Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Foxit eSlick and eReader ebooks

I've just received my Foxit eSlick, a dedicated ebook-reading device, under the current Fictionwise promotion. Delivery was very fast, even to Canada.

I've waited a long time for an e-ink ebook-reading device that supports secure eReader format. This device does, but with some major deficiencies.

These eReader features, standard on other platforms, are NOT supported:
  • dictionary lookup
  • highlighting
  • annotating
  • adding your own bookmarks
  • word search
  • seeing how many pages/screens are in the current chapter
  • setting margin widths
  • toggling justification on/off (mercifully, default is off)
Also missing: any way to change typeface (the only choice is Times Roman, or something similar; there is no sans-serif choice)

Features that ARE supported:
  • change font size
  • portrait and landscape reading
Biggest single problem:

The implementation of eReader software on the eSlick does an atrocious job of formatting text (and I mean atrocious -- was this beta-tested AT ALL?):

Periods, commas, question marks, and other punctuation wrap on their own to the beginning of new lines:
end of sentence
. Beginning of next

Or this sentence
, which has a comma

? That looks odd.
A phrase like "A U.S. senator" ends up as:
.S. senator
Also, line breaks are allowed after opening quotation marks:
"And so," he said, "
it's time to say hello."
Incredibly, line breaks are allowed after apostrophes within words:
I really don'
t know what they
Line break are also allowed midword, if a word contains an accented character: the o in the following is actually o with an umlaut:
dinger's cat
Other things that are irksome:

The middle button on the five-way navigator brings up "Go to Page" [by page number, with no buttons for first or last] which is silly (how often will you use that?), and, even sillier, is having it come up with the number "5" highlighted on the little keyboard, instead of "OK," meaning if you press the middle button by accident (and you will -- the navigator is a bit finicky) it's four keypresses to get out of it (down, down, left, center).

The software uses the term "Bookmark" on the menu when it means "Table of Contents." Fortunately, though, if the book has a hyperlinked table of contents, it does work on the eSlick.

No way to set margin widths -- and, in my view, the default is way too narrow: if your lighting source is off to one side, the first or last character in each line often ends up in the shadow cast by the bezel around the screen.

(I bought a black unit, but suggest you get white -- the crowding of the text toward the edge of the screen might not look as bad with a lighter casing.)

The file directory: on the plus side, it supports folders.

But the file directory shows only the filename, not any metadata (author's name, publisher, year), and only shows the often confusing filenames that Fictionwise assigns to ebooks, which sometimes include numerical strings at the front, or, evn worse, contain nothing but numerical strings. For instance:
A Thousand Words for Stranger.pdb
The one beginning 9780 is David Brin's The Uplift War, and the one beginning 9781 is my own FlashForward -- but there's no way at all you could tell from the eSlick's library listing. And, of course, if the filename begins with "The," the book is alphabetized under the Ts, instead of where it really belongs.


The good news is that the firmware in the Foxit eSlick is user-flashable. Let us hope a new software release, with much better eReader support, is coming soon.

UPDATE 16 February 2010: Well, they finally did update the firmware, and supposedly the problem with wonky line breaks is fixed -- but I, and many others, have reported on the official Foxit eSlick forum that the update will not install for us. The reports have been going up for six days now, and no one from Foxit has deigned to reply.
UPDATE 17 February 2010: On my sixth try, I finally got the firmware update to install, and to my great disappointment discover that they've turned the default from ragged-right margins to flush right with no way to turn it off. I'm very disappointed; this change was not documented anywhere, and, as with most small-screen displays, fully justified text looks crappy on the eSlick

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site
and WakeWatchWonder.com



At December 23, 2009 10:57 AM , Blogger Eve said...

I looked at eSlick because I already have an eReader account, but I think I will wait until there is a little more maturity in this product. I don't understand why eReader (a subsidiary of Barnes and Noble) is flogging eSlick, and JetBook Lite while Barnes and Nobles newest offering is Nook. All of these products and now Kindle support eReader's pbd format. You cannot of course buy Nook in Canada, yet, but...

At December 23, 2009 11:00 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

I really, really like the Kindle hardware, and I'm hoping the Nook will be great, too. And I think we'll all be best served by their being a multiplicity of reading devices out there, but, my God, rushing things to market isn't just bad for the specific product, it's bad for the whole concept of e-reading, because people giving the notion a try and who are then burned won't be back any time soon.

At December 23, 2009 3:29 PM , Blogger David said...

And I don't care who you are, no one likes getting burned to the tune of $250(US). That would turn me off to e-readers altogether at least for a while.

I too am interested in the Nook, but I'm not willing to buy an as yet unproven tool. In the meantime I'll just stick with paper and glue.

Thanks for the tip about eSlick.

At December 23, 2009 6:24 PM , Blogger Eve said...

Okay, I'm grumpy. I really would like a digital reader and it doesn't sound as though any of them are ready. I just saw your review of JetBook. So what about Sony? At least that one I can check out in person.

At December 23, 2009 7:27 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

The Sony Readers are very, very nice. Downside is that most of them don't support dictionaries, and the touchscreen model they make has terrible screen glare (the non-touchscreen ones are lovely).

The Kindle 2 is also a lovely piece of hardware.

Neither of them support eReader format, though.

At December 23, 2009 8:22 PM , Blogger John F said...

What I'm getting from both of your reviews is that ebook readers have some maturing to do. I guess I'll just keep reading from my laptop (and from dead trees) for now.

At December 23, 2009 8:37 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, John F. As I said to Eve, the Kindle and the Sony Reader are decent devices; if you wanted to buy an ebook reader today, either would be a good choice.

At December 23, 2009 9:53 PM , Blogger Eve said...

Thank you for these reviews. I found them very helpful. I do have an old HP iPaq that I still use daily and on which I've read Asimov and Analog. I could continue with that, but would prefer something that was easier on the eyes. Who knows, maybe Santa will leave me a Kindle. :-)

At December 27, 2009 9:53 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Another glaring eSlick formatting problem:

I'm reading a Secure eReader book contains that numerous bulleted lists. On the eSlick, very frequently, if a bulleted list continues over a page break, a line of text from the list item is lost over the page break. I have tested this same book on a Palm OS 5 device using eReader, and the bulleted lists work fine, so something is clearly wrong with the way the eSlick renders bulleted lists.

The book in question


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