Massage gun – review for the Theragun’s knockoffs: What’s the benefits?

I have always been a very active guy. I won’t say I am particularly fit or anything but I always seem to have this extra physical energy to burn. If I don’t exercise for a few days, I get grumpy. A bit like when someone is hangry… Yes I know, “hangry for some exercise” doesn’t sound as cool as I would have hoped. I like challenging my body and maybe this energy partly comes from being addicted to the pain I get when I stress my body properly. Theragun, less so today, was once huge on their Instagram game. You would see the pro athletes and fitness model ad posing with this triangular device pounding their muscles every other post on your feed. I am sold on the better recovery better performance theory, although in my head – “definitely not for £275.”

Did some quick browsing on Amazon, there are hundreds if not thousands of this type of massage gun going for £50. At the end of the day, a vibrating ball-head is not exactly high tech.

Appearance

The first thing I found is that, the knockoffs massage gun is usually in a T-shape rather than the Theragun’s triangular shape. Most likely because of the patent issue. Although I find the T-shape works well, I can imagine the triangular shape with the battery leaning forward brings the centre of gravity of the whole device closer to the attachment head. That should give you a bit more control with the device and maybe less energy trying to hold/manoeuvre it. The triangular shape also gives you more ways to grip the massager so you may find it easier to massage places like your back. There are still knockoff models that have funny shapes to try to mimic that handling, but I can’t say for sure if they work just as well or just increasing the weight unnecessarily.

Percussion therapy

So the recovery idea is very similar to deep tissue massage like foam rolling or some other pain hell that your physiotherapists put you through, increase the blood flow to the muscle to carry lactic acid away and increase nerve stimulation to downregulate the nervous system (I guess it’s a bit like, make you suffer until you are a bit numb to it). But instead of sustained pressure, it gives a very frequent short burst of pressure to achieve the same results. It doesn’t hurt as much so that’s why it gets more praise from those of us who find it unfair to endure any more torture after the workout itself. Apparently, they are capable of creating up to 60 pounds of pressure so you should just float the device over the muscles and no need to apply any external pressure.

What’s the benefit

The main selling point is aid recovery. To be fair, I do find that I get less pain when I have been using the massage gun straight after my workout, especially in my legs after my running or cycling training. Although I seem to find a noticeable difference when I tried to only used it on one side of my body, I recently found out from my podiatrist that my right leg seems to be weaker than my left. So now I can’t be sure whether the difference is from the imbalance of my weight distribution or the miracle recovery machine.

Some also advertise the benefits of reducing stress levels. I mean isn’t it the definition of all massage products. I am not the type of person to manifest stress levels anyway so I can’t be the judge here, but I certainly don’t get stress out by the product so I guess it does its job?

If you look on Theragun’s website, they have this “protocol” for a few sport disciplines. They advertise the use of the massage gun for warm-up. Scientifically speaking it adds up, if the machine increases blood flow to that specific muscles group using mechanotransduction, it will achieve the same results as a traditional warm-up. But I would argue apart from warming the muscles, warm-ups are meant to get your heart rate up in preparation for the increased circulation demand, and the massage gun doesn’t do that. Or at least they are not meant to…

Verdict

I like the product idea. I always love a good massage, and instead of paying a therapist per hourly session, you have a portable massage on-demand kind of gig going on. But unlike the pros, I think for the majority of us mere mortal the benefits probably remain in the very superficial level of having a massage. I certainly don’t train like any pro athletes, their intensity isn’t something you can just copy, but I do train hard while I am at it. I don’t feel any significant difference in my recovery time or performance. Maybe when you are competing at the professional level, you will benefit from the marginal gains. If you are at that level, you are not taking advice from a dude on the internet, you are already getting guidance from professional physiotherapists and sports scientists. For the rest of us, unless again your wallet is an endless pit, getting the knockoffs on Amazon will be more than enough to satisfy the need for a good ol’ massage. 

Google Pixel Buds review: Is it any good or should you wait for the A-series

After getting the Google Pixel 4a, Eva wants some true wireless earbuds to complement the set-up. I don’t blame her, I have been going on about how convenient my AirPods are. So with that, Google pixel buds are naturally the first ones that we look at. I am a true believer of the tech ecosystem, products made within the same ecosystem are optimised for native support and thus better user experience. Initially, we were patiently waiting for the Pixel Buds A-Series to come out given the £100 discount for minimal compromise. Then we stumble across Argos doing a deal on Pixel Buds for £109. The price difference suddenly is not that bad anymore, and with  Pixel Buds A-series still yet to come out in the UK, I pulled the trigger for the Pixel Buds. 早買早享受,遲買平幾舊 (a phrase where Hong Kong people love to use to justify their spending “You can enjoy it earlier if you get it early, but could save a few bucks if you wait for the price drop” so either way, we winning)

Appearance

First off, it feels very well built. The oval-shaped charging case is very lovely to hold. The size and matt finish is just right that makes me want to pick it up all the time. It gives me this odd satisfaction of holding a very smooth egg without having to worry I may crush it. It is so smooth that I sometimes find myself rubbing it on my face… wait what.

The magnetic lid gives a very satisfying click. I noticed the lid is slightly heavier than one of the AirPods’ charging cases. Depends on your personal choice, I prefer the flick and click I get from my AirPods… I can’t see why it would matter in your purchasing decision though, I just want to mention it for fun.

Unlike the A-series that are coming, there is only the black and white version. I enjoy the contrast and the resemblance of a panda, making the pixel buds that much more likeable.

Now, you do have to get over the fact that they look like a pair of Mentos sweet in your ears, but guess it is still better than the AirPods which looks like 2 hanging electric toothbrush heads. 

Battery life & Fit

You will get about 5 hours of continuous listening time and about 24 hours more with the charging case. Those numbers are pretty standard, on par with the AirPods from Apple. 

The integrated soft silicone wing tips slot perfectly in Eva’s ears and give her a comfortable and secure fit. But for me, it can create this odd feeling in my concha during a long period of listening, which is not sore but just a bit uncomfortable.

The Pixel Buds comes with interchangeable silicone ear tips to give a better seal for sound isolation. Like the AirPods Pro, they have integrated the venting system to prevent the eardrum sucking feeling but that also let in quite a bit of ambient noise. I mean you can argue both ways, to give you a better spatial awareness and open up the sound stage or ruin your peaceful lo-fi vibe in the coffee shop. It is actually not that bad compared to my AirPods where there is no seal at all, but worth keeping in mind as they don’t have active noise cancelling in case you might want a pair that has better passive noise-cancelling capability.

Sound quality

Google is very proud of their customised 12mm speaker drivers. And to be fair, the sound quality of the Pixel Buds is actually pretty respectable. One thing I notice straight away is the clarity. The layers are nicely separated and not muffled into a big mess. The vocal performance is crisp and clear. But the bass is rather disappointing. I am not a Beats by Dre kind of guy, but the lack of bass is a bit abrupt in the Pixel Buds. It is like looking at a painting only half-finished. But luckily, since its release, Google has updated the software and included the “Bass Boost” feature in the EQ setting. Properly utilising their big driver to push those low frequencies, now the Pixel Buds sound so much better. Not only does it add in that little oomph that it was desperately lacking, but it also makes the whole sound more complete, smoother and more syrupy to listen to.

Touch functionality

I find the control is quite intuitive. One tap to play/pause, two taps to skip, three taps to go back, long press to activate Google Assistant. Pixel Buds also have swipe for volume control which A-series lacks. What I find a bit annoying though is how sensitive it is. Unlike my AirPods that the touch area is quite small and you have to be quite purposeful to control it, the Mentos size earbuds give a massive target for any unwanted touch input. For example, a hug from Eva usually pause or skip my song or trigger Google Assistant. Or adjusting the earbud position, Google Assistant will almost certainly creep in for some action.

Nice touches

Details are important! Google has put in some nice touches on software support. Like the hands-free “Hey Google” to activate Google Assistant, Fast Pair on Android to mimic the experience of seamless pairing with AirPods on iPhones and the Attention Alerts that automatically lower the volume if it detects emergency sirens or baby cries.

Pixel Buds vs Pixel Buds A-Series

Pixel Buds A-Series were set to be released in June. But till today, you can only join the waiting list on the Google store in the UK. It is set to be released at £99 compared to the full price Pixel Buds of £179. A-series actually have very minimal compromise compared to the regular Pixel Buds. No wireless charging care, no swipe for volume control and no attention alerts and no wind reduction on call clarity. If you are getting them at full price, those are not really a compromise for a price difference of £80. But if you are quick, you might still be able to grab yourself the regular Pixel Buds of £109, only £10 difference for a few extra convenient features.

Verdict

Same as the Google Pixel 4a, on paper, it might not be the most impressive wireless earbuds out on the market but I really enjoy the sound quality produced by these little things and the satisfying case completes the whole experience. 

Although truth be told, I don’t think it is a straightforward recommendation unless you are like me and have some kind of ecosystem issue. Sitting at £109, what Pixel Buds have to offer are certainly a very good value for money if not the best at the moment. However, some issues might be a deal-breaker for some. For example, I find the fit differs from person to person and only lucky in my case that the earbuds are for Eva and they fit her very well. I personally have not experienced the connection issue described by so many yet, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. I would give it a 7/10 on the recommendation scale with the discount and a 5.5/10 at the full price of £179.

M1 iPad Pro: Calmed down after the hype, maybe it’s not for us

When the M1 iPad Pro was announced on the 20th of April, I was so hyped because I was trying to upgrade my 2016 MacBook Pro set-up. iPad Pro supporting the Apple Pencil with the processing power of a laptop? Yes, please. Once I have calmed down from the excitement, I gave this new iPad some thought – is it really the one?

M1

Let’s be honest, M1 in an iPad Pro is nuts. When Apple announced their latest processing chip in the Mac Mini, MacBook Air/Pro November last year, they had the consumer tech world losing our mind. With their second-to-none performance and energy efficiency, it makes very little sense to even consider buying Intel Window laptop at this price point. Now they have taken a step further and put it into their iPad Pro. Fully committing themselves to “Your next computer is not a computer”. 

In reality, A12Z bionic chips in the iPad Pro 2020 is more than fast enough for any iPad apps on the market. The chip is not the limiting factor here. Unless they start allowing us to run professional-grade apps such as Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro or Xcode on iPadOS, the even faster chip is like giving a few more millions to a billionaire.

Display

The new 12.9″ iPad Pro has the all-new mini-LED display which carries the spec of Apple’s £4600 Pro display XDR. 1600 nits peak brightness, 1000000:1 contrast ratio, 2500 local dimming zone and P3 wide colour gamut. A display that sets the new standard for portable devices for professional use. More accurate colour for photo/video editing and colour grading.

In reality, unless you are getting paid to edit/colour grade and needing the best of the best tool on the market, an average Joe like me and you probably don’t need it. Certainly not needed for those selfies on Instagram or dance battle on Tik-Tok.

Storage and RAM

This year is the first year that Apple let us expand the storage up to 2TB in an iPad. And for the 1TB and 2TB version, they also come with 16GB of RAM. If we put the over-charging aside, it is some seriously good news for those productivity powerhouses with their main device being an iPad Pro. A bigger storage option means you won’t need to carry an external hard drive/SSD with you all the time and higher RAM means more apps can run in the background.

In reality, the majority of the apps running on the iPadOS is optimised for 6GB RAM. An upgrade to the 8GB of RAM is a welcomed gesture to give the device a small boost. But how on earth is an iPad Pro going to utilise 16GB of RAM…

5G

Personally never need the cellular option in an iPad. Although, if you are one of those people in a coffee shop that always has one sip left of your pumpkin spice latte in your mug so no one can judge that you were already sitting there for 5 hours, you might appreciate this new up and coming cellular option to keep you steadily connected for those hours, continue to ignore that poor ol’ granny trying to find a seat to have her cappuccino.

Never buy a tech product based on the promise of future software updates

Should you get the M1 iPad Pro?

iPad Pro has never been more like a laptop until this year Apple decided to put their laptop-standard processing chip into it. The hardware in this year model, for a tablet, is absolutely mind-blowing. But the limiting factor has never been the hardware. Even the previous models, iPad Pro is always at the peak in terms of hardware and benchmark performance. The true limiting factor that is stopping a lot of people to fully migrate to using iPad Pro as their main computer is iPadOS. At least till this moment, iPadOS is not designed to be fully run as a laptop. Don’t get me wrong, they have come a long way. Having multi-tasking, mouse and trackpad support, better file management system etc. It can certainly go head-to-head compete with a lot of ultra-book on the market and out-perform the majority, if not all, of them. But by adding so many “Pro” features like the XDR display, 16GB RAM, thunderbolt 3 port etc, Apple is clearly making a statement here that they want this iPad Pro to be a computing beast rather than an email-writing, note-taking and YouTube-watching device.

If you just want an iPad that does what an iPad already does well, like simple computer task, drawing/note-taking with an Apple pencil, I don’t think this year model is for you. Instead, Amazon is doing a very good deal on the 2020 iPad Pro which will satisfy everything you will want an iPad to do.

But if you are hoping this to be the ultimate mobile work station for you? I would hold out for now as well, at least until the 7th June WWDC event. With what Apple has done with this year iPad Pro, I find it extremely hard to believe that there isn’t any ambitious iPadOS plan in the pipeline to utilise all these powers. They might even let the iPad runs a modified version of MacOS on the iPad Pro seeming they are essentially a laptop with a touch screen and Apple Pencil support. But as a wise man once said, “Never buy a tech product based on the promise of future software updates.” 

black and white apple

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 4: impressive performance but should you wait?

iPads are head and shoulders above any other tablet in the market. I am certainly biased as I am knee-deep in the Apple’s ecosystem and a low-key fanboy, but most people acknowledge Apple’s devices are beautifully crafted and certainly powerful, whether it justifies the price is down to personal opinion. As the name suggests, iPad Pro is geared towards the professional market, packed in the top of the line features and mind-blowing processing power that they claimed can replace your laptop. But when Apple announced the iPad Air 4 in October 2020 only 7 months after the iPad Pro 2020 upgrade, it muddied the water, BIG TIME. Packed in their latest A14 chip, the single-core processing power even out-performed the A12Z chip in the iPad Pro. So which one should you get or should you wait for the rumoured iPad Pro upgrade just around the corner?

Spec

Let’s get the important spec out of the way

 iPad Pro 2020iPad Air 4
Display11” or 12.9” 
Liquid retina and true tone
ProMotion Technology
600nits
10.9”
Liquid retina and true tone
500nits
ChipA12Z: 
8 cores CPU 8 cores GPU
1.59GHz (boost 2.49GHz)
7nm process
A14:
6 cores CPU 4 cores GPU
1.80GHz (boost 3.01GHz)
5nm process
Storage128, 256, 512GB or 1TB64 or 256GB
Main Camera12MP Wide
10MP Ultra Wide
LiDAR
12MP Wide
Front CameraTrueDepth cameraFaceTime HD camera
ConnectorUSB-C (Up to 10 Gbps)USB-C (Up to 5 Gbps)
UnlockFace IDTouch ID
PriceFrom £769From £579

Display

The main advantage with iPad Pro is their ProMotion (as in “Pro” in “Motion” not like the supermarket sales…I know) technology. It is an adaptive refresh rate that can scale between 60Hz or 120Hz depends on the task at hand. So when you are scrolling through pages, they scale up to 120Hz to give that extra buttery smooth experience or when you are using the Apple pencil to draw to give you take low latency as if you are actually drawing using ink and pen and maybe some games that can take advantage of the fast refresh rate. But then drop back down to 60Hz if you are just reading a news article or watch a YouTube video to save you those precise juice to make your entertainment last longer through the day.

Although iPad Air 4 remains only 60Hz, the argument is that you won’t notice what you are missing unless under direct comparison. We have been using a 60Hz screen for years without any problem and surely if you are an iPhone user, have you ever sit there and think this screen is so laggy and slow? With that said, if you need that absolute minimal latency or you have an android phone that you are so used to 90Hz or 120Hz display screen, iPad might be your choice, so 1 : 0 to iPad Pro.

Chip

iPad Air 4 takes the latest A14 Bionic chip, with an industry-leading 5nm fabricating process allowing more transistors to be packed in and a higher frequency. It is not hard to see the A14 chip is just more advanced than the A12Z, and surely enough A14 crushed the A12Z in single-core performance. Although what is a lack in single-core performance, A12Z compensate by having more cores. 2 more high-performance cores and 4 more GPU cores to be precise. So iPad Pro still has an edge over the iPad Air 4 in multitasking power. What is surprising though is that despite having 4 fewer GPU cores, iPad Air 4 still managed to out-perform iPad Pro in graphic performance. Here is a link to all those numbers crunched by MacRumors. Unless you are a power user that requires every drop of CPU core performance like 4K video editing, “mid-tier market” iPad Air 4 out-powered the “professional market” iPad Pro in almost another scenario. ONE ALL!!!

Camera

iPad Pro has an extra 10MP ultra-wide camera lens compared to the Air 4. I am not judging, but walking around on the street taking pictures with your iPad doesn’t sound like what the majority of people do. So the fact that Air 4 has one less camera, in my opinion, is better. Get rid of the unnecessary thing to keep it cheap(er) – everything is relative…

Although the same argument cannot be used for the front-facing camera, iPad Pro comes with their TrueDepth camera also seen in iPhones for portrait mode and Face ID unlock. This TrueDepth can unlock your iPad both on portrait and landscape orientation which is very handy. iPad Air 4 only has the usual FaceTime HD front-facing camera which means no blurry background selfie or Face ID. Although nowadays with us all wearing masks everywhere, you might actually appreciate the Touch ID that is integrated on the top button more. So let’s say they draw on this one.

Storage

iPad Pro offers four different storage options to choose from, 128GB all the way to 1TB, but Air 4 only has two, 64 or 256GB. Let’s be honest, with today’s 4K movies and the million selfies you have, the 64GB option is a bit petty. But Apple notoriously over-charging their storage and no 128GB option, Air 4 quickly loses its price advantage. 256GB Air 4 starting at £729 which is merely £40 difference from the iPad Pro 128GB version. It is like giving you the option of either using a toothpick or a nuclear bomb to clean your house. This is where it kind of gets difficult in judging who comes out on top. If you only need 128GB storage, iPad Pro seems a bit more sensible with the many extra minor boosts for £40 extra. But if you are only a 128GB kind of person, do you really need all those minor boosts or should you instead use those £40 to treat yourself to a takeaway tonight?

Miscellaneous

Something good to know but unlikely to be a make or break deal to most people. Pro has a 600nits display rather than a 500nits in Air 4, they both use a USB-C connector but Pro offers transfer speed up to 10 Gbps rather than 5 Gbps in Air 4. There is a 0.1″ difference between the Air 4 and Pro 11″, and the Air 4 is 0.2mm thicker but 13 gram lighter.

Verdict

With the iPad Air 4 only released 7 months after the iPad Pro upgrade, Apple has quickly closed the gap between its mid-tier product and its flagship pro-level product. Some say iPad Air 4 is the true iPad Pro killer, but some also argue with their weird storage options, Air 4 is really a product to sell the most basic config. Pro.

Recommend:

If you want an iPad Pro but think the price is just slightly out of reach, iPad Air 4 is a very good alternative with minimal compromise. Faster chip, USB-C and support Apple Pencil Gen 2 that charges magnetically rather than sticking out like a giant lollipop.

If you have the money and require the top features all-round, iPad Pro, despite an older chip, is still a go-to choice. There are not many apps out there capable of challenging its processing limits. And if you require a bigger display such as a digital artist wanting a large physical canvas, you have no other choice but the Pro that offers 12.9″.

Think Twice

What I really think though, unless you need the iPad right now, you might benefit from waiting for a few weeks. Some rumours suggest Apple is going to release an updated iPad Pro in April. They all seem to suggest that this year iPad Pro will have the latest mini-LED display (at least in the 12.9″) and carry the chip with similar processing power to the M1 chip used in MacBook Pro/Air that has blown the whole computer industry away. If that is all true, it might worth waiting until then to either see some discount on the 2020 iPad Pro or get the best iPad Pro possible. 

Although how much you can rely on those rumours, you can look at Jon Prosser’s eyebrows and judge it yourself 😉

Kobo Libra H2O review: The Best Mid-Tier E-reader On The Market?

Since my lockdown resolution to read more started, the thing about carrying a book with me everything that was annoying me was that traditional books are chunky and they are not designed to be particularly friendly with water. So I was digging around with some kind of solution that can make reading a habit easier to stay. That’s when I started looking into the world of e-readers. If you have missed my last blog about Kindle vs Kobo and how I chose to go with Kobo, it might be worth checking it out especially if you are still undecided which company to go with. But if you are here to find out whether you have really made the right conclusion, here is my 1-month review of my Kobo Libra H2O.

Design

The flagship e-readers on the market, namely Kindle Oasis and the Kobo Forma, claim the ergonomic design, physical page-turning buttons, bigger and higher resolution screen, option for landscape and portrait mode and the adjustable colour temperature and brightness front light will provide the most comfortable reading experience to date. So the fact that Kobo Libra H2O adapt a lot of their design and put it into a package half the price caught my attention instantly. 

The handgrip

It houses the two page-turning buttons and is the distinctive feature that separates itself from the lower-priced models. It is slightly raised at an angle, designed to be more ergonomic and slot into your palm while holding. One thing I would say though, despite the fact that I have rather dainty hands, I do sometimes wish the side grip is slightly deeper to give it a bit more secure hold. But balancing the fact that it needs to be thin (that’s the whole point of having an e-reader in the first place), perhaps a slightly gripper finish might well do the trick in the future model. I know some might argue about putting on a case will help with the handling, but I just don’t like the extra bulk it gives.

Kobo Libra H2O e-reader

Page button

Call me what you like but I love a good ol’ physical button. Touch screen technology has indeed come a long way and it has opened up a whole new dimension on how we interact with our devices with the intuitive gesture controls. But able to keep my finger on a button and get to the next page with minimal movement, in my opinion, is much neater in this scenario. Although one thing I would say is, I do wish the buttons have a tiny bit more travel but not complaining at this price point. And don’t worry if you are a diehard touch screen fanatic, they do support touch screen. 

Power button

It is well placed at the back, on the opposite side of the handgrip which means you are very unlikely to bump it accidentally while reading one-handed unless you are some sort of monster to purposefully hold the device on the thin edge. It does, however, mean you need your second hand to turn it off once your finish.

Screen

The evil blue light

The harmful nature of blue light has been well covered over the years. From affecting sleep quality to damaging retina cells, many tech companies have since adapted their screen to reduce the impact of it, such as the Night Shift function with the iPhones and Samsung with their built-in “Blue Light Filter”. Same as Kobo, the front light’s adjustable colour temperature and brightness in the Libra H2O make reading in low light very comfortable in my experience. 

Auto-rotation and landscape mode

The landscape and portrait options certainly add to the fluidity of the user experience. To be honest, I don’t ever use it in the landscape orientation because it just feels weird to me to hold a “book” that way. So I just locked it in the portrait orientation, but with the auto-rotation, I can easily switch between hands by flipping the reader upside down and the text will always be the right way up. It is a feature you don’t think much of it but you will miss it when it is gone (cue the Passenger…).

High resolution

The screen is 1680×1264 which come in as 300ppi (pixel per inch). It is the same as the flagships. Not only does it show crispy texts, but it is also extremely capable of displaying images with great details, well suited for my inner manga nerd.

Lock-screen 

One detail I appreciate is the lock screen. By utilising the bistable property (image stays even with the power being cut off) of the E ink technology, Kobo uses it to display the cover of the book you are reading when you turn it off instead of a blank screen. It gives the impression of an always-on display.

The rest of the features

Battery life

Battery life is one of the strongest selling points of an e-reader. So it may not be surprising to find out that I have only charged it once out of the box and I am yet to charge it again despite having used it every day. Still, with the increasing number of items I need to plug in the wall every night, it is refreshing to find that the Kobo is not one of them.

Waterproofing

This is the must-have feature on my list. Now, although I trust it will survive if I drop it in the bath, the deep-seated fear of “electronic not meant to be mixing with water” is holding me back from dunking it in. I guess knowing it can is enough for me, it certainly survived me splashing water on it going in and out of the bath. That’s the extend I am willing to find out at this presenting time…until the accident strikes. 

Dropbox and Pocket app integration

It is more convenient than I initially thought. I downloaded all my Open University courses through Dropbox without having to find a micro USB cable and a dongle to plug into my laptop. And Pocket encourages me to go through those long web-article archives that I have saved a while back as well. (psst, you can Pocket my blog posts to read them later too!)

Verdict

If you are looking for an e-reader that can do more than just text but at the same time not ready to splash out £200+ on the “luxury experience”, Kobo Libra H2O, in my opinion, is hands down one of the best if not the best mid-tier e-reader on the market. Yes, it only has a 7” screen rather than 8”, 8GB storage instead of 32GB, no flush display and no audiobook support. But for me, a 7” is as good as 8”, I listen to my audiobooks on my phone like I would be listening to my music which means I don’t need huge storage either. But instead of a £130 extra to upgrade to the flagship models, a mere £40 (or less if you are quick, as Kobo is doing a discount means it only costs £119.99 as I am typing) gets you almost all the handy features upgrade you would want from a flagship with only some insignificant compromises. That’s why I bought it!

Which e-reader do you have and what is your thought about Kobo Libra H2O? Or maybe you have an even better alternatives? Leave a comment down below to let me know! 🙂

Kindle vs Kobo: do you need one and which one to go for

During 2020, the world took an unprecedented turn. One year later, despite the effort the world has put in, we are still under strict guidance to stay at home. To get the most out of this time where entertainment and relaxation are limited indoors, I decided to focus some of my energy into self-growth. As Margaret Fuller once said “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”, reading more books is my baby step towards bettering myself.

If you are reading this, you have now probably done some digging into the world of e-readers and are still a bit undecided whether to pull the trigger. Hopefully by reading through my thought process and experience in getting one, you can have a clearer idea of whether you should be getting one, and if so, which one.

What is an e-reader and do you need one?

Just a background for those who are unfamiliar to e-readers. It is an electronic device that one can use to read electronic versions of books, magazines, newspapers etc. Amazon’s Kindle and Rakuten’s Kobo are arguably amongst the most popular choices available. But why do you need a dedicated device when nowadays almost everyone has a smart phone or tablet on them to download a reading app and more importantly why choose them over a physical book?

Pros:

  1. Natural reading experience: Most e-readers use E Ink’s technology to mimic the appearance of traditional ink on paper, giving a more natural or even a nostalgic reading experience compared to the modern era of bright LCD/LED phone and computer screens.
  2. Less glare: Most e-readers are optimised to offer a matt screen that reduce glare compared to glossy screen finish in most modern-day phones and tablets. Although you may argue putting on a matt finished screen protector can achieve a very similar result, you are however sacrificing the visual quality for other tasks your phones/tablets are capable of doing such as watching a movie. And although expert opinions and research does not suggest any obvious benefits on eye straining, in my personal experience, it certainly feels easier to read in certain lighting condition.
  3. Battery life: E Ink technology is sometimes referred to as bistable meaning it retains an image even when the power source is removed. That significantly reduces the power consumption of the device and you can therefore enjoy a battery life measuring in weeks rather than hours. And you don’t have to worry about not being able to pick up that important phone call after long hours of being absorbed by that murder scene in Gotham City or fighting the fire breathing dragon of tomorrow land.
  4. No distraction: One big issue reading on your phone or tablets is the distraction. The constant notifications from your mum asking when you are coming home for dinner or your favourite YouTuber has just uploaded a new video, stop you from fully immersing into the world of the story. E-readers cut out all those background distractions and noise so you can just immerse into the magical world.
  5. E-books tend to be cheaper: Without the cost of having to physically print out the books, delivering to or stocking on the book stores’ shelves,  authors and publishers can afford to offer a lower price to retain the same profit margins and therefore e-book version tends to be lower in price.
  6. Portability: Maybe less of an issue at present which hopefully will change in a very near future, it can make a massive difference while travelling. From being able to read one handed on the train without worrying about flipping pages on your day to day commute, to no longer having to sacrifice that extra pair of shoes or jacket in your weekend trip backpack. The small form factor means you can carry that 500+ pages book without having that internal turmoil of choosing between your what-if-I-need-to-go-to-a-fancy-restaurant shoes and finding out if Harry defeated Voldemort.
  7. Read anywhere: Some e-readers provide water-resistance capability that allow you to read by the pool side or in the comfort of your bath tub without the worry of dropping and ruining it.

Cons:

  1. One more thing to carry: Nowadays, everyone has a handheld device of some sort be that a phone or a tablet. They are more than capable of downloading a free app that displays some texts and images. This might be a deal breaker for a lot of people especially if you are one who is trying to cut down the number of items carried with you to only your phone.
  2. Upfront cost: Yes, e-books tend to be cheaper but don’t forget you have to purchase the device in the first place and that should come into calculating the cost. If on average you are saving £4 a book, depending on which e-reader you get, you are going to at least buy 20 books over the course of the e-reader life cycle to just break even. Let’s assume the reader lasts you 5 years, that’s at least 4 books a year. Not a difficult target, but worth assessing how reading fits into your life before investing into one.
  3. It cannot replace the feel of a book: Yes the screen technology is impressive in mimicking the ink and paper look. But the physical feeling of holding a chunky book, able to feel the coarse texture of the paper and that “book smell” is irreplaceable.

In my specific case, I was looking for something that could help me make this new resolution of mine sustainable – which means the easier reading is, the more likely I would keep doing it. I summed up 3 main points that would make me more likely to read:

  1. Read everywhere, even when I am in my bath
  2. I don’t find it a chore to bring it around with me
  3. Give me a break from my phone and computer screen

Given those 3 main needs, e-readers are almost a no brainer for me, the upfront cost of it can give me some motivation to read more so as to not feel like a tube wasting money.

Kindle vs Kobo

By now, if you have come to the same conclusion as me – I need one in my life. You might want to know who to give your money to. Most people are likely to have heard of Amazon’s Kindle even if you are not in the market of getting an e-reader. And if you are, you will perhaps have also heard of Rakuten’s Kobo. These two companies are the Samson and Goliath of the e-book realm. What they offer on their e-readers’ line up are very similar but each have their own edge over the other, making it unclear who wins and really it just depends on what you need. Let’s start with the gut as I think it is the most important decision to make – which eco-system to buy into?

 KindleKobo
CompanyAmazonRakuten
Ebook titlesOver 6 millionsOver 5 millions
Audio booksYesYes
File support.Azw or .mobiNot support .epubMost file type including .epub
External app supportGoodreadsOverDrive, Pocket, Dropbox
Subscription servicePrime members have access to selected titles for free on top of their existing Prime service Monthly £7.99Annual £79VIP programme to collect 2x points for discount on future purchase and 1 free book per year Annual £6

Book store

Amazon remains the largest e-book store on the internet, having over 6 millions title to choose from, which means if you can think of it, they are likely to have it. Being the largest also means there is a good chance that any new titles being released will be on the kindle bookstore as well. Some might even be exclusively on it. That being said, Kobo is by no means far behind with roughly 5 million titles plus it has a big advantage over Kindle in that it supports .epub format. This means you can buy and import e-books from other e-book shops online. Both book stores offer audiobooks as well for those of you who also enjoy a good story.

External app support

Amazon purchased Goodreads, an online social community of book lovers, back in 2013. The integration between Kindle’s personalised recommendation and Goodreads’ list of recommended books provide a powerful way to discover new titles. On the other hand, instead of gearing towards discoverability which is great for business, Kobo’s external app support seems to focus on providing a supportive environment to encourage reading. OverDrive is a service that allows people to borrow e-books and audiobooks from local libraries for free. This opens up even more channels for readers to source their next adventure at no extra cost to them. Just head down or go on your local library website to register your library card and you are set to go. You might find your “local-local” ones do not support OverDrive and you might need to use someone’s address to gain access to one that does (Not that I would suggest this…). Pocket and Dropbox integration is also surprisingly handy, just Pocket any article you find on the web or drag and drop any e-book you have on your Dropbox account, and they will sync to your Kobo automatically for you to read next time you link your Kobo to Wi-Fi. 

Subscription Service

Amazon Prime Reading gives Prime members a sizable selection of titles to read for free without any limit. So if you already have a Prime membership to enjoy Amazon’s other services such as shipping with no extra cost, music and video streaming, you can now take advantage of their massive e-book collection as well to maximise your benefits with your Prime account. If you don’t have an Amazon Prime account already and don’t see the need for the other benefits such as delivery and streaming service associated with it, to a normal reader, a monthly cost of £7.99 (annual £79) is not exactly a bargain just to read only a part of their e-book collection. On the other hand, Kobo’s VIP programme only charge £6 for the whole year, which turns out to be 50p a month. It gives you one free book every year, 10% off on a large e-book collection and allows you to earn their Super Points twice as quickly as their free basic account. Super Point is essentially like your flight miles, you can use it to buy more books once you get to a certain amount of points. And even if you decide not to opt for their VIP programme, you are still earning points every time you purchase any book on their store, and redeem a book free once and a while.

My choice

Although I am a Prime member of Amazon and in the last few years have turned to rely heavily on their incredibly fast delivery and movie streaming service, the difference between both Kindle and Kobo’s service in terms of the amount of native e-book titles are so minimal that I will be happy with either. However, how Kobo had the edge over Kindle in my case was the fact that they support .epub natively and I appreciate the OverDrive, Pocket and Dropbox integration that make importing books and articles just that much easier. But that decision wasn’t set in stone yet…

Which model to get though?

At this point of the blog, if you are still here, you might be leaning towards one or the other but yet still not 100% sure. Because let’s be honest, at the end of the day, which e-reader model to get is the million dollar question. I have summarised the boring spec into two tables of what Kindle and Kobo offer in their ranges that you can still purchase directly from their website.

 Kobo NiaKobo ClaraKobo Libra H2OKobo Forma
Price£89.99£109.99£149.99From £239.99
Screen6” 212ppi1024 x 758 res6” 300ppi1072 x 1448 res7” 300ppi1680 x 1264 res8” Mobius 300ppi1440 x 1920 res
Size (H x W x D) and weight160 x 112 x 9.2mm172g160 x 110 x 8.4mm166g159 x 144 x 7.8mm192g178 x 160 x 8.5mm197g
Storage8GB8GB8GB8GB / 32GB
Waterproof (IPX8)NoNoYesYes
Flush-FrontNoNoNoYes
Other featuresAdjustable brightness. One-colour lightAdjustable brightness and colour temperatureAdjustable brightness and colour temperature,page turn buttons, auto-rotationAdjustable brightness and colour temperature, page turn buttons, auto-rotation
KindleKindle PaperwhiteKindle Oasis
PriceFrom £69.99From £119.99From £229.99
Screen6″ 167ppi6″ 300ppi6″ 300ppi
Size (H x W x D) and weight160 x 130 x 8.7mm
174g
167 x 116 x 8.2mm
182g Wi-Fi
191g Wi-Fi + mobile connectivity
159 x 141 x 8.4mm
188g
Storage8 GB8 GB / 32 GB8 GB / 32GB
Waterproof (IPX8)NoYesYes
Flush-FrontNoYesYes
ConnectivityWi-FiWi-Fi +/- free mobile connectivityWi-Fi +/- free mobile connectivity
Other featuresPhysical page turn button, adjustable warm light, auto-rotation, Aluminium body

Why I bought it.

Both Kindle and Kobo offer very similar line up and I have constructed the table above in a way to also give a visual comparison between the line ups. Kindle offers 3 devices, the most basic of Kindle, the middle ground Kindle Paperwhite and the flagship Kindle Oasis. Kobo offers similar line up with Kobo Nia competing with Kindle at the basic level, Kobo Clara fighting with Kindle Paperwhite for the middle ground market and Kobo Forma to lock horns at the flagship market with the Kindle Oasis. You may ask how about the Kobo Libra H2O then? That, in my opinion, is where Kobo excel. Kobo launched the Kobo Libra H2O back in September 2019 and positioned it perfectly to bridge the gap between Clara/Paperwhite and Forma/Oasis, having the flagship features that you would appreciate but cut down on the luxury features to keep it at a reasonable price point. 

Water-resistance/-proofing is my top priority feature. I would like to read anywhere I feel like picking up a book, so I don’t have to worry about dropping it when I am using it in my bath tub. The waterproof rating of IPX8 (meaning able to immerse in up to 2 meters of water for up to 60 minutes) is an important feature. That helps me narrow down to only a handful of options. I am from a generation who still appreciate the tactile feeling of actually pressing a button rather than just pure touch screen. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with touch screen especially nowadays the technology is so good that there is no issue with swiping to turn a page like you would in a normal book. But I grew up in the era where touch screen wasn’t as sensitive as today’s, and that has left me with an ingrained bias that once in a while, I just enjoy the physical feedback I get from pressing a button. Plus that extra grip gives a substantial area for my hand to hold on to the tablet more comfortably. So that left me with 3 options, Oasis/Libra H2O/Forma. I have concluded that I don’t need the highest quality of screen. At the end of the day, I am getting an e-reader to display text rather than watching movies. With Kobo Libra H2O, it gives me the “luxury reading experience” without the premium price tag.

This is a very smart pricing tactic from Kobo, a product that bridges the massive £130 price gap between their middle product and flagship product. Utilising the psychology of paying an extra £40 instead of £130, you can get the majority of the Forma’s feature with only a small compromise on the screen quality. This makes Libra H2O look even more attractive. Although done so at the expense of the sales of Forma and Clara to boost the sale of Libra H2O, they , in the process, can even take away some potential customer swaying between Paperwhite and Oasis as well. I am definitely one of them. When I was debating between Kindle vs Kobo for my needs, Kobo was only leading very slightly and it was the Libra H2O that sealed the deal.

Verdict

In the ever expanding world of e-books, Kindle and Kobo stand out as the leaders. They both provide a very similar line up to each other but, in my opinion, Kobo won by investing into the void between the mid-tier and flagship product. If you are just looking into getting an e-reader in the most simple form to read text, both of their basic products do that brilliantly and price may be the most important factor. Just remember that Kindle’s price mentioned above included “special offers” (just another word for ads) at their home screen that you have to pay an extra £10 to get rid of. And if you are looking for something a bit more sophisticated, like a better screen because you want to read some comics, Kobo Libra H2O is a very solid choice if you can stretch that extra £30-40.