Earlier in the month I did a tour of the Jetbook Lite’s hardware. Now it’s time to delve into the software side, and really get to know this little ebook reader!
Upon booting the Jetbook Lite, you have three choices; ebooks, pictures and settings. Pictures is nice, but only if you desperately love showing off your photos in black and white. Otherwise, you’re more likely headed into either settings or ebooks. Settings offers the usual complement of options, from font changes to serial numbers. You can also adjust settings within the book by accessing the contextual menu.
Adding books is fairly simple, you just hook up a miniUSB cable to the Jetbook Lite. It mounts as a removable card on your PC, and you can drag, drop, create folders and otherwise add items easily.
eBooks is pretty straightforward. You can open TXT, unprotected ePUB, and protected PDB (aka eReader format, and certain B&N ebooks-more on that later). It also handles PDFs. If you’ve organized your books according to folders, they’ll show up neatly listed as such on the Jetbook Lite. What’s the benefit in this kind of organizing? It makes managing a large ebook library MUCH easier. Books can be set up by category, by author, etc. It de-clutters your screen, lets you flip through books quickly, and overall just looks better.
Navigating to a folder can be done in one of two ways; scrolling through with the directional pad or using the number buttons along the side. Opening folders is relatively quick, but opening books can be a bit slow. Text files opened fastest, ePUBs were a bit more sluggish, and PDBs were noticeably slower. With unprotected TXT and ePUB files you just head right into reading, but the first time you open a protected PDB you need to unlock it using the name on your credit card and the card number used to purchase the book. That’s where you first encounter the T9-esque input method using the number keys on the right side. Instead of regular T9 where you continually hit, say ABC until you get to C, instead you hit ABC, then get a menu of 1) A, 2) B, 3) C. Hit the required number for each letter and keep going. It’s hard to adjust to for the first few letters, and then it is much, much faster. It’s still a painful and cumbersome DRM system though, especially when it has to be implemented as kludgily as it is here. A system designed for a touchscreen should not have to use used on a non-touchscreen device.
Once a book is open, you have two ways to turn pages. One is a bizarre little slider on the left side, and below that are traditional page forward/page back buttons. I tried my best, but couldn’t master turning pages comfortably with the slider; it only took a slight push to turn the page, and I kept wanting to give it more travel. On the other hand, the page turn buttons were fabulous and well placed.
When you read an ebook, you expect a few extra bells and whistles, such as search, dictionary, jumping to specific pages, etc. To accomplish all this, the Jetbook Lite has a series of buttons on and around the directional pad. Hitting the top left button brings up a context menu, where you can choose from the following options:
2) Bookmark List
3) Bookmark this page
5) Jump To
Each option is mapped to a number key along the right side, and the d-pad/ok combo also lets you select options. If you choose the dictionary, the first word on the page is highlighted. Using the d-pad, you can jump line to line, and then across, to the word you wish to look up. The dictionary is available in several languages, including Russian, German, Spanish and Polish. Inputting a search term in “find” uses the same modified T9 as entering your unlock code for eReader DRM. It’s worth noting that, like the dictionary, multiple languages are supported. There are Cyrillic letters below the numbers, so if you are looking to search in Russian the Jetbook Lite has you covered.
Book navigation is acceptably fast. It’s a bit faster at redraw than eInk, and while there’s a momentary lag bringing up the contextual menu, once it is opened it is fairly speedy. Adding to the ease of speed is a dedicated find key, so you don’t need to open the full menu to search the page for a term. The back key is also very responsive and takes you in/out of menus quickly.
One of the best features of the Jetbook Lite is how easy it is to rotate the screen. It doesn’t seem like it would make a huge difference for a 5-inch screen, but due to the battery hump the Jetbook Lite can feel very unbalanced holding it over time. A quick press of the screen rotation button, though, and the whole display rotates horizontally, distributing the weight of the battery hump across the top instead of one side. It also gives you a much wider reading area, instead of a tall one.
That covers the basics of regular ebooks, but there’s one outlier file type; the Jetbook Lite can also read PDFs. Anyone familiar with the excruciating experience of reading PDFs on most ebook readers knows that they don’t translate well to small screens. While the Jetbook Lite isn’t perfect, it’s actually decent at opening and rendering PDF files, definitely light years better than squinting at a smartphone screen or looking at the mangled corpse of a PDF that the Kindle delivers. Files can be zoomed in at varying intervals from 50% to 6400%. The Find key doubles as a zoom key when you are in a PDF file. There’s no way to avoid doing some zooming and scrolling, but for a simple PDF it is not bad. I don’t recommend anything with columns or unusual formatting, as those get a bit cumbersome to navigate. Also, this is another area where rotating horizontally can help, since it gives more width to the viewing area.
The overall reading experience is excellent. While there’s no difference in readability between the Jetbook Lite’s LCD and an eInk screen like the Kindle’s, there is a faster refresh rate. Fonts are smooth and scrolling (in PDFs) renders without any hiccups. While at first, the JBL feels a bit over-engineered, with buttons and options everywhere, it all comes together well. There are little touches, like screen rotation. The JBL remembers if a book was rotated or not, and saves that setting for the next time you start reading it. What’s great about this “sandboxed” approach is that you can set up each book according to how it’s comfortable to read, without having to readjust every time.
A word on the digital rights management support in the Jetbook Lite. Currently, it supports the eReader DRM for PDB files. Anything in the “secure eReader” format from Fictionwise or eReader works, as do any PDB files from Barnes and Noble. The trick is to download a sample before you buy; if the book ends in PDB, you’re good to go, and if it ends in ePUB it won’t open on the Jetbook Lite. A bit confusing, but it works. Ectaco says they plan to update the JBL to support Adobe Digital Editions, which will allow it to read books from stores like Sony and Kobo, as well as Overdrive public library books.
Would I recommend the Jetbook Lite? Yes, with some minor reservations. If you’re looking for something with the breadth and depth of a major bookstore (like B&N or Amazon), you’re better off waiting for the Adobe Digital Editions update, solely for the broader mainstream book options. On the other hand, if you’re looking for an inexpensive reader, don’t mind the lack of wireless, and are comfortable searching multiple sources for your ebooks, the Jetbook Lite is an excellent deal. It lists for $149.99, but if you are patient and monitor sites like Newegg.com, you can often find it for $99.99-$129.99! At that price, for these features, it’s practically a no-brainer! Especially for a reader small enough to fit into a large jacket pocket!
What I Like: Built-in dictionary; Multiple formats supported; Long battery life; Software remembers settings from book to book; Price!
What Needs Improvement: Excess number of buttons; Slow at opening menus sometimes; Battery hump throws off the weighting of the case.