comparison chart. The chart goes back to the first Chromebook released in 2011.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

HP updates the Stream series in North America

I noticed that HP updated their Stream series with the Intel N4000 processor. Both versions - 11.6 inches and 14 inches - remain broadly the same. The main changes are in the processor and a bump in battery life. The devices are also offered with Microsoft Office 365 Personal one-year subscriptions. So far, it appears, the updated laptops are only available in North America (the US and Canada). In the UK, the main retailers still sell the N3060 versions and the HP Stream 11.6 is also only available with 2GB RAM.

HP need to update the HP Stream series

As stated in the previous post, ASUS recently updated some of their budget laptops with Intel Gemini Lake processors. Similarly, Acer has updated the Aspire 1 series with the Gemini Lake N4000 Celeron processor. HP, so far, haven't refreshed the budget HP Stream series. There are two categories to the HP Stream series:
  1. A general consumer category powered by the HP Braswell N3060 processor. This category consists of laptops in two screen sizes - 11.6 inches and 14 inches. In the UK, the 11.6 version is only available with 2GB RAM. There is also an 11.6 inches HP Stream x360 - a touch convertible laptop with similar specifications to the conventional Stream 11 and 14. 
  2.  An education targeted model - the HP Stream 11 Pro G4 - that runs a stronger quad-core Apollo Lake Celeron N3450. 
The current generation of HP Stream's consumer laptops was released late 2016, so they are due an update. If HP decides to keep the Stream laptops beyond education, then we might see the HP Stream 11 and 14 refreshed with the N4000 processor. It would also give the Stream laptops a stand-out if they were equipped with IPS screens. The current HP Stream 14's screen is terrible - the colours are washed out and with poor viewing angles.

Monday, 20 August 2018

ASUS updated their budget laptops

Asus updated their range of budget laptops - some of these laptops are refreshed with Intel's Gemini Lake processors. I like ASUS’ budget strategy - you get choice and variety below the £300 threshold. Below is a list of the ASUS’ latest releases:
  • The entry-level ASUS E203MA 11.6 has been updated with a Gemini Lake Celeron N4000 (the exact model number is E203MA-FD001TS). The laptop is priced like other entry-level laptops, but two features make it stand-out: (1) 4 GB RAM; (2) a bundled one-year Office 365 subscription. Yes, other entry-level laptops have one of these features, but not all have both. This is also the lightest laptop in the entry-level category weighing only 999 grams. 
  • ASUS Laptop E406MA: The E406MA is a recent release and comes in different versions - two with Intel Gemini Lake Celeron processors (N4000 and N4100) and one with an Intel Gemini Lake Pentium N5000. The top-tier Pentium version is available in Canada and sells for 400 Canadian Dollars  (equivalent to $306 US). It is not clear if the top-tier version will be available in the UK. Unfortunately, the US tends to get models with better specifications. The UK market often gets the 1366 X 768 models with lower storage (32GB). In my view, a 1366 X 768 on a 14-inch laptop is not acceptable. In many ways, the top-tier ASUS E406MA is a good upgrade to the ASUS VivoBook L403. 
  • ASUS Chromebook 12 C223: The laptop externally looks nice. However, on paper, it does not offer much for the price (the retail price is rumoured to be close to 320 Euros). If the price is correct, I expect the device to be discounted in a few months. A Chromebook with an Intel Celeron Apollo Lake N3350 should be priced closer to 200 Euros. 
Other budget laptops from ASUS running Intel Braswell and Apollo Lake processors:
The above laptops have a full HD screen, capable processors for basic tasks and 4GB RAM. The 32GB on the Asus C301SA is enough for a Chromebook. The best value Chromebook, in my view, is the Asus Chromebook C302CA. It now sells for £400 and for that you get a vastly superior Core M3 processor and a battery life close to eleven hours. Considering the user base target of Chromebooks, I do not think it is worth going for pricier models.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Kinde Basic vs Tolino Page: which is best?

I am a fan of the budget e-reader. They are good value devices and, despite the low resolution, are better for reading than the highest resolution tablet screen. Kobo released the Kobo Touch 2.0 (late 2015) as a budget e-reader, with a 167 PPI E-Ink Pearl screen, but dropped the device later. Another choice is the Tolino Page but Tolino’s e-readers are restricted to a few countries. Nevertheless, it is possible to import the Tolino Page from an online retailer based in Germany. In this post, I will compare the Tolino Page with the Kindle Basic. Below are my impressions on both devices and why I prefer the Kindle Basic:
  • Online content management, in comparison to Amazon, is one area that Tolino is superior. Register for the Tolino Cloud and you can then read online in the browser, organise collections and upload books. The user interface is intuitive, and it is possible to view and change book covers. Amazon does allow online content management, but it is like a file browser in which the user can delete documents, add documents to collections and download documents. The Kindle Cloud Reader is not integrated into content management and requires access through an external website. The Kindle Cloud Reader also only allows access to documents bought from the Kindle Store.
  • The Kindle Basic's software is superior to the Tolino Page. I have posted about Amazon’s software before, so this is a quick summary. Amazon offers a uniform software experience on all the current batch of e-readers (also, the earlier generation of the Kindle Basic, Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Oasis all run the latest firmware). In Amazon’s firmware it is possible, for example, to bold text, look-up Wikipedia, translate words, utilise a vocabulary builder of dictionary look-ups and export notes in a notebook format. PDF support, in Amazon's firmware, is refined - it is possible to double tap to zoom, highlight/annotate, increase text contrast, decrease margins, and change orientation. In other words, it is a fully functional PDF reader. Tolino does support basic e-reading functionality but without many of the advanced features, you get with the Kindle Basic. Tolino Page's PDF functionality, like Kobo, is restricted to supporting a basic viewer and with no way to interact with the text.
  • The Kindle Basic is zippier in comparison to the Tolino Page. The Tolino Page's performance is adequate, but you notice the difference when you put the two devices side by side. Both devices have the same resolution and despite the Tolino Page's E-Ink Carta screen, the text is darker on the Kindle Basic (see picture below for a comparison between the Kindle Basic and Tolino Page). This may seem odd, though less sharp, and blocky, I found the text on the Kindle Basic, due to the default extra weight, darker than the high-end Kindle Oasis.
Text contrast comparison between the Kindle Basic and Tolino Page (click on image to enlarge)
  • Another plus is the relative lightweight of the Kindle Basic. The device weighs 161 grams. The Tolino Page is light too at 170 grams. The Kindle Paperwhite is significantly heavier than both devices at 205 grams. The lightweight makes the Kindle Basic a good companion when travelling or commuting.      
Overall, the Kindle Basic is hands-down the best entry-level e-reader from an established vendor. The device makes a great gift, an e-reader for children or something light to carry when travelling. 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Acer Chromebook Tab 10 Review

Below is Chrome Unboxed's review of Acer's Chromebook Tab 10. It is the first Chrome OS tablet that is targeted for use in the classroom. The stand-out I got from this review is the relatively weak processor (Rockchip OP1). The processor works well for tablet tasks, e.g., content consumption and basic productivity (e.g., note-taking), but is not powerful enough to support desktop environment tasks.

Acer gets it wrong with the underpowered processor, in my view, as this is a tablet that runs Chrome OS. Due to the operating system, the Tab 10 is more comparable to a desktop two-in-one device, e.g. the recently released Surface Go or the HP Chromebook X2. Both the Surface Go and HP Chromebook X2 run more powerful Intel processors that can do more within the desktop environment. At the price ($329), considering this is being marketed as an 'educational tablet', it might be better to choose an Apple iPad. Overall, in the classroom, a laptop Chromebook is a cost-effective solution.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Teclast F7 Review: A lot of laptop for an attractive price

The Teclast F7 is the first laptop I have used that is not manufactured by an established vendor (HP, Acer, Asus etc.). The device is priced below $250 (on sale it can be purchased closer to $200) and for that price, you get a lot. The device is configured with a quad-core N3450 Celeron processor, 64 GB eMMC hard drive, 6 GB memory and a full HD IPS display. In comparison, the Acer Swift One, with similar specifications, is priced closer to £300. To put things in perspective, the Teclast F7's pricing is comparable to mainstream entry-level laptops, e.g. the HP Stream series.

The display is very good and the full HD resolution is relatively sharp. The IPS screen means colours do not shift when viewed from different angles. The screen is vastly superior to the 1366 X 768 TN panels you get on entry-level laptops. The laptop I received came with a matte display, but other users report a glossy screen with their devices. Light distribution is not the best with some light bleeding viewable at the edges of the screen. However, this is a common issue even with more expensive laptops, and it is only noticeable with lighter backgrounds.  

The laptop weighs close to 1.3 KG which is lightweight for a 14-inch laptop. Many 11.6 inch laptops, e.g., ruggedised Chromebooks, are of similar weight.

The F7’s processor is an Intel Celeron Apollo Lake N3450 - a processor that has enough power for everyday tasks, e.g. word-processing, browsing the internet and streaming multimedia content. Overall, in comparison to lower-end fanless processors that you see in entry-level laptops (Intel Celeron N3060 or the Intel Celeron N3350), performance is a step-up. Further, with 6GB RAM multi-tasking is smooth. The 64GB eMMC hard drive generates speeds between an SSD and a regular hard drive.

The precision touchpad is large, smooth and accurate. The quality is of the touchpad is good that there is no need to carry a mouse. Also, the 720P HD front-facing camera is surprisingly good for Skype calls.

Of course, there are drawbacks. First, brightness could be higher at its maximum settings. In direct sunlight, with the matte display, the screen is just about legible at maximum brightness. Second, battery life could be better - with mixed usage expect close to 6 hours at medium brightness. In comparison, the similar EZBook 3 Pro gets an extra hour of use. TECHTablets states the EZBook 3 Pro’s extra hour is due to the power limit in the bios being set higher in the Teclast F7:
Later testing Chrome with 6 tabs, streaming and some general multitasking like using Photoshop, transferring files to and from USB pen drives. It’s down to around 6 hours of runtime. So it varies on use of course. But I think most would be able to manage 6 hours to 7 hours. This is an hour less than the EZBook 3 Pro under similar use. But using a 6W TDP, the F7 is set to 9W out of the box. So lowering the power limit in the bios under CPU advance settings from 9W to say 6W should increase the battery life.
Third, the audio output isn’t the best. It is passable for the price category but it is advisable to use headphones.

I wouldn’t say the drawbacks are deal breakers. The biggest issue is battery life but lowering the power limit setting in the bios might help. However, even with an extra hour, this isn’t a full day laptop.  

Pros

A lot of laptop for the price.
Good Trackpad.
Relatively lightweight for a 14-inch laptop.
Capable processor.
Very good IPS screen.

Cons

Battery life could be better.
Audio is mediocre.
Maximum brightness could be higher.

Update: Teclast released a higher priced version of the Teclast F7 with a larger 128 GB SSD storage.