Yann Vernier’s Blog

2011-01-11

Problems with my PocketBook 903

Filed under: Ebook reader — yannv @ 08:44

I’ve decided to make a public record of the things I think should be changed with the PocketBook 903. Some are serious bugs, other little niggles, and yet others things about how the company behaves. Mostly this record is so I won’t forget things to check once updates start to appear. Some issues occur in multiple categories.

System level issues

  • Writes to my microSD card fail in unspecified ways. The bug is all the way upstream from Samsung (makers of the SoC) but neither company tries to help.
  • Formatting the microSD card triggers a recalibration of the touchscreen for no apparent reason.
  • Turning Bluetooth on and off is (apparently) only accessible in the settings, and there’s no choice for temporarily on. Wifi can be turned off from the status icon, why not bluetooth?
    Found another way: mapping the power switch to “last read books” pops up a window with Bluetooth toggling, button lock, power off, books, music player.. should be the default.
    Improved in 2.1.2; the status bar icon is now tappable, for both wifi and bluetooth, and a new Quick Menu adds task switching to the popup menu.

Usability issues

  • The virtual keyboard is not usable with the buttons.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • pdfviewer zoom menu is not usable from the buttons.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • Web browser does not use the digitizer calibration. (Not verified; but for others, the scrollbar can be unreachable.)
    2.0.5 has an additional web browser, Links, which also supports buttons.
    2.1.2 adds yet another web browser, Qt based, apparently replacing the prior Gtk+ based one.  This one does respect stylus calibration and finally uses the page flip buttons as page up and down.
  • Trying to open bookmarks placed in AdobeViewer may open pdfviewer (if it was last used for that book), which does not know the bookmarks and goes to the first page.

Documentation issues

  • The manual shows the virtual keyboard of a 602, which is quite different on a 903 (602 type works without stylus, 903 type does not).
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • At one point, the manual shows a quickmenu with both Voice and Settings choices. I have found no such thing as Voice is in AdobeViewer only and Settings in FBreader.
    Fixed in 2.1.2; the text to speech now works in FBreader and pdfviewer.
  • Overall, the manual is simply poorly translated. (Not reverified; in 2.0.5 it’s also poorly formatted.)

Company behaviour

  • Much of the core software is GPL or LGPL licensed. PocketBook have not published the source for the currently distributed versions, and are withholding the development tools as well.
    It actually gets worse, as the previously published “sources” simply weren’t. It is not OK to just shove a .o binary file into the GPL kernel sources.
  • The microSD write bug was replied with “get a class 4 card” and then ignored. No indication why a class 4 should work better was made, nor is this a documented requirement, only something spouted on the forum. It is also a violation of the SD specification.
  • The device is apparently tivoized, with PocketBook withholding root access from the owner, and firmware updates in an undocumented format (possibly GPG signed, the libraries are there).

PDFviewer

  • Bookmarks in PDFviewer do not show up in the Notes menu (from the main menu).
    Fixed in 2.0.5. However, mixed bookmarks cause confusion in both Contents order and trying to open them, as PDFviewer and AdobeViewer do not use the same format.
    Similarly some bookmarks did not carry over into 2.1.2.
  • PDFviewer handles grays strangely, rendering watermarks and backgrounds black while leaving others.
  • The table of contents is inaccessible if the PDF doesn’t have one, even if notes or bookmarks have been placed.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • The zoom choice from the menu requires stylus input.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • The search command does not find anything.

AdobeViewer

  • The search command hangs when looking for more occurences, possibly only once reaching the last.
    Fixed in 2.0.5 – but it can still miss occurences, and the hang seems to occur when searching backwards, still.
  • Switching pages with the dictionary up leads to a hang. The Dictionary button causes a page turn, so this can be triggered with two presses on the same button.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.

Text to Speech

Text to speech was adobeviewer only until 2.1.2, when it was added into fbreader and pdfviewer.

  • The text to speech volume cannot be preset, and is only controlled with a horrible menu popup cycle. Compounded by the total lack of level indication and strange behaviour (goes from loud to normal, then cuts out entirely).
    Fixed; 2.0.5 added button control.  As of 2.1.2 the popup merely indicates the meaning of the direction buttons, and volume buttons work.
  • Text to speech language should be settable per book, and in the reading mode itself.

Web browser (Midori, 2.0.5 also has Links and an unknown contender in Bookland)

  • Touchscreen calibration is not supported.
  • Rotation is not supported.
  • Settings are not saved. (Review made a workaround.)
  • Bookmarks are hard to access and cannot be edited.
  • Entities are not properly supported (shows on the default page, google mobile).

Main menu

  • Most widgets are merely dumb icons: Dictionary, Calculator, Sudoku, eBook, PocketNews. Worst with Calculator, which looks like it has buttons but doesn’t.
    2.0.5 makes the calculator work, and improves the separate calculator app.
  • The theme is poorly matched to the screen size. There are blank regions on the top and bottom. (2.0.5 tweaked the corners.)
  • In last open books, one cannot get choices for the book/file itself like in Library.
  • Pictures have been shown with a double width calendar widget; I’ve found no way to get that.

Dictionary

  • The list of dictionaries is quite unwieldy. Add some sort of categorization (by language, for instance) and use a larger part of the screen!
    At least 2.1.2 allows skipping faster through the list by holding up or down.
  • Dictionary from the main menu immediately demands a word. Entering nothing shows nothing, while anything else allows browsing the dictionary. It should open like a book.

Music player

It is downright strange to expend so much effort on audio hardware and none at all on the software.

  • Only accepts MP3. There’s no excuse for not supporting Vorbis.
  • Does not handle any structure at all; only a list of all MP3 files installed, with or without shuffle.
  • Widget only shows filename up to the first period. “2.Autiotalo.mp3” is not called “2”; it’s actually a properly tagged file as well, but the main player UI doesn’t understand tags either.
  • Volume buttons do not control volume unless focus is directly on the mp3 player.
  • No bookmarks, necessary for audio book use.

Zoom and scroll controls

This gets its own heading because it’s really common to pdfviewer, djviewer and AdobeViewer.

  • It’s a no-brainer that zoom and pan should be selectable with the stylus (mark the region to show). They aren’t.
  • There should be a zoom to contents command, rather than zoom to page width.
  • Fit entire page is also an obvious missing entry, though often the “100%” choice does this. Where’s the zoom to correct size for PDF (which specifies size) and DjVu (which specifies DPI)?
  • Multipage view should be sensitive to page size; I had comic strips that would fit several on top of each other, but there’s no such layout choice. Instead it mangles them into a fixed layout.
  • Vertical scrolling is only available in page steps; there’s no way to finetune to strip the top margin. Frequently renders the nicer zoom levels impractical.

Note taking

This is where it gets ridiculous. The old SDK featured drawing with the pointer in notes, but the 903 does not. The scribble program is entirely unorganized. Bookmarks can’t be named. About the only thing the pocketbook has going for it here is use of well known formats (html and bmp). review has written an addon to link screenshots and scribble together.

Fixed in 2.0.5. The SDK options to edit text and graphics for notes are now present, although the eink optimizations making Scribble responsive are not present.
Fixed even more in 2.1.2. The new optimized scribbling and marking on top of pages is now present in FBreader, pdfviewer and AdobeViewer. djviewer still has the old unoptimized screenshot strip and scribbling.

Wishlist items

I have replaced my Nokia phone with an Android phone, and the new model doesn’t have the same type of Bluetooth tethering. Whatever it has (I expect Bluetooth PAN rather than Bluetooth DUN), it does not work with the PocketBook. There was a DUN app for Android, but it demanded a distinct dial code rather than *99#, so that did not work either. I’m left reading stuff off my phone while on the train if I want to grab it from the net then and there. Of course, the correct fix would be transferring things to my reader in the early morning, but it’s a waste to have these connection options not work.

January 2.0.4 update

Triple fail here. First, the update is called 2.0.4 – just like the version I already had from December. Second, in renaming the “games” directory “applications”, they added a script that automatically removes the games directory, whatever is in it, and not only when installing the update. Third, it broke the DRM. As the only improvement I’ve heard of is a prettier virtual keyboard, I think I’ll pass.

March 2.0.5 update

Some real changes here. Much improved calculator app and widget, several bugfixes, new Links web browser, working notes. It still keeps removing the games directory. It also turns out the “pretty” keyboard added button navigation, so it’s not only cosmetic.

I’ll surely find more things to update soon enough, and there’s bound to be one or two I simply forgot. But it’s a start, and once put here I can find them again.

September 2011 update 2.1.2

A remarkably good update, this adds heaps of features and fixes a few bugs and flaws. In particular, features like note taking over pages in almost all formats (djvu still has the 2.0.5 variant), a much improved library function and multitasking bring it up to a level where it can possibly motivate its price tag.. barely.

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