Ever since ECTACO emailed me about upcoming ePub capability for its jetBook eBook reader, I’ve gotten a renewed interest in it.
So yesterday morning, since I was in the area anyway, I made it a point to stop in at J&R to give it yet another fondle. This did not put me in good stead with the hapless salesman, who had to cycle through all four display models (in colors red, black, white, and gray!) to find the one that had a charge on its battery! As it turned out, he had to plug it into AC for a moment to get one to work.
All of what follows is from my memory. I didn’t take notes and I didn’t pull out the crapcam (I was feeling sorry for the salesman!). The above photo is from the original micro fondle.
Again: the hardware is just solid. Even though the case is all plastic, it has a thick, industrial-like feel to it. Not any part of it feels cheap or flimsy. The casing has a pebbled finish, so it’s not likely to easily slip out of the hand. All of the buttons feel solid and do not wobble.
Also again: in direct-lighting conditions, the backlight-less LCD screen can be mistaken for eInk — except, being LCD, there is no flashing when turning pages.
I went through Settings and discovered there are six font sizes, ranging from 12 point all the way to 32. This is one more size than the newest Sony Reader, the 700, offers.
There are, however, only two built-in fonts, and both are sadly sans-serif: Arial and Verdana. I would have liked at least one serifed font, even if it was simply Times or a variant thereof. I don’t know if it’s possible to add fonts.
There’s a built-in dictionary! The Sony Reader still lacks this. I don’t know how extensive the dictionary is, but I’ll give ECTACO the benefit of the doubt here because its main business has been electronic dictionaries and translators. I have to think the dictionary is good. In fact, I just went to look at the User Manual (PDF link; with another PDF version too), and it states:
The English/Russian, English/Polish, and English explanatory dictionaries built into ECTACO jetBook allow you to instantly translate an unfamiliar word.
So, yeah, the dictionary is solid.
Unlike both the Sony Reader and the abominable Kindle, eBooks can be grouped together into folders (the new Sony Reader 700 offers Collections, but it’s not quite the same). There is also access to the filesystem with a directory display. I’m not sure, however, if any file commands can be carried out on the device itself. Again, looking at the User Manual, apparently so:
Select the Books folder, Music folder, or Pictures folder and then press OK. You will see the Files menu which has the following options: Open, Copy, Delete, and Rename. Select the desired option and then press OK.
The jetBook had one image on it. A 600K-plus JPEG that was a flyer for the jetBook itself. It took a few seconds to open but was worth the minor wait because it looked gorgeous. Since it was most likely shrunk down from an 8.5 x 11-inch size to fit the 5-inch diagonal screen, text was very tiny.
The screen can be rotated ninety-degrees. This worked well and was fast.
I had two problems. When moving backward through the menus, I encountered one in Russian. This seemed to be the list of eBooks, which a moment ago had actually been listed in English! I don’t know how that happened.
The other thing was the slider on the left side, which can be used to page forward and page back. It was the one weak link on the device. I couldn’t see how to use it with one hand without threatening to have the jetBook slip out of my hand to the ground. At least, unlike the abominable Kindle, it’s a button that can easily be ignored and I doubt it can be accidentally invoked.
Operation of the unit had an acceptable speed. It didn’t have the horsepower pop I felt with the Sony Reader 700, but it didn’t feel altogether sluggish, either.
I wouldn’t rely on the jetBook for MP3s, however. User reviews over at newegg give MP3 playback a FAIL:
The MP3 player is a joke. It can be suitable for listening some spoken word lower quailty audio, but if you want to play music, expect poor sound quality. It seems like it doesn’t have enough power to play higher bitrate MP3’s.
I don’t see the point of putting MP3s on a reading device, anyway, so this feature is superfluous to me.
It seems the user reviewers at newegg bought the jetBook primarily to deal with PDFs. PDF is the File Format Of The Damned. It’s best for reading on monitors or even perhaps on that upcoming ginormous Plastic Logic reader. I can’t see the sense of trying to deal with a file formatted for 8.5 x 11-inch paper on a 5- or 6-inch screen. PDFs can be optimized for eBook devices — but I don’t think most PDF publishers will do that. They’re likely to figure such problems are a piracy speedbump (and I’d actually tend to agree).
The jetBook doesn’t require a desktop client for eBooks. Simply plug it into a USB port and it appears as a Removable Drive. Drag and drop eBooks, MP3s (bleh!), and graphics onto it.
Two questions I have and don’t know the answers to:
1) What is the CPU and its speed? I’m wondering if the current hardware will have the necessary horsepower to deal with ePub and MobiPocket files. As for non-DRMed MobiPocket, I expect so, because even Palm PDAs could do those. But even non-DRMed ePub? I don’t know.
2) Since no desktop client is being used, does that rule out DRMed ePub and DRMed MobiPocket files? Someone who knows, leave a Comment!
It’s too bad the price of the jetBook is so high. It’s perceived value just isn’t equivalent to that of the Sony Reader. It’s not. I still think slashing the price by a third could excite interest in it — especially if it will actually be able to do DRMed ePub and DRMed MobiPocket files.
I’d like to see a second dedicated eBook reader that can do ePub. That’d put further pressure on Amazon and its abominable Kindle file format lock-in. It’d also offer an alternative for people who foolishly believe they can’t deal with the page-turn flashing of eInk. And if the jetBook underwent a price cut, it could increase the potential audience for eBooks.