Showing posts with label Amazon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amazon. Show all posts

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.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Is the Kindle Paperwhite 4 being released?

Its been two years since the Kindle Paperwhite three release, so we are due an update. There is a picture and information leaked, via a Chinese retailer, of a possible Paperwhite coming out. Information is sparse, other  than a water-proof device, a flush display, the same 300PPI and what appears to be, again, a six inch screen. This is speculation, and I can be very wrong, but I think the leaked information is generally correct. The information provided is consistent with Amazon's strategy of keeping the six inch size and introducing small incremental updates.

The leaked information also noted two further more premium Kindle devices for 2018. One is a six inch e-reader - possibly replacing the Voyage - and a high-end seven inch one. Again, I think the leaked information could be right. Specifically, a seven inch Kindle - to replace the Oasis - may finally provide something to entice e-readers to choose a high-end e-reader over the Voyage and Paperwhite.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Review of the Fire HD 8: The stand-out Fire tablet

I’ve been using the Fire HD 8 (late 2016 release) for a few months and, overall, it is the best tablet in the Amazon Fire range; I would also recommend the tablet as a stand-out budget choice. Below are some reasons for making this a very good tablet in its category:
  • The 1.5GB RAM makes a significant difference compared to the 1GB version released late 2015. The performance is snappy and doesn’t freeze or slow-down when multi-tasking e.g. downloading an e-book, updating an application and streaming video content. 
  • Despite the same 1280 X 800 resolution, the display quality is slightly downgraded compared to the previous generation. This generation of the Fire HD 8 doesn’t match the colour vibrancy and contrast levels of the previous generation. However, the display is good for its price, compared to similar tablets released by other vendors, and well worth the compromise for an increase in RAM and battery life (both major draw-backs with the previous generation of the Fire HD 8).
  • Fire OS 5 is based on Android 5 Lollipop. This is a good thing, as applications not found in the Amazon app store may be externally side-loaded as an APK. The Amazon app store itself contains most popular applications and is far ahead of the Microsoft Store. This being said, you do miss the Google services and other applications tied into the Google Play store. Amazon released a tablets tightly integrated into its ecosystem and Prime services and for that purpose it works well. 
  • Amazon excels at syncing between devices tied to its ecosystem. The affordable Fire TV Stick, Echo Dot and Kindle all work seamlessly with the Fire HD 8. 
  • Compared to other Android tablets – in this price category – the Fire HD 8 generally offers more for less, with extra RAM and good battery life making the difference. However, Lenovo’s Tab range of tablets, offering a near stock Android experience, are comparable and sometimes better. The Lenovo Tab 4 8 has just been released and is priced similar to the Fire HD 8 but with 2GB RAM. The Tab 3 8, which I will review soon, is well worth considering, as it discounted and so priced slightly lower than Fire HD 8; the Tab 3 8 comes with both a better display, despite the same resolution, and 2 GB RAM. What makes the Fire HD 8 stand-out, compared to Lenovo’s Tab range, is its superior battery life. 
 Overall Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Kindle quirks continued

I previously posted about the strange software quirk that extends reading settings from one document to another. For example, reading a PDF in landscape means the next e-book you open will be rendered in landscape mode too.

In this post I wish to note the strange decision to prevent users from deleting their personal documents from the cloud via a Kindle or Fire tablets running Fire OS 5 (I managed to delete from the cloud with a Fire HDX (late 2013 release)). However, it is possible to remove Amazon content from the cloud on Amazon devices. To manage your cloud documents you need to login to your Amazon account via ‘Manage Your Content and Devices’.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Does Amazon confuse customers and retailers with their devices?

I visited a PC World/Currys branch (the UK’s largest electronics retailer) and noted something off with displayed Fire HD 8 tablet. The information provided stated the tablet as the latest release that comes with an improved 12 hours battery life. However, the tablet displayed was the late 2015 edition with a glossy back and both a laminated and superior display. It is a possibility that a customer purchasing the device will be surprised to find the tablet’s screen somewhat dull compared to the displayed demo unit. I believe part of the problem is with Amazon confusing both customers and retailers with the labelling of their devices. For example, the 2016 refresh of the Fire HD 8 remains a 5th generation device, similar to the late 2015 release. 

As I posted before, Amazon likely acknowledged a mistake in releasing the 2015 Fire HD 8 with a mix of entry level and mid-range specifications. With this mix, the device was sold closer to a mid-range price, with better value options available from other manufacturers. The refresh is much better value and the inferior display is still acceptable for the price, considering the overall improvements that come with the 2016 Fire HD 8 - longer battery life and extra RAM that significantly boosts performance.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Amazon Fire HD 8 is now the choice Amazon budget tablet

Amazon updated the Fire HD 8 and judging from the changes, it seems we have acknowledgement that they got it wrong with the previous iteration of the device. Below is a summary of the changes:
  • First, Amazon got the pricing wrong with the 2015 Fire HD 8, with most vendors offering tablets with similar specifications at a lower price. The price of the Fire HD 8 has been slashed from £129.99 to £89.99. I think the lower price with the specifications offered now makes the Fire HD 8 a more attractive budget tablet than the Fire 7. 
  • The anaemic battery of the previous generation (advertised as ‘up to 8 hours’ but in real world use it was significantly less) is upgraded to an estimated ‘up to 12 hours’. 
  • The glossy back (a finger print magnet) is now replaced with a matte finish, similar to the Fire 7. 
  • The back camera has been reduced from 5MP to 2MP. This is a good compromise, considering many users don’t use their tablet’s camera. 
  • The processor is slightly bumped down but RAM is increased to 1.5 GB. The previous generation, while not unusable, did suffer from lags and delays when multi-tasking or opening new files or applications. The extra RAM should help with performance.  
  • The entry level storage is doubled from 8GB to 16GB. I found 8GB to be manageable on Amazon devices, as they are not bloated with Google apps and services that comes with standard Android (Fire OS is based on Android).
  • Amazon is further moving forward in the integration of its services (in my opinion, Amazon is well ahead in service integration across devices), with Fire HD 8 advertised to soon receive Alexa support. This move makes sense in the context of Amazon releasing for the first time, outside the US, updated models of the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot.

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 fatigue.

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.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Amazon updates its entry-level Kindle & announces software enhacements

Amazon announced the release of a new entry-level Kindle. Judging from the release details this is a worthy upgrade without any cost increase. The updated model is lighter, thinner, and comes with Bluetooth support and twice the RAM. Hardware improvements and excellent firmware makes the Kindle, already the choice entry e-reader, further ahead of similar models from other manufactuters. Kobo might update their Kobo Touch 2.0 to keep-up with Amazon but this is not likely. Kobo tends to run less frequent updates and the Kobo Touch 2.0 was released late 2015.

***

Amazon also announced the enhacement of notes and highlights management, with the ability to export notes to your email and to save them in PDF format. According to the Amazon Kindle team:
It’s now easy to export notes and highlights from a book to your e-mail, so you can always have them on-hand for reference. Receive your notes both as an easily printable PDF that’s ready to bring to your book club, and as a simple file you can open in your favorite spreadsheet app.
This software enhacement is a great feature that other e-readers neglect. Amazon already pushed enhanced notes and highlights management features to the Kindle application for Android, iOS and Fire tablets, so it is useful to see these features natively supported with the Kindle e-readers.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

For & Against the Kindle Oasis

Generally the Kindle Oasis brought what was predicted, with incremental updates, including premium design features and a charging case, though not solar powered, that is more than an accessory. Surprisingly, there is no Bluetooth or waterproof features. Some complaints and objections came with the Oasis’s release, with its unjustified high price for little relative improvement. Overall, the Oasis, in my opinion, does not offer sufficiently substantial improvements to warrant its ‘premium’ tag or its price difference to the Kindle Paperwhite, let alone the Kindle Voyage. Below are arguments for and against the Kindle Oasis:

For the Kindle Oasis 

The Kindle Oasis offers an improved front-light and a case that is more than an accessory. In regards to front light improvements, we have ten LEDs, rather than the eight on the Voyage, resulting in a more evenly lit display. In this improvement Amazon aims to mimic the feel of ink on paper and we have what is better than anything on Amazon’s own Kindle range or available from other manufacturers. On the other hand, the bundled case is advertised to buttresses battery life to up to nine weeks. If we Consider the Oasis’s super lightweight (131 grams), better front-light, intuitive ergonomics and a bundled case that significantly prolongs battery life, then we could arguably justify an increase of £100 compared to the Voyage.

Further, regarding pricing, premium end smartphones retail considerably higher; the question arises if premium smartphone pricing, for example an Apple iPhone or Samsung S7, are more worthy for their cost. Further, many websites viewed the Kindle Oasis to be “crazy expensive” but this points to a broader issue with technology publications in how they often carry the bias of individual reviewers and what they envisage as use case scenarios for consumer devices. Thus e-readers are considered secondary devices, while smartphones would be primary ones, and some do not comprehend a ‘premium’ single-use device. Other technology writers seem to believe that many e-readers do the same thing and it would be frivolous to justify upgrades similar to upgrade cycles with smartphones. The point here is that the Kindle Oasis is intended for dedicated e-readers and, accordingly, they would want the best possible reading experience. For this intended segment of users an e-reader could be a primary device and the Kindle Oasis is a reading tool that beats anything out there for its size and features.

Against the Kindle Oasis 

Overall, the case is stronger against the Kindle Oasis. The main problem is in a device that maintains the same display size, e-ink technology (Carta), 300 dpi and even slightly worse contrast ratio to other Kindle models. These are hardware features on the substantive side of any e-reader; considering this, there is little reason to upgrade to or choose this Kindle over the Kindle Paperwhite (a similar argument could be made against the Voyage compared to the Paperwhite). In regards to a case prolonging battery life than e-ink e-readers offer more than enough battery. The same can be said with an improved front-light, mimicking the feel of printed paper - the Paperwhite’s front light is bright and even enough to make little difference.

What could make the Oasis worthy of its inflated price would be something that significantly improves the end-user’s reading experience with upgraded hardware, due to the near identical firmware features across Kindle devices. Hence this means either a larger display, e.g. an eight inch one, or Liquavista colour to complement a larger display. For the end-user hardware differentiation means better functionality with PDF files and text immersion with e-books. However, this would likely go against Amazon’s ethos of selling hardware as a gateway to their content. The point of the Oasis is not to just provide the best possible e-reader, at the moment, but to specifically provide the best possible e-reader to access Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem. For Amazon, It may not be effective to develop firmware to make use of hardware differentials, as the Kindle is primarily viewed as a device to access Amazon e-books, rather than a multi-functional e-reading hardware platform. The same may be stated with Kobo’s strategy, after exiting the tablet segment and concentrating on e-readers.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The new premium Kindle will bring incremental updates

Since Jeff Bezos announced an " all-new, top of the line Kindle almost ready. 8th generation" there has been speculation if this device will bring something different. Will it finally come with a Liquavista display? Is this a larger e-reader? Judging from Amazon's history with e-readers, I believe this will be an incremental update to their premium Kindle Voyage. Amazon tends react to what exists and then release a better end-product (similar to Apple). For example, Amazon reacted to touch and front-light after their introduction by Kobo and Barnes & Noble. Also, the pixel density of the mid-range Kindle Paperwhite was bumped to 300 ppi, after Kobo introduced the same resolution with its own mid-range Kobo Glo HD.

It is likely that Amazon will continue this trend with their upcoming premium device; instead of a Liquavista display or a larger e-reader (greater than 7 inches), we will likely see incremental updates to the Kindle Voyage. This means a likely 6/6.8 inch device, with a better processor, enhanced e-ink display, improved front-light, water-proofing, Bluetooth for content integration with Audible and Echo devices and a possible solar powered self-charging case. Amazon excels in content integration, across devices, and this update should emphasise better integration between this Kindle and the recent release of the Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Tap (adding to the range of Alexa supported devices).

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Recommended entry level e-reader

This is the first post in the series of recommended budget technology and one that relates to the best entry level e-reader. In this case, unfortunately, there is an easy recommendation due to the lack of choice with e-readers and the uniformity of the six-inch display size. There are options at 6.8, 8 and 9.7 inches but these would not qualify as an entry level device due to their relatively high price (larger sizes, due to their restricted availability, and niche demand, means the cost of many of these devices are inflated. Nevertheless, there will be future posts on larger e-readers). For this reason, two devices are selected - the Kindle basic and the Kobo Touch 2. There are other similarly priced options available but these two devices are more readily available. For example, other possible entry level e-readers would be the Bookeen Cybook Essential Muse or Pocketbook Basic Touch. However, both these are restricted in their availability.

Between the Kobo Touch 2 and the basic Kindle, the recommended device would be the Kindle. Amazon continues to improve its e-reader firmware and while it does not offer the best customization of the e-reading experience (e.g text alignment, line/margin spacing variation, adding fonts), it comes with its own rich features, with options to sync both Kindle and side-loaded e-books, send documents wirelessly to a user designated email, Wikipedia integration, Goodreads integration, translation, vocabulary builder and more.

While Amazon exclusively supports MOBI or it propriety version of MOBI (AZW3), rather than EPUB, it is possible to convert between e-book formats and this generally produces identical results (conversion can be through Calibre or on-line). This means you are able to store non-DRM converted EPUB e-books in the Amazon cloud and the e-book will sync across devices.

However, there is a significant problem with the Kindle's adoption of the MOBI based format, in the that there is no support with Adobe Digital Editions. What this means is that either a book is to be purchased in a DRM-free EPUB format, then converted, which some publishers offer, or the e-reader is locked in the Amazon store. This does not apply to the Fire tablets that can work with DRM protected books, through installing or sideloading applications compatible with the EPUB format (e.g. Mantano Reader can be sideloaded to access DRM protected books).

Generally, the basic Kindle is the better overall entry device but the Kobo Touch 2 is the better option if you wish for more flexibility in reading both MOBI and EPUB, due to both formats being supported and with further support with Adobe Digital Editions. Yet there will be a compromise, compared to the Kindle, in cloud storage and more extensive syncing services. This means if you wish to manage a large library across different devices, including personal documents, then the Kindle is the better option.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Will the third generation of Fire HDX tablets get Fire OS 5?

Recently Amazon sent a letter to owners of the third generation of HDX tablets, confirming an upgrade to Fire OS 5 in the coming weeks. Amazon later emailed that this letter was an error, with apologies for any confusion. I primarily use the third generation Fire HDX 8.9 and having also used Fire OS 5, with the Fire 7, I was pleased to read the mistaken letter of an upcoming upgrade (Fire OS 5 is an extensive update to Fire OS 4.5.5 that is currently used with third and fourth generation devices). Disappointedly, further feedback from Amazon indicated third generation devices would not receive the upgrade. I contacted Amazon, querying if indeed there will be an eventual upgrade for third generation devices and the answer was in the affirmative:
I'm sorry to learn about the trouble with the message you received regarding the Fire OS 5. Unfortunately, this message was sent to your device in error. I’m very sorry for any confusion caused. Your tablet ( 3rd generation) will be updated to Fire OS 5 soon. We are not able to provide a specific date right now. Once our Engineer's make Fire OS 5 available for 3rd generation devices, you'll be sent an update via email
It may be speculated that the confusion might be due to the process of porting Fire OS 5 still being in the developmental stage, at the moment, with engineers working on the update for the fourth-generation devices, let alone third generation ones. If the third generation devices are not receiving the upgrade then it might be due the cost of testing and development. I do not think it is an issue of pushing users to purchase current Fire tablets, as Amazon is focused on selling content and it is also not likely many users will downgrade to inferior hardware with the current generation.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Using Amazon's newstand can be confusing

Newstand, featured in Fire tablets, is one aspect in which Amazon lags behind other providers. In comparison, Barnes & Noble excels with their newspapers and magazines e-store, offering consistency and good features. Not only is there a good selection but also many magazines and newspapers offer the feature to strip magazine pages to just their text and images, with further options to change fonts, margins and line spacing, as with an e-book. Also, the same stripped down version of a magazine syncs to your Nook e-reader, making them accessible on an e-ink screen. Amazon lags behind due to confusion with the manner they present their content and how it is then managed. The main problem is that many subscriptions are not handled direct via Amazon; this means to obtain a magazine or newspaper, the user needs to install an external application. Needless to say, external applications and their related publications are not available on a Kindle e-reader.

This results in confusion, as you get different ways of interacting and managing content. Amazon has two ways to manage subscriptions - if the magazine downloads direct via Amazon, then it is available through 'Newsstand Subscription Settings' that you will find under managing your content and devices in your Amazon account. If, on the other hand, the publication downloads through an external app, then it can be found in 'Your Apps and Devices'. Other than confusion with managing subscriptions, many external magazine/newspaper apps are near uniform, in which magazines only appear in image format; in these applications there is no option to turn a magazine page in landscape, pinch to zoom is restricted and turning pages is cumbersome. On the other hand, magazines that download direct through Amazon onto a Fire tablet, without requiring an external app, work better with the availability of landscape mode, flexible pinch to zoom and easier page turning; there is also the option for text friendly presentation of content (if you double tap an article you then get a text friendly version, in which you can change text size, font, margins, line spacing and background colour). Most publications offered direct from Amazon also sync to a Kindle e-reader, due to this availability of stripped down text versions of articles. Further, there is also the problem of some magazines, possibly by accident, being offered direct via Amazon and also as an external application.

To solve these problems, Amazons needs to introduce uniformity across newstand. A possible option would be to remove all publications offered via third party applications and then offer these same publications as a direct download, similar to an e-book. In the meantime these publications should be exclusively offered in the app store, in a specifically designated category, where they belong.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Amazon Fire firmware update & Fire HD8 Reader's Edition

Amazon updated Fire OS 5, with some extra features. The highlight is 'blue shade', which, in the words of Amazon, is meant to minimize blue light, reduce eye strain and provides low-brightness for reading in darker rooms (there are applications that offer something similar e.g. Twilight and f.lux). The feature is based on a study by the Harvard Health Publication and works to intelligently adjust the colour filtering to suppress the blue light:
Recent studies by the Harvard Health Publication have shown that evening exposure to blue light from electronic screens can suppress our bodies’ production of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone. A lack of melatonin can prolong the time it takes to fall asleep, which in turn can delay REM sleep and reduce alertness the following morning. Blue Shade gives you the option to fine-tune the color settings, with the device intelligently adjusting the color filtering so that at any color or brightness, the blue wavelength light is always suppressed.
A nice perk, with the update, is open access to Washington Post content for six months (the newspaper is owned by Amazon). The interface of the newspaper is intuitive - articles are navigated by swiping to the right and swiping to the left provides access the contents menu.

Finally, there is the introduction of the Fire HD8 Reader's Edition (currently only in the US). This is a bundled version of the tablet with a year subscription to Kindle Unlimited and a 'limited edition' brown rustic leather case. I think a bundle like this works better with a Kindle e-reader, while Amazon Prime, would be the better option with a Fire tablet. Kindle Unlimited, itself, is restricted in terms of choice and it would probably be a better idea to use the cost of a Kindle Unlimited subscription to select specific books that you actually wish to read from the Kindle store (only a small fraction of books in the store are available via Kindle Unlimited). In terms of the Fire HD8, then it is not a bad tablet but there are better options for its mid-range price. Amazon can be hit and miss with both their hardware and pricing; at the moment, the Kindle Paperwhite, basic Kindle, Fire HD6, Fire 7 and Fire TV Stick, are the best options for both hardware and value.  

Friday, 20 November 2015

Review of Amazon Fire 7: A good value second tablet

If you come with the realistic expectations then the Amazon Fire 7 is a good value tablet. In terms of performance, the device runs well for watching films, reading e-books and light games. Fire OS 5.0.1 is an improvement to Fire OS 4.5.5; the carousel, finally, is gone and now you have a simplified interface that looks more like Android. Instead of categories above the carousal (e.g. shop, books, music, videos etc.), you swipe a different screen to access most of the same categories. At the same time, each of these categories appear as an icon, with other installed applications, on the home screen. Also, instead of a carousal for recent activity, there is now a separate screen listing these same activities. Battery life is not bad and with medium to light usage, e.g. reading e-books, you should get the advertised seven hours. An Amazon Prime subscription, which offers more than Netflix, complements this tablet well; it offers access to Amazon Prime content and you can also download Prime content to a SD Card to be viewed offline. There is also integration between the Fire TV Stick and Fire tablets, syncing applications and video content.

Another positive, and this is consistent with Amazon devices, is the identical firmware features across devices. What this means, whether you are using, for example, the Kindle Voyage or Kindle (the entry-level model), the firmware will be near identical in terms of features. The same applies to tablets, with the Fire 7 coming with the same operating system as the Fire 8 HD and Fire 10 HD. In all, the compromises made were just about right i.e. generally good performance, expandable storage and acceptable display. However, there are draw-backs that may have been considered:

(1) The screen is one of the low-end IPS displays that you also find with entry-level smartphones e.g. Microsoft Lumia 535. Understandably, with its low cost, the device will not have the colour vibrancy or accuracy of more high end hardware. Nevertheless, there is some difference between vibrancy and the low contrast and muted colours. Increasing the contrast makes a difference and can help with a relatively low resolution; for example, Amazon's entry-level Kindle, still boasts a higher contrast e-ink screen and this works to offset problems with its lower pixel density. This makes a significant difference and compared to other e-readers, with identical resolution, e.g. previous generation e-readers, the text is more legible and with darker blacks.

(2) The display is 'sticky' and a finger print magnet. For example, a stylus will not glide smoothly on the screen or even register a touch. Something simple like anti-fingerprint coating might help here.

(3) Why the cameras? The cameras, both back and front-facing, are mediocre. The Kindle Fire 7 HD (2013) offered no back camera and, in this case, it would be more justifiable not to include one. A trade-off between a needless camera with improving the display quality would have been the better option.

(4) Scaling - I think this has something to do with the aspect ratio. The device is fairly narrow and this means the scaling is off (the feel you get when you alter the resolution of a monitor from its recommended settings); what results is squeezed text in portrait mode and stretched text in landscape mode (Georgia, for example, comes out the worst in this). The only reason I can think of for the narrow dimension is to do with the intended use of this tablet for Amazon Prime video content. Turning the tablet in landscape, to watch a film, is probably the only thing that works with these dimensions.

With this being said, the Fire 7 offers a lot for its cost. As noted, other than offering identical features compared with Amazon's higher end tablets, there are other perks available. First, there is Amazon Underground - this offers many paid applications for 'free'. There are some good choices here e.g. Polaris Office, Quick PDF Scanner, Monument Valley, ezPDF, Office Suite Pro and much more. Also, as Fire OS 5.0.1 is essentially closed Android Lollipop, then external applications, from Google Play, can be installed on the device. There will be problems with some applications, e.g. Google native ones, that require the installation of Google Play. However, even for that, it is possible to install Google Play and turn the device into a more featured Android tablet. Second, this is also a good educational device for children, more so with Fire for Kids Unlimited. However, in my opinion, something like the entry-level Kindle would be better suited, with its distraction free reading and e-ink display (more healthy for the eyes and easier to read).

Overall, this is a good device for its price and would make a good secondary tablet or as an educational tool for children. It is not the hardware that makes the tablet a sensible choice, it is the all-round developed features and perks offered.  

Monday, 16 November 2015

The limited functionality of the Nook Glowlight Plus

Barnes & Noble introduced their first dedicated e-reader in two years. In terms of hardware, expectedly, the device compares to the Kindle Paperwhite and the Kobo Glo HD. However, it sets itself apart in that the device is both waterproof and even dust-proof; Kobo Aura H20, on the other hand, is waterproof only but this is Kobo's premium seven inch e-reader. The Good e-Reader and The e-Book Reader reviewed the device and praised its excellent display; however, as is predictable with Nook e-readers, there is no serious re-vamping of the firmware functionality. The device still runs a closed version of Android (the use of closed Android has been the case since the Nook Simple Touch), which in itself should not be a problem, but without any significant added firmware's features. In fact, judging from reviews, the interface is familiar from previous generations, including the Nook Simple Touch. There is the addition of the 'ReadOuts' feature, on the home screen, while useful is not a substantial improvement. Yet, even with some additions, the Nook e-reader platform remains considerably behind both Amazon and Kobo. What we have is the repetition of past Nook e-readers - good hardware but firmware that is both buggy and with restricted features. Even the previous generation Nook e-reader (Nook Glowlight), with its poor build quality, still bettered Amazon and Kobo for display quality.

In regards to tablets, I previously posted that the release of the Samsung S2 Nook (a premium device) was an attempt to add further variety to an existing range of Samsung Nook tablets. The speculation was that Barnes & Noble were not looking to further add to their current budget range, considering an existing inventory of Tab 4 Nook tablets offered. However, the Samsung Tab E Nook 9.6 was released, before the Nook Glowlight Plus, and this replaces the Samsung Tab 4 Nook 10.1. I don't understand Samsung's rationale behind their tablet range (has it ever been clear?); in term of specifications this tablet, it appears, replaces the Tab 4 range but there is no Tab E 7 to replace the Tab 4 7. At this time, the Tab 4 7 Nook is still offered as Barnes & Noble's default smaller tablet. Whatever the case, unless deeply invested in the Nook eco-system, Amazon's Fire 10 HD is the better option and sells for less. What you get with Amazon is not only a better and more extensive eco-system, with consistent and good firmware, but also all-round better features of the tablet as an e-reading device. However, both tablets offer sub-standard resolution with 149 ppi, which translates into significant pixelation of text. Something like the Nexus 9 would make a better choice, in every way, even with Amazon discounting their Fire HD tablets.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Amazon's first bookstore

Amazon's first physical bookstore has attracted attention. Dan Kurtz, working in independent publishing, fixated on 'human contact' and the curation of content, found the store bizarre. I don't think there is anything bizarre here; this is another calculated step by Amazon to buttress demand for their on-line services. Sam Machkovech, at Ars Technica, I believe, gets it right - this isn't a bookstore in the conventional sense. Amazon is showcasing their hardware and a selection of books, to attract users to buy into their on-line empire. This is consistent with Amazon's hardware strategy of developing hardware as a conduit for, for example, Amazon Prime; selling hardware, in itself, isn't the objective. Hence something like the Amazon Echo can be a bluetooth speaker but also a means to listen to a purchased book from the Amazon owned Audible or to order soap from Amazon.com. The Amazon Fire Phone, which flopped, was criticised for being a window to buy products from Amazon and then a phone.

This showcase approach to the Seattle bookstore is the opposite strategy to a traditional bookseller like Foyles. In the case of Foyles, on-line presence is secondary, if that, and only there to guide customers to their physical store. Foyles know they can't compete with Amazon for price, so focus on in-store experience such as a cafe or organising readings by hosting authors. Amazon, on the other hand, direct customers to utilise their on-line presence, in every conceivable way, including when looking-up the price of items. What we have is the opposite of what many booksellers would view the purpose of a bookstore but that is the point of Amazon's experiment.

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.