Micro Fondle 2: ECTACO jetBook eBook Reader


Ever since ECTACO emailed me about upcoming ePub capability for its jetBook eBook reader, I’ve gotten a renewed interest in it.

So yesterday morning, since I was in the area anyway, I made it a point to stop in at J&R to give it yet another fondle. This did not put me in good stead with the hapless salesman, who had to cycle through all four display models (in colors red, black, white, and gray!) to find the one that had a charge on its battery! As it turned out, he had to plug it into AC for a moment to get one to work.

All of what follows is from my memory. I didn’t take notes and I didn’t pull out the crapcam (I was feeling sorry for the salesman!). The above photo is from the original micro fondle.

Again: the hardware is just solid. Even though the case is all plastic, it has a thick, industrial-like feel to it. Not any part of it feels cheap or flimsy. The casing has a pebbled finish, so it’s not likely to easily slip out of the hand. All of the buttons feel solid and do not wobble.

Also again: in direct-lighting conditions, the backlight-less LCD screen can be mistaken for eInk — except, being LCD, there is no flashing when turning pages.

I went through Settings and discovered there are six font sizes, ranging from 12 point all the way to 32. This is one more size than the newest Sony Reader, the 700, offers.

There are, however, only two built-in fonts, and both are sadly sans-serif: Arial and Verdana. I would have liked at least one serifed font, even if it was simply Times or a variant thereof. I don’t know if it’s possible to add fonts.

There’s a built-in dictionary! The Sony Reader still lacks this. I don’t know how extensive the dictionary is, but I’ll give ECTACO the benefit of the doubt here because its main business has been electronic dictionaries and translators. I have to think the dictionary is good. In fact, I just went to look at the User Manual (PDF link; with another PDF version too), and it states:

The English/Russian, English/Polish, and English explanatory dictionaries built into ECTACO jetBook allow you to instantly translate an unfamiliar word.

So, yeah, the dictionary is solid.

Unlike both the Sony Reader and the abominable Kindle, eBooks can be grouped together into folders (the new Sony Reader 700 offers Collections, but it’s not quite the same). There is also access to the filesystem with a directory display. I’m not sure, however, if any file commands can be carried out on the device itself. Again, looking at the User Manual, apparently so:


Select the Books folder, Music folder, or Pictures folder and then press OK. You will see the Files menu which has the following options: Open, Copy, Delete, and Rename. Select the desired option and then press OK.

The jetBook had one image on it. A 600K-plus JPEG that was a flyer for the jetBook itself. It took a few seconds to open but was worth the minor wait because it looked gorgeous. Since it was most likely shrunk down from an 8.5 x 11-inch size to fit the 5-inch diagonal screen, text was very tiny.

The screen can be rotated ninety-degrees. This worked well and was fast.

I had two problems. When moving backward through the menus, I encountered one in Russian. This seemed to be the list of eBooks, which a moment ago had actually been listed in English! I don’t know how that happened.

The other thing was the slider on the left side, which can be used to page forward and page back. It was the one weak link on the device. I couldn’t see how to use it with one hand without threatening to have the jetBook slip out of my hand to the ground. At least, unlike the abominable Kindle, it’s a button that can easily be ignored and I doubt it can be accidentally invoked.

Operation of the unit had an acceptable speed. It didn’t have the horsepower pop I felt with the Sony Reader 700, but it didn’t feel altogether sluggish, either.

I wouldn’t rely on the jetBook for MP3s, however. User reviews over at newegg give MP3 playback a FAIL:

The MP3 player is a joke. It can be suitable for listening some spoken word lower quailty audio, but if you want to play music, expect poor sound quality. It seems like it doesn’t have enough power to play higher bitrate MP3’s.

I don’t see the point of putting MP3s on a reading device, anyway, so this feature is superfluous to me.

It seems the user reviewers at newegg bought the jetBook primarily to deal with PDFs. PDF is the File Format Of The Damned. It’s best for reading on monitors or even perhaps on that upcoming ginormous Plastic Logic reader. I can’t see the sense of trying to deal with a file formatted for 8.5 x 11-inch paper on a 5- or 6-inch screen. PDFs can be optimized for eBook devices — but I don’t think most PDF publishers will do that. They’re likely to figure such problems are a piracy speedbump (and I’d actually tend to agree).

The jetBook doesn’t require a desktop client for eBooks. Simply plug it into a USB port and it appears as a Removable Drive. Drag and drop eBooks, MP3s (bleh!), and graphics onto it.

Two questions I have and don’t know the answers to:

1) What is the CPU and its speed? I’m wondering if the current hardware will have the necessary horsepower to deal with ePub and MobiPocket files. As for non-DRMed MobiPocket, I expect so, because even Palm PDAs could do those. But even non-DRMed ePub? I don’t know.

2) Since no desktop client is being used, does that rule out DRMed ePub and DRMed MobiPocket files? Someone who knows, leave a Comment!

It’s too bad the price of the jetBook is so high. It’s perceived value just isn’t equivalent to that of the Sony Reader. It’s not. I still think slashing the price by a third could excite interest in it — especially if it will actually be able to do DRMed ePub and DRMed MobiPocket files.

I’d like to see a second dedicated eBook reader that can do ePub. That’d put further pressure on Amazon and its abominable Kindle file format lock-in. It’d also offer an alternative for people who foolishly believe they can’t deal with the page-turn flashing of eInk. And if the jetBook underwent a price cut, it could increase the potential audience for eBooks.


ECTACO jetBook photos on Flickr
MobileRead jetBook review and discussion thread
MobileRead jetBook owner photo

Previously here:

ECTACO jetBook Ups ePub Stakes
ECTACO jetBook At Blowout Price!
More About That ECTACO jetBook eBook Reader
Micro Fondle: ECTACO jetBook eBook Reader

Explore posts in the same categories: eBooks, Reference - Tech, Tech - Other, Tech - Sony

4 Comments on “Micro Fondle 2: ECTACO jetBook eBook Reader”

  1. Robert Says:

    You are incorrect, the dictionary is surprisingly bad.

    The dictionary doesn’t handle conjugations or variations of words, such as plurals. Its a human dictionary, grafted on cheaply into the device.

    In the modern world, most people have computer dictionaries…i.e the computer can easily take any variant of a word, and give you its root word.

    The ectaco, however, just gives you a word that is the closest in spelling…in foreign languages this is often a very bad guess.

    Well just imagine if you had an entry to ‘to be’ and it was the only entry for the word, and “am” “are”, etc…are not in the dictionary at all, and when you look up the word “am”, the dictionary gives you the word “ample” instead.

    This is precisely the insanity of looking up a Russian word in the Ectaco.

    Don’t get me wrong, this does happen to be the best e-book reader for Russian, considering it at least does support Cyrillic, and that it costs not too much, and the dictionary is not completely useless.

    But Ectaco in many ways, is cheap…never quite showing the polish you’d find in a Sony or Apple device.

    Like, why is the dictionary the 1 key? The 1 key is at the top of the device, far away from the thumb pad. When you are needing the dictionary a lot, it would be great if the 9 key brought it up, because the 9 key is actually within reach, without having to lift your hand.

    For many reasons, Ectaco frustrates their customers….not only on this product, but most of their products are cheap.

    Nevertheless, given its the best you can get right now for reading Russian…if thats your goal, go ahead and buy it.

  2. Robert Says:

    p.s. sorry if my first comment wasn’t greatly organized. But just as a word of explanation, human dictionaries for many foreign langauges, often only contain the root word. In my example the word “to be” being the root, with conjugations being “I am”, “you are”, etc.

    In the humand dictionary, if you don’t know the root, you just don’t get to look up the word at all, too bad!

    With the Ectaco, even if you do know the root word, you may be in for quite the surprise, since Ectaco dumped you on the wrong word, you may have to click through hundreds of words until you finally get on the right one….or you may have to use its clunky search feature to search out the original. Either way, its a cumbersome waste of time.

    Again, thats in Russian….I wouldn’t be surprised if the English side worked like a charm…they seem to be geared towards English students in most of their products, not people actually going the other way and learning the foreign langauge instead. Thats merely an afterthought for them.

  3. Robert Says:

    oh heck, one last ramble then I’m done:-)

    When you are on a Windows PC with U.S. Windows, you don’t have any problem with Cyrillic….but its all stored as Unicode, which your Ectaco doesn’t support.

    The geniuses at Ectaco, don’t mention this anywhere, and their tech support doesn’t even understand the problem.

    They don’t understand it, because their Russian localized PC’s aren’t having this problem, as Russian windows has windows1251 support built in…for them its just a regular text document.

    Their are free programs that can convert a unicode doc to windows1251, even if that is not the codepage for your version of Windows….

    Just don’t expect any directions or even understanding of the issue from Ectaco.

    Btw, I agree, the screen is very nice. The device is built solid. Battery life is long.

    MP3 support is of course, very important for a language learner, because you are not only reading the book, but also listening to the book…you buy an mp3 ‘book on tape’…becuase listening is part of language learning.

    the mp3 support is essential, and even if its quality is bad for pure music listenign, its plenty good enough to be a book on tape, type of player.

  4. mikecane Says:

    Thanks for all those comments, Robert. I have no experience with Russian, so your expertise could help others who pop in to read this. It’s strange that ECTACO skimped on the Russian dictionary — because their specialty is selling translation devices!

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