The control scheme is similar to the Sony Reader PRS-500 and PRS-505 with numbered buttons along the bottom that correspond to on-screen functions and listings. In the book listing page, you'll see 8 titles per screen and you can sort by title, date or type (The reader refers to sort as as "sequence"). We like that each book listing has an icon that shows you the respective book's file format, but we don't like that it can't look at both books in internal memory and an SD card in one listing. You must use the menu button to switch between the 2 storage areas. When a book is open, some number buttons handle other duties and are masked with icons so you know what each does. Actually, only some buttons are masked to indicate their secondary function: for example, the 1 button opens a recently opened book list, but the button is merely labeled "1". For buttons that are masked, 6 is the bookmark function and 8 is zoom. The 9 and 0 keys become secondary page turn controls in addition to the two located to the left of the display. We appreciate the secondary buttons since those near the spine are just a bit too high for easy thumb reach. The manual states that pressing and holding the page turn button advances or moves back 10 pages, though our unit didn't want to do this.
The EZ reader supports folders so you can organize books, which is very handy if you have a large number of books on board. We can't wait until Amazon offers some kind of folder support or collections like the Sony Reader. You can use a card reader to load books onto an SD card or plug the reader into your PC or Mac using the supplied USB cable. Both the 512 meg internal memory area and the SD card will appear on the desktop as mass storage devices.
You can jump to any page you wish in a book via the "Go to page command" and the number buttons, similar to the Sony Reader 505.
Build quality and Design
The EZ Reader 6" is solidly built and has a grippy matte black finish that helps keep the reader in hand. The styling isn't anything to write home about-- it's not shockingly ugly like the original Kindle but it's not as Mac-wannabe sleek as the Kindle 2 or as metallic-classy as the Sony Reader line. The reader is rectangular with curved corners but no side bevels to make it look slimmer or more stylish. The buttons are large and easy to operate though we wouldn't mind larger page turn buttons. The USB sync/charge port and 3.5mm stereo headphone jack live under a rubber door on the bottom edge and the power button is up top.
Though the EZ Reader costs as much as the Sony Reader PRS-505 and lists at the same price as the 6" Kindle 2 and the Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-600, Astak includes more goodies in the box. These are a charger, USB cable, leather book-style cover and earbud headphones. Nice. The black leather book case has some padding for protection (and it feels nice in the hand) but it reeked of dye for the first 2 weeks.
Odds and Ends
Settings are at minimum on the EZ Reader. You can turn off the key sound (by default it beeps for every key press and page turn which is annoying in an ebook reader), select from the 20 available languages, add your own font and view system information. There is no built-in dictionary and there's no automatic power management as there is on the Kindle and Sony Reader. EInk displays don't use power when on, only when turning a page, so it doesn't matter in terms of battery life if you turn off the reader or not. But eInk does ghost and can last through many screen refreshes if you've left the reader displaying the same page for a day or more. Think of it as non-permanent screen burn-in. Since the reader doesn't blank the screen and power down after a period of time, you'll want to press and hold the power button for 3 seconds to put it to sleep and blank the screen.
The EZ Reader has a user replaceable Lithium Ion battery, a relative rarity among ebook readers. In fact, it comes with a screwdriver to open the rear battery compartment and you must install the battery before first use.
If you're looking for an ebook reader that handles multiple languages and a very wide range of file formats without conversion, the Astak EZ Reader is a winner. Likewise, if you want to check out ePUB digital library books, the EZ Reader is a go. Like the Kindle and Sony Reader it has an eInk display that's good for hours of tireless reading. It's solidly built and the controls are mostly intuitive. But if you're hunting for an eBook reader that allows you to easily purchase commercial books and bestsellers, you're better off with the Sony Reader or Kindle, each of which works with turnkey online bookstores made for the readers. The EZ Reader is more of a "roll your own" kind of device for those who wish to read PC documents on the reader or those who have a collection of public domain, non-DRM books. We found the EZ Reader occasionally sluggish when opening books and turning pages, especially on PDF and ePUB books when compared to the Sony Reader PRS-600 and PRS-300, and some PDF and LIT books seemed to require more memory than available and the reader rebooted itself during page turns. Though ebooks take up little space music files are large and we wish the reader were compatible with SDHC cards over 4 gigs just in case you really want to take advantage of the music player.
Pro: Supports 20 languages! Polyglots and language learners rejoice! Works with a wide selection of document formats, though DRM formats are only Adobe Digital Editions. Solid build. Offers the usual eInk clarity and super-long battery life.
Con: Unless you need the language or multi-format support, there's nothing to tear you away from the more mainstream Amazon and Sony offerings with their large online bookstores.
List price: $299, currently selling for $259
Web Site: www.theezreader.com
Display: 6" eInk display, 600 x 800 resolution, 4 levels of gray. Supports display rotation.
Dimensions: 7.2 x 4.7 x 0.4 inches. Weight: 7.8 ounces.
CPU, RAM and Storage: 200MHz Samsung ARM9 CPU. 32 megs RAM and 2 meg NOR flash ROM. 512 megs flash memory, SD card slot supporting cards up to 4 gigs in capacity. Linux OS.
Interface for syncing: USB 1.1.
Format support: Natively supports PDF, ePUB, DOC, RTF, HTML, TXT, WOL, CHM, LIT, PRC, PDB, FB2, PPT ,Djvu, RAR, ZIP, MP3, GIF, TIF, PNG and JPG. DRM support for ePUB and PDF via Adobe Digital Editions.
Power: 950 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. Supports USB charging. Approx. 8,000 page turns per full charge. Charger included.
MP3 player: Yes, with 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.
Expansion: SD card slot that supports cards up to 4 gigs.