Showing posts with label Kobo Aura One. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kobo Aura One. Show all posts

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. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Kobo Aura One Review: Despite the flaws, the Kobo Aura One stands-out in the small world of larger e-readers

The Kobo Aura One’s 7.8 screen E-Ink Carta display makes it unique; it is the largest e-reader released by a major vendor since Amazon’s Kindle DX. Expectantly, demand is high. In this review I will focus on the software side and if it maximises on the different use-case possibilities of a larger display.

Hardware 

The 300 PPI display is crisp and sharp. One minor complaint is the Aura One’s flush tablet-like display that slightly affects text contrast – this is possibly due to the screen’s extra layer. Overall, in my view, a flush display does not work with an e-reader screen. The front-light is impressive and uniform, considering the larger eight inch display, and compares well to the Paperwhite (see comparison pictures between the Aura One and Kindle Paperwhite).

An innovative feature, since followed by Tolino with its Vision 4 HD, is Kobo’s ‘Comfort Light’. In the words of Kobo, the Aura One “senses how much light is available, and can automatically adjust the brightness level for you. It can also change the colour of the light”. The auto-brightness light sensor is not new, with Amazon introducing the same feature with Kindle Voyage; what makes ‘Comfort Light’ innovative is the ability to change the colour of the front-light to match the time of day. This feature is similar to blue light filters that many vendors, including Amazon, release with their tablets. I personally turn off the front-light when using an e-reader – to avoid any light emission – but it is a useful feature to ease eye strain for users that don’t mind reading with the front-light on.

Battery life is a negative point. I would estimate the battery life, with both WiFi and front-light turned off, to be between Amazon’s Paperwhite and Android e-readers. The Icarus XL that I reviewed, for example, required a charge within three days of regular use. From my experience, the Aura One has superior battery life compared to the Icarus XL but is significantly behind the Paperwhite. When the Kobo Aura One was released, many users reported problems with excessive battery drain in stand-by mode or when syncing the device. However, a number of updates were since rolled-out and these helped with the battery problems. A problem I noticed – a possible firmware bug – is a sudden ten percent drop in battery when reading – possibly due to background tasks running – and so you need to be mindful that the device is not always reporting the correct battery state. A positive is that the Aura One re-charges quick, compared to other e-readers.

Overall, Kobo clearly put serious thought and consideration with the Aura One’s hardware design and development. The front-light is impressive and uniform for its larger size – far better than the Icarus XL – and the display quality compares well to Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. Also, the device, according to Kobo, is water-proof for up to 60 minutes in up to two meters of water.

Comparison between Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite & Kobo Aura One (click to enlarge)


Light uniformity comparison between the Kobo Aura One and Kindle Paperwhite (click to enlarge)

Kobo Aura One Comfort Light set at maximum (the light incrementally increases to this reddish/orange shade, according to time of day, when set to auto)

Software 

Nickel – Kobo’s operating system – feels under-developed. First, I will state the positives with Nickel, followed by some problems that I experienced:

Positives

(1) Enhanced typographical options – In comparison to Amazon, Kobo offers some extra typographical options. The user is able to add fonts and change both font weight and text alignment. However, changing font weight, without patching the firmware, is not available with side-loaded fonts.

(2) Pocket & Overdrive integration – It is possible for users to sync their saved articles via Pocket integration, to then read on their device. OverDrive integration allows the user to borrow e-books from their local public library to read on the Aura One.

Negatives

(1) Amazon, understandably, due to scale and size difference, offer superior cloud services. For example, with all Kindle devices, the user is able to sync their e-mailed personal e-books (this includes bookmarks, notes and highlights). Further, when the user emails a document to their device it is then available through the recently released Amazon cloud drive. Kobo, with some consideration, could offer similar services through integrating Nickel with external cloud service providers e.g. Dropbox. Kobo already allows user to send and sync online articles via Pocket integration and so further integration with other services is a viable option.

(2) PDF support is poor – Kobo, similar to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, aim to tie their users to their own e-store. Amazon, however, considers PDF support and offers good features e.g. highlighting, taking notes, translation and increasing PDF contrast. While Amazon’s range of Kindle e-readers may be used as a viable PDF e-reader this is not the case with Kobo. Nickel’s PDF software is, at most, a basic viewer, with no way to interact with the text. There is no possibility to highlight or make annotations and both scrolling to navigate and pinch to zoom are erratic. Another problem, is the lack of tap to scroll and so to scroll the user needs to drag down the screen; this is cumbersome and slow with E-Ink.

(3) Problems with EPUB rendering – Kobo’s e-books come in their own propriety format – KEPUB. KEPUB books render well and are responsive to changes in margins, line spacing and offer further typographical options. However, with EPUB e-books, surprisingly, considering KEPUB is based on EPUB, the Aura One rendering is poor. Basic settings, e.g. margins and line spacing, are not responsive to changes in reader settings. This poor EPUB rendering means it would be better to convert side-loaded e-books to Kobo’s native KEPUB format via Calibre – this isn’t a problem with a few e-books but those with large libraries may find the process a hassle. Amazon, adopt a propriety format of MOBI, with their own e-books, but you still get near identical support with side-loaded MOBI e-books. Of course, Amazon adopting MOBI and not supporting EPUB is a definite negative. 

(4) No direct way to export notes and highlights – There is no way to export personal highlights and annotations or to store the exported content online. Amazon, in comparison, with both personal and purchased books, via their Kindle Application, allow users to export their highlights and annotations to Evernote or via email; further, there is the option to create flash cards for revision. To support similar features, it is possible for Kobo to develop a partnership, similar to Pocket, with Evernote. The partnership would then allow the user to store a notebook of their annotations and highlights in the cloud via Evernote integration. Established Android e-reader applications – for example, Moon Reader and Bookari Reader – allow users to export their annotations to their favourite note taking application.

(5) Forced header and footer – By default there is no way to disable the header or footer – both take up a portion of screen estate. It is possible to add a patch to disable both header and footer but the full-screen patch, sometimes, cuts the text at the edge of an e-book. The issue with a header and footer, in my opinion, substantiates the central problem with Nickel – an operating system with some stand-out features, e.g. Pocket, Over-Drive integration and extra typographical options, but with under-developed and limited e-reading features.

(6) Navigating device folders – This feature is neglected by both Kobo and Amazon. It is possible to organise your side-loaded through folders but there is no option to navigate these folders on the device. Kobo allows the user to create collections, to categorise both purchased and side-loaded books. However, unlike Amazon, Kobo only syncs purchased books to the created collection.

(7) Highlighting text is cumbersome and you need to be careful when dragging to select the required passage. Further, there is some lag when entering text for annotations.

I think the major problem with Nickel is that it was designed primarily to support purchased Kobo e-books and is directed at leisurely reading. Users who wish to use a Kobo device as an all-round e-reader, to interact and engage with an e-book, will find the device’s firmware limiting. Many features, noted above, are easily integrated into Nickel but it seems that Kobo’s views their primary goal to sell fiction e-books (similar observations may be applied to other vendors). I would still say Kobo’s support for KEPUB is good – specifically its expanded typographical settings that others don’t offer – and so the Aura One, despite the noted limitations, is a viable e-book reader. However, the same cannot be said in regard to PDF support.

KOReader 

Unfortunately, due to poor PDF support, installing KOReader is a necessity if the user requires a functional and feature rich PDF reader. Below are some issues to consider with KOReader:

(1) Battery life in KOReader – Compared to Nickel, KOReader is not yet optimised with the Aura One. In comparison to Nickel, and this applies to PDF reading, I noticed the battery drains quicker. In other words, expect battery life to be reduced if you intend to use KOReader regularly. However, there are regular nightly releases of KOReader and battery life continues to be improved. If you are willing to use KOReader then, in my opinion, it is the best PDF reader, at the moment, available for E-Ink.

(2) Central PDF features work well in KOReader – PDF text recognition, highlighting, annotation, cropping, increasing contrast and touch to scroll all work well with the Aura One. Also, compared to Nickel, PDF rendering speed is much better. I personally use KOReader exclusively as a PDF reader and export my annotations offline to the device’s storage. Thus, I haven’t tried more advanced features.

(3) The installation process is not difficult but it is not for the novice user – anything that goes wrong with the e-reader, during the installation process, may void the device’s warranty. I would prefer if Kobo offered a viable PDF reader to avoid third party applications but, at the moment, it is only the option for users that want more from the Aura One.

Overall, if you are looking for a larger e-reader then the Aura One is the one to choose. Smaller vendors, e.g. Onyx and Boyue re-branded e-readers, do not match Kobo for hardware quality. Yes, these e-readers offer greater versatility with Android pre-installed but usually the screen quality is sub-par in comparison to the Kobo Aura One – an e-reader is defined, foremost, by its display quality. If Amazon released an eight inch Kindle then it would be, by far, the stand-out choice. At this time, in the small world of larger e-readers, Kobo Aura One is the best option. Fortunately, due to the community driven KOReader project, the user can use the Aura One as an all-round e-reader, despite the limitations of Nickel.

Pros 

Enhanced typographical options
Pocket and Overdrive integration
Excellent display
Impressive and uniform lighting for a 7.8 inch device
Comfort Light is an innovative feature
Relatively open, with the possibility to install third-party software and patches

Cons 

Restricted software features
Poor PDF support
Slow PDF rendering
Poor EPUB rendering
Sub-par battery life for an e-reader

 Overall Verdict: 7/10

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Kobo Aura One's software

I will be reviewing the Kobo Aura One soon. However, I will be using this post to note one point regarding the device - the software does let-down the overall experience. My experience with the Aura One cements just how superior Amazon's software is compared to Nickel (Nickel is the operating system Kobo built for their e-readers). In the upcoming review I will provide some examples. Despite the software let-down, I like the Kobo Aura One and would easily recommend it over any other eight inch e-reader out there. Of course, in recommending the Aura One, it should be noted that the pool of larger e-readers is small.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Problems with the Kobo Aura One cover?

There are some reports of problems with the Kobo Aura One’s official cover - specifically, some covers fail to put the device to sleep when closed. Kobo decided to put the power button on the back, so it is difficult to find a universal case that is compatible with the device. However, some iPad Mini cases work with the Aura One. Two features identify these compatible cases - first, is the use of elastic bands or flexible bands that holds the device (most iPad Mini cases come with a form fitting hard plastic casing). Second, a large hole at the back for the camera.

The Kobo Aura One is similar to the iPad Mini’s dimensions and, due to this, flexible elastic bands should work with the device. Further, as the device’s power button is placed on the upper left of the device, it matches the location of the iPad Mini’s camera and so it is possible to access the power button. As an example, I’ve found Belkin’s ‘Smooth Bi-Fold Case for iPad Mini’ to be compatible with the Kobo Aura One.

Monday, 5 September 2016

What is the right e-reader size for PDF files?

The release of the 7.8 inch Kobo Aura One raises the question on what makes the right size to read PDF files. The answer depends on use-case scenarios. For example, many humanities books come in an A5 size and the 8 inch form factor is ideal for these books. On the other hand, science books and complicated PDF files, with a two column layout, require closer to 10 inches to be comfortably read. Similarly complex magazine pages are better suited to larger colour tablets.

Personally, I find the eight to nine inch e-reader to be the right size. At this size there is the right compromise between size for comfortable reading and portability. It is not too small, e.g. six to seven inches, but not too big for one-handed reading. The portability and convenience of a smaller form factor makes a big difference for long reading sessions, especially outdoors or in tight spaces on public transport.  I prefer to read in portrait but can switch to landscape, if half a book page is viewable and text size is legible. With six inch e-readers the landscape view often gives you snippets or small text and it is easier to lose your place within a larger book.

Another important factor to consider, especially with the eight inch e-reader, is the right software to optimise reading with an eight inch screen. With KOReader, for example, it is possible to set reading to scroll mode and alter PDF page margins. Accordingly, many PDF files can be comfortably viewed and navigated, considering the restrictions of a smaller eight inch screen, in portrait mode.

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.