Update 8th October 2010: I’ve since bought a Kindle 3, and have posted a followup, Enkindled, featuring a comparison between the two readers.
When I’ve been asked about buying an eBook readerI I say I’m simply waiting for colour e-ink displays to become available and cheap. My plan is to demolish my dead tree book pile and simply switch to eBooks, and with the colour display I can stop subscribing to magazines too. But with the selection available recently, I’ve been getting eager to forget all of that and buy into e-ink.
The hardware has been around for a while now and prices seem to be creeping down at the same pace as the technology advances – which is to say incredibly slow. Not helping matters, one leading pioneer company filed Chapter 11 in the USA recently, and more importantly the dedicated eBook reader has taken a massive hit in the form of the ubiquitous iPad, which trades the readibility of e-ink for an LCD screen and the shortened battery life, while providing eBook reading as just one of it’s many features.
Still, I just want to read. Knowing how bad reading on my Blackberry’s screen becomes I couldn’t cop out on an iPadII one of the ever-growing selection of the new LCD readers. Until recently you couldn’t even buy a reader in Australia, but now with Amazon offering up it’s Kindle overseas, Borders and Angus & Robertson serving up the barebones Kobo, and a few stores offering rebadged OEMs from Asia, eBook public awareness is growing.
OfficeworksIII to my great surprise advertised three readers in their latest catalogue. The first was a scary 5″ LCD model with an equivalent price, and two seemingly identically featured e-ink models for under $300. The details were vague, so I took the trip to my local to find out more.
Located inexplicably with the laptops and hidden at ankle height were the three readers. I asked if they had display models, to which I was told they were too easy to steal. I’d almost decided against it when she mentioned taking the already-opened box to the counter to have a look, “…like the last bloke did”.
An immediately disappointed checkout lady opened the box while asking what it was and how it worked, and seemed more interested once she knew what this strange thing did. I obliged, hoping she might help people in future.
I was surprised just how small the unit is; there’s only the screen and a few navigation buttons below, so the whole reader ends up smaller than a Penguin Classic paperback. As the battery was completely flat I couldn’t test any of the features that might help me decide on it, so I asked about their return policy. Begrudgingly I was informed that I could return it up to a week later, but I’d have to keep the box and receipt. Still amazed by the size I decided to take the punt, knowing full well I could change my mind.
Once home and charged, I could try out the reader in detail. The positives:
- It feels great in your hands, and the weight (a mere 156 grams) is evenly balanced and considerably lighter than anything else on the market.
- The page turning buttons on the back are a welcome change from most readers, and even being a southpaw they’re still more handy than front navigation.
- The internal 2GB memory seems more than enough for a dedicated eBook reader without having to use an SD card.
- Plugged into USB it becomes a mass storage device, so it’ll play friendly with Linux and anything else you throw at it. Even though you could drag and drop books onto it, you’ve got full Calibre support to make life easier.
- The obvious kickers with a no-frills reader; no touchscreen, no WiFi, no 3G, and no dictionary.
- Piano black finish is a terrible fingerprint magnet, but great for forensically proving who deleted your bookmarks.
- The screen, although bright (and with that trademark light-catching background) has a fair degree less contrast than a regular book.
- The feather-touch navigation buttons on the bottom are all too easy to press accidentally while reading, and recovery is made more difficult by the confusing menu system.
- Format-wise, ePub worked fine as did plaintext, but I couldn’t get plucker books to work at all. I didn’t test PDF, although the manual states that PDF rendering is so intensive that MP3 support is turned off during reading.
- Forget trying to change the font if it’s not your style; the only one available looks a lot like Arial. There are five sizes, although anything beyond the smallest two are laughably impractical for reading.
- Although the page turns are what you’d expect from an e-ink screen refresh, there seems to be a distinct lag to certain operations such as changing the font sizes.
- There’s no slipcase or cover to protect the screen, and with it’s odd size and protruding navigation button, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything off the shelf to fit well.
- The operating system is not designed for readers, with several confusing levels and really ugly UI.
- The box states that you expand the memory with micro SD, yet the slot is for regular SD. Worse still…
The single worst negative is the false advertising – both on the box, online and in store. The W960 screen both Pico and Officeworks would have you believe is 8 shade greyscale, which simply isn’t true. Here’s a jpeg of a black-to-white gradient I made with GIMP displayed on my unit:
As you can see, it’s the cheaper 4 shade greyscale screen. For reading this might not be a big deal, but for books with illustrations or browsing your own photosIV it’s nowhere as good as the newer screens available in more expensive readers.
The only way I discovered this is because Pico are simply rebadging this unit for Australia, and all the other rebadges around the world (including the manufacturer) state that the true 4 shade screen in their specs. Elsewhere The Pico Life W960 is also known in other countries as the Teclast K3, the Mediacom Jerry-Book E60, and the Oaxis W960.
The only other dubious claim is of the 1500maH battery, as other brands state there’s only a 1000mAh inside – something completely impossible to verify either way without breaking the unit apart. There’s no accelerometer in this model either (to switch between portrait and landscape) which is unusual as a video online of another rebadged unit clearly demonstrates that handy feature.
I was at odds on whether or not to keep or return the W960 – for every thing I liked about it there seemed to be another reason as good to rebox and return the thing. With a few days up my sleeve on the return policy, I read a book on it. The very next night I went to continue where I’d left off and found the screen blank.
The battery is supposed to last 20 hours, but from all other readers I guessed that would mean twenty hours of reading. This wasn’t the case; you will have to charge this device at most every day, and at least every second day if you use it or not.
This was the nail in the coffin; I didn’t want to spend more time charging a device than I was to use it. Repackaged as good as newV I returned it for a full refund, with only a few cursory questions as to why.
I think the most important aspect of the current selection of eBook readers is the interface, and while the asthetics and hardware of the W960 (sans the screen) are great, the awful software and resulting battery life make it a poor choice. While writing this both the Kindle and Nook took big price dives, making this reader all the more redundant, and me happier that I returned it. Now all I have to do is finish my dead-tree books.
- Only once or twice, mind you. [↩]
- Or forgive myself for spending that sort of money on one either! [↩]
- A sad, expensive version of OfficeMax in the USA [↩]
- No idea why anybody would bother, though. [↩]
- Although there was no real factory reset, so the two public domain books I added were still there, along with my bookmarks. [↩]