e-Reader Reviews

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Amazon has put together their first true true tablet aimed at children with the Fire HD Kids Edition. This device incorporates a free subscription to Kindle Unlimited, which has thousands of apps, books and movies on a À la carte basis. It also has a child proof case that ships with the unit and a two year warranty.

Hardware

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The Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition on a fundamental hardware level is the exact same as the Fire HD7. It has a seven inch capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 1280 X 800 pixels. The colors look rich and vibrant, but it certainly won’t break any barriers in terms of the 216 PPI.

Underneath the hood is a quadcore 1.5 GHZ processor, 1 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of internal storage. There is also a rear facing camera with 3 MP and a fairly woeful front facing .03 MP camera.

When you buy the kids tablet it comes with your choice of colors for the rubber protective housing. There is a few that will appeal to boys and girls, such as blue, pink and yellow. There is ample room for the speakers, Micro USB and power buttons, as to not obfuscate them from easy access.

Speaking of speakers (see what I did there?) the stereo ones on the back provide some fairly bombastic sound levels. It does not exceed the Dolby Audio found on the HDX 8.9, but Amazon consistently delivers the best audio experience on tablets. This makes sense, because they are heavily invested in their Instant Video division, music and audiobooks.

If you have been a parent for long, when kids attach themselves to something that makes a lot of noise, it can be frustrating. This unit has a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can get them to attach some earphones, when they read the enhanced eBook for the 100th time.

Software

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The Fire Kids Tablet has Android 4.4 loaded on it, but since its so heavily skinned you will likely not tell the difference between an older version of Android. When you fire (see what I did there again?) up the device for the first time you are presented with the option to register some children profiles. If you have one, or many, they can personalize their app, book and video experiences so they don’t overlap.

Parents will get one year of Freetime Unlimited with purchase, this gives over 5,000 books, videos and apps. Anything accessed via the Freetime interface is completely free. So you won’t have to worry about any types of apps with micro transactions, there simply aren’t any.

There are a number of options that can be employed to keep your kids using the tablet on a respectable level. There are options to establish when the tablet can be used and when it automatically turns off. Parameters can be defined for the weekday and weekends. I like the fact there can be reading goals, such as read for 2 hours a day and play video games for X hours. It encourages kids to read, with the proverbial carrot being mindless entertainment.

This tablet is perfect for a household because on one hand you have a unique interface, clearly aimed at kids. When you enter the parental password it turns into a quintessential Amazon experience. You can buy eBooks, audiobooks, apps, movies, television shows and any other core digital content Amazon sells. You can read your favorite newspaper and read some manga.

The Fire HD Kids Edition is a tablet that is aimed at a household with not a lot of money to spend. They want these types of customers to feel confident that they will have an unlimited two year warranty if anything should go awry with it. It has enough bells and whistles on a software level to keep the little ones entertained, without having to spend anything extra for a year. Parents can access any of the content they bought on prior Fire models or if they had a Kindle, everything is preserved.

Wrap Up

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There are many companies involved in the tablet sector that aim their products at kids. Fisher Price, Samsung, V.Tech and others have all sorts of gadgets you can buy at Walmart or your local Toys R US. Amazon did something different. They made a product aimed at kids, but also at adults. It doesn’t feel like a cheap tablet, made of plastic, its rugged and durable.

I would recommend this tablet to parents on an extreme budget and don’t have luxury items like the iPad. If you have the 2013 edition of the Fire HD, there really isn’t any need to upgrade to this.

PROS

1 Year Freetime Unlimited
2 Year Unlimited Warranty
Durable Rubber case to protect the tablet
Speaker quality is solid

CONS

Resolution could be better
Video service is only relevant in the US only
Hardware specs are average

Rating: 7.5/10


Categories : e-Reader Reviews
Comments (1)

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Amazon has just released their 3rd generation flagship Fire 8.9 tablet and it has a new naming convention. The company has dropped the name Kindle and the device is just known as the Fire HDX 8.9, a bit simpler.

The 8.9 edition has always cost the most money and this time around it is a staggering $379, which puts it in the same territory as the iPad. The question is, if you have last years HDX model, is this worth upgrading? Additionally, many Fire HD owners may want a bigger screen to play games, read books and watch movies, is this a viable investment?

Hardware

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One of the benefits of the entire Fire 2014 product line is that it is fully compatible with the Fire TV. IT has a feature called the second screen, which allows you to replicate exactly whats on your tablet on the television. This is similar technology that the iPhone and iPad employ to build synergy via Air Play to the Apple TV.

The 8.9 slate has a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels and 339 PPI. The screen composition is IPS LCD and features a capacitive touchscreen, able to display about sixteen million colors. One of the new graphical enhancements was the inclusion of “Dynamic Light Control”, which changes the white balance of the pages in reading mode to make it look more like paper depending on the ambient light conditions. That means it can go from cool to warm, from blue to nearly yellow.

Underneath the hood is Qualcomms Snapdragon 805 chip, which is top of the line. It clocks in at a staggering 2.5 GHz via the quad-core processor and has 2 GB RAM. Raw performance aside, Amazon is claiming 12 hours of runtime this year, roughly similar to its predecessor. In addition to that 805 chip, this is also the first tablet with Dolby’s Atmos surround sound technology.

In a side by side comparison with the 2013 edition of the Fire HDX, this new model blows it away with sound quality. You can really hear the difference and if you have solid Noise Cancelling headphones or high-end headphones you will notice an immediate difference with the clarity. You will NOT get the same audio quality using ear buds though, so don’t even try. I always thought the HDX 2013 model had the best sound in ALL tablets, but the 2014 version now takes the crown. If you want the best tablet audio experience, buy this ASAP.

The overall design has just changed from the one released in 2013 and the 2014 model. Side by side it looks exactly the same, all of the Micro USB, speakers, headphone jack, cameras and speakers are positioned the same. I could tell that it was a little bit thinner, and 30% lighter due to the lightweight nature of the new components.

To be completely honest, this is a solid tablet on a fundamental level. On paper the specs are crazy and can compete with anything currently on the market. The inclusion of a new line of Kindle Keyboards that attach to the Fire, much akin to the Microsoft Surface is welcome. The Sound, the design, resolution blow away anything Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Samsung or Google have done this year.

Software

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Amazon has never provided a cookie cutter vanilla Android experience like most of its competitors do. Instead, they have their own skinned version which builds upon familiarity the more time you spend with it. Previous Fire owners will feel right at home with Sangria, the name of the Android 4.4 OS.

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There are a number of software enhancements not found on any other Fire HDX model. The first is Firefly, one of the core features that helped sell the Fire Phone. It basically uses the rear facing camera to scan books, UPC, or bar codes and pulls up the Amazon listing for it. Additionally, it borrows a page out of Shazam’s playbook and helps identify music.

Amazon has built quite a media empire with with their movies, television shows and music. They are really trying hard to compete against Netflix by doing a ton of original programming. One of the unique things that they do is invest in a series of pilots and then have the crowd determine what is good enough to warrant a full season. Building on this, the company has developed Advanced Streaming And Prediction (ASAP). What it does is buffer advance content you are watching. Lets say you are you watching Alpha House on Instant Video and check out episode one. It will buffer episode two and three in advance so you will not have to wait, and will be able to view the entire episode immediately.

One of the features that proved to be critically popular in the last generation of tablets was MAYDAY. This feature gives you free access to By 24/7, 365-days-a-year tech support at a click of a button. A small video chat window appears to a rep in the call center to assist users with hundreds of small issues. It is important to note that you can see them, but they cannot see you, only hear you from the built in microphone.

Lets talk about the main UI that the Fire HDX provides. First of all, there is a small carousel of apps, books or any type of new content you have accessed for the first time or stuff you bought from Amazon. You can quickly navigate to the store of your choice and access eBooks, music, videos, apps, audiobooks and other useful stuff like Cloud Photos.

Amazon has their own app store, which is your gateway of getting new content. This tablet is not compatible with Google Services, so Google Play is out. The Amazon App Store is growing, but it still does not have apps from people who compete against their own core business model. You won’t find Comixology, Kobo, Nook, Moon+ Reader or thousands of awesome e-reading, eBook, manga or comic book apps. You can load in your own apps by installing a 3rd party app market, like our own Good e-Reader App Store.

One of the drawbacks on the Amazon store is the data files, or OBB files. Amazon makes developers physically host them and this can rack up the bills with games that have 1.2 GB of extra assets to download. Many of the top developers simply don’t upload their content to Amazon, and instead use Google, which is on more devices.

e-Reading Experience

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When it comes to eBook discovery and search engine algorithms, nobody in the e-reader space can touch Amazon. They account for over 70% of all digital book sales in North America and similar stats for the United Kingdom. One of the ways they have been so successful, is cornerstoning specific markets, like Audiobooks.

Audible is the most successful platform to ever be bought and incorporated into everything Amazon does. They not only have the largest library but they also are the ones that feed Apple content. When you browse the iTunes store for audiobooks on any iOS device, everything is sourced by Audible.

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One of the ways Amazon has built synergy between audiobooks and their tablets is WhisperSync for Voice. You can purchase an eBook and the corresponding audiobook and actually read the book and play the audio edition at the same time. While you are doing this, the words get highlighted, which is excellent for someone learning how to read or learning a new language. Amazon also built technology that remembers where you are in the eBook and you can pick up where you left off while listening to the audio edition.

The core of any Amazon mobile device is reading. The entire process of reading is much akin to the Kindle App for Android, if you have used it. There are options to change the size of the font, change the font type completely or adjust the line spacing or margins.

X-Ray is one of the seminal Kindle reading features that is severely underrated. It basically gives you a rundown of the people, places and things in a an eBook. This is really useful for non-fiction that may throw a bunch of terms you have never heard before or historical fiction that will inevitably make reference to terminology that is beyond you.

GoodReads also plays a small role in your daily reading life. I find that reading digitally is a solitary endeavor. You aren’t going to a real bookstore and interacting with fellow book lovers. You buy and read by yourself, but GoodReads attempts to make this social. There are virtual bookclubs you can elect to join or even engage in Q/A with your favorite authors. There is also an option to develop your own reading lists and set personal goals for yourself.

Not only can you read eBooks, but there is a rendering engine for magazines and newspapers. Reading them have animated page turns with curl, which means you can swipe to peak whats on the next page. You can also initiate scroll mode, which gives you all of the pages within a certain issue to jump to a specific article or news item.

Wrap Up

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The Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 may cost a pretty penny, but it is the best tablet they have ever made. It plays nice with the Fire TV and has enough innovative features that it makes a worthy upgrade from older models. This is one of the best Android tablets ever made and Amazon really hit a home run with their 3rd generation model.

PROS

Hardware is Amazing
FireFly and ASAP are welcome additions
Audiobooks and eBooks have the biggest selection anywhere
Audio quality is the best in class in ANY tablet

Cons

Expensive
Amazon App Store lacks in specific areas
No SD Card
Can’t access the files via USB if the Tablet is in standby mode

Rating: 9.5/10


Comments (3)

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Barnes and Noble has been making tablets since 2010 and designed all of them in-house with their RND team in California. After four generations and $1.2 billion dollars in loses they decided to outsource the hardware to Samsung and focus on developing apps. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook 10.1 is the offspring of this new partnership, giving people the safety and security of being able to walk into their local Barnes and Noble bookstore to buy the device, but also take it back for tech support.

The bookstore as a primary vehicle to sell e-readers and tablets has always been B&N’s greatest strength. Often when you buy things from eBay or from Amazon, it is quite difficult to return products or get any type of warranty. Many users have stuck with the Nook brand over the years because if anything goes wrong, from a cracked screen or a faulty battery they often swap it out on the spot or assist you with common issues or firmware updates.

Is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 a viable investment? If you own the Nook HD+ or Nook Tablet, is this a good upgrade? Today, we evaluate this 10.1 inch device and answer all of your questions.

Hardware

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The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook 10.1 edition has the largest screen found in any Nook device in the past. The Bookseller often just sold seven inch tablets and broke the mold with the HD+ which was nine inches. Having a largest screen displays more characters in an eBook and makes media content really shine. The resolution is only 1280 x 800 pixels at 149 PPI, which is a bit of a downgrade on paper from the Nook HD+ which had 1920 x 1280 pixels. In reality, if you put the two tablets side by side, the Samsung variant actually has a better screen. You simply don’t notice terrible resolution, in-fact the new model looks better.

Underneath the hood is a 1.2 GHZ Quad core ARM Cortex-A7 processor and 1.5 GB of RAM. This keeps things rather speedy overall, but I did find that some of the apps created by Nook actually took a few seconds to load, which was abnormal.

Nook owners have been clambering for years for the inclusion of a camera to be able to take pictures or shoot video. Their pleas have been heard and you now have a 1.3 MP front facing camera and 3 MP rear facing. This certainly won’t win any awards as more companies are touting their super high-end cameras, but at least you will be able to use apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Vine.

Make no mistake about it, this is a Samsung tablet with no Nook branding on it at all. The only thing that makes it feel like a Nook is the logo on the boot screen and some of the customized widgets and apps that are on your home screen. It may have made economical sense to source the hardware to Samsung, instead of developing it yourself, but its at the expense of brand recognition.

Software

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The Samsung Nook 10.1 tablet is running Android 4.4, otherwise known as Kit-Kat. There is no word on whether or not it will receive the latest Lollipop update to provide further enhancements to the OS.

When you turn on the tablet for the first time there are two main widgets on your home screen, one that accesses your library and the other to visit the store. This provides easy access to all of the new purchases you have made, but also if you are upgrading from an older tablet or even the Nook line of e-Readers, everything is stored in the cloud.

There are three app stores packed on the device, the Nook App Store, Samsung Galaxy App Store and Google Play. All three require you to register and make a new account, but I think Google is the logical choice. There simply are better quality apps available, chiefly because the Samsung store is fairly woeful and only has a few thousands. The Nook App Store does not allow any apps that compete its core business. You won’t find Comixology, Amazon, Kobo or any other magazine, newspaper or e-reading app.

There are a few customized apps that Barnes and Noble has made to give distinctiveness to the user experience. Lets take a look at all of them.

Nook Library

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The Nook Library houses all of the purchases you have made from Barnes and Noble. This includes eBooks, comics, magazines, newspapers, television shows. There is a shop button on the top right hand corner, which opens up their online store that sells all of the content.

eBooks are opened by the quintessential Nook app for Android, which has been available on Google Play for years. One of the things I always liked about reading on the Nook is the different backgrounds. Kobo and Kindle have always just had three different background colors, but Nook has six. You can easily change the bright white background to Sepia or different shades of off-white. This makes it easier to read in the dark, without having to strain your eyes. I also dig the way Nook handles animated page turns, wikipedia lookups and built in dictionary.

Magazines and Newspapers are opened via a special Nook for Magazine app that has been completely revised for this new Samsung model. The one thing I really like, aside from the animated page turns is “article view.” This strips away all of the images and CSS and turns a magazine into an eBook.

Nook Shop

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The Nook Shop was designed as a standalone app that lets you browse books, magazines, movies & TV, Kids, Apps, Newspapers and Comics. The only thing international users cannot access is media content, but all others are completely viable. The Home screen is curated content by the Nook team, currently they are hyping “Passion for Passion” and “Your Favorite Heroes.”

Nook Search

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Nook Search is a standalone app that allows you to type in key terms that you want to look for in the shop. You can look at specific keywords, such as “post apocalyptic” or “Potter.” It will then give you a huge list of titles matching your search results in everything B&N offers in their store.

 

Nook Settings

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The last unique aspect of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is the customized Nook Settings. Now it is important to note that you do have access to traditional Android settings too.

Nook settings allows you to control the way all of the dedicated Nooks apps behave. You can download alternative dictionaries and make them your default. Right now there is only six, but I was told more are on the way.

Reading Experience

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This tablet really shines when reading the average eBook title. Ideally, you want to read eBooks in portrait mode because in landscape it gives you a two column view. To be honest, I prefer to read in landscape mode, but was disappointed that there was no way to  remove the two column reading experience and instead was relegated to reading in portrait.

There are eight different font sizes to choose from and six font types. There are plenty of options to optimize the line spacing, margins and themes. I like the way the themes work on this device. I am sure we have all tried reading on a smartphone or tablet and the black text on bright white background can be straining on the eyes. The inclusion of themes mutes the background color into all sorts of off-whites that remind me of vellum and Sepia.  Switching between any of the reading options is really inutitive and easy to determine what setting you want to tweak. This is a stark contrast to the new of Fire Tablets where nothing is labeled, and you have no idea on what setting does what.

This tablet falls off a cliff when it comes to comics, magazines and newspapers. The rendering engine they use does not really give you much zooming options, and often the text is too small to read. You will have to rely on ArticleView, which is the option to strip away all of the CSS elements, and give you pure text. This is useful, but for example with a newspaper, you have to do this every single page, and gets really tedious.

I think the problem is that it is using the magazine rendering engine for all content and  newspapers and comics are not optimized properly. I would firmly encourage everyone to not buy this content from Barnes and Noble and instead do business with a company specializing in it. If comics are  your thing, Comixology. Marvel, Dark Horse, Made Fire and plenty of others have excellent user experiences. If you are into Manga, Chrunchyroll Manga and VIZ are two solid ecosystems to buy and read. For newspapers, I would firmly recommend Press Reader, as they  have replica editions of thousands of newspapers from around the world. Finally, if digital magazines are your bag, Zinio continues to be the best value for Android.

So aside from eBooks, you ideally want to do business with different companies, but what about audiobooks? Barnes and Noble has just unveiled their new Nook Audiobook app that is available on Google Play, Good e-Reader and the Nook App Store. It has 50,000 titles, which has something for everyone. The app is really solid, has a great interface and another reason to buy into the Nook ecosystem.

Wrap Up

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook 10.1 edition costs $319 dollars and provides huge screen real estate for all of your reading needs. There is more text on the screen at once when compared to the seven inch version released last month.  The speakers are actually really nice too,  they are placed on the top right and left corners,  ensuring that you will never be muffling them when holding the tablet with two hands.

After using this 10.1 inch tablet for a few weeks, I have actually grown to really like it. Living in Canada the only restrictions that Nook places on me is the ability to rent or buy television shows or movies. This content is geographically locked, so you can’t access content unless you live in the US or UK.  Really, I wouldn’t even buy this type of content from Barnes and Noble anyways because I have a subscription to the WWE Network, Netflix and Crunchyroll. If I need to buy a movie, I’ll just get it on iTunes and sync it to my iPad or Apple TV.

The question is, should you upgrade to this model if you have an older Nook tablet. I would, it is very modern and will easily last you a few years of constant use. Nook HD and HD+ owners will get value, but if you have any of the older models, this will be a night and day experience.

PROS

Giant 10.1 inch screen
Great Speakers
Excellent eBook experience
Google Play makes it easy to download new apps
Two Cameras
Huge Keyboard makes typing easy

CONS

Exclusive two column view on eBooks
Comics, Magazines, Newspapers viewing is weak
Takes 8 hours to charge it from max power when battery is drained
Does not feel like a Nook Tablet, no Nook branding

Rating: 8/10


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Apple seldom gives people a reason to upgrade to each new iteration of the iPad. The last major breakthrough was the Retina Display that made its way to the iPad Mini and iPad 4. This allowed readers to enjoy high-definition comics, magazines and digital media that Android users have been asking for awhile. Is the iPad 2 a worthy investment if you already have the one that launches last year?

Hardware

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The iPad Air 2 managed to shave off 18% off the thickness from the first generation Air; it’s now an almost impossible 6.1mm thick, and 1.4mm slimmer than the original iPad Air. At 437g, down from 469g, it’s one of the lightest large-screen tablets on the market.

Apple’s iPad Air 2 contains a new chip called the A8X, an SoC that’s faster than the A7 in the original iPad Air or the iPad Mini 2 and 3 and the A8 in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Apple would only say that the chip’s CPU is about 40 percent faster than the A7 and that it has a GPU that’s 2.5 times faster. It also has 2GB of RAM to keep things speedy on a hardware level.

In practice, the iPad Air 2 is capable of running programs usually seen on laptop computers. This includes the impressive video-editing capabilities of iMovie and the newly launched app Replay that synchronizes photos and videos to music. The processing boost also comes into its own when playing big-name games like FIFA 15, Modern Combat 5: Blackout, or the 1GB download Asphalt 8: Airborne.

One of the new features, not found on an Apple tablet before is Touch ID, the easy-to-use fingerprint reader introduced on the iPhone 5S, which makes security better and is needed to use the new Apple Pay service for buying things without using a credit card or typing in a credit card number. Apple Pay only works when making in-app purchases online, not in stores. Could you imagine waving your tablet around in a store? Anyways Touch ID is even more useful now than it was before; iOS 8 enabled third-party developer support for the fingerprint sensor, so you can use it to access sensitive account information or passwords.

When it comes to cameras, I can’t stand to take photos on my tablet. I have been using iPads since they first came out and buy each new generation. I don’t think I have ever taken a single picture, but than again I am likely not the target demographic. The iPad Air 2 steps up to 8MP resolution, whereas the iPad Air 1 only had a 5MP rear facing camera. The new camera has a Image Signal Processor (ISP) as part of the new A8X chipset. On the software side, the new camera comes with Burst Mode, as well as slow-motion video capture in 720p at 120fps. There’s still no LED flash on front or back this time around, however.

Here’s what the iPad Air 2 doesn’t have: A higher-resolution screen, a bigger screen, longer battery life, a snap-on keyboard, Beats Audio, better speakers,or a lower base price.

Apple Introduces new SIM technology

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Apple has introduced a new way to change carrier companies for data plans without having the swap out the SIM card. This convenience is limited to just a few countries and carriers at launch — Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T in the US and EE in the UK — but over time, the selection of willing operators may improve.

The way this works is an option in the settings menu for internet access. You can change who you deal with on the fly and the SIM is automatically changed to the carrier you want to deal with. This may pave the way for incentives to keep people loyal or special events to get everything to switch to your company at once for a limited promotion.

Display

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The Apple iPad Air 2 has a staggering resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. Nothing much has changed since the iPad 4 and this tablet is still the flagship model that companies turn to, for HD content.

For example, Comixology a few years ago developed a new HD comics standard called CMX HD. This dramatically increased the resolution and vibrancy of digital comics. SD comics often take up about 80 MB of storage, but HD editions often are as large as 300-400 MB. This is a privilege only Apple users enjoy, and has still not crossed over to Android, due to the fragmentation of screen sizes and varying degrees of resolution.

Apple was able to ultimately trim down the iPad by using a laminated, optically bonded, no-gap display similar to the ones used on the iPhone and even the Microsoft Surface tablets. Not only does the new panel save vertical space by eliminating any gaps of air between the display layers, but it also makes the screen significantly less reflective. This is meant to reduce the amount of glare hitting the screen, whether you’re reading in direct sunlight or watching movies under harsh fluorescent lights. I’m happy to report that it works as advertised

Wrap Up

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The iPad Air 2 is not worth the upgrade if you already have the Air 1. Aside from the enhanced hardware, better camera and Touch ID, there simply isn’t anything compelling. The Absence of NFC relegates Apple Pay to being able to make App Store purchases, without having to type in your password. This might be useful for busy households with kids, who you don’t want them racking up thousands of dollars with Candy Crush micro-transactions.

The Air 2 is worth it to upgrade to, if you have a three or four year old Apple Tablet, you will notice a dramatic improvement when it comes to reading, but you are better off buying the iPad Air 1 if you can get a good deal on eBay or your local tech store.

Basics

9.7-inch, 2048×1546 display with 264 ppi
Antireflective coating
A8X 64-bit chip, M8 motion coprocessor
8MP iSight (front-facing) camera, 1.2MP FaceTime HD (front-facing) camera
Touch ID
802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
6.1 mm thick, under 1 lb
MSRP: Wi-fi – $499 (16GB), $599 (64GB), $699 (128GB); Wi-Fi + Cellular – $629 (16GB), $729 (64GB), $829 (128GB)

PROS

Anti-reflection screen coating
Faster processing
More RAM
Wireless Connection is faster
Touch ID

CONS

Very Minor Upgrade
No Mute button or rotation lock
Apple SIM does not work in Canada or Australia

Comments (2)

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The Kindle Basic for the first time ever has a new touchscreen, all prior models had a D-Pad and physical page turn keys. Customers switching over to the new Kindle from a smartphone or a tablet will find it an easy adjustment. Today, we take a comprehensive look at the e-reading and overall hardware experience to give you a sense on how it performs.

Hardware

The Kindle Basic features a six inch touchscreen with a resolution of 800 x 600 at 167 ppi. The touchscreen technology is using Infrared, courtesy of Neonode. The fonts and overall screen clarity have been dramatically increased and in a head to head comparison with the Kindle Paperwhite 2, the Kindle Basic had a whiter background and crisper fonts, which was very surprising.

Underneath the hood is a 1 GHZ Freescale processor and 512 MB of RAM. Amazon has doubled up the amount of internal memory from 2 GB on prior models of the basic model to 4 GB. This in effect gives you the ability to store more books and PDF files on your device, without having to run in there and free up space.

Amazon has gone more angular with the Basic touchscreen Kindle, but surprisingly, despite its abandonment of physical controls, the gadget is actually heavier than its predecessor, and slightly larger in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. The case is made from a hard plastic, instead of hard rubber. This makes it feel less premium, but at $79 for the entry level cost, I am not complaining.

I am a big fan of the new direction that Amazon has took with the Kindle Basic. Now that this model has replaced the prior generation, Amazon currently does not offer any other e-readers that don’t have a touchscreen, which should make it more accessible for the average reader.

Software

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This new model has the exact same firmware as the Kindle Paperwhite 2, and mirrors it in all respects. You have the ability to directly access over two million books via the Kindle bookstore. I like the fact that the e-reader version of the store looks the same as the website, so there is no weird adjustment you have to undertake. GoodReads also plays a prominent role on the main UI, which is the social eBook discovery website they purchased.

Reading on a digital reader and buying books online is normally a solitary experience. Unlike visiting a real bookstore, that is populated by staff that love books and customers all there for the same reason, e-readers make you feel alone. GoodReads gives you access to virtual book clubs and provides a layered social element, which is refreshing.

Amazon provides a number of options in their sub-menu system that are not overly complicated to the average user. Some of the most notable ones is Kindle Freetime, which allows parents to establish a permission based system and account management to let little Johnny to read, but maybe not access the store or internet browser. Speaking of internet, the “Experimental Browser” is still in beta, almost a seven years since it was first unveiled.

The Kindle software feels really polished, you will seldom have to wait a few seconds for a menu to open or for a process to launch. This is really refreshing because I remember only a few years ago where I frequently had to put up with full page refreshes that took ten seconds and clunky interfaces that were counter intuitive.

If you have used a Kindle over the course of the last few years, Amazon really hasn’t done anything new with the software, but has promised future firmware updates. One of the updates will allow you to find out more about an author, if the book is apart of a series and what the other titles are and allow you to get discounts on purchasing them all at once.

eBook Reading Experience

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The one thing that really surprised me on the overall reading experience was being able to pinch and zoom while reading PDF files. The Kobo Aura H20, which costs $199 does not have this ability. Instead, you have a really clunky interface that takes 4 steps to isolate a particular region in a document.

The Kindle Basic handles pinching and zooming like a boss. Its more responsive than the Kindle Paperwhite 2 in this regard. When exploring a complex document a small preview window appears on the top left hand corner, which contains a snapshot of the page you are on. This helps orient you on where exactly you are on the page.

The other aspect that I really liked was the ability to take notes, make highlights and translate words in a PDF document. When you really think about it, a PDF is basically one giant image. Amazon is the only company that lets you augment text or give you advanced options to really craft a solid PDF experience. The only company to to do it better is Sony, and that is via the Digital Paper, which is PDF focused and costs $999.

The average user will find themselves reading books they just purchased from Amazon. This is where the reader really shines, there are a number of options to really refine the look and feel of a book, but doesn’t have a ton of complex options. You can change the size of the font and whatever one you select instantly appears on the screen, without the need of existing the reading menu and saving the options. You can also change the linespacing and margins. Page turn speed has been dramatically increased over prior models, you will likely never notice a full page refresh and the entire process is lightning quick.

In many cases, you might be reading a book and not understand a specific word. There are two built in dictionaries issued to customers living in North America. If you live in Japan or China, for the first time ever the Kindle Basic is being marketed there and has those countries respected dictionaries bundled on it.

Another feature I like is translations. This works in both Amazon purchased books and PDF files. You can select a specific word or complete body of text and translate it from one language to another. Any market that Amazon officially supports is available. Currently there are 15 languages from Simplified Chinese to French. This might be useful to someone who is learning a new language, or if a particular book has a number of idioms.

Wrap up

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In the end, this is one of the best entry level e-readers ever made. It has cool features like X-Ray, so if you are juggling many different books at once, you can get a sense of the major characters, places and things referenced in the book.

This $79 entry level e-reader is perfect for someone who has never had one before or are thinking of giving the Amazon ecosystem a try. Owners of the D-Pad enabled Basic model from years past, will find this edition is a very solid upgrade and well worth the money.

PROS

Touchscreen
4 GB of internal storage
Pinch and Zoom PDF Files
Page Turns are lightning quick
Same Firmware as Kindle Paperwhite 2

CONS

Battery Life is weaker than the prior Kindle Basic
e-Reader is heavier than prior versions
Internet Browser prone to crashing

Rating: 9/10

Comments (5)

fire phone

The Amazon Fire phone is getting skewed heavily in the smartphone world and the average rating on the main Amazon website is a paltry two out of five stars. This device is basically a gateway to shopping on Amazon and Prime members ultimately benefit the most from having his as their primary handset. How relevant is the Fire Phone in Canada or outside of the US? Today, Peter does a hands on video review to see if this phone is solid or not.

If you have ever heard of the Fire phone before, no worries. It is primary marketed to the US and UK. It is notable for its hallmark feature “Dynamic Perspective”: using four front-facing cameras and the gyroscope to track the user’s movements, the OS adjusts the UI so that it gives the impression of depth and 3D. Other notable Amazon services on the phone include X-Ray, used for identifying and finding information about media; Mayday, the 24-hour customer service tool; and Firefly, a tool that automatically recognizes text, sounds, and objects then offers a way to buy it through Amazon’s online store.

Amazon is really hyping the 4.7 inch IPS display that is optimized to using it outdoors. How does this really perform in real world tests? As an added bonus, Peter does an outdoor reading test, using the Kindle app.


Comments (2)

pocketbook ultra

The Pocketbook Ultra e-reader has just been released and its the first device out there that has a built in camera. Its mainly used to snap profile pics or to scan books. It uses the exact same e-Ink Carta technology employed on the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2 and Kobo Aura H20, which will give you faster page turns and higher resolution. How exactly does this e-reader perform in real world conditions and is it a viable investment?

Hardware

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The Pocketbook Ultra features a six inch e-ink Carta display screen with a resolution of 1024×758. This device uses Neonode IR technology, so you won’t be able to pinch and zoom. Instead, users will have to employ single or double taps in order to access the menus or settings.

Underneath the hood is a 1GHZ processor and 512 MB of RAM. Users will have 4 GB of internal memory and the ability to enhance it further via a MicroSD Card.

pocketbook ultra camera

This e-reader has a few things going for it, that make it stand out in a crowded marketplace. It has a 5 MP rear facing camera, that is ironically placed on the bottom right hand corner. There is a small LED light that assists in snapping photos, but the entire process is a bit convoluted.

Lets say you are outside and want to take a picture of a flower. You need to open the photo app on the home screen and wait around five seconds to get a sketch outline. You can think of this is a state that is not fully rendered. Once you take the picture, it will take another five seconds for the full image to give you full resolution. Photos are viewed in the gallery, and can be used for your boot up logo or can be exported to your PC.

One of the weird things about the camera is the photos you take are not taken in e-ink. When you snap a picture or scan a page out of a book and export it to your PC, they are actually in full color. Normally, this would not be a problem, but five megapixels is not enough to get a great rendering. Things tend to look really grainy as an end result, which might not be the best call for high quality book, magazine or comic OCR scanning.

The Ultra has a front-lit display that allows you to read in the dark. Unlike smartphones and tablets, the light does not emit from behind the screen. Instead, it has five LED lights on the bottom of the bezel that evenly distribute light across the screen. This lighting system is one of the drawbacks, it does not really illuminate the screen properly even at maximum brightness. In a side by side comparison against the Kobo Aura H20 or the Kindle Paperwhite 2, the Ultra gave a really lackluster experience.

The vast majority of e-readers these days have abandoned audio. Companies such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo are in a race to offer the most affordable hardware possible, and audio increases the overall cost. The Pocketbook Ultra does have built in audio, but the only way to listen to text to speech or MP3 files is via the 3.5 mm headphone jack.

Design wise the Pocketbook Ultra has 2 physical page turn keys, but they are on the back of the unit. Most e-readers have the keys right on the front, on the left and right hand side. Pocketbook went the non-conventional route and has them on the back. At first, I thought this was a weird design change, but when you naturally hold the reader in portrait mode, I found it actually worked. There are also 4 physical buttons on the front, that access the settings, home button and forward/backward.

In the end, the Pocketbook Ultra is a very sexy e-reader. The hardware and overall design principles makes it really stand out. Sadly, the 512 MB of RAM is really noticeable. It many cases you have to wait a few seconds for a new app to open and over the course of our review we had to reboot it. Still, an e-ink camera is very compelling and it really does take great photos.

Software

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Pocketbook has been focusing their efforts on developing proprietary in-house apps that make the Ultra extremely viable, right out of the box. The company has heavily invested in features such as Pocketbook Sync and Send to Pocketbook. These two apps allow you to send and receive audiobooks, eBooks and documents from your cloud storage. Pocketbook also wrote their own custom Dropbox app, using the public API. So if you don’t feel like using the Pocketbook cloud system, you can use Dropbox, which is more commonly used. The most interesting aspect about the entire Dropbox system is that you can create custom shelves in your library that house all of your cloud based content.

The Home screen comprises of your Library, Store and Camera, in addition to the eBooks you have recently added or purchased. There are two tabs on the bottom of the screen and top. The bottom ones access app such as your browser, calculator, chess dictionary, documents, gallery, Klondike, MP3 Player, Notes, Scribble and Sudoku. I especially liked the drawing app that has a bunch of different pen sizes and font options.

The top menu allows you to easily access the brightness levels of the font-lit display, task manager and deep settings options. I thought including a task manager was a really positive step forward for Pocketbook. Hitting this button allows you to view all of the tabs you have opened, with options to keep them open or to close them completely. If a certain aspect becomes irresponsible, you can close it and reopen it. This prevents the need to always reboot it. Over the course of the review, a big PDF file seemed to really slow down the Ultra, so we simply closed it and everything went back to working fine.

All the time, we are stuck with the stock button configurations of an e-reader. You might hold the e-reader in such a way, that it is always automatically switches from portrait mode to landscape. Other times you may inadvertently hit the wrong button, breaking immersion when reading a good eBook. To remedy this problem Pocketbook developed a key mapping tool that allows you to disable a specific button when reading or change it to a completely different function globally.

e-Reading Experience

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One of Pocketbooks strengths when competing in the global e-reader market is their inherent ability to support many languages. When Amazon or Kobo sell their readers in France, Italy or Denmark they sell localized versions to them, with custom firmware. All Pocketbook models support a ton of dictionaries and can change the entire menu system to Korean on the fly.

The new e-reader supports more than 20 popular text and image formats and also has a set of preinstalled ABBYY Lingvo dictionaries. It even has the official Websters 1913 dictionary.

Your virtual library is going to be the most commonly accessed area of the e-reader. Pocketbook is focusing on customization with the ability to filter by authors, genres, bookshelves, folders, formats or series. You can also change the visual prospective from showing cover art to a list view. Pocketbook sells the Ultra with over 60 preinstalled eBooks, you so will likely want to likely prune them quickly via Windows Explorer or an eBook manager program like Adobe Digital Editions.

The overall e-Book experience is solid with EPUB type files, it is stable and the process tend not to crash. You can either load in your own books or do business with the Pocketbook run Bookland bookstore. It does not have a ton of bestsellers, but they constantly add new content, such as new Don Brown. The majority seem to be royalty free type books, you would find on websites such as Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately, PDF books are severely hampered.

The Ultra does not have a capacitive touch screen and employs older Neonode IR touch technology. This prevents the ability to pinch and zoom, so when reading PDF files you have to hit various settings menu to manually find your optimal zoom level. This is very tedious because every time you turn a page, your options are not preserved. The Ultra is also prone to crash when reading PDF files over 80 MB in size, they cannot fully render properly.

When someone is looking for an e-reader, often they just want to occasionally read an eBook and not have to worry about anything else. I may fixate on the inner workings of the Ultra and let you know exactly how it performs in real life, but its all about just reading. It does a tremendous job with the e-Ink carta display. Page turns occur super quickly, and there is little to no ghosting.

Wrap Up

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I have been reviewing Pocketbook e-readers since their very first model. They tend to release three or four different models and Good e-Reader has really seen them grow over time. The Pocketbook Ultra is the best model they have ever released with a six inch screen. It perfectly blends hardware with unique software elements and has a camera.

This e-reader would come heavily recommended for people with disabilities and have a hard time reading. You can plug in a set of headphones and use the text to speech system. It is available only in English, German and French, but this is a big selling point. If you are looking for a cutting edge e-reader that will stand out in a crowd, the Ultra is for you.

PROS

Audio
Text to Speech
5 MP Camera
All buttons can be key mapped
e-Ink Carta Display

CONS

512 MB of RAM hampers a perfect score
Front-lit display is not on par with the Kobo Aura H20 or Kindle Paperwhite
Comes with too many eBooks in different languages
Large PDF files do not work properly

Rating: 8/10


Comments (2)

Kobo H20

Kobo has an obsession on what constitutes the perfect e-reading experience and they have been feverishly working towards this ideal. They have slowly been evolving their product line to fall in line with the quintessential five B’s of bookselling; Bath, Backyard, Bedroom, Bus and Beach.

The brand new Kobo Aura H2O e-Reader is the most complete device the Toronto based company has ever released. It was designed to be able be completely submerged in five meters of water, for up to fifty minutes, which finally allows users to safely read in the bath and beach.

We spoke to Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn in prelude to the formal unveiling and he mentioned that “The H2O follows the same design principles of the Kobo Aura. When the Aura first came out we expected that the premium 6.8 inch screen would only account for 2% of our companies sales, and within a few months it captured 25%. We are hoping to replicate the success of the Aura with the H2O, which is slimmer, lighter and can be used on vacations.”

Hardware

hardware

The Kobo Aura H2O features a 6.8 inch e-ink Carta touchscreen display with a resolution of 1430×1080. Carta Imaging Film offers a 50% improvement in contrast ratio over previous generation of e-Paper displays. This allows for faster page turns and the ability to turn pages in a digital book, without the need of constant screen refreshes.

The Aura HD and Aura H2O e-readers are not using a capacitive touchscreen display, which means it does not have pinching and zooming capabilities. Instead, it is employing Infrared technology from Neonode.

One of the main benefits of the H2O e-Reader is the ability to enjoy eBooks, graphic novels or newspapers in lowlight conditions or complete darkness. Unlike a smartphone or tablet that has an LCD screen that emits light from behind a layer of film, the H2O has five LED lights on the bottom of the bezel. It shines upwards, insuring even light distribution and makes it easier to devour books without eye strain.

Kobo has managed to attain the prestigious IP67 certification for their first waterproof device. It will basically allow users to have the e-Reader completely submerged in five meters of water for an hour, with the MicroUSB and MiscroSD ports closed. This makes the H2O the most complete, well-rounded device the market and eliminates the need to send off your reader to a third party and pay over $60 for them to waterproof it for you. During underwater tests I found that even completely submerged in water, you can still turn pages and access the core functionality.

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Underneath the hood is a Freescale i.MX507 1GHZ processor and 512MB of RAM. It ships with 4GB of internal storage and can be expanded further via a MicroSD for up to 32GB of additional memory. Basically, if you max your storage, you can store over 30,000 books on your e-Reader and not have to charge it for up to two months.
Prior models of the Kobo Aura and Kobo Aura HD has the MicroSD, MicroUSB and status indicator light on the bottom. This model still has the slots in the same place, but has a new waterproof flap that snuggly closes in order to truly make it waterproof.

On a hardware level my only complaint is that the screen is not flush with the bezel like it is on the Kobo Aura or the Tolino Vision. In a world of tablets and smartphones, it could be a weird adjustment for people go from that to a sunken screen.

Software

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The Kobo Aura H2O features a home screen that is heavily dynamic in nature. If you create a new bookshelf, buy an eBook or start reading a newspaper an entry will be automatically created right on the home screen. This enables users to be able to quickly jump into reading digital content, without the need of jumping through a lot of hoops. Underneath the book title on your home screen a percentage rating is generated, depending on how far you are in the book.

Kobo has added a sync button right on the home screen and this button accomplishes a few things. If you purchase an eBook on your smartphone or tablet via the Kobo App, all of the content will automatically be downloaded to your H2O if you hit the sync button. Additionally, it is also used to query the Kobo servers for any potential firmware updates and prompt you for an upgrade.

One of the things I liked about the new sync system is the visual cues it provides. Prior models of Kobo would just have a loading animation, with no indications on what it was doing behind the scenes. Now, when it syncs it gives text based updates on the top. By default, it will say it is syncing reading life, awards and firmware updates.

h20 settings-wet

I noticed a number of small bugs that are easily solved by tweaking some options in the setting menu. By default, the H2O will prompt you to wipe off the screen if it becomes wet. This notification appears when you load up a PDF file and does not disappear. Likely, this is occurring because of the oil in your hands, but you  can turn it off by going into “Reading Settings” and deselecting the Water Notification flag. Also, on the main screen you see curated content by Kobo, recommended reads and eBooks they recommend. There is an option to turn this off, but once it is disabled it is impossible to re-enable it.

Finally, Kobo has maintained their Reading Statistics system on the home screen. This gives you a sense of progression and monitors your reading habits. There are plenty of metrics to keep track of, such as how long it takes you to read a specific page of text or the average amount of time it takes to read a book.

e-Reading Experience

Reading 1

Kobo does an amazing job in making their e-readers appealing to both casual and hardcore users. They have plenty of advanced options that the competition simply cannot match, such as the ability to load in your own fonts. They also have a bunch of sliders that allow unparalleled flexibility in determining how much weight you want your fonts to have and configure the margins and line spaces.

The Aura H2O was designed to excel at reading the two most popular electronic book formats, PDF and EPUB. They also have support for manga, graphic novels and comic books with CBR and CBZ, so users will be able to download them from the internet and easily load them on their reader. When it comes right down to it, it reads: EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT, CBZ, and CBR.

When you are reading a book, you have a number of options you can employ. Aside from font and customization options you can long-press on a word and get an instant definition of it. If you speak another language, you can look the word up in Japanese, Italian, German, Dutch, and many more. When long-pressing a word, you get an anchor that will allow you to select a single word, sentence, or entire paragraph. You can then highlight it or add a note. When you add a note, a virtual keyboard appears that allows you to manually add one.

Have you ever wanted to know more about a particular character, or learn more about the world they live in? “Beyond the Book” is a program Kobo unveiled in late 2013 and is quite similar to Amazon’s X-Ray feature, Beyond the Book allows a user to find more information about part of the book, providing similar topics, books, and authors. Not all titles have the Beyond the Book, so if your specific eBook is missing it, please do not fret.

PDF

The Kobo Aura allows you to pinch and zoom to isolate specific bodies of text, but this model does not have this feature, primarily due to the fact is not using a capacitive touchscreen. Instead, you have to double tap the center of a specific document to enable zoom. A small bar is on the bottom of the screen, which you can think of your magnification settings, this allows you to manually configure the zoom level. While you are zoomed in there is a preview pane in the top left hand corner. You can think of this pane as a snapshot of the specific page you are on, which helps orientate on the exact position in the PDF. If you have zoomed in and want to maintain your settings, you can flip to the next page and your exact zoom level is still preserved.

Many PDF files are massive in size and eclipse 150MB, such as eTextbooks, role playing games and medical journals. The Kindle Paperwhite e-reader really buckles under the weight and but the H2O handles them like a boss. We normally load in a 50 MB science journal and a 189 MB D&D Monsters Manual, both of them handled them fairly well.

When you start amassing a large library of eBooks, collection management becomes a big issue. Kobo has a system that allows you to create custom bookshelves, where you can select the eBooks you want to include. For example, you can create a bookshelf to house all of your Fantasy and Science Fiction titles and another for Literary Fiction.

When it comes to buying books, Kobo simply has the most massive ecosystem in the world. They have over 4 million digital titles, which not includes eBooks but also kids’ books, graphic novels, newspapers, magazines, manga and comics. They officially sell this content in over 84 countries and if you don’t live in a supported country, you are automatically sent over to the one closest to where you reside. I found the Kobo Store used to not load all of the cover art and text based assets quickly in prior models, the H2O loads everything very quickly.

Wrap up

glowlight

The Kobo Aura H2O is the byproduct of multiple generations of e-readers, and the constant refinement of software and hardware. The H2O is considered to be the most complete e-Reader Kobo has ever produced.

When it comes to freedom, the H2O provides it in spades. Not having to fret over spilled coffee or getting sand stuck under the screen is liberating. You can read it just as easily in direct sunlight as you can in complete darkness, e-reading technology just took a giant leap forward.

Kobo sometimes receives a lot of flak for their abysmal customer service when it comes to hardware repairs or errors in purchasing books. We have seen thousands of comments on our news site about most people experiencing the same type of errors, with no resolution in sight. The company has tried very hard over the years to simplify the process, and are closer than ever with their live chat and 1-800 numbers, but they still have a long way to go.

In the end, if you have a Kobo Glo, Kobo Touch or even a Kobo Aura, I would recommend you upgrade to the H2O. There isn’t any new e-ink technology on the horizon that you should be saving yourself for, and the only new thing that will be out next year is a Kobo e-Reader that will likely have Wacom support and be bundled with a stylus for note taking.

The Kobo Aura H2O comes out October 1st in Canada and the United States for $179. It comes out at the same time in the Uk costing £139.99 and in Europe for €179.00.

PROS

Reads many popular eBook formats
Waterproof
e-Ink Carta screen
You can bring it anywhere and read anytime
Global eBook system that appeals to a worldwide audience

CONS

Beyond the Book not available in most modern best sellers
The lack of pinch and zoom may turn some people off
Constant water droplet notifications are annoying.

Rating: 8/10


Aug
19

Icarus Illumina E653 Review

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icarys-3653

Icarus has redefined what an e-reader is capable of with the advent of the Illumina E653. It comes bundled with Android 4.2, which gives users the flexibility to install their own eBook, magazine, newspaper or manga apps. How does this reader compare to the Kindle Paperwhite, Nook Glowlight or Kobo Auras of the world? Today, we give  you a comprehensive  hands on review of what this new e-reader is all about.

Hardware

The Illumina E653 features a six inch e-Ink touch screen display with a resolution of 1024×758 pixels. This reader does trumpet the fact it has a capacitive touch screen, but it honestly feels like it is employing older Neonode IR technology. None of the stock apps have any sort of  support for pinching and zooming.

Icarus has maintained a front-lit display, that allows you to customize the brightness of the screen and read it in the dark. There are five LED lights at the very bottom of the screen and splash upwards. We noticed from the nighttime reading tests that you actually see a bit of light spillage at the very bottom of the screen. It does not totally break immersion, but the light on the Kindle Paperwhite 2 is far superior.

There has been some design changes from the Illumina HD and the new E653. The current model has done away with the 3.5mm headphone jack, so listening to music and audiobooks are obviously out of the question. They also removed the D-Pad on the bottom and the screen and also the physical  home, refresh, and settings buttons. The only buttons present on the Illumina are physical page turn keys on the left/right hand side of the screen, back button and the physical button that turns on the front-lit display.

There is 4GB of internal storage to house of all of your apps and eBooks. If this is not enough for your literary needs, there is support for a 32GB MicroSD card. You should get some solid battery life with the 2000 mAh, which is good for 4,000 page turns, or about 1 month of constant use.

I feel like Icarus has done a fairly good job with the intuitive design of the second generation Illumina. It feels more modern, although I would have liked to see the screen flush with the bezel like the quintessential smartphone or tablet.

Software

software

The main selling point behind the E653 is the open nature of Android 4.2. Many e-readers by Sony or Barnes and Noble use Android, but they use a very locked down version and are both heavily skinned. They certainly don’t allow  you to install your own apps or give you an interface that is similar to anything that LG or Samsung provide.

The Icarus home screen is  one of the only things on this e-reader that is modified from the stock experience. It shows you the books you have recently read or have added to it via the Microusb port. There is no built in ecosystem to purchase content, so you will not be inundated by book discovery or anyone trying to shill you new content.

When you hit the Settings or Apps buttons things tend to look more like a your atypical vanilla Android smartphone. There are a number of preinstalled apps for you to use right out of the box such as Aldiko, Dropbox, gReader, Kobo, Opera Mini and Amazon Kindle. Sadly though, there is no built in App Store for you to install new content. This will put  a reliance on Icarus owners being savvy enough to load in the Good e-Reader App Store or APK files from the internet.  It is important to note that due to the home screen being modified to be more e-reader centric you cannot set up widgets or wallpapers.

The last thing I wanted to mention is that you can’t drag down your finger downwards from the upper top menu to see your clock and notifications. Instead, its on the bottom right hand corner and you have to click on the clock to see the notifications.  You will see apps you downloaded, incoming emails and other critical updates like a WIFI hotspot.

The one thing I really like is the stock keyboard, and its not too often that you hear about it during a review.  It uses the stock Android one and it is actually possible to change it with alternative apps, for further customization. You get a full QWERTY keyboard by default and the keys are placed perfectly apart. The Kobo Aura e-Reader has keys that are placed on top of each other, whereas the Icarus has a true Android keyboard. I dig when you are searching the internet or entering forms and the .com button appears under the enter key, which cuts down on the time entering your email address.

In the end, the Android experience on the Icarus feels more tighter than the Onyx Boox T68. It also is more robust than the only other e-reader currently available that allows you to install apps. Overall, this reader will appeal to anyone looking for more control over their favorite ecosystem, without being locked into anyone in particular.

e-reading experience

reading

Icarus has an e-reading app that is integrated into the home screen and allows you to read PDF, FB2, EPUB, RTF, MOBI, TXT, HTM files. I have to say ePub books look really great, but the drawback is with PDF files.

When you read a traditional ePub book, such as one of the 37 that come preloaded on the reader, you get a solid experience. The first thing you notice is there is no page turn refresh issues plaguing you every single page you turn. Instead it only occurs every six pages, so it does not constantly break immersion.

If you want to change the font size, line space, margins or font type, you simply have to hold your finger in the middle of the screen. You get 4 icons that appear on the very bottom and it is not immediately clear on what they do. It is important to explore them all to find out what they do.

Advanced users will like the fact there is 56 preloaded fonts to select from, which is the highest number I have ever seen on a reader. I found the fact it as an Android Emoji option, and thought the book would be the equivalent of Wingdings, except for thousands of different smiling faces, but this was sadly not the case, the text basically just looked like a series of text messages.

The one drawback on the Icarus is with reading PDF files. There is no way to pinch and zoom to isolate a particular part of the document.  Instead there are two viewing panes to choose from, the default or extreme zoomed. Once its zoomed you can drag your finger around the screen to find the ideal body of text, but you can’t turn pages in this manner.

GREYSCALE

The one thing that was very unique about looking at PDFS was the ability to actually alter the e-ink display. There is an option exclusive to PDF files that allow  you to physically change the amount of greyscale and black levels. For example, we were looking at the Dungeons and Dragons Monsters Manual and one character looked very clean, I adjusted the blackness levels and suddenly you saw many different shades on his legs, chest and arms. Very cool!

In addition with PDF files, you get the same type of reflow options of text that is much akin to the way the Sony rendering engine performed. You can strip away all of the custom styling sheets and extract pure text.

When it comes right down to it, the Illumina gives you freedom. The Kindle locks you into Amazon,  Nook makes it difficult to access anything but the Barnes and Noble bookstore and Kobo is the same. It is possible to load in your OWN books, but it is difficult for your average user. Icarus gives you the option to do business with whatever ecosystem you want or the ability to download 3rd party indie readers such as Moon+ Reader, Aldiko or Manga Plyus.

Should you buy this?

wrapup

Is the Icarus Illumina E653 worth the 139 euro cover price? It does a better job than Onyx T68,  in handling Android app.  The default e-reading app is also superior and you can easily get by with this, whereas the Onyx one was utterly deplorable.

This e-reader is viable for anyone that wants a true Android experience on their e-reader and does not want to go through the technical rigamarole of rooting a mainstream one. It is completely viable to install your favorite reading apps, whether its a RSS Reader or comic book reader. One important note, any app that requires page turn animations often provide a lackluster experience. This is prompting Good e-Reader to test as many apps as possible and make a dedicated e-ink section on our app store.

PROS

Android 4.2
Great keyboard
The ability to install your own apps
Solid stock e-reading app with innovative features

CONS

Front-light has a bit of light spillage on the bottom of the screen
No ability to customize zoom levels on PDF files
Does not have an app store loaded on it (but we heard it will soon)

Rating: 8.5/10


Comments (6)
Aug
07

Sony Digital Paper Review

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digital paper

Sony is getting out of the consumer e-reader sector and focusing their efforts on devices aimed at businesses. The first commercially viable product is the new Digital Paper (DPT-S1) which is a super advanced PDF Reader. How viable is this new product for the corporate audience or end users? Today, Good e-Reader is proud to bring you the first true hands on review.

Hardware

hardware

The Sony Digital Paper features a 13.3 inch e-Ink Mobius e-paper screen with a resolution of 1200 by 1600. It was designed to give you a true A4 experience, displaying PDF files as they were originally intended. The lightweight nature of Mobius gives you amazing clarity in the fonts and pictures. It also one of the most lightweight products in its class, clocking in at .08 pounds. To give you some comparison, The Kindle DX has a 9.7 inch screen and weighs 0.91 pounds and the iPad Air is 1.3 pounds.

The Digital Paper features a capacitive touchscreen display panel, which allows you to navigate menus, browse the internet or flip pages with your hands. The device really shines with the accompanied Stylus, which has advanced options for left and right handed people. The touchscreen panel is so amazing, that you can hold your wrist down on a document and it does not register as an interaction, provided the pen is actively touching the screen. This allows you to organically write on the Digital Paper, the same way you would write in your notebook. There is also a highlight button the stylus to allow you to quickly edit a document on the fly.

Underneath the hood is a ARM Cortex A8 1GHZ single core processor and 4GB of internal memory. There is support for a MicroSD card to enhance the memory up to an additional 32GB. Battery life is superb with a 1270 mAh lithium ion, which should garner you over a month of constant use.

The design of the Digital Paper is entirely unique and no e-reader has ever managed to pull off the practical sensibilities. It has a home, back and settings button that are not softkeys, but they have a bit of torque. By firmly pressing down, and hearing a small click, you know you interacted with a specific function. The settings menu does different things, depending on if you are reading a document or using the internet browser. There is a small power button on the right hand corner of the unit, on a small curved part of the bezel.

The Sony DPT-S1 is beguiling to behold. Its lightweight nature allows you to hold it in one hand for long reading sessions. The clarity of the screen makes image heavy PDF documents really shine. Sony has really refined the role a stylus plays in their consumer side of e-readers, since their first touchscreen PRS-700 back in 2007. If you are heavily invested in PDF documents at work or in the home, this is a must purchase.

Software

software

The Digital Paper reader was designed with the express purpose of reading PDF documents. It is the first e-reader ever to show a document as it was intended to be read in glorious A4. There is no need to employ pinching or zooming to find that sweet spot, like the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite or Kobo Aura does. That is not to say you can’t pinch and zoom, you can, its just mostly unnecessary.

There are times when you are browsing the web or want to show off how pretty an image looks by making it full screen. Due to its capacitive nature you can easily pinch and zoom using two fingers to make take up the entire screen. During this process the rendering engine kicks in, limiting the amount of e-ink refreshing that occurs. This is where the 1GHZ processor really shines because its all done with the ease of use of doing the same thing on a smartphone or tablet.

The home screen comprises of your Last Read, Recently Added or Saved Workspaces. On the navigation bar are entries for Home, Documents, Notes, Workspace, Browser and Settings.

Workspaces is the bread and butter of this device and bears a resemblance of the way browser tabs work on Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer. You can have many documents opened at once and jump between them by clicking on the tab. Lets say you are a lawyer working on a class action suit, likely you will have a pile of PDF documents that constantly need to be referenced. You can have 10 tabs opened at once for the interview phase and seamlessly jump between each one, taking notes and making highlights for key points. Workspaces can be saved and loaded, so you can jump between them with ease right from the menu.

Editing a PDF document allows you to write with the stylus anywhere you want. You can make notes, highlights or annotations and quickly go back to reference any changes you made on the fly. Once you made a bunch of changes you can save the PDF, preserving all of your augments, so you can export it to your e-Reader, smartphone, tablet or work PC.

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When editing a PDF file, there are four different pen styles to select, from the very fine line to one that bears a resemblance to a marker. If you elect to take a note there are two main processes. One allows you to use the touchscreen keyboard to type in changes and the other incorporates the stylus to hand draw.

I really dig the dedicated note taking app. It gives you a lined sheet of paper, similar to the ones we all used in grade school, complete with margin edges. You can doodle, draw or just write in text with the stylus and save these are independent files.

The internet browser is your gateway to access PDF files via the internet or just kill some time on Twitter. It has options to disable pictures, Javascript and to disallow the saving of cookies. Most websites that have gifs or animations tend to load slow, due to the refresh issues that permeate all e-readers.

e-Reading Experience

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The Digital Paper was designed to be a true PDF Reader with most of the RND efforts focusing on minimizing screen refreshing and advanced editing options. It does not have support for EPUB, MOBI, TEXT or DOC files, so it is quite limiting to read eBooks.

Still, the advanced user will be able to easily download comics, manga, eBooks, magazines or newspapers in PDF form. If you have a collection of DRM-Free eBooks, from Project Gutenberg Pottermore or TOR you can easily use Calibre to convert your standard digital book from one format to another. We tested this during the review and comic books tend to look a bit dark, but eBooks actually worked amazing. Sony is clearly not hyping the fact this is an e-reader, but the functionality does exist to convert your existing collection and port it over.

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When you are reading an EPUB book converted to a PDF the large screen is a pure joy. There isn’t any options to make the text bigger or adjust the line spaces or margins like there are on the Nook, Kindle or Kobo, but there is no real need. By default, the text is readable by the naked eye, and you can employ zooming to make the fonts appear better. You can also highlight, take notes, or look words up on Google.

The internet browser is your gateway to access your preexisting eBook collection on Dropbox, Evernote or Pocket. Most of the Read it Later services all allow you to even save your favorite blog in a PDF file, allowing you to reference it later. In addition, corporate clients are a big focus for Sony and there are advanced networking options to configure direct access to dedicated server or VPN. Once connected, new options appear when editing a document to automatically push your revised document to the central server. If many people have access to the same PDF File, it perseveres versioning, to make sure the newest document is always accessible.

Wrap Up

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The Sony Digital Paper is simply the best e-reader made for editing PDF files. We did a head to head comparison against the iPad, Kindle DX, Icarus Excel and most other large screen e-readers and tablets on the market. This model blew them all away with response time and ease of use. No app for iOS or Android can really compare with the entire file editing process.

I spoke with the team leads of the DPT-S1 earlier last week and they told me thousands of hours of development were made to make this reader a reality. They literally had full days of internal meetings where they would figure out how to shave off a millisecond of load time.

The price on this model is quite high when compared to other consumer e-readers out there. The DPT-S1 is not positioned in a race to the bottom, to be the cheapest device out there and appeal to the largest demographic. Instead its solely aimed at entertainment, law firms, medical, transportation and other verticals. I was told “it is meant to be a replacement of paper and your second screen to your PC.”

If you are heavily invested in PDF documents, this e-reader is the best one ever made. It is worthy the price of being both a large screen eBook reader and excels at its sole task, replacing paper.

PROS

Light as a feather
Most Advanced PDF Reader ever made
Long Battery Life
Note taking has no latency
Virtual Keyboard is responsive

CONS

No support for EPUB, MOBI, DOC or TXT
$1100
Sony does not sell these to everyone, you need to be interviewed

Rating: 10/10


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The Amazon Fire TV has been out for a few months and there are not very many solid Zombie style games. Into the Dead is likely the best of the bunch and today Peter of Good e-Reader takes a look on how the experience plays out and using the Amazon Gamepad.

Into the Dead throws you into the gruesome world of the zombie apocalypse where there are no second chances. Do what you have to in order to stay alive, keep moving as fast as you can, and protect yourself by any means necessary. When the Dead are rising, run!

The whole point of this game is to run into an ever increasing horde of zombies. You can either dodge them or kill them to get by, but you never stop running and never run away from them.

You can find weapons in supply crates. Or you can start with a gun, but it’s gonna cost you. You can buy a head start that starts you at 1500 meters. You can have a dog with you, he will kill zombies for you, and cries when you die. You can buy extra ammunition, and more supply crates. There are 3 modes,, Classic, Hardcore, massacre. In classic you run for your life, in hardcore it’s hardcore. In massacre you kill as many zombies as you can. You can compare your score with friends, overall a great game, with temple run aspects, and you change your weapons and zombie looks!


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Onyx has released the first single screen smartphone that uses the same type of e-Ink technology found on your Kindle or Kobo. This would allow for a glare free experience while using it in direct sunlight and provides longer battery life than the iPhone.

The overall design of the phone is small and lightweight, primarily due to the Mobius screen technology that both Sony and e-Ink co-developed. This gives you higher resolution and a thinner display panel.  Is the Onyx InkPhone merely a gimmick or does it offer us a glimpse of the future of smartphones?

Hardware

hardware

The Onyx InkPhone features a 4.3 inch screen that uses e-Ink instead of the standard LCD, LED or AMOLED found in most mainstream devices.  The core display technology is e-Ink Mobius, which was co-developed by Sony. The essence of this screen is to provide a more lightweight panel, higher resolution and faster page turns.

Unlike most e-readers the InkPhone has a capacitive touchscreen and the display panel is flush with the bezel. If you have ever used a Tolino Vision or Kobo Aura you would know it is much easier to interact with the screen in this manner.

This phone allows you to read in the dark via the front-lit display. The main difference between this and your iPhone is the light emits from the bottom of the bezel and splashes evenly across the screen.  The iPhone and all other phones on the market have light that is emitting from behind the screen, into your eyes.

The hardware specs are fairly woeful which provide an abysmally slow experience in navigation, menus and anything that involves typing. It has a single core Mediatek MT6515M Cortex A9 1.0 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM and 512MB of storage space.  I installed Google Maps, Kindle, Viz Manga, Digg, Facebook and Twitter and already maxed out on available memory. This resulted in the unit being placed in a standby mode and would not boot up until I pulled the battery and put it back in.

There is a built in mono speaker and a 3.55 headphone jack built into the phone. The audio is fairly woeful and does not give you a wide array of peaks. When you plug in a set of headphones the sound is equally terrible. I think it comes down to the built in audio system being very dated.

People who dig taking selfies will be irked by the fact there is no camera. This will obviously prevent most apps that take advantage of camera being unable to work.  One of the redeeming factors is that you should garner 2 weeks of battery life with ultra light use.

An e-Ink phone on paper sounds like the natural evolution of the technology that originated from dedicated e-readers. In execution however the 512 MB of RAM and 512MB of storage is not enough to give users a robust experience. However, you can put a MicroSD card to enhance it, but most apps do not give the option to install to the SD.

Software

software

The InkPhone is running Android 2.3 and has a customized homescreen aimed at readers. It shows the last few books you have opened up or loaded on the device via the Mini USB cable. When you hit the home button you hit the vanilla Android experience with all of the preinstalled icons and all the apps you install.

An older version of the Google Play store is loaded on the phone, giving users the option to install content that is compatible with an older version of Android. Sadly, many of the apps we installed simply won’t work.

There seems to be a problem with GPS which makes turn by turn apps unviable. Even things like Google Maps or Street View fail to work. Also, any apps that rely on animations will not work effectively either.

Most apps are designed for smartphones and tablets that have solid specs. Developers often add in animated page turns, peaking what’s on the next page or use visual enhancements to flair up the overall design.  They are also designed to show off color, since modern tablets can easily handle millions of them.

By default the InkPhone does not allow you to move icons from the apps category to  your home page. You cannot hold your finger down on an app and have any options to make a shortcut or move it around. Everything is mostly locked into position. You can install a 3rd party Launcher, but most of them do not support an older version of Android because of integration of Google Now and cameras.

Scrolling to your various menus, accessing settings or opening apps is an exercise in patience. It took me over 30 seconds to type in your standard 10 digit phone number, because you cannot quickly type. You have to enter a digit, pause, enter it again and so on. This makes text messaging via Whatsapp or entering a WIFI password as a tedious endeavor. Primary any kind of data entry is hindered by the e-Ink screen, which simply isn’t as responsive as any smartphone made in the last ten years.

You can increase the speed in which you can enter data, open apps or access your menu by a feature called A2. By default it is turned on and gives you high resolution. If you turn it off, all of the graphics are scaled down by 90% which makes everything pixelated and off-putting. Things tend to be more responsive in this manner, but it is a absolutely huge trade off.

Reading Experience

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The Onyx phone simply does not really allow you to run any type of apps that take advantage of GPS or involved in animations. Kindle, Kobo, Digg, Wattpad, Marvel Comics, Manga Box and all others provide a lackluster experience. Once you turn a page you have wait over seven seconds for it to occur. During this time it the page slowly turns, each frame being visible and severely discombobulating.

If you are buying this phone to act as an e-reader you can install certain apps that allow you disable animations or do not have any to begin with. Aldiko, Moon+ Reader and Cool-er are three examples of apps that work really well.

The InkPhone has a stock reader app that allows you to turn  pages by hitting the volume up and down button and also swipe via the touchscreen. It gives you many cool options to change the font type, line spacing , margins and font size. This app is really responsive and recommended to read PDF files and EPUBS.

The one drawback of the built in e-reading app is the Text to Speech function. It simply does not work and is in a broken state. When you initialize it it highlights random bodies of text from page to page, not going in any particular order. It might scan the 1st and last paragraph of page one and do something completely different in subsequent ones.  It also goes without saying that despite the fact it looks like it is working there is no audio.

Finally, there are dictionaries and translations you can download, but most of them are 150 to 240MB in size which almost takes up the 512MB of internal storage it has.

Wrap Up

wrapup

Onyx first  unveiled this phone at SID Display Week 2013 in Vancouver BC. The first demo model had a very touch friendly UI and everything was super quick and responsive. I absolutely could not wait until they had a commcerially viable model and when news broke that it was to have Google Play, I  was going to abandon by Blackberry and iPhone and just go with e-Ink.

Sadly, this phone is woefully inept in its current form and provides too many barriers for wide customer adoption. People want a responsive phone with lots of customization options and very high hardware specs. People want to shoot video, take  pictures, install apps and have good audio. The Onyx provides none of this and should be avoided at all costs, unless you are an early adopter or have a penichet for pain.

PROS

Two week Battery Life
Great Front-Lit Display
Excellent stock e-reading app
Google Play for everything you need

CONS

Will not play Video or Games
GPS is Broken
Text to Speech Broken
Abysmal one-dimensional Sound
Responsive and Slow
Most apps simply do not work
No Camera
WIFI automatically shuts off when it goes in standby mode
512MB of internal storage, kill me now.
512 MB of RAM, who thought this was a good idea


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The Amazon Fire TV was developed to compete with Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast and a myriad of other media services. The Seattle based company is trying to leverage their movie, television and apps services to appeal to customers that might not have a Fire Tablet or Amazon phone. Today, we give you a hands on review of Fire TV and if its worth it to purchase if you live outside of the USA.

Hardware

The Fire TV box is running on a heavily customized version of Google Android OS and features a very solid 1.7 GHz quad-core Snapdragon CPU with 2GB RAM, Bluetooth, 8GB internal storage. It has the same dual-antenna wireless internet that the latest generation Kindle Fire tablets have. It connects to your television via HDMI to give you full 1080p video and Dolby digital surround sound.

I have the Apple TV as my goto streaming video device and the Fire TV blows it out of the water in terms of speed and overall robustness. Navigation, menus and loading up content takes only a few seconds.

The remove control of the Fire TV is fairly standard. The only really unique aspect of it is the voice control system. You can mention an actor or directors name and it will open up all of the movies Amazon sells or rents that they have produced or performed in. This is useful to find out movies you might not have seen.

Gaming is one aspect of the Fire TV that works internationally. If you purchase the $59 game controller you can use it to play all of the games that have been optimized for the Fire TV. It is important to note that not all apps listed in the Amazon app store have Fire TV certification and there is barely a few hundred titles available to download or install. If you have Amazon Coins in your account, you can use them to pay for apps.

In the end, on a hardware level the remote, box and game controller are very elegant and solid. Amazon preety well as the best media box in terms of performance.

Software

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If you live outside of the US, you won’t have access to 80% of all the content available on the Fire TV. You would figure that Netflix would work, because in Canada we can signup, pay and view the service on our computers, or alternative streaming boxes such as Apple TV. The Fire TV runs the US version of Netflix, so you can login, but can’t actually watch anything.

Most of the apps listed in the Amazon Store for Fire TV simply won’t work. WWE Network, iHeartradio, HULU+ and many other free apps are incompatible outside the US. Normally people would say, you can simply install a VPN or DNS Service, but there is no way to sideload in your own apps or configure it to read a different DNS.

The only way you will be able to stream content or use apps, such as Netflix on the Fire TV is if you use the Second Screen feature on your Amazon Kindle HDX. The current generation of Kindle tablets allow you to load in your own apps and this would allow you to sideload in VPN or DNS services from websites other than Amazon. This would allow you to use Netflix or WWE network, but still won’t allow you to buy or rent movies from Amazon. In the past, we have tried to get this to work, but B&N and Amazon both use geolocation in their products for their core-services.

The Fire TV has a fairly intuitive menu system to find your apps, games, videos, movies and pictures. They are really putting a priority on app discovery with bright and bubbly icons and featured images. This is one of the few media boxes that allow you to install apps, something their competitors don’t.

Wrap Up

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The Average user will simply find the Fire TV totally unviable outside the US. Even if you purchased content from Amazon in the past, they won’t even allow you to stream stuff you own. It is a shame that even Netflix, which works with everything, won’t work.

A streaming box with only Watch ESPN, Flixor and TuneIN radio working is a kick in the pants. I would avoid this at all costs, unless you simply want an Android gaming console with a great controller.

One of the saddest things about Fire TV is the inability to tap into any of the reading content that has made Kindle so popular. There are no newspaper, magazine or eBook apps available for you to read to entertain your kids with.

To be honest, we normally write super comprehensive reviews on any e-reader, phone or tablet we do. What can I possibly say about the Fire TV from a Canadian point of view? The UI looks really nice, its responsive as hell but the only thing you can do is play games. DUDD.


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