Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Chromebook specs & performance comparison chart

The different 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.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

ASUS E203MA initial impressions

I am testing the recently released ASUS E203MA and my initial impressions are mixed. The glossy screen is similar to the HP Stream 14 – the difference is that the ASUS E203MA has slightly better contrast. However, 1366 X 768 on a smaller 11.6 screen is acceptable. Overall, the screen is disappointing.

The real positive, other than the 4GB RAM, is the updated N4000 Gemini Lake Celeron processor. I used both the Celeron Braswell N3060 and Apollo Lake N3350 and noticed little difference. This time the N4000 update gives a performance boost. The performance boost coupled with the extra RAM for multi-tasking means you don’t get the slow-down experienced with other entry-level laptops.

Hopefully, I’ll post a more detailed review soon.

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 (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 a 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 (N3450). 
The current generation of HP Stream's consumer laptops were 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 update 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 list only has sub 14-inch laptops; I think 13 - 14 inches are the right sizes for a primary computer, as you get a good screen size and portability):
  • 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 few come have both. This is also the lightest laptop in the entry-level category weighing only 999 grams. As I've posted before, entry-level laptops serve the purpose of a secondary laptop; thus, the light-weight of the E203 is an attractive bonus.
  • 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, to contrast, often get the 1366 X 768 models with lower storage (32GB). In my view, a 1366 X 768 on a 14-inch laptop is a deal breaker. In many ways the top-tier ASUS E406MA is a good upgrade to the ASUS VivoBook L403. 
  • ASUS Chromebook 12 C223: The laptop 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 use-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 far 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 (a device I previously reviewed here) 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 needs 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 darker than the high-end Kindle Oasis (I will dedicate a post with further reflections on the Kindle Oasis. My review was positive but after prolonged use, there are some issues I will flag). 
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. Yet a qualification needs mentioning: there is hardly any choice, now, in the basic e-reader category. It is also not clear if the Kindle Basic will be phased out. With the Voyage gradually being dropped it is possible an updated Paperwhite will come at a lower price and this means the Kindle Basic might no longer be a choice. Of course, this is speculation.