Thursday, June 6, 2019

Review: New Nook Glowlight Plus [2019]

The Nook Glowlight Plus is Barnes & Noble’s best e-reader they’ve ever released. It successfully combines the best things of the two previous e-reader models, the original Nook Glowlight Plus and the Nook Glowlight 3, with nearly no downsides.

Let’s talk software, because this is easily the weakest link for this device.

For those who like to check out ebooks from their local library, they’ll still have to go through the old-fashioned and laborious way of Adobe DRM. When compared against its direct e-reader competition, Kobo and Kindle, this leaves the Nook with a serious disadvantage. And honestly, the only major criticism one can have against their devices.

The last two years, Barnes & Noble have slowly been integrating the iOS/Android apps, website, and Nook together. Normally, this only related to reviews being cross-platform. But advancements have been made with integrating wishlists and creating a unified user interface between all of them.

The speed of the new Nook Glowlight Plus is faster than previous models, although I would say not significantly so. E-readers have essentially peaked a few years ago, removing the constant flashing screens and allowing faster page turns. From time to time, there are hang ups that last a few seconds longer than usual, but for the most part, all e-readers run just fine.

One of the major upgrades to the Nook Glowlight Plus was the inclusion of a headphone jack and Bluetooth connection for Barnes & Noble Podcasts. When the headphone jack was revealed, most people thought Barnes & Noble was combining their audiobook app, Nook Audiobooks, into the Nook store proper.

Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of listening to audiobooks on an e-reader, especially when we have phones more readily available and with more storage than an e-reader. With the Nook Glowlight Plus’s 8GB of storage, it would also be a tight fit. Thankfully, podcasts are much more reasonably sized.

The B&N Podcasts can be found in Readouts, either on the first or second page. If you’ve never listened to B&N Podcasts, give them a shot. They are very relaxing and enjoyable to listen to; with a large selection of fiction, non-fiction, comics, fantasy, science fiction authors.

Lastly on the software, no major issues with sideloading epubs. I put two books on without any issues, although some types of PDFs are reported not to display correctly.

Now to the hardware.

The selling feature of this device is the screen, coming in at 7.8 inches. Like the Nook 10.1 tablet before it, the screen is going to sell it for the user. The high resolution screen means all the text is just as clear as previous Nooks. A bigger screen means more text, regardless of the size.

Barnes & Noble knows who their audience is. If you check out the commercial B&N made, it’s clearly for those who want to read bigger text more comfortably.

The new Nook Glowlight Plus shares the same model as the Glowlight 3. This is black, rubberized e-reader with physical page turn buttons. This was a smart choice. The Glowlight 3 was comfortable and returned with everyone’s favorite feature other makers have removed (physical buttons).

Night mode also returns, without the trade-off of waterproofing. Color temperature screens are becoming the norm on nearly all tablets and electronics, turning the screen warmer automatically or manually. In my comparisons between the new Nook Glowlight Plus and the Glowlight 3, I found they had the same consistency and intensity of light, both cold and warm.

The Nook Glowlight Plus carries an iPx7 rating, meaning the e-reader is tested to go 3ft underwater for 30 minutes. This is peace of mind for anyone reading in the bathtub, pool, or beach. If the e-reader is dropped, a quick rinse and dry is all that’s needed. This was the best feature of the original Plus, and it’s nice to see it back.

With a price tag of $199, this puts the Nook Glowlight Plus in the high-end range of e-readers, alongside the Kindle Oasis and Kobo Forma. It also means it’s the most affordable of all the high-end e-readers. Outside of this price range, only 6 inch screens exist among the mainstream e-reader manufacturers.

In all honesty, if the price was any higher, I don’t know if I would have purchased the Glowlight Plus. The screen is better, but the previous models of Glowlight still remain quality e-readers, and can be had for much less than MSRP. Hopefully this turns out to be the sweet spot for bigger screened e-readers, as more people can enjoy the advantages of e-ink over LCD screens.

Here is my use-case for the Glowlight Plus. I own over 350 Nook books, partly because their wishlist system helps me easily spot deals. My Calibre library is filled with over 460 DRM ebooks. For me, checking books from the library is not a priority.

Here is what I think of the Nook Glowlight Plus. It does the essential job of reading well. It has all the niceties we come to expect from devices (Night mode and waterproofing). At the current price, it’s hard to find that many criticisms of it.

4 out of 5

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Game of Thrones: Journey and Destination

Game of Thrones fans didn’t want the show to end.

If we were be honest with ourselves and reality didn’t interfere, we would all be happier with a couple extra seasons. It would allow more time with the characters we loved, to create the changes we wanted to see, to spend more time in the places we enjoyed.

Because an ending isn’t “sticking the landing”, it’s more like a good friend who we’ll never hear from again.

Is it the journey or the destination? Well, that’s difficult to explain. Game of Thrones isn’t particularly unique in this case of expectations. It’s simply the biggest, most popular story to deal with it so far. Storytelling is made up of two parties: the production and the audience. Through both, a strange and hypnotic event occurs that warps reality around the audience.

A good horror movie scare us, because it could be least for ninety minutes or so. A good drama allows us to connect with characters that feel as real as you or me. In that reality distortion field, anything can happen. That’s what makes storytelling so fun! We don’t really know what will happen next. So in this ephemeral period between beginning and end, we’re living unlimited potential.

It’s also why book fans of Game of Thrones still have that spark, because the books haven’t finished yet. All the theories and expectations show fans had are gone. The unlimited potential replaced with the reality of the situation: a story can only be one thing and not many.

To put this in perspective, this is also what writers have to deal with. In our heads, our characters are everything. Funny, sarcastic, sweet, ruthless. In our heads, we don’t have to worry about a serious moment being too close to a slapstick moment. It can exist in an imaginative soup.

In a way, the story really is everything for everyone.

What usually tends to hit new writers is when the reality of writing occurs. A sentence isn’t unlimited possibilities, but one very set possibility. In other words, it’s easier to describe as killing off possibilities per word than creating new ones.

It’s why the product being worked on isn’t “What was in my head”, because what was in our heads doesn’t have to comply with reality.

That’s what happened to Game of Thrones this season. What was in our heads had to confront with reality, and reality always wins.

There is good news for the creatives out there. Just because Game of Thrones wasn’t exactly what you wanted, the show still gave you the idea of what you wanted. Those creatives are going to take what they always felt Daenerys was to them, or Jon Snow, or Arya, or even Ned Stark, and make something new. Will it be better or worse? It'll be different.

And that’s why art gives birth to more art. For some out there, the feeling they had during these eight years will live on. It will go under another name, with different characters, in a new setting. The feeling doesn’t have to end unless we want it to. With always the knowledge that at some point, all good things must end.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review: IEGrow iPad 9.7 Keyboard Case

First things first, use case. I’m a writer looking to turn my iPad into a productivity device. That means no more laptop. I want a device with great battery life, access to the programs I need, and a damn good keyboard.

I’ve looked high and low, and the IEGrow iPad keyboard case is one of the best on the market. The reason I mention the above paragraph is because my needs are very specific. I need my technology to work for me, and my work involved my hands. My Surface 3 reached the end of its life, so it was time for an upgrade.

In the world of keyboard cases, the three important factors are the keyboard itself, viewing angles, and protection. Most tend to excel at two of these, rarely all three.

The case provides great protection, completely covering the iPad. This will save it from scratches and quite a few falls. The color leaves a lot to be desired and oils and scratches will show up. Your iPad will be safe though, so the resale value will hold up over time.

The viewing angles are whatever is desired, with the ability to be completely turns and held like a tablet. The hinge is strong, giving very strong support and little wobble. The first review I ever saw of this case had someone showing the strength of the hinge with their hand on the screen holding it steady. I thought something was up, but no, the stability really is that good.

The keyboard itself is what needs to be delved into. First, all the keys are backlit! Great for typing at night or in dark interiors. RGB is included, allowing a choice of seven different colors. A full function row is at the top.

The keyboard feels nice enough, until you look just a little bit closer. The Enter key and the right shift key are very small, and worse yet, in between the right shift key and the backslash key is the up arrow key. This means when I went to capitalize a word, which happens for every sentence, there is a chance I hit Up instead of shift. And as a touch typist who types about 88 to 92 words per minute, this slows me down considerably.

This is the major fault. As someone who’s last novel was over 140,000 words, I do a lot of typing. I need to use the shift key, and occasionally, I hit the up arrow instead.

Over time, I have gotten used to it, but it still is a major downside for someone who types a lot every day. I typed this review on a mechanical keyboard because the daily typing experience matters. And I’m not a snob. I wrote ten books, over 200,000 words on a Surface 3, which by the way, has the same exact keyboard layout at the Barnes & Noble Nook 10.1 keyboard case. The same design.

Sure, it’s a little small, but it works. This...I don’t know. My hope is a future model of this will copy the Surface/Nook keyboard layout, and then it will be perfect. Well, not really, but very close! Time will tell how long the strength of the hinge lasts. And I would love to set the timer of the backlit key glow. But still, this is one of the best iPad keyboard cases I could find.

The IEGrow keyboard case does pretty much everything you want, with a couple of downsides, at an affordable price. If it broke right now I would buy another. If a future model includes a new keyboard layout, I would literally be the best of the pack. The only way to get a better keyboard for an iPad is to upgrade to the iPad Pro, which also puts someone in the same league to get a Surface device or a really nice Chromebook.

For the base iPad, you can’t beat this case.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review: Nook 10.1 Tablet (Secret Productivity Machine?)

Let's talk about the Amazon-sized elephant in the room. Why pick up a Nook tablet when someone can get a Fire tablet, usually cheaper when it's on sale, which is often?

I've always liked the $50 Nook tablets as gifts, and said for years to grab one of those over Fire tablets. And hear me out, I tried to like Fire tablets. I really did. I've owned the 7" and Fire HD 8 and gotten rid of both. That's because FireOS sucks. The Amazon app store is no good. I know the Google Play Store can be side loaded. Let's be honest, for regular people that' too complicated, and no one want to be the tech guru helping a family member try and get their favorite app on a tablet. And in my experience, side loading was always a big buggy. It's not a particularly smooth experience.

Nook tablets use Android, and my god that is just so much more convenient. Just sign in and have all the apps you want. For the same price, less headache.

One disclosure, I don't play games on my tablets, so I don't view these things as game machines. I have a custom PC and a PS4. I'll play games on those. I like watching YouTube videos and trying to work on tablets.

Let's talk about the 10.1's downsides first. The wireless receiver seems to lose signal about 3 to 5 feet before my other devices do. The processor is a MediaTek, so it's not very powerful. I found enabling developer options and cutting the animations in half seems to help out quite a bit. The cameras are awful, so stick with your phone. And the speaker could be louder.

On the cusp of being good and bad, the backlight for this thing suffers in direct sunlight, but I can turn it completely down inside and have more than enough light. That's good on battery life too.

The MediaTek chip isn't powerful, but there are 2 gigs of ram in the 10.1, giving is the breathing room is needs. My Surface 3 had 2 gigs of ram as well, and I always found that fine for what I needed. The chip is actually solid in benchmarks for the 7" tablet, but that's because it's only pumping out to half the amount of pixels, so that makes sense.

What's going to sell you on this device is the screen, and boy does it ever. This is a full HD display and it is good. I initially loved the look of the screen when I first got it. YouTube videos looked great! Text is also another big thing. With a bigger screen, the text can be increased while plenty of words are still visible.

A few days later, the screen grew even more on me. having a tablet on my nightstand was perfect to end the night or wake up to in the morning. Checking my RSS reader, scanning for any important emails over the night, and watching a video to help me wake up. It did it all so well and so comfortably that I started to like this tablet more. In two days the $130 price tag fulfilled itself.

Let's talk Barnes & Noble software. There's not much to speak of, while what is on here performs very well. I don't use Nook audio books, so I'm going to pass over it.

Books. I've talked about how I left Kindle be

Browsery is a great little app Barnes & Noble developed. it's format is questions and answers, so a user can ask or answer book related questions. Looking for a very particular kind of story? Ask and someone can help recommend something similar. I've added quite a few books to my backlog through this app. It's cleaner, more focused, and seems to be more polite than Goodreads, so I would recommend checking it out on your phone and see if it helps you.

That's going to be the end of the tablet section. That's because not everyone is going to try and use this device as a productivity machine next. As a tablet only, it's very good. There are some downsides, but they are the kind of downsides given the price point. Processor, camera, and speakers are going to suffer. In return, it's one of the best looking screens around, has two gigs of ram to allow multitasking, and has the ability to transform into a laptop. All for $130, you can't beat that value.

This is the productivity section, where we view this tablet with the keyboard case attachment.

When we discuss tablets, we have to consider the iPad as the gold standard. I don't mean it as the greatest tablet ever. I mean it as the standard which we compare everything else. Other tablets have to be as good or better than the iPad.

Take Microsoft's Surface line. The form factor of a tablet with all the power of Windows as a desktop. Great computers, great value. This passes the standard. Now the iPad Pro. Bigger screen, equivalent power of a Mac. This passes the test.

When we talk about Android tablets, most are happy just being okay tablets. They don't offer anything greater or comparable to iOS. This is where the Nook 10.1's POGO pins come into play. This transforms a regular Android tablet to the functionality that the Surface keyboards have.

I wanted the Nook and it's keyboard to use as Chromebook-like laptop. A productivity machine to use Google Drive and Microsoft's OneDrive, have some good apps, and basically use the web browser. If paid full price, $130 for the tablet and $40 for the keyboard, then the Nook offer a ton of functionality at $170 that Chromebooks offer at $400-$500. The real trick is in how the Nook actually functions in reality.

A Chromebook has a touch pad, a Nook uses touch. Both Chromebooks and tablets have better battery life than traditional laptops. The Google Play Store offers more functionality if needed. The idea is compelling.

In the world of keyboard cases, we need to keep the 2-out-of-3 rule of thumb. Like food, we can have cheap, good, and convenient, but only two of those three. Cheap and convenient probably means it's not good for you. Good and convenient means the food is priced higher. Same thing for keyboard cases.

Keyboard cases can have quality keyboards, protective cases and good viewing angles, but we tend to see only two of those features in the wild. A quality keyboard with good viewing angles probably means it's a cover and not a full case. A protective case with a quality keyboard probably means you're stuck with one viewing angle.

Sometimes we can get all three, but that's difficult to find and usually pretty pricey. The Nook's Smart Folio does all three pretty well, and it's about $40. The case is a deep blue with speckles the covers the entire tablet, giving good protection. The POGO pins allow for instant connection and typing. The back flap acts as the hinge, allowing the user to pick the best viewing angle that they want.

The keyboard is a bit cramped, but that is to be expected given the 10.1 form size. The keys are plastic, but respond well. No backlight to be had. The top row are function keys, which are very handy for multitasking. The keys themselves respond well. I've written quite a bit and haven't had any complaints about hitting a key and receiving no response.

I wrote nearly all my books on a Surface 3 keyboard, so size isn't a big issue for me. I can see myself writing thousands of words on this keyboard. My right pinky and ring finger have some typos because of the size, but that has been adjusted for with practice.

There are some nitpicks with the case. The magnetic connection with the keyboard can sometimes lead to the tablet coming loose and dropping out of the case when opening. It really holds tight, so be careful with how you open it. What is known as "Lap-ability" of laptops shows up here. The Nook is better than most, but the keyboard may require some adjusting depending on the angle. A good/bad thing is the stiffness of the hinge when adjusting viewing angles is very stiff. Great for keeping it in one place, but can be annoying when making minor adjustments on a lap.

My final verdict is only up from the tablet section. Where the Nook is very good as a tablet only, it's great when viewed alongside the keyboard. This is the Chromebook I always wanted. $170 is a great value for this machine. A similar iPad or Chromebook is going to run double, at least.

If you're on a budget and don't mind some of the trade-offs, the Nook 10.1 is something that you must look into.