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.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Minimalism: Games First!

Of all the objects I’ve gotten rid of, video games were the first. They have high resell value, they are each to ship, and their shipping costs are way down.

A friend told me I’m getting rid of them because I’m “maturing”. Not sure I agree with that statement.

I love video games. I hope I never stop. Books and movies are passive media. We sit, we watch, events transpire. The only active part of the process is criticism. Video games are inherently an active medium. What occurs depends entirely on inputs from the player.

From first person shooters to point and click adventures, a good game sweeps me like nobody’s business. The reason that I sold my game collection first is because that medium embraced digital in a big way.

Bloodrayne 2 for the PS2 sold for about $15. I picked up the digital version on Steam for $2. $2! So guess what, I took my profits and bought it again. I traded in the old version for the new. And to my surprise, physical games in good condition surprisingly hold their value.

A PSP game is bought for $20 on an Amazon flash sale sold for $45. A game I bought at Toys R Us in 2002 sold for $80. And I’ve mentioned on this blog in reviews, it’s $15 here, $20 there. It adds up.

A used book is $2, maybe $4 if the value is good. People buy DVDs, but not at the value video games still command. A lot of my good fortune has come from obscure games, actually, scratch that, because of obscure games. The more difficult it is to find, the better the value.

Listen team, it’s true. I don’t have the free time that I used to. Some days it’s impossible to sit down to play a 35 hour game. But in the same way it’s difficult to spend that time with games, it’s also difficult to spend that with Netflix original shows.

The major selling point to a digital collection, especially ebooks, is the ability to have as much as you want with no added space. Same for games. For less money, my collection is bigger than ever. And because all the games I sold kept their value, the collection was completely paid for with my PayPal account. With plenty to spare.

I believe digital minimalism is the no-brainer move forward.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Minimalism: Books and Ebooks

Travel is one of the greatest gifts someone can give themselves. The second greatest gift is a book.

When I began decluttering, it was because of digital. For me, digital is the same great taste in a new form. I had read on a phone and tablet, and that experience was okay, better for comics than books, but it wasn’t the same. With the recent upgrades to e-readers, that’s when things finally changed.

I played with a Nook Glowlight Plus (a review of it I did!) and was hooked. No more weird screen flashes. Books were fast and responsive. My library traveled with me. Prices were far more affordable. It was all upside and no downside. Same with games. Which meant, the physical collection I amassed over the years became redundant.

By picking up over 350 ebooks on my Nook, I saved $9,000 from the physical versions.

Ebooks are affordable. On sale, their price ranges from $2 to $4 on average. A new hardcover is $30. So ebooks are a tenth of the price of physical, or physical books are ten times more expensive than ebooks. That $9,000 savings is because where I spent $1,000 on ebooks, it could have cost me $10,000 for the same collection.

That’s over the course of two years, and my reading habit is growing.

That also means the physical collection I sold on eBay paid for the ebooks I purchased. Sometimes when I sold a book, I would then buy the ebook version, and still have plenty left over.

I was doing all this before I knew minimalism was a thing. Ebooks were the catalyst. I still do have regular books in my library. Particularly titles that have no digital equivalent due to their age. There are a lot of books out there the publishers no longer have the rights to digitize, and some stuck in rights limbo. My library is smaller, and it’s also more personal.

I own over 350 ebooks on my Nook. Every day the emails with discounts come in, and I’m unphased. My collection rocks and I still have to read a lot of them. Most days I literally browse from my list and pick from there. We have five great ebook services: Apple, Google, Kindle, Kobo, Nook. Use whichever you prefer. I just like the Nook Glowlights a lot. Very comfortable e-readers.

Buy ebooks. Sell the collection. Get more for less. And remove the urge to buy more things with a strong digital library.