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Friday, 17 September 2021

Review of the Likebook P78: Noticeable improvements but some long-standing issues remain unresolved

Besides the Likebook P78, Boyue produces several e-readers in different sizes – the Likebook P6 and Likebook P10 are the latest offerings. Compared to Onyx Boox, Boyue e-readers also cost less. The Likebook P10, for example, can be found online for less than £200 (without the stylus). Similarly, the Likebook P78 is available for less than £150. While drawbacks exist, the Likebook P78 is a capable 7.8-inches e-reader at an attractive price.

The display’s contrast

I like the 300 PPI E Ink Carta screen. Text appears darker than other Android e-readers I’ve tested. As a comparison, an identical image is shown below - to the left is the Likebook P78, and to the right is the Onyx Boox Note 3. While the image is expectedly clearer with the P78’s higher resolution, it is also noticeably less faded (see picture below). 

Likebook P78 (left) Vs. Onyx Boox Note 3 (right)

Battery life is another area of improvement. I noticed that the Boyue e-readers I’ve used before didn’t conserve energy compared to others (conserving energy in standby mode is a particular problem). While Onyx Boox is still better at saving energy in Android, the Likebook P78 performs well. Instead of a battery life of three to four days with regular use, I was getting close to one week. Battery life is helped by the P78’s 3200 mAh battery capacity and the absence of a Wacom layer. It should be noted that I used the P78 as an e-reader - if used to browse the web with WiFi active, the battery drains faster than a tablet.

The front light is usable, but lumination is not even. It is possible to mix the orange/yellow light with the white one for nighttime reading. 

The same unrefined quirky software

Again, the issue of an unrefined user experience remains. Due to poor translation and incorrect labelling, trial and error are necessary to know and locate different features. For example, the alignment scheme options under ‘more settings’ are word spacing, hyphen, char spacing, and none. To understand what these schemes change, I had to select each one separately to see their effects. Nonetheless, after an initial learning curve, the native e-reading application (Z-Reader) covers most features that Onyx Boox devices support.

The native e-reading application (Z-Reader) has been updated with better support for e-books. For example, navigating within an e-book using hyperlinks works smoothly, and images appear correctly. Another improvement is that typesetting options maintain the structure of e-books. One feature that would give Z-Reader an edge - considering the feature is not supported by Onyx Boox - is the possibility to install the application on another Android device to sync reading locations and annotations.

The problem of confusing translation and labelling continues with Boyue’s PDF software. Thus, orientation is the label given to contrast enhancement and typesetting for cropping (see picture below)! In any case, the cropping works well. Under contrast, there are further options to adjust text thickness, picture contrast and text contrast separately (though the results of adjusting these options were sometimes hit and miss). 

Pinch-to-zoom in a PDF is smooth, but there is no way to lock zoom level. Another issue I’ve encountered with the P78 and other Likebook e-readers is when quickly navigating through a PDF, there is an interval before a page is loaded from the memory cache. It appears there is a problem in the optimisation of memory retrieval as the P78’s 2GB RAM should be sufficient.

Highlighting text in PDF documents is done by moving two brackets. The process is delicate and, sometimes, multiple attempts are needed to select a passage. Overall, while better than Kobo or Amazon, the P78’s PDF support is a weakness. As a result, I chose to use KOReader to read PDF documents.

Sluggish performance

Boyue does not clarify what processor they use (they merely state it is a quad-core 1.5 GHz processor). It appears Boyue mistakenly listed the processor as quad-core. Instead, they could be using the Likebook’s Ares’s processor - the 8-core 1.5GHz RK3365 - as externally, the Likebook P78 is identical to the Likebook Ares. In any case, as an e-reader, the P78’s processor's performance is adequate. 

On the other hand, if the added functionality of Android is needed - e.g., word processing and browsing websites - Onyx Boox note-taking e-readers are a better choice. Not only are they more powerful, but they also have more optimisation options for third-party apps. The P78 supports A2 mode, full screen, application refresh rate, image brightness adjustment, contrast adjustment, DPI adjustment and Regal refresh. In comparison, Onyx Boox has other features like font bolding, icon colour adjustment, background colour adjustment, animation filter and two other refresh modes (speed mode and X-Mode). Speed mode is between normal and A2 mode, and X-Mode speeds up navigation but generates heavier ghosting than A2 mode. 

Onyx Boox’s software - though also needing refinement - is more stable and with a wider variety of features. While Onyx Boox devices cost more, they also can do more due to their better hardware. Nonetheless, considering the low price, the P78 is a good choice for a mid-sized e-reader.  

The official case

As a final note, I wish to mention the official case as it re-iterates the problem with a lack of refinement in the product. The navy coloured official case is made of a flexible TPU soft back and a front PU leather cover. The case itself offers good protection and is light - the problem is that the front cover does not magnetically shut. Thus, closing the cover doesn’t put the e-reader to sleep unless it is aligned to the back’s raised edges. As the front cover slides - due to the absence of magnets - I noticed any slight movement re-awakes the e-reader.

Concluding remarks

While Boyue’s unrefined software is a long-term issue, the drawbacks don’t negate that the P78 is a capable e-reader. The native software is improved considering previous iterations, but Boyue’s e-readers are still for more experienced users. 

Considering Onyx Boox no longer produces mid-sized e-readers without note-taking capabilities, the P78 becomes an option for those that want one at an attractive price. The P78’s older version of Android (8.1) isn’t an issue as third-party reading applications install with no problem, e.g., Moon+ Reader Pro and KOReader. Beyond an e-reader, the sluggishness of the P78 and lack of features for third-party applications means an Onyx Boox device is the better option. 

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