Yann Vernier’s Blog


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).


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.



  1. I know this is not a help desk, but you seem to know a lot about the Pocket Book 903. I can no longer open an book. Do you have any idea what’s going on? No problems with PDFs and my epub newspaper but it wil not open any epub book.

    Comment by ES — 2011-01-29 @ 19:40

    • No, I do not have much of an idea. You might try using the context menu from the library browser (either long tap, or menu button) to select an alternate viewer. Someone else also had trouble opening a book they had a bookmark in, but could remove the bookmark from the Notes list. My main advice, however, is to go to the MobileRead forums with this sort of question.

      Comment by yannv — 2011-01-29 @ 19:51

      • Thanks, I will do that. An option to set things back to factory settings would be useful for me now but is not available to my knowledge.

        Comment by ES — 2011-01-29 @ 20:52

  2. I am new to standalone ebook readers and 903 is my startup model. Thank you for your excelent list – as a newbie I was unsure if these quirks I have also noticed are results of my misundestanding or crippled software. I have also run into problem with new empty microsd cards, I have placed description and solution on mobileread forum.

    Comment by jino — 2011-02-12 @ 17:38

  3. You’ve got a lot of info here on this site, and most of it’s negative. Would you actually recommend a Pocketbook?

    Comment by David — 2011-06-10 @ 23:27

    • Not in general. I still get some use out of it, but I feel it’s not good enough for the price, and the company aren’t doing enough to fix it. Unfortunately, I do not know of another model to recommend, either; at the time I got it, it may well have been the best option. The Kindle DX series is too restrictive, and the Boox M90 wasn’t around. It also matters to me that the makers respect the free software they benefit from; Pocketbook appeared to do this, but not fully (not even to the level required by license). Onyx appear to publish things properly, but I haven’t inspected it closely (as I had to to see Pocketbook’s lazy mistakes).

      Comment by yannv — 2011-06-11 @ 10:01

  4. Hello Yannv, thank you so much for your detailed comments. It’s really frustrating the device is tivoized, but it looks like there are a few bugs in the firmware that let you gain root access to the thing:


    Have you had a look at this?

    I’m really thinking about buying this nice gadget: it looks as if all the features are there, but are poorly implemented as a whole, but with quite a bit of hacking it could be almost perfect, e.g. I’m quite impressed by the scribbling demo video… :^)

    Comment by eflags — 2011-08-13 @ 16:08

    • Last I heard, the more recent firmware (which I have) closed that bug. It’s certainly doable to make a mix and match firmware with the newer notes and root access, and I believe the firmware can be downgraded. I haven’t tried.

      Comment by yannv — 2011-08-14 @ 11:08

  5. Hi Yann,
    Just wondering where you managed to find that update. My pocketbook 903 doesn’t find any update and I cant find it online?
    Best regards,

    Comment by Pete Wadley — 2011-10-18 @ 20:18

  6. Hi, since you are so kind to share your experience about this device and had a year to spend with it (and the slowly riping firmware), I do wonder how you assess the accuracy of the pen when making annotations or actually stand-alone drawings or graphs.

    I do own a iRex DR1000, which supposedly is equivalent/superior to the PB 903 (similar Wacom tech, larger screen), but which falls rather short in firmware (mackx hack helps, though), and, well… iRex died over this:-/

    Thing is, I want to use my big-screen electronic paper device as actual replacement for electronic paper. Reading is one thing, but the other is the ability to scribble, make notes… derive equations… and actually do some graphs (draw points, connect with lines). With the iRex, the calibration doesn’t seem too good (five points corners/center), resulting in various deviations of the physical pen tip location and the actual drawing position. I speak of multiple millimeters here.

    I do wonder how well the PB903 fares with its similar digitizer tech. The Wacom stuff supports detection of pen tilt angle and pressure… even with the sensors being below the screen itself (parallax issues), it should be possible to compute an adequate position so that drawing doesn’t feel odd. The iRex never used the tech properly (they sucked at their software). How is the PB903? Can you draw a line, lift the pen, aim at the end again and continue drawing it, without irritating gaps/offsets? Without sweating about how exactly you hold the pen (naturally, my pen angle varies depending on location on the screen… heck, think about holding the device in portrait or landscape, whatever is convenient)? Does that work anyplace on the screen?

    It might be that something like the BoogieBoard, designed specifically for scribbling, is superior in that speciality, but somehow I don’t want to accept that those expensive Wacom sensors cannot do better.

    Comment by Thomas Orgis — 2011-12-14 @ 00:12

    • The calibration in the PB903 is a common 5-point thing, which I expect is actually a 2-axis linear fit using the least square method (I’ve worked on such code with PicoGUI before). In my particular device, the deviations are really small; mainly I notice that the inductive digitizer senses the coil in the stylus, not the tip. This means you can get an offset of a few millimeters simply by angling the stylus. Don’t confuse Wacom (a brand, which none of these readers use) with inductive digitizers (a technology) – even with Wacom, the angle detection is only around in the higher end devices, and these readers are not. All my other inductive digitizers have the same issue, though they have active pens for pressure sensing.
      In effect, I have my screen calibrated for the stylus at a certain angle. If I turn it around, the offset has another direction, and so trying to continue a line I drew from another orientation will get a fairly large offset – 3-4 mm in my test. The repeatability is much better if I stay at the same angle, such that I don’t notice (but I do badly on paper too). The effect would vary with stylus angle, so if you do keep it exactly vertical it would be accurate, but you won’t because then you can’t see where you put the tip, and it would constrain your motion too. As of firmware 2.1.2RC6, there’s also some strange bugs regarding the note taking, where strokes are sometimes misdetected. I’ve put a mark on the lower part of the page then gone to pick the eraser, and got a line drawn all the way from the mark to the button just because it had lost the pen up event. Sloppy coding (though it happens to the best of us, I remember fixing a bug Alan Cox wrote with a similar effect). That seems to be an issue with the note function, as I didn’t see it in the Scribble program.
      I’m not sure how Wacom does angle sensing. The first way I can think of would involve two coils in the stylus and switching frequencies to detect them distinctly. That would involve a somewhat deeper sensing field. It adds up to a more complex stylus and higher power consumption. If you really need this, I’m afraid the only option I know of is convertible tablet PCs that have Wacom brand digitizers built in.

      Resistive digitizers, as on most older PDAs and a few phones, actually sense the pressure of the tip itself. Because they’re a layer on top of the screen, however, they get a bit of a parallax effect issue since the distance between your contact point and the image is larger. Also, as they sense mechanical pressure, any object will trigger them, so you can’t rest your hand on the screen while drawing (even worse with capacitive ones, which can sense your hand but not a non-conductive or narrow stylus). The Boogie Board appears to use an effect you’ve surely seen when you press an LCD – the image changes from the pressure itself. They just don’t keep refreshing it, so your changes stick, and it’s in essence an electronically erasable etch-a-sketch. Add to that that you can’t record the notes at all, and I think I prefer paper.

      There’s a third family of digitizers you should know about, used in a few devices – infrared. This means there’s an array of optical transmitters and sensors around the screen, sensing when you put something on it. They don’t provide true pressure sensing, but do work with most any object, like resistive digitizers. Since they don’t cover the screen but only use space in the border they have less parallax and contrast issues.

      If you do find a device that supports the precision you’re looking for, please let me know.

      Comment by yannv — 2011-12-14 @ 14:29

      • Er… I am quite sure it says original Wacom Penabled for the iRex DR1000, but I see that the brand name is absent from specifications of the PB 903. So it’s only similar tech, not the exact same for these two. But it seems to be the same in the pen tilt being ignored. I remember discussions about driver limitations on the iRex, perhaps even hardware limitations, that prevent tilt angle detection.

        You clearly say that the PB 903 is at least not better than my device, as it seems to be ignorant of pen tilt. So it’s not really that much of an upgrade from the iRex — apart from the software, which, with all its issues, might still work better (like, having a working stand-by that keeps the device usable for more than a day). A really usable device with Wacom(-like) tech, for me, must include tilt detection as I am simply too used to varying the angle of the pen in my hand, along with the location of the latter. But even with a perfect sensor, there is the parallax issue of the glass layer.

        So, for really pleasing scribbling, I want something that really uses the contact of the tip with the screen for location. The Boogie Board should feel alright with its direct-drive LCD tech, I suppose. By the way, you are wrong about recording notes: There is the Boogie Board RIP now, wich adds recording of drawings. What is still missing, is the recall of a stored page. That would finally approach the usefulness of a paper notebook. Perhaps they will figure out how to do that in the next version of the Boogie Board… there is various vaporware out thare that promises the same since some time, though.

        I think it is really sad that we don’t manage to produce a viable electronic alternative to paper. So far, computers are mainly tools to enlarge production of printed material… not the opposite.

        Comment by Thomas Orgis — 2011-12-15 @ 02:31

      • I stand corrected. It’s a little confusing to find, but http://www.onyxboox.com/product_info.php?products_id=41 does indeed state that it’s a Wacom. At this level, though, brand name or not makes little difference – you’re still looking for one that can handle tip location.

        Comment by yannv — 2011-12-28 @ 13:54

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