Saturday, 20 July 2019

Likebook Muses review: Another Boyue e-reader let down by software problems

The Likebook Muses is Boyue’s 7.8-inch e-reader that supports stylus input. The Likebook Muses looks and feels different than the Likebook Mars (previously reviewed here). It is heavier than the Likebook Mars and only comes in white. Both devices, however, run near identical software. The key difference between both being extra stylus input features.

Hardware 

The Likebook Muses is slightly heavier than most 7.8-inch e-readers. It weighs 286 Grams; in comparison, the Onyx Boox Nova Pro weighs 240 grams. The Likebook Muses, like other Android e-readers, runs on a powerful processor - in this case, it is an octa-core Freescale RK3365. Accordingly, performance is a strong point, and any noticeable slowdown is due to the inherent limitations of E-Ink technology or problems with software optimisation. Again, like other Android e-readers, the Likebook Muses has 2GB RAM that makes multitasking, when needed, smooth. However, in real-world use, the extra RAM doesn’t make a significant difference to a note-taking e-reader. To compare, reMarkable functions on 512 MB DDR3L RAM.

A big plus is the Likebook Muses’s screen. The screen doesn’t suffer from the slight blurriness I’ve noticed on Onyx Boox and Boyue e-readers (the issue is more pronounced with Boyue e-readers). Yes, on paper, the Muses has the same 300 PPI E-Ink Carta screen that you get with newer e-readers. However, in real-world use, the text is clearer and comparable to the Kobo Aura One and Kobo Forma. Reading on the Likebook Muses, due to the sharpness and clarity of the text, is a pleasant experience.

The built-in front light is not very good. It is not even, and there is no option, by default, to mix white and warmer colours. The Onyx Boox Nova's front light, in comparison, is significantly better and allows the syncing of colours. I also noticed that the Likebook Muses’s screen sometimes doesn’t register touches. However, the issue might be related to the specific unit I was using.

Finally, battery life is substandard for an e-reader, but this is a problem with Android e-readers in general and not just the Likebook Muses. I would estimate battery life to be two to three days of regular use when using the device as an e-reader. However, when using the device to do tablet tasks, e.g., browsing the web, the battery life is in hours.

Software 

As noted, the Likebook Muses’s software is near identical to the Likebook Mars. Thus, as I’ve reviewed the Likebook Mars before, there is no need to repeat the positives and negatives of Boyue’s firmware. In this review, I will concentrate on the Muses’s note-taking capabilities.

The note-taking application is integrated into the Muses’s home screen interface. In the application, it is possible to create notebooks. The expected note-taking features are present: the ability to choose the pen input style according to pressure sensitivity, line thickness, notebook templates (e.g., lined or non-lined), draw shapes, move items around and add pages to a notebook. There is also the option to export notebooks to Evernote to access them from other devices.

The screen, due to its smooth texture, means writing on the device doesn’t feel natural. The Muses is a note-taking e-reader and, accordingly, Boyue should’ve adapted the screen’s texture and finish.

Stylus input in PDF documents, on the other hand, is a weak point. The Muses does not support stylus input after choosing one of the zoom-in options, e.g. zoom-to-width. The supported zoom options for stylus input are restricted to cropping and pinch-to-zoom. It is frustrating to use stylus input after using pinch-to-zoom due to the absence of a page lock feature (to compare, the Onyx Boox Nova supports the lock feature). The page lock feature is essential in a zoomed-in page as it prevents the page moving when scrolling, writing in or navigating a document. Due to the smaller 7.8-inch screen, the unneeded restrictions on using the stylus in specific zoom modes, as noted, is a significant software weakness.

Another problem – this also applies to the Likebook Mars – is the slow rendering of PDF pages. The slowness is due to a slight delay before turning to the next page of a PDF document. After a page turn, the user is prompted that the device is accessing the page from the memory cache. This problem is not hardware related as it did not exist before the latest firmware update. Further, I did not experience the rendering problem when using KOReader.

As the Muses is the first note-taking e-reader I’ve used, I don’t have a broader perspective on how it compares to other note-taking e-readers. Nevertheless, just from using the Likebook Muses, input was smooth and with no lag. The biggest problem, in my view, is the restrictions Boyue’s software imposes on note-taking in PDF documents.

Third-party applications 

It appears stylus-input is restricted to Boyue’s native software. For example, I tested stylus input in OneNote without success. Overall, I don’t think this lack of support is an issue as most Android applications are unusable on e-readers. Stylus input in KOReader would be useful, but the application doesn’t yet support the feature.

Compatible Android applications – e.g., KOReader, Moon Reader Pro and Libera Pro – all work well. For a list of recommended applications, click here. Like other Android e-readers, ghosting is an issue in third-party applications.

Verdict 

The Likebook Muses, in terms of hardware and software, is like Mars but adds stylus input. Stylus input is smooth and works well, but the biggest negative is the under-developed software. The restriction on using the stylus in a PDF document is a significant drawback. Add to this the slow rendering of PDF pages and note-taking in PDF documents becomes frustrating. On the positive side, the noted issues are not hardware related and can be resolved with a software update. However, these issues should not exist in the first place, and the user should not need to wait for updates to solve these problems.

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