The Ectaco jetBook Universal Portable Reading Device Review

With all of the hullabaloo over the Amazon Kindle 2‘s recent release, one might think that there were no other eBook readers on the market; not so! Those who eschew DRM protection and who can do without the convenience of an online content store (I’m thinking of Amazon‘s and Sony‘s, specifically) should pay particular attention to the Ectaco jetBook, a reading device capable of handling .txt, .pdf, .fb2, .jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp, and MP3 file formats. According to the literature I picked up at CES, the EPUB format is expected in Q1 2009*.


The first thing to greet you when opening the box is an Ectaco / LingvoSoft bonus CD containing translation dictionaries, flashcards, and phrasebooks.


Included in the box are the jetBook. a wall charger, a set of earphones, a USB transfer cable, a silicone case, a padded sleeve, and a user manual.


It’s very cool that Ectaco included two carrying cases with the jetBook because finding accessories specifically made for this reader will likely be near impossible, as it is not one of the more widely known brands.


Display: 5.01″ VGA reflective monochrome TFT
Memory: SDRAM 112MB (comes with 48MB free due to pre-loaded content)
Card Slot: SD 1.0 card slot (12.5MB/sec), supports up to a 2GB SD card
USB: USB 1.1
Audio: 3.5mm stereo audio headset
Battery: 2800 mAh Li-ion

The jetBook measures approximately 6″ tall x 4.3″ wide x 0.5″ thick, and it weighs about 7.5 ounces. It seems a little bit blocky, but it is better looking than the Kindle 1 was. The screen measures 5″ diagonally, and it dominates the front of the device. The jetBook is available in burgundy, gray or white; I was sent the burgundy version.

The case is composed of plastic, and it is quite solid and rigid. The jetBook actually feels like a comfortably sized reader to hold for extended periods of time, as it is not so large as to be unwieldy, and not so heavy as to cause major wrist fatigue.

Let’s take a quick device tour…

On the left side is a plastic sliding Page Up / Page Down bar. Although I was at first worried that it might snap off if something hooked it just right, I never had any issues during the testing period. I would eventually find the slider to be an incredibly unobtrusive way to navigate through pages; I like it better than using a D-Pad or clicking button.

On the left of the device is what reminded me at first of one of those paper address books with the lettered tabs on the side, but in this case, the tabs are numbered 0 – 9, with letters and symbols on each. The first time I looked at this alpha-numeric keyboard, I couldn’t help but think of what a chore it would be actually entering data with this method; I was right.

On the bottom left of the jetBook is another Page Up / Page Down entry method, this one situated horizontally and using buttons. It seems a little bit redundant to have the buttons there, but I suppose they would come in handy if the slider on the left was ever accidentally broken.

On the bottom right is a cluster that includes (from top left going clockwise) Menu, Font Size / Zoom, Cancel and Rotate buttons; in the center is a four-way D-pad with center select. The D-pad has other uses of course, but it is also yet another way to Page Up and Page Down.


There’s not much to see on the jetBook’s back, mainly just the hump (presumably from the non user-removable battery) and the reset button.


On the bottom of the device is a power button, which seemed a little too small at first – like you might have to use the tip of a nail to activate it, but it was actually quite easily operated by pressing with a flat finger or thumb. On the right is a 3.5mm headphone jack.


The right side is plain, but for the edges of the alphanumeric keys.


On the top of the jetBook, there is a rigid plastic cover that hides and protects the SD and miniUSB ports.


On the bottom of the left side, there is a pass-through for a wrist lanyard.


Next to a fat paperback, the jetBook is positively elfin.


The same can be said when it is next to a thinner than usual hardback.


Their screen sizes aren’t much different, but the Kindle 2 makes the jetBook look nearly pocketable.


The Kindle 2 is a bit thinner than the jetBook, however.


That’s the hardware; now let’s take a look at the interface and the user experience…

When I first turned on the jetBook, my immediate thought was E Ink? And then I realized that no, it wasn’t E Ink; I was looking at a screen similar to the grayscale LCD display that I used to read from on the Palm V


…albeit with three major differences: much larger reading surface, much higher resolution, and no backlight option.

Similar to the Palm V, the jetBook has a bit of a greenish-cast background, which is more noticeable when it is side by side with an E Ink device like the Kindle 2.


The jetBook’s screen is easily viewable indoors as well as outside in full sunlight. Fonts can be made larger or smaller if needed, but there is no contrast adjustment.


The menu is easily navigated by selecting the corresponding number on the alphanumeric keyboard to the desired screen option; selections can also be made via the D-pad and center select.


The jetBook has a built-in MP3 player which allows music to play in the background while reading, but this is really a borderline useless feature because the maximum amount of memory is just a little bit over 2GB, assuming a 2GB SD card has been inserted.


The jetBook can display pictures in grayscale…


…and perhaps the most useful part of this feature is this…


jetBook screen at 100%

…the ability to zoom up to 200%.


jetBook screen at 200%


The jetBook comes with a plethora of free classics pre-installed. You’ll find many favorites are already here, including titles by the following: Daniel Defoe, the Grimm Brothers, Herman Melville, James Matthew Barrie, Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, O. Henry, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Barr, Franz Kafka, Herbert Wells, Miguel de Cervantes, Oscar Wilde, Robert Stevenson, Edward Berens, Leonardo Da Vinci, Plato, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jack London, James Cooper, James Joyce, Jane Austen, Jerome K. Jerome, John Galsworthy, Sidney Heath, Sun Tzu, Thomas Hardy, Victor Hugo, Walter Scott, William Shakespeare, and William Thackeray. There are also reference documents pre-installed, including the CIA World Book, Fodor’s Travel Guide, The King James Bible, The United States Constitution, the .pdf eBook user manual, four websites for downloading free eBooks (in English), as well as others in Russian, Polish and (I think) Czechoslovakian, and almost inexplicably – the .pdf manual for getting a driver’s license in New York State.

This is really a great selection of reading material in and of itself – especially the classics, for those of us who have been meaning to take the time to enjoy them again; it is really handy to have such a great selection pre-loaded.


Reading on the jetBook’s screen is similar to reading a book and typical of most readers with no backlight; as long as you are in decent light, you can easily see the page. Even on the smallest font the letters are crisp. If your eyes eventually grow tired because the font is too small…


20 point (default) font

…you can easily change its size by clicking the Font button in the cluster.


32 point font



12 point font for the masochist

Things worth noting:

1. If you exit out of one book and open another, your place will be automatically saved in the first.

2. You can read in landscape mode, and when you do, turning pages is the easiest done with the D-pad.


According to the user manual, the jetBook can operate continuously for over 24 hours. I didn’t go on a reading binge that could put that number to the test, but I did find that once charged, the battery life was very good. I took a trip to New York and brought the jetBook along. I read on the plane each way, read a (very) little bit while I was in New York, and read a bit more once I had returned home. The battery meter finally dropped to one bar the other day, so I recharged the device. Worth noting is that the battery can be topped off either with the wall charger or through the miniUSB via computer.

When you have read through all of the material that was pro-loaded on the jetBook, you can add even more free books from these sites:

Project Gutenberg




You can simply download the files you want to your desktop (Mac or PC) in a format that the jetBook accepts (.txt, .pdf, .fb2), and then drag and drop the file into the proper folder on the jetBook when it is connected to the computer via USB.

Now comes the tricky part: Not everyone is going to be satisfied with freely available classic eBooks. How can you get current bestsellers onto your jetBook? Right now, you can’t; not legally, anyway. And therein lies the rub.

Until Publishers and authors can figure out a way to merchandise their current bestsellers and past catalogs as DRM-FREE eBooks, or until Ectaco partners with a DRM-enabled eBook publisher, reading on the jetBook will be somewhat limited. But don’t let the phrase “somewhat limited” scare you – there are over 27,000 free books on the Gutenberg site and 23,000 on the ManyBooks site, alone. Even with some overlap, you should have enough reading material to last you the rest of your life.

The Ectaco jetBook is available directly from the manufacturer.

MSRP: $299.00

What I Like: Great size, very portable; extremely easy to operate; large screen with lots of viewing options; multiple language support; pre-loaded with a diverse virtual library of classics and information; easy to download even more reading material from several free eBook sites

What Needs Improvement: Seems pricey for a device with no current bestsellers access; Entering data through the alphanumeric buttons is a pain; no way to get current bestsellers or other DRM protected works onto the reader legally

*Update 03/10/09 – I have just received the following from Boris Krol, Ectaco Product Manager:

jetBook will support ePUB, Mobi, PRC and RTF formats by April 2nd.

This will be good news for those who are considering the purchase.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

20 Comments on "The Ectaco jetBook Universal Portable Reading Device Review"

  1. Nice review Judie,
    at $299 I'm not sure why anyone would opt for this over the Sony or Kindle2. Sure there is a lot available without DRM but there is SO much more available when you combine that WITH the DRMed content.

    Also, those images make me appreciate e-ink of the Kindle or the backlit screen on the iPhone or… with the Kindle iPhone app… BOTH.

    Now if this were $149 it MIGHT be a different story but priced in the same area as those others… 🙁

  2. I think it's making me more likely to buy a Kindle2.

  3. Dan, I agree with every point you made. And Chris, It certainly didn't make me regret my purchase… 🙂

  4. This Ectaco Reader just looks like a toy with all that red plastic. I agree with Dan, for $300, spend a few more bucks and get the Kindle 2 instead.

  5. Dave Robinson | March 10, 2009 at 1:38 pm |

    Either spend the money on a Kindle, or go for a Sony Reader, the 505 is the same price and a much more capable device.

  6. It actually reminds me of the Kindle 1, but I think the Ectaco is better looking.

  7. The only thing that I think might make the Ectaco a contender would be geographical limitations of the Kindle and Sony stores, and the language support that the jetBook offers.

    Unless I am mistaken, the jetBook is one of the few eReaders that will support Russian, Polish, and all the other Asian / European languages, as well as their popular eBook formats (ie .fb2). It is also available for purchase worldwide.

    This would be a significant PRO for someone in a country other than the US, who can't buy a Kindle or Sony Reader, or who won't because they feel excluded by their geo-centric stores.

    It's easy to forget that not everyone has the same access to these devices and stores that we enjoy in North America…

  8. While I still want a Kindle, this is something I could live with probably. Although since I am taking a SciFi fiction course, I am getting more into reading. I dunno. Sounds to off the wall to me.

  9. Philippe Radley | March 10, 2009 at 3:58 pm |

    Ectaco is a company that for years has distributed Russian-made portable translators. It has never, to my knowledge been involved with e-ink. This device was pretty exhaustively skewered over at the excellent mobileread site, and the verdict there was the same as here: it's too expensive and a device with a vga screen rather than e-ink is of little appeal at a time when you can already get excellent e-ink devices (Sony, Kindle, Hanlin, Cybook, even Iliad). A dedicated reader needs e-ink: if you are content with a vga screen there are many other choices.

  10. I'm not certain that e-Ink is an absolute requirement, but I do think a decent level of resolution IS a requirement.. I do, however, think that Judie makes an excellent point – in North America, we tend to forget that folk don't all have access to the same resources worldwide. At least we forget that until it involves a device or service that isn't available here!

  11. Absolutely. For even less money you could buy a used HTC Universal and get a 4" color VGA screen with over-the air eBook download capability in one of the supported Pocket PC formats. If you want VGA and don't mind the smaller screen, it's not a bad deal. You would also have the added bonus of being able to surf, as well as handle text messages and email from the same device.

  12. TFT reflective screen looks the same as e-ink screen and it has no splashes and delays like e-ink screen each time when you change pages. I have jetBook and I like it very much

  13. I agree that the lack of delays and "splashes" in a VGA screen is very attractive, but E Ink and VGA don't look quite the same. Note my picture of the jetBook's screen next to the Kindle 2's…

    With that said: It's very cool that you have a jetBook. Since you do, would you mind answering a couple of questions?

    Are you located in the US or another country?
    Does it bother you that you can't currently legally download bestsellers?
    Do you think that there are any other PROS that I missed?
    Have you discovered any other CONS that you would care to share?

  14. I got one a week ago from for only $179. I'm not into reading bestsellers, so this was a perfect device for me. Plus it seemed that Ectaco was planning on updating their firmware with the ability to read more formats (although plain txt seems fine to me). Another advantage is that when viewing a pdf, scrolling to different parts of the page is quick compared to an eink screen.

    I just realized that my Jetbook didn't come with the translucent silicone case mentioned in this review, but it did come with everything else.

    Texas, USA

  15. Philippe Radley | March 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm |

    Yes, Judie, they do not look the same, because the technology is different. The Jetbook screen is similar to the iphone's, it is backlit and to my eyes (and those of others) harder to look at for long periods of time. There is a reason so many are buying dedicated reading devices like the Kindle, and that reason is the screen. Max, let me add one question to Judie's list: have you ever used a device with an e-ink screen?

  16. bill_mchale | March 12, 2009 at 2:38 pm |

    Ok, a couple of quick comment from someone who has a Jetbook and is rather happy with it.

    1. The Jetbook screen is NOT backlit and I find it plenty easy on the eyes. I often read on it for several hours a day.

    2. the chief advantage to the Jetbook, in mind is that it can fit in the front pocket of my jeans (also the back pocket.. but I don’t want to sit on it :)). It makes it relatively easy to have it with me where ever I go. The iPod Touch and other PDAish sized devices are ok for quick reading sessions, but the smaller screens quickly become annoying. In other words, I would say that a 5″ screen size is just about right.. big enough to not be distracted by the poor formatting and frequent page turns of sub 4″ screens, and not so large as to make the device to bulky.

    3. It does bother me that I cannot legally read many books on here, but that is not the devices fault. Rather that is the fault of Publishers (and Amazon) which burden many ebooks with DRM that restricts where and how I can read a book. I refuse to buy books with such DRM on it so, I am good with the current limitation. Also, since most DRM schemes are have been circumvented (And by their nature, ebook DRM tends to be rather easy to circumvent) anyone who was willing to break the law, could easily download a DRM’d book and strip the DRM themselves. I don’t advocate that, because I think boycotting DRM’d books sends a better message to the publishers.

    4. I have used both eInk and LCD screens, each has their strengths… I like eInk, but if you need to look at an oversized PDF document, LCD wins by a mile.


  17. @mikecane That jetBook’s screen definitely looks better than the Kindle 1. Seems to hold up against the Kindle 2 also:

  18. So – having read literally dozens of reviews and forums froma way back on mainly Sony and jetBook ereaders, I seem to have my main question answered, and that is this: Can I or can I not read my many saved pdf ebook files with ease and without converting to a different type of file?
    From Bill’s post I would say that the jetBook fits my need. (Or were you referring just to the screen type, Bill?)

    Almost all the files I want to read on an ereader are pdf ebook downloads from various courses and websites, and I really don’t want to print them all, yet I need an easy way to read them.

    Now I discover that there are other ereaders around. Just to confuse me further, what can I get in Canada besides the Sony and the Ectaco jetBook? Maybe I should just stick with the two choices. All I want to do is read PDFs and save a few trees!


  19. bill_mchale | June 25, 2009 at 8:46 pm |

    You can read PDFs on it, but it doesn’t reflow PDF. When I convert books to PDFs, I convert them so that they fit on the 5″ screen. If you are reading PDFs for letter sized paper or other larger formats, you will only be able to see part of the screen at the same time (since it doesn’t reflow PDFs). That being said, this is were LCD has a serious advantage over eInk. In eInk, scrolling across the screen can be seriously inconvenient, with LCD, its just like scrolling on your computer.

    Anyway, I hope that helps.

  20. Thanks for your reply Bill – that was helpful. It would be better if it did reflow – but I have read of reflow problems on other ereaders (i.e. words being split or alternatively run together).
    Do you find the scrolling is smooth – or does it become jerky like on some computers?
    I have just discovered the Foxit ereader that is only for PDFs. That could meet my needs perfectly, but it seems to be having issues holding the battery charge.
    I guess each type of ereader has its advantages and disadvantages depending what one needs. Nothing’s perfect.
    I’m glad you like the jetBook I may go for it. Ann

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