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Old 01-22-2007, 05:00 PM   #1
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STAReBOOK Review Part II

As I noted earlier, I received my Review Sample of the STAReBOOK today.
You can find a bunch of pictures and a few brief observations here

I've had a little time to play with the device this afternoon and can now give you a little more information.

First of all, I'd like to make a few things clear:

1) As with the Iliad deal, I don't get paid for what I do here. I'm trying to make an independent review here, for the community, not for the company.

2) Staretek has provided the review unit free of charge. I did not have to pay a single penny for either the device or the shipping to Germany. For this I'd like to thank those responsible at Staretek and especially Ivan who was always very helpful.

3) I will compare the device to the Iliad from time to time. I know that the devices are completely different, but there are still some things that can be compared, like reading ebooks on the devices. I think it makes sense to compare, even if this is far from a apples to apples comparison.


So, let's get started...


First Impression:

The STAReBOOK is a very nicely made device. The Materials are very nice, not the cheap plastic I had expected but a more iPod-like soft-glossy finish. The silver-grey strip on the lower end of the device actually looks a lot more metallic in real than it does on the pictures. Quality seems to be good as well with very little obvious room for improvement. The rubberized backside of the device is also a nice touch since it makes it eaiser to hold and prevents it from slipping out of your hands.
When I first received my Iliad I thought it looked very much like a business device. The whole design and the form-factor made it look very down-to-earth and like something a manager wouldn't be ashamed of carrying around.
The STAReBOOK has a very different charm. It has a lot of "sex-appeal" somehow, hard to define it exactly, but it's a bit like the attraction an iPod nano has. It's very sleek, stylish in a understating kind of way and looks a bit fragile (although I'm not sure whether it is any more fragile than the Iliad). I can imagine a manager owning one of these, but I can't exactly see him using it as a work-tool in a meeting.

So, let's go into some details:

1) Connections:
The STAReBOOK has a USB2.0 connection and seems to be using a standard mini-usb connector for both data-transfer and charging. there is an additional charger in the box (mine is the US model unfortunately so I can't really try it out, only charge from USB connection) that will be of some use to those who are away from the computer for longer periods and like to recharge their gadgets from a normal wall-socket. The additional charger also connects to the mini-usb socket. The mini-usb socket is hidden behind a rubber flap that seals it against dust/water/whatever. The headphone connection is also behind this "flap" on the lower edge of the device.
The SD-Card slot is at the top of the device, next to the on/off switch.
The volume controls are on the right side and the bookmark, menu, delete and mp3 keys are on the left side.

Turning pages is done via a 4-way cursor-pad on the front of the device below the display. The up/down keys on the pad are for increasing/reducing the font-size when you are reading. The last key is the OK key in the middle of the pad. Pretty straightforward so far.


I'll continue this in the next post so that it does not become too long.
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Old 01-22-2007, 06:02 PM   #2
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Startup:

Starting the device is done by holding down the on/off button. Booting times are OK, I did not time it, but I started the STAReBOOK a few seconds after my Iliad and it still finished booting when the Iliad was still showing between 50% and 75% loading bars. There is a bootup picture and a shutdown picture...they are actually quite cute...:-)


Updating the device:

I received the device with Firmware 1.11 installed. The newest version on the website was 1.12 so I decided to update. I downloaded the update, copied the files to the SD card and started the device. The update was checked, verified, and installed. It showed me a "completed" message and asked me to restart and that was it. Very nice and comfortable.



Navigating:

The device starts with a short and to-the-point menu. It gives you access to your files, both on main-memory and on Sd-card, offers a few settings and a favourites (last read books I guess) section.
The top of the menu-screen always shows the last book you read. The cursor is on that selection at startup, so all you need to do is press enter and you can continue reading your last-read book right away.
Navigating is fairly fast and there is little to explain. There is a "back" key on the side of the device and a menu key that always brings you directly back to the main menu.
The settings hold few surprises. You can select language, sleep-settings, volume, memory (shows how much free memory you have in the internal and on the card), music mode settings and the "about" section that shows the firmware version.


Reading:

So, I prepared a few books on my computer (I'll go into that part of the process later) and transferred it to my 1GB SD-Card I still had lying around. (I did not use the supplied 512Mb card yet, but I saw that it's from A-DATA, so it's not even noname...impressive.

First impression:
In comparison to the Iliad, the screen is very small. It's a 6" screen, 9cmx12cm, should be just like the Sony Reader. I haven't read much yet, butI'm slowly starting to get used to it. I had the 8" Iliad screen for over half a year on a daily basis now, so it's understandable that this screen seems small at first I guess..

The Good:

Page-turning is VERY fast, it's faster than the Iliad can do, even with the newest firmware and Scotty's enhanced PDF viewer. Loading of files is also impressively fast.
Most interesting: I tried a small (<1MB) and a large (>35MB) and they showed no real difference in page-turning speed and file-opening speed. Very nice!
Text looks crisp, it's an eink screen and there are no surprises here. I could not see any ghosting while reading, only slight aftershadow of the shutdown image when the device is turned off.

Ergonomics are OK, I liked the Iliad left-handed pproach better since I like to eat and read at the same time and am better at eating with the right hand...
One-handed operation is OK, especially since the device is VERY lightweight. However, the page-forward key is slightly too close to the edge of the device for comfortable handling over longer periods of time. It is however easier to handle with one hand than the Iliad (again, the wieght makes a difference).
Navigating inside books is acutally done very nicely.
You can jump to a specific page-number (press enter key, "type in" the page-number with the arrow-keys (little selection menu from 0-9 pops up over the text) and off you go. Simple and efficient and much less intrusive than the popup keyboard of the Iliad.
Setting bookmarks is a new feature that was added in the recent Firmware update.
It works perfectly as far as I could find out in my initial tests. You press the "bookmark key" on the side, a menu pops up asking you to either set a bookmark or view your bookmarks. Setting a new bookmark is just one keypress away. Navigating through your bookmarks works just as easily. You select "view bookmarks" and then you get a list of bookmarks and the corresponing page-number. Finito.
Enlarging fonts is done with just one keypress. There are 5 "steps", 5 font sizes and the size you originally used when you created the file is the smallest (you can't go lower than that).



So, my initial impression of this device is WOW!!!
It looks nice, feels nice and is nice to handle. The firmware is also very nice, smooth and fast. Just the way it's supposed to be.

Unfortunately, there is a bad side as well...and that bad side is rather serious at the moment. While the device performs flawlessly, both where hardware and where Software are concerned, the file-format .stk that is the only supported format at the moment is a real limiting factor.

I don't really mind having just one format at my disposal (I only used PDf for my Iliad), but the Software that created the .stk files is almost completely useless. (eRead 3.0, buil 614)
It does not allow you to do any manual formatting. It does not allow you to use anything but plain text as source and it does not allow you to choose a font either.
VERY BAD...and very unfortunate because it makes it incredibly hard to create nice-looking ebooks for the STAReBOOK. the Software is still being developed so there is hope. I've sent a few questions off to Ivan and will see what he says.
I'll do a few scans (or rather try... ) of the menus and of a book being displayed so you can see where my troubles with the font and the layout lie.


So, to give a short conclusion to this short-term test:

The device is cool, the device-firmware is cool. The format and format-creating software need work.
If what you are after is a handy ebook, then this might very well be the ideal candidate for you. (once it becomes possible to actually create nicer-looking ebooks for it)
The device is more expensive than the Sony Reader (it's 420$ at the moment) which is a bit hard to swallow since Sony has the ebookstore AND support for additional "free" formats. The free ebooks (with dubious legality... ) are not really too much of an asset since they seem to be very badly formatted, at least some of them are...I tried one and it had all kind of weird stuff going on...lines starting in the middle of the page and things like that...

I'm not sure where development of the STAReBOOK is going...but I have seen several new versions of the eRead software in the last months, so it's moving somewhere...and there are noticeable jumps forward in the development, even in the last weeks so I guess it could work out OK sooner than many would expect. Since the Iliad is in a completely different league (and fighting with lots of problems) and the Sony Reader is only available in the US (like the Hanlins only sell to China apart from a few samples) this could very well be a good candidate for the European Market. I'm not sure what the stance of Staretek is about international sales, but they handled the shipping of my sample unit so professionally (I have never seen a package go through customs in Germany so smoothly and with no charges applied) I guess they do have some experience.


This was the short-term review. I'll let you know how the device progresses, how the battery-life is (it's probably already beaten the Iliad... ) and whether I find anything else and of course I'll try to answer any questions about the device you might have.

For thesting the Battery-life I'll just leave the device on at all times (I turned the auto-power-down off) and read on it (transferring books only through SD-card to avoid recharging there) and see how long it takes until is goes flat.

I hope there are not too many mistakes in this text...if there are, I hope they don't compromise readability...
I can't remember when I last typed so much in one go...
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Old 01-22-2007, 06:43 PM   #3
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I see you bought yourself a Harry Potter. :-)
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Old 01-22-2007, 06:47 PM   #4
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it's completely unreadable...the version from their online book-collection...
But for the copyright-sharks reading along here...I actually own the book...in hardcover... :-)
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Old 01-22-2007, 06:52 PM   #5
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I see what you mean about the fonts, looks like the page layout needs a little work too. Thanks for the review.

When you go from plain text with absolutely no formatting and only one font, I can see how they get the pages to display so fast. I think on most of the ereaders it's a balance between speed and formatting. I'm curious how the speed compares to a BBeB pre-indexed on the Sony Reader.

Does .stk support DRM?
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Old 01-22-2007, 06:59 PM   #6
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I don't know about .stk DRM support, but the speed is not (only) down to the missing info in .stk files.

There are actually two kinds of .stk files right now. One consists of plain text, the other one is .jpg based. I tried both (the same book, once as plaintext, once as collection of .jpg files (you can create a .stk book with the software from a folder containing .jpg files) and the page-turning speed was the same, just like the loading time of the file (close as I could tell) although the .JPG based file was over 35MB and the text-based .stk was only 900k
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Old 01-22-2007, 07:13 PM   #7
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I just read the review (before I had only looked at the pictures), and I must say that if the software is the only problem, the Baen deal may be very sweet to some people. Now if you only could get the proposed Bookeen/Baen version too, so that you could compare them.
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Old 01-22-2007, 07:20 PM   #8
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well, if they would just send me a firmware update...that would actually be only a minimal problem.
I'm not sure whether this would work, but since I think the hardware is identical and updating via SD works...I'd be happy to help out...:-)
Maybe they'll approach me...^^
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Old 01-22-2007, 09:04 PM   #9
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The photos in part 1 show two keys on the right side (+ and -) and four on the left side (unreadable icons). Are these working? The +/- could (or should) be page forward and page back, although they are so small the arrow keys may be better in practice.
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Old 01-22-2007, 09:27 PM   #10
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@wallcraft

As I mentioned somehwere in my Review, the +/- keys are for volume control as far as I could tell. You can listen to mp3 while reading (I haven't tried it yet) so it's good to have direct access to volume.

The four keys on the other side are (top to bottom):

Music
Main Menu
Back (Return)
Delete (doubles as bookmark key in books)

I'm signing off for today...it's already half past two in the morning here...
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Old 01-22-2007, 09:53 PM   #11
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I really like this for the reason that branko mentioned in that the Bookeen is supposed to be the STAReBook with a different reading software.
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Old 01-22-2007, 10:27 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CommanderROR
While the device performs flawlessly, both where hardware and where Software are concerned, the file-format .stk that is the only supported format at the moment is a real limiting factor.

I don't really mind having just one format at my disposal (I only used PDf for my Iliad), but the Software that created the .stk files is almost completely useless. (eRead 3.0, buil 614). It does not allow you to do any manual formatting. It does not allow you to use anything but plain text as source and it does not allow you to choose a font either.
It leads to bigger files, and presumably no run-time font size options, but PDF (say) to JPEG might be the best bet for now. Some of the user developed Sony Reader tools could probably be easily modifed to produce a directory containing JPEGs (perhaps some already do so). The most obvious choice was actually posted for the iLiad, see pdftojpg.

One of the screenshots in the pdftojpg thread is actually a STAReBOOK, and it shows landscape mode with the arrows in the bottom left. This might be the best landscape orientation, but how does it compare to arrows in the top right? Can text .stk files also be rotated?
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Old 01-23-2007, 04:43 AM   #13
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Thank you for a great review CommanderROR.

I have got a few questions.

On the scanned pictures of the starebook I can see that the font they are using for displaying the text is monospaced. Is there a possibility to use a non-monospaced font (like Helvetica or Arial)?

What codepages does the built-in font support?
Does it support ISO8859-2 (Latin 2)?
Does it support Russian?

Can you try to connect the ebook to a computer running Linux or FreeBSD and post a little piece of text generated by
dmesg > dmesg.txt
command?
Can you ask somebody to try to mount the ereader as a disk on Linux of FreeBSD?

How long does the starting of the reader takes? I mean from the "off" position to the opening of your most recently read page. Can you measure it with a stopwatch for us?

Can you post an example of *.stk file so we can ponder about the possibility of creating it by other means than the original SW?
Plese post it otgether with the original text.

Can you ask starebook company if they plan to publish specifications for the *.stk file?

Can you ask the Starebook company HOW CAN I BUY one of those wonderful machines (in Central Europe, European Union)?

Do they plan to sell them here (in Europe)?

Have a nice day.
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Old 01-23-2007, 05:03 AM   #14
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@kacir

I'll try to answer at least sone of your questions, but not all of them right away.

The font is not changeable at the moment, I hope they are working on changing that since I don't like that font anyway...-)
I can't say anyting about the codepages just now, but I'll try to find out. I doublt that russian would work.
I don't have any Linux machines in the vicinity so I can't promise to test Linux support, sorry.

I'll time the booting later today if I have time. I'll also try to reactivate my girlfriend's old digicam that has video capability so that you can see the loading and page-turning with your own eyes. The boot-times aren't really that relevant though, since I just left the device on all the time since yesterday and the battery has not gone down at all. Seems like powersaving is working.

I'll put a .stk file at the end of this post so you can play with it, you can also visit the staretek online library for lots of (badly formatted) ,stk ebooks and comics...
About byuing the device...I suggest you contact staretekcom.cn directly, but i'll also try and remember to put it into my next email to Ivan.

I tried to put an example file up that does not violate copyright...
It's from the "free book database" that the company provides.
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Old 01-23-2007, 06:00 AM   #15
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Device: STAReBOOK, iRex Iliad, Sony 505, Kindle 2
I have just sent a file to staretek to demonstrate what we don't like about the .stk format.

I created a file for the Iliad and one for the STAReBOOK, using the same source and the same settings (as far as possible) I even tried to set the font and pagesize for the STAreBOOK as well (but of course the software just ignores those settings) and then scanned the results.
The difference in image brightness of the screen is just due to the scanner (the white frame of the STAreBOOK makes it turn down brightness I guess) but apart from that I guess you can see quite well where the differences lie.

Enjoy!
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