Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ECTACO jetBook - Lite and eReader

Here's my experience after two hours with the ECTACO jetBook - Lite, an AA-battery-operated dedicated ebook reader with a very nice black-and-white non-backlit LCD sceen (instead of an e-ink display). I bought this specifically to read eReader-formatted books from; Fictionwise is promoting this reader on their site.

Despite Fictionwise's ad here, which shows "Dictionary" as the first menu choice [same graphic as above], dictionary lookup is not supported with eReader files. It only works with plain text files (or maybe with some other formats -- but NOT with eReader (whether DRM'd or not).

Really, Fictionwise-folk, you must take down that picture; it is misleading advertising.

Now, here is the un-effing-believable part: you have to enter your eReader unlock code [the credit-card number used to purchase the book] for each book (and it's a pain in the ASCII to do so, since the device has no keyboard, virtual or otherwise). It remembers the code for books you've already opened, but you have to enter it for each new book.

It took me about 90 seconds to enter my name (after I figured out how to do it); the credit-card number wasn't nearly as hard, but still the whole process takes about two minutes in total, and is VERY frustrating. I have never seen a device that supports eReader format that requires you to re-enter the exact same name and credit card information for each commercial book you open.

Features found in eReader software on other platforms that are not supported by the ECTACO jetBook - Lite:
  • dictionary lookup
  • highlighting
  • annotating
  • word search
  • hyperlinked table of contents
  • seeing how many pages/screens are in the current chapter
  • setting margin widths (and they're way too narrow by default)
  • toggling justification on/off (it is stuck ON for eReader files; it can be toggled for plain text files, though)
Font choices: Arial (sans-serif) or Verdana (also sans-serif) in various sizes. No serif face available.

Features the device does have:

Portrait and landscape: supported.

Auto-page turn: supported.

Actual formatting of books seems fine (well, ellipsis points that are coded as three periods with spaces between them sometimes split over two lines, which is wrong); none of the unbelievably bad formatting errors found with eReader books on the Foxit eSlick are in evidence on the jetBook. Forcing justification on is wrong, though; it should be a user-choice (justified lines look particularly bad on small screens, such as this device has).

The physical device is actually quite nice with decent enough ergonomics, and it's comfortable in the hand.

The screen is very good -- and one forgets how annoying the slow screen change on an e-ink device is until one sees something with a similar-looking screen that does it instantly. One also forgets how irritating the ghosting on e-ink devices is until using one that doesn't exhibit that behavior.

The poor eReader support -- no dictionaries, no way to turn off justification, making you enter your credit-card number every time you open a new book -- makes this pretty irritating as a device for reading premium content from Fictionwise.

As a plain ASCII text viewer (Project Gutenberg, anyone?), it's actually rather nice: justification on/off as you please, and dictionary support. But for eReader DRM'd books? Ugh -- I can live with the other deficiencies for the time being, but the need to enter my credit card number for every new book is a show-stopper.

For those in Canada, like me, ECTACO ships from a Canadian warehouse, by the way, so you avoid customs hassles (Americans get the device from the US warehouse). That's nice (and shipping was cheap).
Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site



At December 23, 2009 6:43 PM , Blogger K. W. Ramsey said...

It sounds like you are having loads of fun with the e-readers recently, and by fun I mean tear your eyeballs out frustration.

I have yet to see a single one of these devices that actually interests me. It may sound old fashioned, but I love the feel of a book in my hands, the smell of the paper, and the sensation of turning a page.

I think if I was ever going to purchase a reader device it would likely be something like the iPod touch, where I can have media other than just books on it. Of course, this assumes I can get books in a format that can be read on said devices.

At December 23, 2009 7:22 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, K.W.

Actually, I think the Kindle 2, the Kindle DX, and the non-touchscreen versions of the Sony Reader are all very appealing devices; I'm hoping the Nook will live up to its hype, too.

One of the very best dedicated ebook reading devices was the original Rocket eBook, and the upgraded RCA REB-1100 (the Fictionwise eBookwise 1150 and the GEB 1150 where acutally steps backward, in my humble opinion -- terrible screen fonts, and no landscape support). It was amazing how much Rocket got RIGHT almost a dozen years ago.

I share your fondness for the aesthetics of the printed page, but I need bigger type than a lot of printed books provide, and I like reading in the dark while my wife is sleeping, and I like having really good dictionaries to consult instantaneously while I read. So for me, the very best ebook reader has been my Sony Clie PEG-TH55 a Palm OS device); it's a joy to use.

At January 06, 2010 11:04 PM , Blogger Mike said...

"It took me about 90 seconds to enter my name (after I figured out how to do it); the credit-card number wasn't nearly as hard, but still the whole process takes about two minutes in total, and is VERY frustrating. I have never seen a device that supports eReader format that requires you to re-enter the exact same name and credit card information for each commercial book you open."

I think you would want to enter the name/number for each book.
Your credit card number will change eventually. You might change your name. You don't want to lose access to an ebook when you get a new credit card or get married and take your spouses name. You can also be given ebooks as gifts, possibly purchased with one-time credit card numbers.

At January 06, 2010 11:13 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

The credit card number is hard-coded into the file of the book when you download it. Fictionwise allows you to change your credit-card number, and redownload the books (or use the old credit card number -- the book doesn't know that that's no longer your current card number). But it IS a form of social DRM, and the point of it is that the book is identifiably yours (the file for each book begins "From the Library of Robert J. Sawyer," or whoever), and depends on a key code that has real value to you and would not be shared lightly with others. One may or may not like the Fictionwise / eReader DRM scheme, but it's the least obtrusive and most flexible one I've seen from any ebook vendor.

(Yes, there are those who say there should be no DRM, but so long as major publishers are insisting on it, we need some system, and I'd much rather my books be tied to ME (my name, my credit card number) than to some DEVICE that will be broken or lost or obsolete all too soon.

I gave up reading Mobipocket DRM'd books for precisely this reason: I changed devices way to frequently. eReader lets me read all of my books on as many devices as I happen to own (in my house, at the moment, I've got well over a dozen devices that have eReader books loaded on them, and all of them work; that's impossible with Mobipocket).

At January 25, 2010 11:23 PM , Blogger Mr.Harkavy said...

Just a note: The latest update for the Lite fixes the problem with needing to enter the CC multiple times.


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