Reviews by Whimsicality

3 stars
Big e-reader running modified Android

This is a 13,3" e-reader, which puts it almost to the size of an A4 paper. At ~900 USD it’s not a cheap device.


A4 paper for comparison. (Own work. License: CC-BY-SA.)

Hardware

Hardware-wise the device is great. The big e-ink screen is perfect for reading studies etc. pdf-format documents. The slight size deviation from A4 doesn’t matter in practice. You can adjust the backlight brightness and tone to your liking, or just turn it off and read in sunlight. There’s also a stylus which can be used to annotate documents, or you can just take a blanc paper and start drawing. Overall the device feels sturdy.

Software

The software solutions are a bit double edged. On one hand it runs Android, which is obviously better than any custom OS’. However, it’s quite heavily modified version of Android, and some of the choices are rather questionable. But of course Android isn’t going to work nicely on a slow black and white e-ink screen without some modifications, so lets keep that in mind.

The device has it’s own package repository, which contains some basic free apps. It’s possible to access Google Play but it’s not enabled by default, and the process is more complicated than just flipping a switch. Nonetheless it can be done pretty easily and it’s well documented.

The stock reading app is overall good and it sure has a ton of features, like cropping and annotating for example. One complaint is that turning a page requires a really long swipe. It’s like the distance would have been just scaled up with the screen size. (Of course you can turn a page other ways too.) The UI design is also little weird. The numerous features are hidden in different toolbars, in not particularly obvious way. But anyway the app gets the job done and you can download a different one if you don’t like it.

Similar UI oddities can be found elsewhere in the system as well. For example there’s a floating quickball enabled by default. Why on earth would I want some shortcut-smudge floating on the paper I’m reading? Luckily it can be disabled. The UI has an adhoc feeling to it. All in all I think that hiring one more UI designer wouldn’t have hurt. Or alternatively just making minimal modifications to stock Android to begin with.

Now one aspect that really is to my liking. The system exposes a lot of settings for tinkerers like me. Most notably there are a ton of settings about the screen and “colors”. And these settings really come in handy because 3rd party apps are typically designed for quick and colorful LCD displays, and look dark on e-ink. I like the settings, but I understand that they can be overwhelming if you’re the type of person who expects electronics to just work.

But Onyx doesn’t leave you alone with complexity. There is a brilliant documentation available here. IMO these kinds of comprehensive manuals are really underrated. I recommend scrolling through the document if you want to get a better idea of the available features.

To sum up

It’s great for reading PDFs. There are some shortcomings on the software side but it’s less of a problem because you have the freedoms offered by Android. You are given the tools to fix your own problems so to speak. That said, I’d expect a 900$ device to feel more polished.


4 stars
One of the few publishers with no 100% DRM

Image is one of the bigger classic comic publishers. They are probably most know for The Walking Dead, but they publish a really wide range of comics. A lot of indie stuff included. Of course you can get their comics on print, but where they really stand out is the digital realm.

Image is one of the few comic publishers who offer comics without DRM. Though I should note that this does not cover their whole catalogue! (That’s why I dropped the fifth star.) They don’t have a dedicated online store but you can find their comics for example from Comixology. Just make sure to check the DRM-status before hitting buy!

Finally a couple personal recommendations from Image:

  • Lady Mechanika, the best steampunk series there is.

  • Monstress, a magical world shadowed by ancient Lovecraftian horrors.


5 stars
Offline Wiktionary

This is just brilliant offline dictionary app. It uses dictionary files generated from Wiktionary, so the data is top notch. The UI simple and straightforward. No bloat.

PS. If you ever need good dictionary-files, you can download the ones used by this app from here.


4 stars
Great site for finding alternative software

AlternativeTo is a great site for finding alternative software to basically anything. You can search individual apps and see their alternatives, or just browse popular applications in generic categories.

The recommendations are based on user reports. Just create an account and you can post your own recommendations, and help steering people towards good software!

While the site itself is unfortunately not opensource, it does offer great tools for discovering open alternatives to proprietary software. There is an open source tag that you can use to filter the results.


5 stars
Linux friendly gaming platform


Steam needs no introduction. (Credit: Valve. Fair use.)

When it comes to PC gaming platforms, Steam is the king of the hill.

Steam pretty much has it all. A store with massive selection, community mods, cloud saves, you name it.

What I really would like to focus in this review, is the work they’ve put up to make gaming possible on Linux. Their compatibility tool Proton (or SteamPlay) allows you to run Windows games with just hitting play on Linux. Of course it doesn’t work on every title, but in general the results are impressive. Underneath it’s based on Wine.

Many of the games also simply have native Linux versions available. This is the case for all major Valve titles, which deserves them even more Linux-points.

Privacy issues seem to be in quite good shape too. When creating an account, only an email account and a country of residence are required. It’s also fine to have multiple accounts. One minor hiccup here though: It’s forbidden to use a VPN when creating a new account. I suppose that it’s partly to reduce smurf and cheater accounts in CS:GO and the likes. A minor bummer though.

I have no experience of Steam as a publisher so I cannot comment on that.

Sometimes games (or their steam codes) can be bought cheaper from somewhere else but overall the prices are good. And I’m anyway happy to support a company that has such a strong positive influence on Linux gaming.


2 stars
Not invisible in the long run


The product looks like this. (Credit: Rexona. Fair use.)

Rexona men invisible black + white markets itself as not staining your shirts. After a few uses this really seems to be the case. However, I have used this product long enough to confidently say that it definitely leaves hard yellow stains in the long run. The stains won’t come off in a normal wash (nor have I found a non-normal wash that would save the shirts).


The stains this product leaves are pretty much exactly what they are advertising against in this picture. (Credit: Rexona. Fair use.)

Stains aside, the product works fine as an anti-antiperspirant. There is supposed to be some fancy “motionsense” technology but that’s obviously just marketing crap.

I wouldn’t recommend this product. If you want to avoid stains, probably the best bet is to leave the aluminum loaded antiperspirants and just use a normal deodorant.


4 stars
Linux compatible low-end managed switch


The switch has a nice metal casing. (Credit: Zyxel. Fair use.)

I can’t say anything about how it performs with the OEM firmware since I installed OpenWRT as soon as I got it. Zyxel has made some complications to the installation process but it’s still quite doable. OpenWRT wiki has instructions. Once the firmware has been replaced, only sky it the limit of what (networking) you can do with it.

In deed, the fact that OpenWRT supports this switch (and it’s bigger cousins as well) is the biggest strength of GS1900-8. This is a good low-end switch for OpenWRT users.


3 stars
Embarrassingly slow comic store from Amazon

Comixology is the leading service for selling digital comics. The selection of comics is vast and prices are ok. It has an online site and mobile apps. The applications contain decent readers. Nothing customizable like YACReader or Perfect Viewer but they work. I should note that there is a quite handy feature for reading comics by frame by frame on mobile devices.

Most of the comics are spoiled with DRM but the platform itself doesn’t force this. Some comics are offered without DRM too. They can be identified with a small download icon next to the age restriction box in the respective store page.

So far everything is pretty good. The one huge flaw in Comixology is that the service is ridiculously slow. It’s not uncommon to have to wait a full minute before a page loads. This is just absurd given that Comixology is owned by Amazon, one of the world’s leading cloud service providers.

A practical tip: Before buying a comic from Comixology, check what it cost in Amazon Kindle store. Oftentimes you can get it with a about dollar less from there (at least when conversion rates are applied). And if your accounts are linked, comics bought from Kindle will be transferred to Comixology too. Just note that the inverse isn’t true. Comics bought from Comixology won’t end up in your Kindle library.

All in all, Comixology gets it borderline done, which is just what to expect from a modern business. I’d love to see a real alternative. Sadly, they are few and small.


4 stars
Great thermos for brewing tea on the go

Disclaimer: I don’t drink coffee. I use this thermos with the tea filter. Oftentimes they can be bought together. Still, I would imagine that most of my review will apply to coffee too.

This is a fine travel thermos for brewing quality tea on the go. I’ve often left home with just a bunch of leaves with me, and then asked for a fill of hot water from a coffee shop etc. No need to suffer from Lipton teabags.

The other use case is to make the brew at home and just stop the infusion by pressing the filter down before I set off. This method works pretty well too. The thermos keeps the tea hot for the better part of a day. That said, the seal between the leaves at the bottom and the main body of tea is not quite 100%. Some infusing will continue to happen even after the filter has been pressed down. This is my only complaint with this flask. (I don’t know whether the same holds for the coffee filter)

What this travel press really deserves credit for, is the open top side structure. Drinking through the typical nozzle will absolutely kill any fine aromas of the tea, whereas the open structure allows the aromas to escape to your nose while drinking. This is a crucial property for anyone who counts themselves as a serious tea (or coffee) hobbyist.


The topside has 4-wide holes for drinking. This allows aromas to escape to your nose while taking a sip. (Own work. License: CC-BY-SA.)

I’ve used this thermos over 4 years now. It certainly has passed the test of time. With regular cleaning and an occasional deep clean, all the parts have remained operational. I’ve never had to replace seals etc.

All in all it’s a fine thermos, and one of the rare ones with a built in press too. As an enthusiastic tea drinker, I recommend this thermos.


5 stars
Anonymous email aliases and forwarding


Logo (Credit: AnonAddy. Fair use.)

AnonAddy is an open source service that allows you to create anonymous email aliases. Emails arriving into these aliases will be forwarded to a real email address of your choice. Of course you can do something like this with “plus email addresses” but it’s inferior in terms of security and usability both. You can also send emails from AnonAddy aliases.

The common use case is to create a new email alias every time you register to a site or start emailing with someone new. When using shared domains, the email addresses cannot be linked together. Furthermore, when some email alias starts to receive spam, you can just simply deactivate it.

There is a quite limited free plan, so basically you have to pay 1$/3$ per month. The one dollar lite plan should be enough for most. I would even say that the lite plan is actually what makes AnonAddy more attractive than it’s very similar competitor SimpleLogin. You can make the payments with crypto.

Of course you could just host the service yourself, but then you lose the anonymity provided by sharing domains with other users. I would recommend against it, but there are good looking instructions for this as well.

I have used AnonAddy for a while now and I’m really happy with it.