Firmware update from Barnes & Noble sets the Nook pages apart

nook-ereader

The electronic reading market is moving up a gear and e-book readers are having to crank up features and tweak performance and interfaces in order to compete with the multifunctional units, which incorporate an e-book reader app, like the iPad, which sold almost a million units in the first month.

Being aware of the rising pressure specific e-book reader units are under to provide a more seamless `streaming experience, Barnes and Noble have launched a third firmware update expanding the Nook e-book reader and re-modeling it as the “crème de la crème” of this increasingly popular market.

Since Barnes and Noble launched the Nook e-reader late last year there have been reports of some serious limitations to its functionality. In response to these limitations B&N introduced the new firmware version 1.3, which once installed, provides for more substantial, improved and seamless electronic book reading, setting it pages apart the Amazon Kindle, the Nook’s most direct rival.

One the 1.3 update is installed new icons will appear on the colour display window – Wi-Fi, Audio, Web and Games, which enables users to access features with greater speed and ease.

One unique improvement of the Nook’s 1.3 update is that it gives owners the ability to read any e-book within the B&N library for free. There is however some serious drawbacks to the new “Read in Store” feature. Having to be physically inside a Barnes and Noble store to take advantage of this free service is one, as it counts out those Nook owners who do not live within a realistic proximity of a B&N store. Once a Nook owner has located a B&N store and is sitting comfortably inside it, the user is limited to just one hour a day of ‘free reading’ – not long when you consider how fast time goes when your head is buried in a book. Although users are allowed to reconvene their title the following day for another 60 minutes, alternatively they could pick up a copy of the actual book in store and read it at their leisure. Or would that be far too passé?

Surfing the net on the Nook is vastly improved with the 1.3 firmware as it offers both a Wi-Fi network as well as the original 3G network, Wi-Fi obviously generating greater Internet speed and efficiency than the 3G. Also aiding the efficiency of the Nook’s e-reading experience is that the new version is more reliant on fixing certain bugs, including a freezing problem, which was a commonly reported problem with the original Nook e-reader. With the eradication of such bugs page turns are reported to be faster, a definite improvement in the quest for flawless electronic reading.

Why is it avid readers are often associated with the game of chess? Two Android games, chess and sudoku are also addition features of the 1.3 firmware.

Despite the fact that this is the Nook’s third firmware upgrade, which provides arguably long overdue features and improved functionalities, for now B&N are sticking with the price of $259 (approximately 170 pounds) – a snippet of a price for avid book lovers but an expensive no-no for the more dispassionate about books.

Latest Gadgets hands on with the joojoo internet tablet

Latest Gadgets were invited to have a hands on with joojoo, an Internet tablet, which is available in the UK from yesterday. Is it an iPad-killer? Well no, but it doesn’t have the hubris to call itself a “magical and revolutionary” device* either and it has a host of features that the iPad deliberately omitted. Every iPad thread on the internet has rabid Apple detractors bemoaning a lack of certain features. If even a small percentage of those people put their money where their mouths are Fusion Garage, the Singaporean company behind joojoo, could have a hit on their hands.

JooJoo-Pad

The first thing you notice about the joojoo is its slick widescreen design. The 12.1 inch screen looks massive and despite being a fingerprint magnet is bright and looks great when you fire it up. The device only has one button – the power on. Everything else is controlled via the touch screen. Outputs include audio, mic and power and a (iPad haters rejoice) USB port that apparently can be used to attach a keyboard, mouse, USB hub or additional storage (comes with 4Gb SSD onboard). It even has a webcam (iPad haters start to dance) although this did seem a little awkwardly positioned for actual use unless you attached the device to a stand.

The most impressive aspect of the device for me was the load time. The joojoo loads in 9 seconds. As CEO Chandrasekar Rathakrishnan was keen to point out, the joojoo loads faster then Usain Bolt doing the 100 meters. We started the device 3 times and this claim holds. Usain Bolt was unavailable for comparison.

After loading, the joojoo has a splash screen with icons for web pages people visit, similar to http://fav4.org/ but with lots more icons, all arranged by category. Joojoo boasts the “largest app store in the world”, namely the internet and can access all websites, including Flash (iPad haters run into the streets waving credit cards deliriously). We loaded the flash version of Streetfigher 2 but time constraints meant I was unable to show Chandra my red fireball technique.

A coming software update will enable these to be rearranged or otherwise customized. Joojoo runs a custom OS that basically interfaces with “the Cloud” in a similar way to Google’s Chrome OS. Launching any app takes you to the website. You can also head to the location bar and search from there. There is a largish keyboard for inputting text. I failed at touch typing on the joojoo but Chandra was reasonably rapid so I’m allowing for the possibility that I suck at typing. The joojoo runs on a gesture based interface – swiping in certain directions moves pages, deletes others or brings up the location bar. This lacked the polish of the iPad but Chandra navigated the device reasonably fluidly.

Fullscreen HD (720p) YouTube videos had a joojoo play option that allowed them to play back smoothly, using hardware acceleration. They are hoping to extend this to other sites in a coming update. The most exciting thing I saw (aside from the 9 second start up) was the pending magazine section, which has an array of titles arranged for the joojoo using an open HTML format. Each used slightly different formatting but were able to provide a rich immersive experience that added to the written content with strong multimedia offerings.

Joojoo is £319 and out now from their website, with a retail presence soon to follow. A 3G version is coming this quarter and could possibly be subsidized by carriers. For more details, including a comprehensive technical breakdown, head to https://thejoojoo.com/ The joojoo may not surpass the iPad as a tablet computing experience, but it is a reasonably solid entry into the tablet computing market that looks set to improve with time.

*Having said that joojoo does mean magic so ….

The Mini 5, Dell’s answer to the iPad?

While Apple strive to convince the world that the next big gadget is the iPad, a device that attempts to wedge itself into the market between a smartphone and a laptop, Dell have declared that a gizmo sized between a smartphone and a tablet is the true portable of the future – a Mini 5.

The device, which features a five-inch, multitouch screen (at 800×480 resolution) and built-in 3G and phone features, also stands tall on the shoulders of two of the giants of Google’s Nexus One smartphone: the Android operating system (offering thousands of downloadable apps) and the 1Ghz Snapdragon processor (offering very quick loading times for low-power usage).

The device also boasts two cameras, a front-facing one for video calls and a 5mp camera on the rear, with two microSD card slots for storing hordes of images.  Hands-on reports reveal that the Mini 5 is also very light and comfortable to use, with the Dell icon interface providing a pleasant graphical overlay for the usually athsetically lacklustre Android core.

While Dell may not be famous for their technological innovation or must-have products, the Mini 5 looks set to please those that the iPad failed to wow. In contrast to Apple’s device, the phone is far more portable, has cameras for taking pictures and video conferencing, offers a full phone experience and presents the ability to have multiple applications open at once – as well as promised support for Flash 10 from Adobe.

While the price has yet to be confirmed, initial reports suggest that all this goodness will set the user back $1000 for an unsubsidised model – more expensive than any alternative. However, others note that Dell are renowned for cheap goods, and point out that if Apple can offer a iPad for $629, then there is no way that Dell can price themselves above that if they hope for the device to succeed.  If that proves to be true, then there is a real possibility that the Mini 5 is both small and powerful enough to fight its way into the gap in the market that the iPad was trying to squeeze into.

Tablets: Five of the best

It is officially tablet season with every brand, large and small, announcing a new model with mind-boggling specifications day by day and if you simply must have one now, here is a rundown of our top five:

Best for design: Apple iPad
Mighty Apple rarely get it wrong when it comes to style and the iPad is no exception. A spectacular minimalist lightweight design, the iPad weighs just 1.5lbs and is 0.5 inch thick with a 9.7 inch screen. Its screen is LED, multi-touch, capacitive and supports HD.  As well as the expected bells and whistles including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, speaker and microphone, it also comes with a compass and a accelerometer and is powered on a speedy Apple 1GHz A4 chip.  Then there’s all the fun you can have with apps specially pixelated to fit across the larger screen.  At a cost of between £300 – £450, it isn’t as costly as some of Apple’s other products too.

Best for budgeting: Freescale Smartbook Tablet
With so many competitors on the market, Freescale have been the only to advertise a recession-friendly Tablet estimated to cost £125.  At that price you’d think you would be giving up a lot of critical tablet-esque features but it seems not when you look at the specifications – see my last review [insert link]. The tablet has a 7 inch screen, wi-fi, Bluetooth, and a 3MP camera.  It also comes with an optional keyboard docking station should you find yourself craving the miss the traditional laptop set up.

Best Hybrid: Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid
Lenovo was the first to introduce the laptop-come-tablet model making other PC makers kick themselves for not thinking of it first. The IdeaPad U1 functions as a laptop or a tablet.  Once detached, the tablet will get running independently in under 3 seconds. The two devices also work intrinsically with each other when apart by sharing battery power, 3G wireless, data and documents.  It gets points for style too, with a shiny red cover and rounded edges it looks like a trendy laptop.  The IdeaPad U1 notebook has an 11.8 inch HD, LED, multi-touch screen and it runs on a powerful ARM processor.

Best for durability: iTablet
The cheekily named iTablet, produced by British PC makers X2, has made a big impact in the UK market.  X2 design specifically for corporate use therefore might be the tablet of choice should larger companies decide to adopt slate culture.  It weighs in at 1.2kg and is around 1.5 inches thick.  It has a 10.2 inch capacitive screen with multi-touch, and is powered by an Intel Atom 1.6Ghz processor, 3 USB ports and an inbuilt webcam. It also has a large storage capacity and uses Windows 7 as its operating systems.

Best for portability: Dell Mini 5
If you’re not quite ready to embrace slateism, you could pick up the Dell Mini 5 which functions as a cross between a smartphone and a netbook in a mid size 5 inch package. Like other tablets, it allows for internet browers, e-book reader support and built with a Qualcomm snapdragon chip which should enable it to use various operating systems.

Apple’s iPad: 6 reasons why we’re disappointed

The iPad and Jesus have a lot of things in common- both took a long time arriving, and then were mistreated by the populace. That’s pretty much where the comparison ends, as though there has been a lot of hyperbole regarding the iPad’s claim to be king of the tablet world, I remain unconvinced that it has any real selling points.

Sure, it’s a super stylish 9.7 inch screen, with access to the vibrant Apple app store, but does it truly deserve its worldwide adulation? Whilst some might gaze longingly at its sleek contours, I can’t help but feel we’ve been misled. Look beyond the shiny veneer and you’ll find a whole host of issues that Apple have carefully omitted to mention.

1. Forget about Flash

Steve Jobs suggest that the iPad bridges the gap between computer and phone, dismissing the idea of netbooks with a self satisfied smirk. Netbooks however are much cheaper than the iPad, and allow you to play flash video. This then turns what’s supposed to be an enriching multimedia experience into something with severe limitations, as this will also affect flash based websites and graphic interlays when browsing. This limits you to what you can do whilst on the web- so why bother using this device? What an enriching experience web browsing will be with no access to sites. Big FAIL Apple.

2. It’s an eReader that doesn’t use eInk

Many, many devices don’t use eInk- laptops, toasters, and MP3 players, but none of these profess to be eBooks. Apple has said that their device will spearhead a new generation of eReaders but I beg to differ. Sure their screen is uber bright and attractive to look at, and colours will look fantastic, but I stopped reading illustrated novels at 8 years old. They’re giving us a comprehensive iBookstore where you can download classic novels for free and buy new releases, but you’ll still be reading them on an LED screen. LED technology is great for displaying high contrast images, but can be tiring when stared at for a long time, so it will make the reading experience rather painful and protracted. It also has a built in accelerometer- imagine how frustrating that would be when you read at an angle (as many are wont to do). I think this will be a great way to view magazines and newspapers, but books? I think not. And have you considered the size of the thing? It’s big and heavy, hardly optimal for reading on the go.

3. It’s JUST a giant iPod Touch

Now I love the iPod Touch, I think it does a great job of playing music, letting me browse the web, and giving me access to the huge app store. I don’t however feel that I need to supersize this device, as a) it won’t be very particularly pocket friendly, and b) if I was going to upgrade my iPod Touch it would be to an iPhone, not a giant tablet. Seriously, what could lugging around this 1.6 pound device add to my life? I want internet on the go, I’ll use a netbook, if I want a phone I’ll use one. So why does this device exist? Ummm, I can’t really think of a reason.

4. Miss out on Multi-Tasking

The one major flaw of the iPhone is that it doesn’t allow apps to run simultaneously. Sure you can get push email, but it would be nice if you could have an array of apps open on the go. Whilst we might put up with this for a small device, it’s incredibly inconvenient for a larger product, as you’d like to download items whilst browsing the web, and not being able to multitask is a major flaw.

5. The memory isn’t expandable

Say you can’t afford to pay full whack for the 64GB version and opt for 16GB. That’s OK, you’ll just buy an upgrade at some point or add content via USB or SD card. Nope. The memory is fixed and there are no extra ports, which means all data has to be sent wirelessly or through linking to a computer- forget about just slotting in and SD card to view images or files.

6. There is no camera

Like, seriously. No SKYPE video calls, no TwitPics, need I say more?

And when can you expect to get this in the UK?

The WiFi version will be available in March and the 3G version in April. Pricing hasn’t been given in sterling yet, but we’ve translated the USA prices for you here, and hopefully they’ll be relatively similar.