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Pocketbook 302 Review, pt 1 (hands on video)

I got one of the first PB302 while I was at the O’Reilly conference last week. I’m going to follow my usual pattern of posting my impressions before posting a full review. I’ve covered the Pocketbook 302 before, and I’ve taken several photos (here and here).

It’s a 6″ ereader with touchscreen. The design is sparse, but the buttons are well placed. There is a stylus, microSD card slot on the upper edge, and the headphone jack & 2 USB ports on the bottom edge (it has USB host). The battery is user replaceable (there is a panel on the back). The PB302 also has an accelerometer, Bluetooth, and Wifi, and includes support for WPA and WEP security. The Wifi works rather well.

There are only 5 buttons on the front of the PB302. There are 2 on either side of the screen, and an escape button below the screen. Normally, I’d name all the buttons based on their function, but here’s the first neat feature of the PB302: you can remap the 4 buttons so they perform different actions. They default as page turns, but you’re offered a broad selection of alternatives. I’m frankly surprised at how many different actions there are; I honestly can’t think of one that’s not in the list. You also have the option of mapping functions to the power button. Press and hold will always turn off the 302, but tap and double-tap can be set to any of the options.

Reading software

It’s using Adobe Reader Mobile and FBReader. It appears to have full feature support for FBReader. Screen refresh is slightly faster than the Nook. Since we know the Nook has one of the latest generation Marvell chips (and the 302 doesn’t), I’d say that the PB302 comes out ahead in this comparison. I’m quite happy with it as a reader.

General Impressions

The touchscreen is highly reflective (I’m told they’re working on it). Even so, I’m satisfied with the PB 302 as a reader. It meets my minimum requirements: sleep mode, adequate format support, & one handed operation. I’ve gone though most of its abilities and I can’t find any shortcomings.

Extra Features

With the 302, you have the option of installing your own apps. It comes with about a dozen apps installed: games, dictionary, clock, sketchpad, web browser, RSS feed reader. It was the browser and RSS reader that originally caught my eye. Both of them work rather well.

I wish it had an email client, though.

Video

Hanvon N516 review part 2

You may recall from the first part of this review that I bricked my N516 while trying to install a firmware update. I got the replacement on Friday, and I think I’ve used it enough to give a definite opinion. I’m going to discuss both the N516’s original abilities and how well iot functioned under Open Inkpot.

First I should probably list what I’m looking for in an ebook reader. For a small device (5″ to 6″), my list is rather short. I’m looking for an ereader that:

  • supports a popular format
  • can be used with one hand
  • has a sleep mode (or a very fast boot)

Note: I’m not concerned about DRM support or battery life. There are many sources of ebooks not encumbered by DRM, and as for battery life, I’d need to have a different standard for my LCD based ereaders than for my epaper ones. Better just to avoid the rule completely.

Original Firmware

When using the default firmware (v1.7), the N516 scores a 1 out of 3. It has no sleep mode, and it can’t read a popular format. In fact, it’s really not very good at reading ebooks. My unit only supported HTML, TXT, and PDF.  The HTML was completely unusable; all of the tags were ignored. The PDF was marginal (on a 5″ screen). And the txt is text.

Open Inkpot Firmware

My reading experience improved greatly after I installed OI. Open Inkpot uses FBReader as its reading software, and all of FBReader’s features were implemented: page margin, line spacing, font choice & size, justification, everything. It’s difficult to convey how many options FBreader has, but I can say that it will satisfy the pickiest user.

One of the improvements OI had over the default firmware was that you can customize the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. You have the option of adding the clock, battery meter, progress bar, and you can the height of the task bar and the spacing between it and the text.

Installation was not easy; I’m skilled at causing software failure.  But I did get it installed. Important note: the installation is reversible. If you want to go back to the default firmware, you can.

OI scored a 3 out of 3 because of the broad format support provided by FBReader and because of it has a sleep mode (hold down the OK button).

My Recommendation

I still think the Jetbook is better, but if you get the N516 then you should install Open Inkpot. It’s worth it. If it were available, I’d use the OI firmware on my Jetbook.

Iceberg Reader

I downloaded 2 apps for this review: the Iceberg Bookshelf (which came with an excerpt) and a standalone app for a series called "Gossip Girls". The behavior  and the reading experience of the apps was largely the same. Interesting note about GG: you can buy and read all the ebooks in the series from inside the app.

Since I only had the 1 book, I can’t really say anything about the bookshelf other than I could not sort by author or title. There are 2 views: thumbnail and list.

The menu inside the book was nicely laid out, and you can access it by tapping the screen.At the top of the screen is a button for the options menu, and below that are icons for Search, Notes, Shelf and Store. There are 2 buttons at the bottom of the menu: Goto Page & Goto Chapter. Above that is a  page marker that lets you jump around inside a book by dragging the marker left and right.

The one good feature is that you can copy parts of the text and either save it locally, email it, or post it to your facebook page.

As a reader, the Iceberg leaves a lot to be desired. You are limited to search, changing the font size, background & font colors, copying part of the text into a note, and then annotating the note. There are a lot of things Stanza can do that Iceberg can’t.

Page turn behavior was rather strange. The block of text that the Reader referred to as a "page" didn’t all fit on the screen at once. I had to scroll to see it. Advancing to the next "page" is triggered by touching a narrow strip on the left and right side of the screen. The area set aside for page turns was far too narrow; I had trouble with consistently touching the right spot. And from what I can tell, the contents of a "page" appears to match that of the paper copy of a book.  It strikes me as a poor way to organize a fiction book, but I can see the benefit for nonfiction.

My Recommendation

If it is at all possible, buy an ebook and read it through Stanza. There’s really no reason to use the Iceberg Reader other than title lockin. It’s just not a very good app.

About the company

The Iceberg Reader was developed by ScrollMotion, who originally used it as the basis for standalone ebooks-as-apps. Starting with the November release of the Iceberg Bookshelf app, ScrollMotion has been upgrading existing ebooks so they could be used from within the Bookshelf and has also stopped releasing the standalone ebooks.

ScrollMotion has made a big deal about signing contracts with major textbook and other non-fiction publishers. They recently announced new contracts to bring textbooks to the iPad. According to their website, there are around 6,000 titles available for the Iceberg Reader.

Ectaco Jetbook – a brief review

The Jetbook has been out for some time now, and it has been reviewed endlessly. But I’ve never explained why I like it, and I think that merits a brief review.

Ectaco released the Jetbook in early 2008. The hardware was designed by a Chinese company called JCNIP, and is sold in China (under the original firmware) as the M218. BTW, I’d avoid the M218 unless you already know how to convert to a format it uses, or you know how to replace the firmware. The Chinese firmware is for the mainland Chinese market. The ebook formats it uses are rather funky.

Hardware

The Jetbook has an unique 5″ LCD screen. This grayscale screen was designed by Toshiba as a low power alternative to traditional LCD.  it has buttons for 0-9 to the right of the screen and a slider bar to the left of the screen. Below the screen are the page turn buttons (to the left), and a D-pad, OK button, and 4 menu buttons to the right. The purpose of each button is obvious, so I won’t discuss them here. But I will say that I like the design; very rarely do I press the wrong button.

Reading Experience

This is one of my preferred ebook readers because the abilities it lacks are more than outweighed by the very low cost (I found it on sale at $150). The current firmware is limited; highlighting, annotation, TOCs, and hyperlinks don’t work. I didn’t realize until I bought it that there are times when I don’t care if I can use those features. I have any number of ebooks in my collection that all I want to do is advance one page at a time.

I also like the Jetbook because it uses FBReader, and does a decent job of displaying Epub. I prefer to read in landscape mode. This lets me hold the Jetbook in my left hand with my thumb  next to the page turn button. I feel I have a firm grip, and turning the page is easy.

Pros:

cost
weight
ergonomics

cons:

limited features
no DRM support

Availability

The Jetbook can be bought at Fry’s, Newegg, and BB&W. You might also want to consider the Aluratek Libre, which has the same hardware but different firmware.

Hanvon N516 review, part 1

This is part one of the review. Part 2 will be delayed until I get the replacement N516; I managed to brick the one I have during a firmware update.

First things first. I encountered a problem with the N516; I received a unit with an older firmware. According to the product page, the N516 had support for Adobe DE DRM and could read Epub, PDF, html, & txt. The unit I received from Fry’s could only read html, txt, and PDF.

When I asked Hanvon customer service about it, I was told that the firmware hadn’t been released yet. I find this rather curious because I know that it had been released to the German distributor back in October. I also have confirmation from one N516 owner in Australia that his unit had the later firmware and supported Epub. But I should also say that the firmware I was installing when I bricked my unit was the one from the German distributor; perhaps Hanvon was correct in not letting me have a copy.

Without Epub support, I can’t recommend the N516 as an ebook reader. The N516 does not fare well when compared to the competition. All of the 5″ readers have better format support; 2 even have Adobe DE support (Aluratek Libre and Sony Pocket Edition). The Jetbook Lite wins on price, the Sony Pocket Edition wins on reliability, and IMO the Aluratek Libre has better button placement.

The reading experience was okay. Unfortunately, my opinion is biased by my disappointment over the missing Epub support, so I can’t give you a better description.

Addendum

One of the things I didn’t get a chance to test  was Open Inkpot (an open source firmware for ebook readers). I was looking into installing it when I found the firmware updates on one of OI’s support pages. Part 2 of this review will be posted in a couple and will cover Open Inkpot.

Hello world!

This is the inaugural post of my new blog.  Greetings and salutations.

My name is Nate Hoffelder (aka Nate the great), and for the last 2 years I’ve been part of the moderator team at MobileRead Forums.  It’s a community that’s dedicated to ebook and ebook readers, and being part of it is a pleasure.

One of my contributions to MR was gathering ebook related news. I’ve decided to start this blog becuase I believe I can build it into a valuable resource.

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