E-ink reader

In spite my recent rant about such devices I decided to buy an e-ink reader. The primary reason was that it’s uncomfortable for me to read long texts on a monitor. My requirements were: Large screen, stylus and a usable SDK. Considering the requirements there was only one acceptable e-ink reader I could find on the market, PocketBook Pro 903, so I bought that one. What is it like?

E-ink reading fulfills my expectations. The “large” screen is rather small, only about A5 size, but a larger device would be impractical. The resolution is poor (compared to prints) but acceptable. The contrast is rather low but sufficient. That all doesn’t sound encouraging but don’t get mistaken: The reading experience is much better than on an LCD display, my reading problem is gone and I was surprised how much I can read now. It’s just that e-ink readers are at their beginning and there is a lot to improve in future.

Another observation is that replacing the pile of periodicals and printed papers by an electronic storage makes things better and allows their more efficient processing. There is less mess on my table, the papers can be read concurrently without loosing bookmarks, it’s possible to separate a common reading queue from manuals and other permanent documents, etc.

Now to the less positive things. The very first thing you experience is the software license agreement. It says basically something like that the software is crappy, the vendor is proud of its bugs and you’re no way allowed to try fixing them, with the unfortunate exception of some pieces of free software included. Perhaps it’s just worded like other proprietary software agreements, but it’s sad anyway.

Nevertheless the software is not as bad as you might think after reading Internet forums. It’s not very good but it’s usable, especially the current beta firmware version (among others adding multitasking and page browsing improvements). I had to use the reset button within the first 24 hours of owning the device when I connected a USB cable during booting but it has never happened to me again since then (I no longer connect a USB cable during booting). Applications don’t crash much often and the crashes seem to be related to certain actions rather than being random. Some things work well while other don’t. Once you discover what you can do safely with the device and how to utilize it effectively, it’s rather stable and it’s possible to read various kinds of stuff. Not perfect, but usable.

I can’t blame solely the vendor for the quality of the software. They could do more but they are mostly dependent on what is already available and it seems e-reading software is generally immature. It’s good that the device is not completely closed. For instance the provided RSS reader is unusable for me and other RSS fetching means don’t satisfy me much either. So I decided to create my own custom RSS fetching script using standard Unix (BusyBox) tools on PocketBook and it works well.

The included dictionaries are not very small nor very big and don’t include sufficient grammar information about the words. They are useful to occasionally translate words during reading and they may be useful when travelling. Not much more. For some strange reason there is no German-English dictionary included. I’d like to have an easy option to use free dictionaries.

The speech voices I tried are of very good quality. Text to speech processing handles pronunciation well but its interpretation of punctuation and other special text is poor. The speech synthesis is apparently too demanding for the device, it makes long pauses between sentences.

The web browser is not very comfortable but it’s usable, even for occasional webmail reading. It would be even more usable if webmasters weren’t idiots. There are actually two web browsers, two PDF readers and two e-book readers installed, so you can try the other application when something doesn’t work well (very useful!).

Wi-Fi works without problems. It’s possible to use Bluetooth headphones, at least with the beta firmware. It’s just confusing the corresponding menu entry is missing from Czech menu, I had to switch to another language to access it.

It’s fine and useful that the device can be mostly handled without using stylus (with the obvious exceptions such as drawing). The touch screen is not very responsive. It’s probably not a problem of my particular device as it can be observed in some review videos on YouTube as well. It looks more like a software rather than hardware problem to me.

Finally, I don’t understand what’s the purpose of the bookland.net site. It’s just a heap of overpriced books. But nothing forces me to use it so I don’t care.

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