I thought I’d kick off this blog with a product review that I wrote on Amazon, with a few minor tweaks and edits along with a little more detail. So, here we go….
$104.95 from Amazon.com
Review originally posted on Amazon.com
First off, I should probably state for the record that I did not purchase this e-reader/tablet. My mother purchased it (not from Amazon), and after a couple of fruitless and exasperating attempts to cajole some kind of use out of it, put it back in its shipping box and decided she wanted to return it. However, a couple of months passed and for some reason, this wonderful little e-reader/tablet did not make its way back to the post office. After remembering about it and realizing that it was too late to return the item for a refund, she gave it to me.
It’s not every day that I get a small electronic toy to play with, so I set about trying to find out how to get some kind of functionality out of this device. I’m sad to say that I have not been very successful. Right off the bat, you’ll notice that its high quality craftsmanship shows right from opening the package to discover an instruction manual written in perfect Engrish. Yes, that’s right, the device manufacturer decided it would be best to cater to those who do not have a perfect grasp of English by using Engrish instead. The instruction manual (actually labeled “Manual Instruction”, I kid you not) is chock full of useful information, like how to play music on the device (really?), how to set it up, etc. This package even included a somewhat decent protective pleather case for it, complete with a magnetic clasp. The other accessories include a power supply, a USB cable for connecting to the computer, and an invisible stylus. The invisible stylus is particularly of note, as it is so effective at remaining invisible that I still have not been able to locate it after searching every nook and cranny of the packaging!
Once I had everything unpacked, I plugged it in to charge it as it had literally no power left in the battery, and returned several hours later to find out it was still less than 50% charged. Not wanting to wait any longer, I fired it up by pressing the small recessed power button on the bottom right edge of the device. The button is one of those standard fares in which they tried to make it difficult to accidentally press, but in doing so made it difficult to purposefully press. In fact, the power button almost insists on doing the one thing you don’t want it to do. It tends to take me several tries in order to actually get the stupid thing to power on or wake from sleep, and when wanting to put it into sleep mode, it instead likes to completely shut down the device. I don’t think they could have made it any clumsier if they tried.
The device first boots up with some swanky pretentious splash screens that are obviously meant to appeal to the hipster crowd who sit in the Barnes & Noble bistro sipping coffee while reading books in the most obnoxious and attention-grabbing manner possible. You may read this and think that I’m exaggerating for the sake of spicing up a review of a dreadful device, but I’m really not. Just boot one up for yourself, and you’ll see not one, but two different screens with quotes from Confucius and Mark Twain superimposed on top of pictures of coffee mugs next to books. Despite the obnoxious over-reaching market targeting, the screens do look slick and put a nice sheen on top of an otherwise dull (and hobbled) Android 1.5 base OS. Unfortunately, that’s where the shiny frills both begin and end.
The manufacturer’s decision to stick with Engrish as its main language has obviously extended to the software on the e-reader/tablet. Once the device is powered up and has booted past the splash screens, you’ll be at what is the “home screen” of the device’s software. The home screen includes a nice large widget that sometimes will actually show the correct date and weather conditions once you have set it to the proper location. I say “sometimes” because, while the date does seem to register a change occasionally, the temperature displayed does not. However, even a broken clock is right twice a day, right? Underneath the date, there are three icons; one for the Borders e-book store, one for the web browser that looks suspiciously like the icon for Internet Explorer (except it’s not, of course, since this device runs Android), and one for Setting. I found it interesting that there would only be one setting for the device, so I pressed on the icon, and nothing happened. Then I pressed again, and nothing happened again. I tried a few more times just for fun and then noticed that it came up to the standard Settings app for Android. Most of the standard Android settings are actually available, so that was a bit of a relief. Someone should let the manufacturer know that the correct word in this case would be “Settings” (plural, as in more than one).
Anyway, on to the device’s main purpose: e-books. The bottom 2/3rds of the screen is taken up by several “windows” that show the history of your most recently read books, as well as what all is available in your device’s library. The device actually comes with around 25 free books installed, but before you become overly ecstatic about this fact and rush out to buy it on that strength alone, be forewarned: every one of those 25 books is available for free through several avenues, considering that they are all public domain. The History and My Library windows both display the books as thumbnail images of the books’ cover, which is actually a decent touch. Both windows also include left and right arrow widgets, which lets you scroll horizontally through their contents. To open a book, simply press on the icon for the book, and once you’ve registered a decent press through this not-so-hot resistive touchscreen, the book will open within a few seconds.
Since this device is actually labeled primarily as an e-reader, I figure that it should at least do an admirable job of letting someone read an e-book. For the most part, it does. The only two hardware buttons on the screen side of the device are left and right arrow buttons, which let you flip back and forth through pages of a book. This works decently, although the buttons have a lot of play and are elongated enough to where you need to make sure you press firmly in the middle of the button in order to make sure it registers a press. Alternately, you can also flip through pages by swiping left to right or right to left. However, this works better in theory as in practice, as this is not the most sensitive touchscreen in the world. The reader does at least provide a cute little page-flip animation when going to the next or previous page, although don’t be surprised to see it take a second or two for text to actually appear on the next page after a flip. I expect that kind of lag from an older e-ink device, not from an LCD screen. Also, when swiping the screen to flip pages, the page flip animation will sometimes “stick”, showing the page only half-way flipped. This has more to do with the touchscreen’s fickleness rather than the e-reader software.
As far as purchasing books through the Borders store, I admittedly have not tried to do so, as I have not had the patience to create an Adobe ID, due to Adobe’s DRM solution being in use. However, if your experience with this device is like mine, you may not have the patience to try this either. If that’s the case, this device does support sideloading of both epub and PDF files. I encountered small formatting issues with some epub books and agonizingly slow performance with PDFs, so these are only options if you’re willing to put up with these quirks.
So, how does this thing function as something other than just an e-reader? Well, it does include several “apps” on the device, including a web browser, which is the standard Android 1.5 browser. If you use an Android phone, you pretty much know what to expect from it. The browser is useable, although it’s quite slow and does not seem to render many web pages accurately. Also, this brings me to another issue: the on-screen keyboard. The keyboard is almost impossible to use, as it almost never registers key presses correctly. Pressing firmly and squarely on the C key, for instance, almost always prints a V instead. It’s like this with most of the keys, although with some trial and error, it’s possible to actually type out a whole word with correct spelling. However, trying to do that many times over proves to be nothing more than an exercise in frustration and futility.
On the bottom of the main screen is an app drawer that will sometimes appear when you press on the tab for it. The apps that are located here include the browser, the standard Android email client, a GPS tracker that obviously does not work right as it this is not a device with GPS functionality, and a few other utilities. I have not tried out most of them, as I imagine my experience with them will be no better than with everything else I’ve tried out so far.
For the sake of some brevity, I’ll go ahead and wrap up this review. If you are looking for a cheap e-reader with a color screen with some other secondary functions, this device just might work for you. Maybe. The e-reader software is actually functional, although not without its quirks. If you expect to do anything other than read e-books on here, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. There are far better products out there that, while more expensive (such as the Nook Color), provide a far superior experience. I would recommend staying far away from this device if doing anything at all other than reading e-books is important to you. If you simply only want to read e-books, get an e-ink device such as the Kindle or the Nook. Your eyes and your sanity will thank you for it.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 10)