Friday, 26 August 2016

Kobo releases the Kobo Aura One & Kobo Aura (Edition 2)

As expected, Kobo released two e-readers - the Kobo Aura One and the Kobo Aura (Edition 2). The Kobo Aura 2 is a six inch e-reader that comes with an E-Ink Carta screen and a lower 212 ppi. As 'The eBook Reader' states, the Kobo Aura (Edition 2) makes little sense. The Kobo Glo HD is an ereader with 300 ppi and a similar E-Ink Carta screen and is only $10 more than the Kobo Aura Edition 2. The price differential is minimal that it becomes difficult to understand how this device fits in the Kobo e-reader line up.

The 7.8 inch Kobo Aura One, on the other hand, is an innovative e-reader. I am interested to see if Kobo managed to get the front-light to work with the larger display (early reviews appear to be positive about the front-light). With the front-light comes a blue light filter termed 'ComfortLight PRO'. ComfortLight PRO, in the words of Kobo, works by "reducing blue-light exposure, the enhanced front-light technology protects your eyes and provides the best nighttime reading experience. The automatic setting mimics the sun’s natural progression, emitting the optimal brightness and hue based on the time of day". Personally, I generally turn off the front-light but for those wishing to use the front-light, for night time reading, the user is able to change the colour temperature to ease eye strain.

The device's let down, judging from this review, is the little work done by Kobo to improve the PDF reading experience. You still can't highlight and annotate and the touch to zoom appears to be inconsistent. Thankfully it might not be a serious problem, as KOReader should release a version for the Kobo Aura One.

Amazon may respond to Kobo, in regards to hardware enhancements. However, judging from the past - as posted before - I don't think Amazon will release a larger e-reader. History tells us Amazon responds to hardware enhancements - e.g. front light and screen resolution - but ignores, since the Kindle DX, screen size differentiation. Also, Amazon operates at a different level to Kobo and may judge a turn of direction, to include a larger e-reader, a risk. The uniform six inch is viewed, by Amazon, as the right size for an e-reader - light and the size of a paperback book. Further, to go large means a re-think of the Kindle line-up. The good thing with the Kobo Aura One is that it is more open than Amazon's Kindle range. Further, with its larger size, coupled with KOReader, it makes an excellent multi-purpose stand-alone e-reader.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Kobo Aura One details & why Amazon may not respond with a larger e-reader

The Kobo Aura One's details are leaked and it confirms a 7.8 inch e-reader. The Aura One is an e-reader with premium specifications - it comes with water proofing, 512 MB RAM, 8GB internal storage and a 300 ppi E-Ink Carta front-lit display. Importantly, the listing states the price at 229 Euros - in comparison the six inch Kindle Oasis is priced at 290 Euros. I don't think Amazon will respond with a larger e-reader. Amazon didn't respond when Kobo released the 6.8 inch Kobo Aura HD in 2013. For Amazon, size doesn't seem an issue and its near complete dominance of the e-book market means it can set its own agenda. At the moment, it aims to gradually improve the range of six inch e-readers, offering choice at that size, but there is no indication it is interested in offering a larger e-reader. However, I could be wrong.

On the other hand, it is the niche vendors that might need to revise their devices and pricing. Since the near uniformity of the six inch e-reader, alternative vendors set-out to meet the demand for larger e-readers. Overall, the quality of these devices are sub-standard, with out-dated hardware and often poor software. Further, as larger vendors neglected the larger e-reader, the price of these devices are inflated. Eight inch e-readers (e.g. Icarus Illumina XL, Pocketbook Inkpad 2 and Onyx Boox i86) retail at a similar price to the Kobo Aura One but with inferior hardware and software (PDF support is poor on Kobo e-readers but there is the option to install KOReader). Unless Amazon releases a larger e-reader or alternative vendors seriously re-consider their offerings then Kobo Aura One is the stand-out and only serious option, at the moment, if Android is a non-issue for the end-user.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Kobo releasing a new device(s) in mid-August?

Michael Tamblyn, CEO at Rakuten Kobo, seems to be announcing the release of a new Kobo device(s) in mid-August 2016. If indeed Kobo is releasing a device(s) it is probably the same device(s) noted in recent FCC fillings. A 7.8 inch E-Ink reader is the stand-out, if accurate, as it will be the largest e-reader, since the Kindle DX, released by a major vendor.

Entry level Windows laptop recommendation - Lenovo Ideapad 100S

As part of a series on entry-level devices, this posts recommends an entry Windows laptop. With laptops in this category we are looking at a secondary device that is a light-weight travel companion and performs the expected basic computing tasks well. Generally, devices in this category come with standardised storage and memory (32 GB storage and 2 GB RAM), with differences being in the processor. Regarding the processor, choices tend to be between an Intel Celeron Braswell or one of the different variations of Intel Atom.

I found the Lenovo Ideapad 100S, surprisingly, the best of the current crop. On paper, it is powered by a weaker Bay Trail Z3735F Atom processor but performance is optimised with a 32 Bit version of Windows 10. The same or similar processor performs worse with, mainly, Windows tablets and the reason could be vendors deliberately throttling/under clocking the processor to prevent over-heating. However, compared to other laptops in this category the Ideapad's performance is noticeably better in rendering webpages. Comparison, in this case, is being made to laptops released by HP (HP Stream 11 and 13), Dell (Dell Inspiron 11 3000) and Acer (Acer Aspire One Cloudbook) with an Intel N3050 Braswell processor. On paper the CPU benchmark, and in Google's Octane scores, state the N3050 performs slightly better than the Atom Bay Trail Z3735F. However, in real world performance, the difference is felt in favour of the Ideapad 100S. Another factor behind the performance boost might be the quad core processor, compared to the dual core processor that comes with the Intel Celeron Braswell. Out of the box the HP Stream 11, which I have tested, can struggle with rendering news and media websites, and even with an ad-blocker set-up it is still a step behind Lenovo's offering.

The battery life is good and can reach, in saving mode, and with brightness turned down, close to the advertised eight hours. The display is adequate but the HP Stream 11 is slightly superior, with better contrast and colour reproduction. A nice feature is the laptop's 180 degree hinge - this is useful when the laptop is placed on the lap or used lying down. The stand-out for the laptop is its weight, coming under 1 kilogram, which is superior to most entry-level laptops (the exceptions would be the Asus EeeBook X205TA and its successor the ASUS Vivobook E200HA). The portable weight makes the Ideapad 100S an ideal travel productivity device.

Unfortunately, there is a serious disadvantage with a trackpad that doesn't support multi-touch gestures. It is strange that Lenovo decided to go backwards with an outdated two buttons and no gesture support (I don't mind the buttons but the lack of gesture support is unnecessary, considering all laptops in this category support the feature). For some this may be a significant drawback - the out-dated trackpad, at first, slows the user down but after getting use to, it is serviceable. If the trackpad is unbearable then there is always the option to use an external mouse.

I don't think, at the moment, there is an entry-level Windows laptop that gets all its compromises right. The Lenovo Ideapad 100S is the closest if it wasn't for the strange decision not to support gestures with the trackpad. If Lenovo, in its annual refresh, beefs up the processor, improves the display and fixes the problem with the trackpad then we might get a stand-out candidate. Further, a nice option would be adding a version with 4GB RAM priced at £20 - £30 more.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

An alternative e-reader based on KOReader?

We have a number of crowdfunded projects for larger e-readers - usually with Android pre-installed. I previously posted on the need for an alternative e-reader to consider software development before making hardware choices. If an alternative e-reader is to be user-friendly and accessible, it needs to work out of the box with little need to tweak or modify the interface, fonts or seek out alternative external applications. 

KOReader is an existing project that offers options for developers, as it is one of the few applications designed specifically for E-Ink. In its current state, it may lack stability, across different devices, and the user interface may need simplifying but it is feature rich. For example, PDF support is vastly superior to what Kobo and Amazon offer with their e-readers. With KOReader there are extensive features such as the ability to export notes to Evernote and manipulate PDF files, in different ways, considering device size, for optimal viewing.

The potential to develop an e-reader on KOReader's software is something that could work. Again, with a viable software platform set first then problems pertaining to stability and optimal performance, considering hardware, would be conveniently resolved.