There is one last aspect of the Astak that I need to review before shipping it back in. That is one of the major ways it differs from the Sony, and one of the ways it is similar to the Kindle 2: text-to-speech read-aloud mode.
Note that with the version of firmware with which the Astak shipped, only PDFs could be read aloud. However, a more recent firmware upgrade expanded speech-compatibility and now it works with ePub too. (And perhaps other formats; I did not check.)
I connected the Astak to my computer and recorded a couple of minutes of the first chapter of Agent of Change by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. You can download the mp3 here, and follow along with Baen’s sample chapter here.
Taking a Listen
As with the Kindle, the Astak’s text-to-speech mode is not actually meant to help blind readers—it does not have the necessary audio-based interface for such a reader to navigate to the book and start it playing. Instead, it is meant for hands-free operation, such as when driving.
As you can tell, it is not the best way to experience a book. Those publishers who complained and forced Amazon to allow them to disable the feature? If this is an example of the quality in which the Kindle reads, they were overreacting.
You will notice a number of things right away: the way it runs the ends of the first few lines together, and the way “it” at the end of the last sentence in the second paragraph gets pronounced “eye tee”. You may also notice the way it hesitates while switching pages (after the words “left leg, which”—it was read at a different font size from the one shown in the picture).
According to the manual, the jog switch on the right is supposed to adjust the volume level. However, I never could make it work. Not that it was a great hardship for me, since I barely used the feature anyway.
The Astak 5” PocketPro EZReader is better in some ways than the Sony (more readable screen) and about the same to slightly worse in others (its clunky control scheme and problems reading PDFs). It was definitely lighter and easier to hold in one hand, but it also had the issue with its paint starting to peel off.
The lack of support for eReader format was a little frustrating, and was probably one of the big things that would have led me to want to keep it. Since it was not, I will not feel too bad about sending it back.
Even with its flaws, the Astak is still a decent little reader. Those who prefer dedicated readers and e-ink screens can certainly do worse. None of the problems are showstoppers. If I had more disposable income, even with the flaws I probably would go ahead and buy it.
But now it is time to bring this set of reviews to a close and look toward the next reviews I will be doing for TeleRead. Max Seybold, Chairman of CherryPal, will be sending me review units of the Africa and Bing netbooks sold by his company, and I will see what kind of e-book readers they might make.