Full of Little Bugs but not Without Potential - First Impression of the OYO E-Book Reader

The new e-reader on the European block was just released and while it features a webbrowser, audio player, web store next to the book reading and everything with a touch screen, everything is also slightly buggy:



The reader is rather slow and low in contract if you use the out of the box font size. Actually I think it's nicer in a larger font anyway (the contrast is a lot better with a larger font for some reason) and it's also faster to switch pages. But, at least in the PDFs I tested (on a microSD card) the reader didn't remember that I opened them, it didn't save bookmarks, didn't remember where I was in the book etc. It's a freshly opened book every time. But it works with a pretty good/acceptable speed. In any case the speed seems to the a software problem as switching rotation works in less than a second, meaning the display hardware can handle more.

Another note on the reader function: unencrypted PDFs are much faster than any epubs. This is kind of funny considering the device was originally built for epubs. There is definitely some more hacking necessary there. You can use Adobe Digital Editions to copy any files your bought anywhere in Adobe DRM Epub on the device. It works fine. That's a nice thing to know you're not locked into the vendor and something that is not a given considering that the device is probably subsidized or at least with a very low margin considering the low price tag of 140 €.

The audio player works pretty well but just like the text reader it doesn't organize using the folders you created, making it all a big mess. Installing all your ebooks on the device is certainly not a good idea right now. Also because it seems to hang up trying to read and create an index of all your books and audio files if you plug in an SD card. It works much better if you plug it in while the device is still off and then switch it on.

Generally it can be highly annoying that there is sometimes a long wait, as when you open the browser or add new books, but no sort of animation or progress bar informing you that something is still going on. This gives the impression the device has hung which can be quite annoying.

But the web browser is actually pretty fun on the device. You can comfortably read and navigate mobile web pages - with a few hickups here and there. But the fact you can touch links pretty precicsely makes the browsing experience rather enjoyable. Also the speed is rather impressive and much faster in my case than page turning in books (often below 1 second). Though, as noted below, with some serious drawbacks as of now.

The battery loaded quite quickly (under 2 hours) and hasn't lost a bar so far. I've been listening to music and reading for about an hour. After about two hours of listening and reading and two more in standby one bar was missing... let's see. But it's definitely nice to listen to your music and read with the same device. Update: The third battery bar is almost a fake it seems, it was pretty much skipped directly in my test.

Speed: PDFs on a larger font take about a second to change pages. Epubs really, seriously take 3-4 seconds. I actually took my watch and stopped the time because I couldn't believe it. Webpages often load much faster than the epubs. I have a feeling there might be an Android system on there and Epub is the only part that Google *didn't* program. That would explain why the more complicated format of PDF is read faster than the epub format which is based on simple html, which itself is much faster than epub again.

When you put your ear right next to the device, you can hear a slight hiss. The USB-connector it comes with is not any standard usb plug I have ever seen. So (for no apparent good reason) you always need the exact cable in order to load the device.

So the funny result is: It's not a device for web surfing at the moment, neither for reading epubs. But it's pretty good and good value for reading while listening to music in the background - music that never skips. The smallest and default font size it comes with is in my opinion too small for low lighting considering that the contrast of the display is rather low due to the greyish background color and seems even lower with small fonts. I think the device has quite a lot of potential, though. Some proper firmware updates could make it a very serious competitor in the ebook reader market. The main low points right now are the (comparatively) low display contrast -- though it's fine with larger fonts) and the *much* too slow page turns in many cases. But the speed for the display when surfing the web shows that there is much potential to improve the speed. Of course the contrast won't improve. I'm still debating with myself whether to keep it or send it back within the two weeks return time frame.  I think I'll keep it.

I'm definitely keeping it! :)

I guess I'm not keeping it after all. Main point is the short battery time. I can just read a single day right now on a single charge. That's below 1000 screen updates and it's simply not enough. Especially since you have to include that wear will add to that and eventually it will only be half a day you can read on a single charge. Imagine that! It wouldn't even last a single day. Though I'm convinced they can enhance this by a lot, I rather be careful and use my right to return it now. I can always buy it again later. ;-)


Pros
  • Good ergonomics. Nice next /previous page buttons make it easy to read with just one hand, leaving you another hand for other purposes. (though currently only for right-handed people)
  • The only (affordable) device with touchpad (like the new Sonys, but not the Kindle) and Wifi (like the Kindle, but not the Sonys)
  • Cheaper than any other electronic ink device with full touch screen & wifi (AFAIK)
  • Audio player (though little base, only mp3)
  • Precise, very responsive touch screen (but yet badly responding OS)
  • Nice web browser (though still feature-weak), surfing in landscape mode is pretty cool.
  • Many supported ebook sources -- Adobe DRM platform and integrated ebook shop.
  • Good value.

Cons
  • Short Battery time: Below 1000 screen updates -- barely a single full day of reading (With current Firmware and the slow Energy Saving Mode off)
  • Display contrast is sub par.
  • Still quite a few bugs (see below)
  • Energy saving functions still flaky. (see below, makes page turns very slow)
  • No folder handling.


Hints
  • It seems you can save a lot of battery without getting the slow page turn times if you manually set the orientation in the menu (instead of auto). This seems to save quite some battery power in my case. I guess it disables the orientation sensor just as the energy saving mode does, without the changes that make page turns slower.
  • With energy saving mode it's too slow, without it it'll only last about a day.


Bugs

  1. There is no folder handling. All (book s and audio files) files are listed recursively completely ignoring any folder structure. This means already with more than about 50 books it becomes and effort to browse through them.
  2. The energy saving mode shouldn't decrease page turn times. In power saving mode the battery time is pretty good, but the page turning times are slow and the rotation sensor is off. Without power saving mode the battery time is much shorter. When listening to music and reading at the same time, the battery time could be better (currently about 10-12 hours I guess).
  3. If you make a software-upgrade, all your DRM protected books will no longer work afterwards.
  4. The webbrowser does not save cookies. You can use Gmail and Reader, but you have to log in every time. Ok, answering does not work, because the entire conversation is pasted into your text editing field, making it rather unusable. The webbrowser has no user bookmarks. You can't even work around this by creating an html file with links in it. They simply don't open. It doesn't zoom far enough / starts with too small zoom.
  5. Files on the microSD card are not saved when closing (bookmarks, reading progress). They work fine on the internal storage, though. So you can't really use MicroSD for books yet.
  6. Sound playback does not resume after suspend.
  7. There is usually no status indicator when something is happening and the device becomes completely unresponsive (the opposite of multi-tasking). Many people seem to misinterpret this as a badly responding touch screen. But I believe it's the software.
  8. If you have many music files, they are not all found.
  9. With many files on the microSD it takes forever to load and there's no progress indication, just the frozen "please wait...". You can circumvent this by powering down, then inserting the card and booting again.
  10. When you go to the audio player out of the reading menu, then press back afterwards you end up in the main menu and need to reopen the book afterwards. Better would be a small play/skip/volume button inside the book menu.
  11. The touch screen doesn't always respond properly, esp. as well as you'd expect from a capacative touch screen. This is actually wrong, the touch screen responds extremly well, but the sometimes lagging OS often gives the impression that it didn't. Really, I can activate the screen without actually touching it, having about half a millimeter in between seems to suffice for a response. So when it doesn't respond just be patient for the OS to follow.
  12. My touch screen is misaligned slightly to the left I think. A calibration would probably be good.
  13. After booting (with status indicator!), the screen is frozen for several seconds until the battery indicator fills up. Then all your previous touches are executed at once. It should keep showing the startup logo while it's actually still not ready to be used.
  14. There is usually no touch recognition feedback. You should know you hit something and the device is working if it is working for a longer time.
Feature Requests
  1. Rss Reader application (best with download for later reading)
  2. Application SDK, so you can build your own applications.
  3. Saving passwords for the web browser.

But it's good value. I like it. :) And I think it has a lot of potential and the bugs will hopefully be fixed. One of the really nice things is that practical page turning buttons. Holding it in my right hand I can turn pages with my thumb while holding on to e.g. the bar in the subway with my left hand. If I have it in my left hand I can use the thumb to swipe to the next page, though that doesn't yet work as well as it should. The device doesn't always respond well.


Update: There are some oddities in the manual. Though loading takes only two hours, you shall charge the device's battery for 8 hours for the first time. This is not inside the printed quick introduction, but only inside the manual that's on the device, meaning you can actually only know that once you've started the device.

Another nice fun factor is that the manual warns you not to use the device in bright sunlight. Well, then, what exactly is an ebook-reader for? One thing you notice, too, is that the display might have potential for more contrast, as while changing pages the black goes darker than during normal use.

Update2:
Looking at the manual and the hardware information of the device my impression that at least Linux is used are more and more confirmed. A GPL notice is included in the manual as well as a reference to the Linux kernel's usb "library". I somehow doubt they would port the library to another OS, but rather think they would've modified the kernel maybe -- if it's not Android-based anyway, which would make a lot of sense and save a lot of developing work (esp. with things such as the browser and power management). Wow, I'd love to have Android apps running on it. :)

Update3: With landscape mode for browsing it really is a lot of fun! You can definitely use it quite nicely as a surfing tablet for mobile websites! (Firmware R2150)

Update4:
It's definintely clear the Oyo runs on Linux now. Some users managed to copy the firmware image. It seems a first software update is "probably" due before Christmas.

Update5: I've worked over the bug list, sorting it more by importance and updating the background information.

Update6: I've returned mine as I didn't want to wait, see and hope that they will fix the firmware issues. If they do, maybe I will buy it again! :)

4 comments:

  1. it is not storing last opened page information/bookmark in pdf, and what with epubs?
    And how is it working while connecting to linux box? As standard "usb drive" i hope ?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice review, thanks. If I read it earlier, I would not got desperate trying to reanimate orientation sensor in Power saving mode... 2 cents: that's typical miniUSB cable. At least my Nokia phone connects via this cable as well.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @wariat: No, that's not true. It is storing the last page on both PDF and epub. (Though it's sometimes slightly off at least with PDFs in reflow mode, as there it seems to always store the page number and not the exact area.)

    But it never stores any information for books on the microsd card in my case.

    And yes, it is accessable as a normal USB device in Linux and everywhere else. You can put any files you wish on it.

    @redtigra: yeah, been there too :)
    Actually, I think it's a standard *Micro* USB plug: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Serial_Bus#USB_Mini_and_Micro_connectors

    Hint: it seems you can save a lot of battery without getting the slow page turn times if you manually set the orientation in the menu (instead of auto). This seems to disable the orientation sensor which seems to save quite some battery power in my case.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @redtigra: Where and in which country did you buy yours? I wonder if the firmwares are the same version and have the same bugs in them. ;)

    ReplyDelete

I appreciate comments. And I do read them.