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.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Lenovo Tab 3 8 Review: A Very Good Family-Centric Budget Android Tablet

I previously reviewed the Fire HD 8 and thought it was the choice Fire tablet and, overall, a very good budget tablet. The Lenovo Tab 3 8 that is being reviewed is similarly, in my opinion, another very good budget choice, if Android is the preferred operating system. Below are my impressions after using the device (comparisons will be made with Amazon's Fire HD 8):
  1. The 1280 x 800 IPS display is good for its price range and I would rank it above the Fire HD 8
    (Of course, there is an element of personal preference in this judgement). What I particularly like - considering the e-reading slant of this blog - is the 'adaptive display' feature. This feature adds a small menu, at the bottom, so that the user is able to change the colour tone to match the content consumed (see screenshot on the right). By default there are four display modes - media, standard, child and reading. Media mode is for video content and enhances audio and colour saturation. Both kids and reading mode change the colour tone to a reddish/orange tinge to cut out blue light emission and reduce eye strain (in reading mode the colour tone is a stronger red/orange). Standard mode is the default display setting and keeps a balanced colour temperature and saturation for day time viewing. Finally, there is the further option to personalise the display tone with a customisable user mode. In custom user mode, it is possible to further tweak the display's contrast, saturation, picture brightness, sharpness and colour temperature.
  2. Lenovo are targeting the Tab range as an affordable family-centric device and this may be observed in the software choices adopted. Thus, Android is over-layered with some alterations that includes a 'Kid's Mode' profile. The profile allows adult supervision on times permitted for use, which apps are available, website access history and app usage history. The adaptive display feature is useful in 'Kids Mode' with the option to alter the screen colour tone to filter blue light and ease eye strain.  
  3. The tablet comes with Dolby Atmos stereo audio and the audio quality is excellent for a tablet in this price range. There is also a dedicated Dolby application built into settings that allows the user to tweak the audio to meet their personal preferences. 
  4.  Performance is very good for the price category. The 2GB of RAM - something still an exception in the budget category - means there is little lag and multi-tasking doesn't slow down or freeze the tablet. It should be noted that I am reviewing the device considering e-reading, browsing the web, email access and consuming video content; thus, more power intensive tasks, e.g. gaming, are not considered in this review.
  5. Battery-life is good enough but the Fire HD 8 is superior. If you want long battery life then the Fire HD 8 is the better choice but there is a trade-off, as the Lenovo Tab 3 8 offers better performance, Android and enhanced system features. However, if you are a frequent user of Amazon services then the Fire HD 8 would be the better choice, as Fire tablets come with a user-friendly 'out of the box' integration of Amazon services.  
Overall, the Tab 3 8 and Fire HD 8 are both very good choices. If a longer battery life, tighter integration between Amazon services and a lower price are the user's preferences then the Fire HD 8 is the better option. On the other hand, the Lenovo Tab 3 8 would be the better option, if the user prefers the superior Android eco-system, better audio quality, more RAM and a slightly better screen. Both Amazon and Lenovo are very good options that cater for the budget and family-centric sectors and it is the for the end-user to choose which one best meets their needs.

A final note - the Lenovo Tab 4 range was announced recently at MWC 2017 and will gradually become more widely available. I would expect Lenovo's Tab 3 tablets to be discounted soon and so the Tab 3 8 might be available at a lower price than the Fire HD 8.

Overall rating: 8/10