My wife bought me an Astak EZ Reader Pocket Pro For Christmas this year. This device isn’t my first or even second ebook reader. It is now my third. The first a Sony PRS-505 having been commandeered by my wife. The second is a Cybook Gen 3 which due to the firmware update shortly before Christmas might stay my primary reading device.
The Pocket Pro (PP) retails for 199 USD and US residents can purchase it at the EZ Reader website. Mine came with a 2GB SD card, serviceable leather cover, usb cable, AC adapter, and the usual marketing / user materials. All this makes it the best deal I’ve found for ebook readers in the 5” size.
The PP is a 5” device and uses an eInk screen like most ebook readers. I did not find the 5” screen to be too small. It is a good balance between portability and readability. It does cause a few more page turns than with the larger devices but it was not cumbersome in any way. Overall found the size to my liking.
It comes in a variety of colors and feels good in your hands. The paint gives it a rubberized texture. It’s light while still feeling solid and sturdy. Visually it isn’t the best looking device but the buttons along the bottom work well enough for navigation. It is very similar to how the Sony (non-touch) readers work. However, I do think Sony, having put the buttons next to where they correspond to the screen, makes it a bit more intuitive than matching the number to the button as is required by the PP.
One area where I felt the PP’s hardware design was problem is with the thumb wheel along the right hand side. I had issues using it to turn pages. It would often turn more than one page. It is also a hard plastic nub and after using it for awhile my finger started to hurt. I soon stopped using it and only turned the page using the buttons.
One thing that I really like about the PP is how easy it is to change the firmware. There are a number of companies selling branded versions of the device. It is really a Hanlin V5 made by Jinke. The various companies that sell the device all have their own versions of the firmware that deviate to different degrees from what is produced by Jinke. The LBook has one of the more customized firmwares. I have tried it and found that it is a bit on the usable side because the majority of it is not in English. While there are a number of firmware options I’m going to focus the remainder of this review on the firmware available from Astak as of this writing.
It works. That’s the nicest thing I can say about it. The only thing it does is list all folders in the storage location. You select the folder and it opens it. When you get to a book you want to read you select it and it opens. On the surface this doesn’t sound so bad but compared to other devices (the Cybook and PRS-505) it is terrible.
When listing folders it lists all folders. Even system folders that should and do not contain books. Also, it does not read any metadata such as author or title. You only have the folder and filename to go by. There are no tags, collections, genre views or custom sorting. Selecting books is a slow, cumbersome and painful process.
Another issue I have with the bookshelf is it tries to force the use of an SD card. It displays the SD card and the main memory separately. It also defaults to the SD card when ever the device is turned on. I’ve gotten used to the combined view other readers offer and I don’t care if the book is on the SD card or the main memory. I just want to be able to get to my book quickly.
Fonts are another thing I have an issue with. I like the fact that users can include their own fonts. You can also set a font as your default font so you don’t have to change it every time you open a book (this doesn’t actually work, see the EPUB Rendering section). However, the only way you can add your own fonts is with an SD card. They can only be read from an SD card. There is no way to add your own fonts by putting them in the main memory. I have no idea why this is the case but it is an annoyance.
The bookshelf falls flat but it’s not the main place a person will be. Reading books is the main purpose of the device. My ebook library is mainly in two formats. .txt and .epub. Lets talk about how well it works with reading these formats.
One major thing it gets right, in my opinion, is justified text. It does a pretty accurate representation of the text. Another thing it does well is you can change the font size easily. Page turns happened very quickly. Much quicker than my other readers which was a pleasant surprise.
However, it does do some fancy auto detection of components and renders them differently. Words are often hyphenated and span two lines. This is without regard to where or what comes on the second line. Many times the last two letters and the period will appear alone on the second line because it is the end of the paragraph. This causes the text to become disjointed and ugly.
Just like with TXT rendering it is very accurate and just like TXT rendering this is also a problem. It’s so accurate that you cannot change the font. Only the font size can be changed. I tried reading two EPUB files with it and found both to be unreadable.
Harry Potter’s Bookshelf by John Granger was the first EPUB I tried. Upon initially opening it, the text was too small to read. Increasing the text size to a reasonable level made it possible to read the text. However, the margins increased as well. The book has small margins included but to have the text at a reasonable level the margins ended up taking up a quarter of the page, each top, bottom, left, and right. This made the screen essentially a small little window with text. The text being justified only allowed for a few words per line with large spaces between them.
Page turning with Harry Potter’s Bookshelf was completely contrary to how wonderful it is for TXT files. With this book, turning the page was very slow and it didn’t always work. 3 out of 5 button presses wouldn’t register. The light lit up and nothing happened. To make the page turn I had to start holding down the button until the page changed and if it didn’t change after a few seconds I would let go and hold the button down again.
The second book I tried was Word War Z by Max brooks. It doesn’t even open. This is not an issue with DRM because it had been removed.
So far the two books I have as EPUB that I want to read cannot be read on the PP. Those same books open and render beautifully on both the Cybook and the PRS-505.
The PP is disappointing. The hardware is nice; I really like the 5” size. However, the poor bookshelf, the poor rendering, and the inability to even open some books makes it pretty much unusable. I’m going to keep looking into new firmware releases but until I can actually use it to read books it’s not much more than a poor substitute for a paper weight.