000_0002_00 I have spent the last two weeks reading e-books on the Astak, and am ready to give my first impressions.

The Screen

First of all, the 800×600-resolution screen. I love the screen. Of course, it is probably the same screen that any non-touch-sensitive e-ink reader has, but compared to the Sony I tested before the difference is like night and day. The touch-sensitive Sony had a huge amount of glare—but on the Astak, the glare is not there.

The words are ink-on-paper clear; if the background is greyer than normal book-quality paper, it is not much darker than the newsprint on which daily papers are printed.

The screen is quite legible for reading, as the photo at left should show. Even (especially) in bright sunlight, it is readable without screen glare. Of course, it does lack the sidelighting of the Sony, but so do “real” books. If reading in the dark was really important to me, I would invest in a clip-on booklight for the snap-on case.

Page-turn time is about comparable to the Sony; it takes a second or two but is not an undue burden (unless you suddenly need to flip back 3 or 4 pages to reread something you missed; then it is a slight hassle but only slight).


Ergonomically, I like the device for the most part. For example, it has three sets of page-turn controls: the two arrow buttons left of the screen, the “9” and “0” buttons below the screen, and the jog switch to the right of the screen (not visible in the above photo).

This offers a lot of flexibility in ways to hold the device. Since I walk with a cane in my right hand, I find I can hold it in my left and turn pages with my thumb quite easily—more easily, in fact, than I can read and turn pages with my iPod Touch. Also, the reader is small and light enough that holding it in one hand is not an undue strain—unlike the heavier Sony.

However, if I should need to hold it one-handed with my right, turning pages is not so easy. It is possible, if I hold the lower right corner and work the jog dial with my index finger or press the “9” and “0” buttons with my thumb, but is a bit unwieldy. I would have much preferred another set of arrow keys like on the left.


Another problem comes in terms of screen rotation. The device only provides the option to rotate in one way: turning the device 90 degrees left. This places the left arrow buttons below the screen, and the ten number keys and menu/escape buttons on the right.

This is obviously meant for right-handed people, because those who hold in their left now have no one-handed page-turn method available to them—but righties can press the “9” and “0” keys with their thumb.

000_0006What’s more, the functions of the arrow keys remain the same. So the key which is now on top, and whose arrow points “up,” turns the page forward, and the key whose arrow points “down” turns the page backward. This is somewhat counterintuitive.

I really would prefer an option for rotating 90 degrees right as well as left—but this is just an annoyance, not really a big problem.

Another minor ergonomic annoyance is that there are five font size zoom levels, but they can only be cycled through one way. So if you make the text one size larger than you meant to, it takes four more button presses to move back to the one before.

Slightly User-Unfriendly

The biggest overall problem with the Astak is that it is slightly user-unfriendly. I am one of those people who does not tend to like reading manuals; I want to just grab and go, right out of the gate.

For the most part, this is possible. But there are some things I had to look up in the manual to figure out how to do. (I still haven’t figured out how to adjust the volume when using the text-to-speech feature even with the manual.)

The ten-button-and-menu control scheme is also a touch unwieldy. This is most obvious in the search interface—for lack of a better keyboard, words are spelled out cell-phone-texting style, by pressing each button a set number of times to enter the right letter.

But just reading books is quite easy, once they are loaded. The screen is bright, clear, and legible. This may be the first e-book reader I’ve run across that is actually worth the purchase price, and I suspect I am going to miss it a lot more than the Sony when the time comes to send it back.

In my next post, I will talk about the reading experience of some of the different formats.


  1. When I recently looked into buying a dedicated ebook reader, I narrowed the field down to the Astak 5″ and the Ectaco jetBook. The deciding factor was the serendipitous arrival of a Bed, Bath, and Beyond 20% off coupon. That made the jetBook cheaper than the Astak. Otherwise, for my money, this is one of the two most generally attractive ereaders on the market.

    Mind you, when I also bought a reader for my sister (the English major) as a gift, I got her a Kindle. Different strokes.

    Jack Tingle

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