Tuesday, 9 February 2010

JetBook - How Does It Fare?

You may remember I recently ranted about what an ideal eBook reader should (not) have. I have now obtained, for test purposes, but with a view of getting one for keeps, ECTACO JetBook. It will be interesting to see how does it compare to my ideals, as stated earlier. Let's first see how it scores in terms of checks in boxes for various areas I discussed.

Form factor
JetBook measures 153x110x13mm - almost exactly (one of) my ideal
A6 size(s)

Screen type
Non-backlit LCD, 4 level grey scale - half marks; pages flip quickly, but no backlight

Keys on sides and bottom, no full keyboard - a good choice, fits nicely in the upper mid range I'd like to see

eBooks supported
.txt, .pdf, .fb2, .jpg, .epub, .mobi, .prc and .rtf, none DRMed - very good

100-200MB internal, but up to 16GB SD card support - more than enough

Battery life
Rated at 20-24h of continuous use - could do better, and battery not user replaceable is BAD

$180 (£180) - good if you import from US (works out at ~£120), the UK price is a joke

So far so good! It only really fails in terms of battery life, and the fact it's not user replaceable (so you can't carry a spare). Mitigating is the fact that it charges out of USB or AC, so if you have your laptop with you, you don't have to drag JetBook charger, too.

But how does it fare in real life use? I've now been using it for a couple of days, for around 6 hours of reading altogether, and here's what it was like...

First and foremost, the form factor. JetBook fits very nicely in my hand (keep in mind I'm 6' tall, and have hands to match), making it superficially easy to use single-handed. The page turning slider on the left fits very nicely under the thumb, making page turning a doddle. This is when holding JetBook in portrait orientation. But there's a problem! Holding it up with your fingers, sans the thumb, makes it a bit difficult to hold for more than maybe 10 minutes. Despite being lightweight the momentum it exerts on the wrist is a tad too much. Resting the bottom left corner in your palm helps, but only somewhat, as the tendency of the top to tilt over needs to be overcome. If you can rest most of the weight against something (your thigh, for example), all is well again. Luckily, I found that the landscape option solves the problem of weight for me. Again, the bottom left corner rests in palm, and the thumb rests against the other page turning button. I found I can hold JetBook like this for long enough periods without the wrist feeling tired. One minor problem with landscape orientation is that screen refresh on page turn is considerably slower, and noticeable, unlike for the portrait orientation. It is still far better than eInk displays, and can be compensated for. All in all, I still find that form factor is good for my purposes, and JetBook can be used comfortably enough, even held in one hand.

The only other really important usability characteristics are page turning speed and screen contrast. The former is imperceptible in portrait mode, and perceptible yet bearable in landscape. I don't really have a complaint there. Screen contrast is not as good as eInk, but it is good enough in various (and varying) light conditions. Fast page turning definitely offsets any difference in contrast and viewability - at least for me. So in this paragraph, the verdict is a resounding PASS.

There are of course other considerations and features I could go into in great detail. However, none are really important for reading experience. See, I read books, and reading books is a lengthy process. I don't particularly care if the menu system is sluggish (it is), because I spend a minuscule amount of time using it. Wide choice of fonts may be important for some. Arial and Verdana on JetBook are just fine for me, as well as the choice of sizes (12 to 20-something point, I tend to use 16). JetBook also sports an MP3 player. Good, but I use my Nokia N900 for that regardless. It still a good thing it's there, and you can plug in your own set of earphones (JetBook uses a standard 3.5mm jack). USB connection is standard, and used for charging, too. All good stuff. And so on, and so forth...

So, in conclusion, do I like the JetBook? Yes, I do. Will I be getting one? I think so. It'd be good if the price was reduced further (I am sure there is scope), but since eInk readers are already twice the price of JetBook, I can understand why ECTACO wouldn't want to. I hope the review unit will be offered at a reduced price (I suggest half price). If it ins't, I'll look at second hand market. There surely will be people who want to beat the Joneses in all the bells and whistles and checks in feature boxes, but have "mistakenly" got a JetBook. Getting a JetBook is not a mistake. If you're like me, you'll like it well enough, and save some dosh in the process, too.

This post was not paid for by ECTACO or anybody else. I just happened to get my hands on a JetBook to try out.