By Roger Pelizzari
Ebook readers have been arriving in ever greater tidal waves over the past few years, some loaded with features, others barely able to perform as ebook readers. This January when I began my search, I was looking for one feature, the ability to read books easily, without eye strain. I have no desire to divide my mind with music or the internet while reading.
So when my ivory colored Pocketbook 360° appeared before my eyes—lean, light, and beautiful—I had a feeling that it would be a perfect fit. In fact, being the size of a CD case, and weighing a mere 5.3 ounces (half that of the Kindle or Nook), it fit perfectly in my pocket.
The 360° is the latest model from PocketBook Global, the Ukraine-Taiwan company with offices in Long Island and Kansas City. It gets its name from its built-in accelerometer which allows for automatic orientation of pages in portrait or landscape mode. The text reflow looks like magic the first time you see it and is a real boon for lefties.
The device comes well packaged and opens easily. The detachable hard shell protective cover has a beautiful swirling design and attaches to the back for safe keeping, adding no bulk to the size, unlike most eBook covers. It connects via USB and is instantly recognized on Intel Macs and PCs. You simply drag your files onto the icon.
The 360° reads more formats than any reader out there, including FB2, FB2.zip, TXT, PDF, RTF, HTML, PRC, CHM, DJVU, DOC, EPUB, TCR, JPG, BMP, PNG, and TIFF. There is also native support of Adobe Digital Editions, which means you can read DRM protected EPUBs and PDFs as well as free library books. It also supports a wide range of languages, Latin and Cyrillic based and also Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Hebrew.
EASY ON THE EYES
Sporting a 5″ E-Ink Vizplex 600×800 166dpi, with 16 grayscale levels, the screen looks sharp, has great contrast and is glare free, perfect for reading books without eye strain. You can take it outdoors and read easily in direct sunlight.
With the included FBReader, you can choose one of several fonts or add your own, size them from tiny to elephantine, change the margins and line spacing, and zoom in several levels.
Speed is the word for Pocketbook 360°. Just 10 seconds after booting, you’ll see the menus. Books open in 5 seconds. Flipping pages is as fast or faster than any eBook reader I’ve heard of. The refresh between pages is about half a second, twice as fast as the Kindle or Nook, and hardly noticeable. And that’s with DRM and non-DRM ePUBs and PDFs.
Pocketbook’s next version of firmware will add the ability to turn a page with just the flick of your wrist. A turn to the right goes back, a turn to the left moves forward. The 360°s motion sensor will act as a trigger for the page turns.
The feature is already available using a custom version of FBReader from:
Simplicity here is a plus. With its large wing-shaped forward/back buttons that give a nice audible click and a very responsive directional joypad, the 360° really flies. No need for a heavy physical keyboard or the glare from a touch screen.
The pop-up virtual keyboard works with dictionaries, applications, working with files and creating notes. It’s also a turbo speed searcher. Just a tap of the joypad and a couple clicks and your word is found and highlighted. The 360° always finds your last place in a book, never loses bookmarks, easily jumps to a specific page.
The main menu offers quick access to your two recently read titles, plus icons to take you to eBooks, News (via a Windows-only RSS feed downloader), favorites, photos, dictionary, notes, apps, calendar or settings. Applications included are a clock, a calculator, a dictionary, and games (solitaire, chess, Sudoku, SeaBattle).
While in a book, tapping the center of the joypad brings up a quick menu. When reading EPUBS, the lower right hand icon brings up a settings menu for choosing almost any font size. Though not available with PDFs or DRM files, you can still use the up arrow to chose from five levels of zoom.
The 360°’s speed covers folder support too with hierarchical and directory structure. You have 3 ways to view content—with icons, thumbnails, or in a list. Flags next to the icons signal whether a book is not yet read, being read, or finished. Comparing to the big boys, the Kindle still lacks folder support and the Nook has a more complicated, split screen personality.
SLEEP, SHUT DOWN, AND BATTERY LIFE
The Pocketbook 360° has a sleep mode, key lock mode and automatic shut off, but with such fast boots, I just turn it off manually when I’m done.
The battery is rated 8,000 page turns, so if you use it 4 hours a day without sleeping or locking the keys, you’ll enjoy 2-3 weeks of reading. Even with the accelerometer activated, long shut-off settings, and an SDcard inserted, you’ll still get over a week of use. And best of all, the battery is user-replaceable, so you won’t ever need to send it in for a pricey replacement, as with the latest Kindles and all Sony models.
WHAT I’D STILL LIKE TO SEE
Naturally, there’s always room for improvement. Luckily, all three of my suggestions are scheduled to be fixed in future versions of firmware. Pocketbook software engineers regularly read forum suggestions and respond to them.
- An option for starting at the first or last entry when entering a new module—Books, Pictures, etc.
- A more elegant way to eject the 360° from a Mac. Right now you have to pull the plug to stop the 360°’s icon from reappearing. One user has already posted a fix that works fine using a free program called Hidden Cleaner
- On Macs, you need OS X 10.5 (Leopard) to recognize the 360°. Older versions of OS X do not currently work.
The 360°’s firmware is another feature that distinguishes it from the crowd. It’s completely user configurable. You can change the functions of the all buttons, and even modify the Fbreaders’ config file through the main menu.
Thanks to PocketBook’s developer kit many applications are also available. Already loaded are several games (chess, cards, sudoku, seabattle) as well as applications (a clock, calculator.) Also available are a language learning program and a terminal emulator for those who can work with Linux.
The PocketBook 360° sells for $239.99 at the Pocketbook website, http://www.PocketbookReader.com, and for $20 extra you get an AC adapter and MicroSD card. So that puts it at the same price as the Kindle and the Nook. But the Pocketbook’s 2 year warranty gives the 360° a clear advantage in value.
The Pocketbook 360° is one of the simplest, fastest, and most beautiful eBook readers out there. If you want to focus on reading, this may just be the one. If you need 3G and/or Wifi, consider the upcoming Pocketbook 302, but if you just want to read books, you’ll appreciate the total ease of use of the 360°.
- Small, light, easy to hold
- Very fast page turns
- User-replaceable battery
- ADE connectivity to buy books or borrow from your library
- Sturdy protective cover
- Large page turn buttons with left-handed compatibility
- Excellent customer service replies within hours rather than weeks!
- Two year warranty – twice the standard length