Sunday, 18 June 2017

Icarus Illumina XL HD released

Icarus released a re-vamped Boyue T-80 - the Illumina XL HD - with an E-Ink Carta screen and 300 dpi (I reviewed the previous generation here). The RAM and storage are also upgraded to 1 GB and 16 GB. With the expanded storage - the largest I've seen on an e-reader - there is the removal of the SD Card slot.  It is not clear if the front-light has been improved or, more importantly, if Boyue revamped its poor stock firmware. I expect Midia to similarly update the inkBOOK 8 with the same upgraded T-80 device.

The release of the Kobo Aura One likely led to Onyx and Boyue to re-think their hardware strategy, as many third party vendors that order large batches of their e-readers will find it difficult to sell re-branded Boyue and Onyx e-readers that come with out-dated E-Ink screens (Onyx recently updated their 9.7 inch e-readers with the Onyx Boox e-Note 10.3 - a device that comes with a 227 dpi E-Ink Carta screen). It makes little sense, for third-party vendors, to release another underwhelming device with an E-Ink Pearl display and a similar dpi to the entry-level Kindle and still price the device similar to the Aura One. On paper the updated T-80's hardware is superior to the Aura One but I would still choose Kobo, with its quality high contrast screens and better after-sale support.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Overview of eight inch e-readers

The six inch is the dominant e-reader size but there is a niche category of larger e-readers. Below is a list of available eight inch e-readers:
  1. There are two re-branded Boyue T-80 e-readers available through Icarus (Icarus XL) and inkBOOK (inkBOOK 8). I've tried the Icarus XL and inkBook 8 and they are near identical but with differences in the processor used. Both devices run Android 4.2 and utilise the same stock e-reading software developed by Boyue. When I reviewed the Icarus XL, I noted the versatility that Android offers and this is further extended with some Android applications that work well in E-Ink (recently Bookari - an Android e-reader application - developed an E-Ink optimised mode). The biggest issues with the T-80 are - (a) Poor display quality with a lack of contrast and significant problems with ghosting; (b) Under-developed stock firmware with few features. The second issue is resolvable with the option to install third-party Android applications but the first issue, being hardware related, is not. A positive of Boyue's T-80 is the powerful dual core processor that renders large PDF files quickly in comparison to other e-readers. Android and the stronger processor does impact battery life but still gives the user a few days of regular use.  Finally, in comparison to the Kobo Aura One, re-branded Boyue T-80 e-readers are priced too high. The Aura One comes with a vastly superior 300 dpi E-Ink Carta screen and retails slightly higher than the T-80. 
  2. Pocketbook InkPad 840 was one of the earlier eight inch e-readers. I tested the device and noted the lack of contrast, despite a relatively high 224 dpi E-Ink Pearl display, and both erratic software and battery performance. Unfortunately, the device doesn't come with Android and so the stock firmware is a serious limitation. The device's purpose built Linux based operating system is not completely closed and there is the option, for the more proficient user, to install KOReader. The Inkbook's front light - considering this was one of the earlier eight e-readers - is surprisingly good and superior to the Boyue T80. Pocketbook released an updated model - the Pocketbook Inkpad 2 - and state the contrast has been improved. Again, the device is priced too close to the Aura One to make it a plausible option.
  3. Onyx released the Onyx Boox I86ML with a 250 dpi E-Ink Pearl display that runs Android 4. I haven't tested the device but reviews praise the display quality. There is also a version of the Onyx I86ML with 1 GB of RAM (Onyx Boox I86ML Plus). At the moment, it is difficult to find an on-line retailer that sells the device.
  4. Bookeen released the Cybook Ocean 8 in 2014 with under-powered specifications. The Cybook Ocean was initially set to be released late 2013 but came out one year after the initial release date. I haven't tested the device but reviews are negative.  
  5. Kobo Aura One - technically a 7.8 inch e-reader - is the one to choose. Kobo sells good hardware and its 300 dpi E-Ink Carta doesn't disappoint. Further, the front-light is the best I've seen on an eight inch e-reader. I use the device as my primary e-reader and think the device works well enough with e-books. However, as noted in a previous review, Nickel (Kobo's operating system) is significantly behind in software features compared to Amazon's Kindle line of e-readers. The biggest problem with the software, in my opinion, is the device's poor or near absent PDF support. Installing KOReader is not an ideal solution but it somewhat resolves the problem of poor PDF support. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Thoughts on Amazon's refresh of the Fire 7 & Fire HD 8

Amazon announced an incremental update to their Fire tablets. The Fire 7, released in Autumn 2015, gets an expected update. Amazon keeps the resolution the same (1024 X 600) but with an improved IPS screen that comes with better contrast and clarity. Other upgrades include a decrease in tablet weight and a bump in battery life to 'up to 8 hours'. Surprisingly there was no Fire 10 HD update, despite the HD 10 being released at the same time as the original Fire 7. The 10 HD also features less prominently on Amazon.com and this might mean it will be gradually discontinued. The Fire 10 HD is priced closer to a mid-range tablet and with more attractive alternative, from other vendors, Amazon may now exclusively target the budget end of the tablet market.

The surprise was in a supposed 'update' of the Fire HD 8, considering the Fire HD 8 was only updated late 2016. Despite Amazon's claim of an 'all new' Fire HD 8, there is no upgrade here and the near identical HD 8 2017 only brings the possibility to use a microSD slot for up to 256 GB of expandable storage. While Alexa comes with the 2017 HD 8, it will also gradually roll-out to the previous generation of Fire 7 and HD 8. In other words, this is a marketing gimmick to attract more users to Amazon Prime, rather than an attempt to convince owners of the previous generation to 'upgrade' their hardware (it may be argued that Amazon does not aim to convince users to purchase their hardware updates since the release of the Fire 7 and focusing on the budget end of the tablet market).

The goal, in this marketed refresh, it appears, is to make the Fire HD 8 even more attractive to first time users by further discounting the price of the tablet. The difference between the entry Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 is now £30 but this gets the user a larger screen, higher resolution, twice the storage (16 GB in contrast to the entry 8 GB with the Fire 7), more RAM, dual Dolby Atmos speakers and significantly better battery life. If the 2016 release was a success, I predict the Fire HD 8 to do even better and attract more users to Amazon's services.

There is no turning back to the more premium HDX line of tablets. The goal now is to get users - in a family-centric approach - to subscribe to Amazon Prime via different hardware mediums. For example, Prime Video is not available, at the moment in the Google Play store, and needs to be side-loaded to be installed. I think this is an intentional strategy to encourage users to access Amazon content via Fire tablets that are meant to offer a user-friendly 'out of the box' integration of the Amazon eco-system.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Differences between Windows 10 S, Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education.

Liliputing posted a very useful article on the differences between Windows 10 S, Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education. To access the article click here

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Thoughts on Windows 10 S

Microsoft officially announced a version of Windows 10 to, primarily, take-on Chromebooks in the education sector. Windows 10 S is centred on the Edge Browser, Office 365 applications and the Microsoft Store. The goal is to target schools with a simplified operating system that is secure, easier to maintain and whose performance is not compromised with low-cost hardware.

It is understandable, in the education sector, to maintain security, to lock laptops to known sources to simplify maintenance. Outside education general users may find the operating system restricting but I still think there remains a substantial user-base that will choose Windows 10 S. Windows 10 S works better with entry level hardware (specifically with smaller storage) and the popularity of a capable entry-level laptop, as demonstrated with the HP Stream range, could mean many users find their needs better met, considering the limitations of low-end hardware, by adopting Windows 10 S.

However, the same case cannot be made with higher end hardware. Other than the Surface, which offers a free upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro, there will be a $50 fee to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. The problem is that I cannot see a significant demand to opt for a more restricted operating system, on mid-range to high-end hardware, when a device's specification is capable of running Windows 10 Pro with no compromises. The added fee might further put-off users that view it an unnecessary cost to a machine that is expected, for its price category, to do more.

Even in the entry-level category, Microsoft might struggle against Chromebooks, whether in the education sector or beyond. Compared to the Edge browser, Chrome offers a richer catalogue of applications and extensions. Further, a wider selection of applications is further extended, compared to the Windows Store, with the gradual rolling out of Google Play to more Chromebooks.

To make Windows 10 S work in the entry-level category, the main issue is if Microsoft can get third-party developers to develop applications to enhance the Microsoft Store. There is the possibility that Microsoft might revive 'Project Centennial' - a project aiming to renew the desktop PC - through converting desktop apps to universal apps that may be accessed via the Windows Store. Continuum is another example of Microsoft aiming to push the continuity of applications from the traditional desktop to other devices in a PC connect era. At this moment, however, Chrome OS and its gradual integration with Google Play, is the better option in both education and cloud-centric computing.