Friday, 25 September 2015

Finally, the ideal Chromebook

I think, finally, we have the ideal Chromebook. Toshiba will be releasing a new iteration for their Chromebook 2 and it meets the check-list for the ideal Chromebook, in my opinion. The base model comes with a good IPS display (judging from the previous iteration), 4GB RAM, an Intel Celeron Broadwell processor, good battery life and is priced similar to the previous iteration when released (it is also just under three pounds, matching the weight of the previous Chromebook 2, despite not being fanless). Possibly, the only missing option, would be the a 11.6 version of the Chromebook for those who prefer a more compact option. What makes the Toshiba Chromebooks successful is that Toshiba listens to Chromebook users and decided to respond to the one area that users flagged regarding the Chromebook 2 - lacklustre performance.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Amazon goes budget friendly

Amazon has released three new Fire tablets and it appears, from the official website, these are not just further choice to the existing tablet range but may become the default offering. The HDX tablets, with far better resolution and specifications, are no longer advertised on the front page of Amazon.com. Also, judging from the aspect ratio of the devices, these are, foremost, for media consumption to complement an Amazon Prime subscription.

I think, other than the $50 7 inch tablet (1), the other devices are over-priced compared to tablets from other manufacturers. For example, in UK pricing, the Fire HD 10 sells for £170, while the Nexus 9, which is vastly superior, can be found for £200 (there is also the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 that beats the Fire 10 HD in both specifications and price). While resolution may not matter for multimedia content, it might with clear pixelation for e-reading (the Fire 10 HD comes with 149 ppi). The $50 Fire 7, however, is the best of the lot. This may seem strange, considering the specifications, but the compromises made were just right. Skimping with resolution was balanced with an IPS screen, that even at 1024 x 600, offers 171 ppi (the Fire 7 is not advertised as HD, so it is not clear what this entails? Is there no high definition rendering? Or is anything under 1280 x 720, regardless of screen size, officially non-HD?); the device also does not compromise in either processing power or memory. Then there is the ingenious offer to buy six Fire tablets and get one free! I can see the device doing really well as a gift, other than offering a budget friendly entry point to Amazon products e.g. Amazon Prime and Amazon Kindle Unlimited etc. Amazon might, in the future, discount the tablet with an annual Prime membership.

In all, considering the trajectory of tablet sales, it is understandable Amazon would go for a more budget offering, compared to the HDX range. However, relative to other available tablets, both the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 offers less for the price. The Fire 7, on the other hand, is a great idea and one that might get more users into the Amazon eco-system to off-set the device's low price.

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(1) In the UK the Fire 7 sells for £50 and in Europe for 60 Euros. The different pricing might be due to the device coming with 90 days warranty in the US, to keep the price low, compared to one year in the UK and Europe.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The problem with Chromebook displays

The Achilles heel of many Chromebooks is poor matte finishing on sub-standard LCD TN panels (the Acer C720 is a good example of this). Most of these panels strain the eyes; something accentuated with a matte finish that mutes colours, brightness and generates a foggy like haze effect over the display (I am specifically pointing out Asus and Acer as the main culprits in producing sub-standard displays). I would not say this is predominantly an issue of preference between glossy or matte but the use of sub-standard panels with a lack of care when applying a matte finish (e.g. the anti-glare used on the HP Chromebook 14 is better than what Acer and Asus offer).

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(1) The Dell 13 Chromebook's flexible choice in configuration would be something different. However, I would classify the Dell 13 Chromebook as tilting to the premium than mid-range, due to its build quality and needless extras (e.g. back-lit keyboard); Dell also market this as a 'business class' Chromebook, rather than a general consumer product. The ideal Chromebook, something that manufacturers oddly neglect, would be of similar build quality to existing Chromebooks but with a good IPS display and good enough performance.    

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The strange trajectory of the Nook platform

Barnes & Noble released their new premium tablet e-reader - it is essentially the second generation Samsung Tab S 8.4 but with Nook e-services (apps, e-book shop and e-reading experience) built into the firmware. Barnes & Noble's dedicated hardware endured heavy loses, when going against Amazon's range of Kindle tablets, that necessitated a turn in direction. However, instead of concentrating on improving their e-ink reader and developing more choice beyond the Nook Glowlight, Barnes & Noble thought it would be better to release vanilla Samsung tablets with some add-ons. The question then is why add a premium device, that sells for $399, when no similarly priced device was released before, whether as a Nook tablet or in partnership with Samsung. If the current range of Tab 4 tablets is to be replaced, then a partnership with Asus for an eight inch tablet (Asus Zenpad 8) and Lenovo (Tab 2 A10) for a larger one, would offer good specifications at a more value friendly price.

My personal speculation is that the move to introduce an eight inch premium device, one with an excellent Amoled display, might be understood considering an earlier decision to partner with Samsung and purchase a stock of Tab 4 tablets. It is likely this is an attempt to add another option to the existing range of tablets with the Nook e-reading experience, beyond the more budget range on offer with the Tab 4 7 and 10.1. There is also, considering continuous loss, a large inventory of unsold Tab 4 tablets and it may not be workable to introduce a new range of partnered Nook tablets with other manufacturers. The Tab S2 could then be envisaged as a Nook offering with the existing Tab 4 range. Of course, the bigger problem was an attempt to offer some form of Nook device, even if it is nothing more than a Samsung tablet with some extra Nook features. When the Tab 5 is eventually released, as Samsung does continuously refresh its tablet line, then Barnes & Noble might need to significantly discount the Tab 4 range, as happened with the Nook HD and HD+ tablets, with a probable inventory of unsold device that need to be offloaded. Considering this, Barnes & Noble might decide to discontinue the Tab series partnership with Samsung, with one premium tablet being the only option to keep some form of Nook tablet. Going into partnership with another manufacturer could no longer be an option; however, this is Barnes & Noble, so it is difficult to predict or even understand what it decides next.

It should be stated that tablet sales are on the decline, other than Amazon dominating tablets with an e-reader focus; hence Kobo, I believe, has taken the right path in discontinuing their tablet range and working on offering a wider range of good e-readers (when Kobo announced a 300 ppi Kobo Glo HD, Amazon followed straight after by unexpectedly bumping up the resolution of their excellent Kindle Paperwhite). The point is that varying the range of e-ink readers is the only viable path to maintain the Nook platform beyond third-party apps. Considering this, it makes better sense if Barnes & Noble revamped their out-dated e-reader firmware and offered better options beyond their only dedicated e-reader (Nook Glowlight). May be offer a 9 inch e-reader and another budget six inch one, similar to the Nook Simple Touch. However, we can predict, considering the trajectory of the Nook platform, that nothing will be heeded from Kobo and what will be made available is another standard six inch reader successor to the Nook Glowlight, barely keeping up with what is being offered by Amazon and Kobo, along with the Tab S2.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Acer R11 and the Lenovo 100S Chromebook

Acer announced a flip Chromebook of their own but instead of running an ARM chip, it comes with a Celeron Braswell processor (N3050), 1366x766 display (it is likely that this is an IPS display) and the the 'choice' (1) between 16GB/32GB storage and 2GB/4GB RAM (in the UK the 4GB configuration is the standard option for Asus's Rockchip based Chromebooks; this may similarly be the case with the Acer R11). Other than the Acer R11 flip Chromebook, Lenovo is releasing their own entry level Chromebook (Chromebook 100S) that costs $179 and comes with a Baytrail-M processor, coupled with the regular 2GB RAM and 16GB storage. There will be more costly models with 4GB RAM and 32GB storage; however, what makes the Lenovo 100S Chromebook different is that it is priced similar to ARM based Chromebooks released by the likes of Asus, Hisense, Haier etc., but with a preferable Intel based processor. At similar price, there is a Windows 10 version of the 100S (Ideapad 100S) but comes with a start configuration of an Intel Atom Z3735F processor. I think the Acer 'Aspire One Cloudbook', as an entry level Windows 10 laptop, is a more attractive option with its Intel Celeron Braswell processor at $189.

(1) Choice isn't really choice, as manufacturers, in Europe, tend to release 2GB RAM as standard, with a 4GB RAM model more difficult to find.