PocketBook 360 Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Speedy interface and page turns ; Supports a wide number of formats ; Accelerometer makes orientation changing easy

The Cons

Lackluster eBook selection ; No 3G wireless connection ; Advanced options difficult to use

Verdict

An ergonomic design and accelerometer make this compact eReader stand out, but its functionality is limited for the price.

In an eReader market crowded with products that promise to do more, multitask, and download books over the air, is there still room for devices that focus just on eReading? The PocketBook 360 reader doesn't have Wi-Fi or 3G, run Android apps, or come with two screens. But this 5-inch device still manages to include compelling features like an accelerometer, a built-in cover, and an ergonomically sound design. However, at $239 it's more expensive than its closest competitor (size-wise) and only $20 less than two of the most high-profile readers on the market. So is the 360 worth a look?

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Design

The 5.5 x 4.6 x 0.5-inch PocketBook 360 is smaller than the $199 Sony Pocket Edition reader, though they have the same size screen. To the left of the 5-inch E-Ink electronic paper display (EPD) sits two large buttons for page turns and a centrally located navigation pad with up/down/right/left and Enter buttons. Along the top edge there's just enough space for a microSD Card slot and the power button. The 360's mini-USB port sits on the bottom edge.

The 360 has a simple yet ergonomically comfortable design. We like that it's so light--just 6.6 ounces--and fit comfortably in our hands no matter which direction we held it. The included cover, etched with an elegant diamond pattern, snaps on the front to protect the screen when the device is not in use and snaps on the back when you're ready to read. The cover adds negligible thickness, and doesn't get in the way. We had trouble getting the hang of snapping it on and off at first, but it became second nature after a few days.

Interface

The PocketBook 360's interface is by necessity simple due to the limited number of buttons on the device. The home screen layout, with its grid of nine chunky icons, reminds us of the Sony Touch Edition. The last two books opened appear at the top of the screen, followed by icons for Books (Library), downloaded News feeds, Favorites, Photos, Dictionary, Applications, Notes, Calendar, and Settings. Navigating is easy due to the responsive buttons on the d-pad, and moving through long lists is made less tedious by the ability to move forward one page at a time, as well as up and down.

While reading a book, users can press and hold the Enter button to launch menu options: bookmarking, going to a specific page, and manually rotating the screen's orientation are easy to execute, but more complex tasks like Dictionary lookup, Search, and making notes strained the usefulness of the limited buttons and options available. The on-screen keyboard is tedious to navigate, the dictionary included with our review unit wasn't in English (though units shipped in the U.S. will be), and the Notes function only allows users to highlight passages of an eBook, not actually make notes about the text.

Content

PocketBook's store, BookLand.net, has more than 70,000 free books in over 30 world languages, mostly in English. The company said it plans to open a paid book store with more than 250,000 English titles, but the release date hasn't been confirmed. Since the PocketBook supports a wide range of formats and Adobe Digital editions DRM for ePUB, users should be able to transfer eBooks from other online stores as well. However, none of the eBookstores that sell EPUB titles match Amazon's 400,000+ books available for the Kindle. Plus, BookLand doesn't include periodicals as Sony, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon's stores do.

As the PocketBook lacks wireless connectivity, we loaded a DRM-free EPUB copy of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, a PDF of Chicks Dig Time Lords, an RTF file, and several other titles from Google Books onto the PocketBook via USB from a PC (the reader is also compatible with Mac and Linux systems). When attached to a USB port, the 360 asked if we wanted to make a link or simply charge the unit. Once connected, our computer recognized the PocketBook as an external flash drive. Adding books was as simple as drag and drop.

Like Sony's Readers, users can load RSS feeds onto the PocketBook 360, but only through a desktop app called PocketNews. This program, which readers can also use to access a BookLand account, is less robust than Sony's PC app and doesn't offer much beyond basic functionality. After adding our feeds to the program, PocketNews saved them to an FB2 file then uploaded to the device when we connected it via USB.

Unfortunately, the reader presented each article without indicating which blog it came from, and there were no line breaks. We appreciate that PocketBook provided users with a way to read feeds on the go, but without 3G or Wi-Fi, this feature is much less useful than feeds that automatically update as on the Kindle or almost any smart phone.

Reading Experience

The EPD utilizes the same E-Ink technology as the Nook, Kindle 2, and other popular eReaders, so we had no trouble reading text indoors and outside in sunlight. The small screen means fewer lines and more page turning as with the Sony Pocket Edition, but since the PocketBook 360 is comfortable to use, we were able to stay engaged with our books.

One of the best features of the PocketBook 360 is its built-in accelerometer. Turn the eReader in any of the four directions and it will automatically switch orientations. It took 1 to 3 seconds to make the switch in our testing, and the PocketBook had trouble when we turned the unit 180 degrees instead of moving sequentially 90 degrees at a time. Still, we were impressed that the process worked about 90 percent of the time.

When the PocketBook switches orientations, the page turn buttons also switch accordingly. For example, when we turned the unit so the buttons sat on the left of the screen, the top button always corresponded to Turn Forward and the bottom to Turn Backward. Users can reverse this from the Settings menu if they choose. We appreciate that this reader gives users multiple ways to hold and use the device, which is helpful in reducing repetitive stress. However, we still prefer the Kindle's design.

We also like the number of options for fonts, text size, line spacing and margins offered under Settings on the Menu. There are dozens of serif and sans-serif fonts and sizes ranging from 10 to 50 points, far more than the Nook offers. Users can even turn hyphenation on or off and choose the encoding for a book if the default auto setting doesn't suit.

Page turns were quick--just 1 second--with minimal flashing, the same speed as the Kindle 2 (with the latest firmware update) and the Sony Daily Edition.

Extras

In addition to reading books and news feeds, the PocketBook also comes with a few games and apps. Some, like Photo, Clock, and Calendar, are simple, straightforward, and worked pretty well, but games such as Chess, SeaBattle (similar to Battleship)--even Sudoku--were too complex for a device with a limited interface and few buttons. We found playing them more frustrating than fun, and it took us far too long to figure out how to exit these games once we were done.

PocketBook covers the 360 with a two-year limited warranty.

Verdict

The PocketBook 360 is a simple but serviceable eReader. If it cost less than $150 we might recommend it for consumers eager for an eBook reader who have a limited budget. While the Pocketbook 360 is faster, more responsive, and reads a wider range of formats than the Sony Pocket Edition, it costs $239; that's $40 more than Sony's device, which has a larger eBook store at its disposal. The PocketBook has a nice design, but its content selection needs to catch up to the competition. We say spend the extra 20 bucks on a connected eReader like the Kindle or Nook.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Operating System Linux
Compatability Mac
Compatability Linux
Compatability PC
Electronic Paper Display Size 5 inches
Electronic Paper Display Resolution 800 x 600
Secondary Display Size
Secondary Display Resolution
Touchscreen
Internal Memory 512MB
3G
Wi-Fi
Memory Card Slots Micro SD
Headphone Jack
eBook Formats PRC
eBook Formats DJVU
eBook Formats PDF
eBook Formats CHM
eBook Formats PDB
eBook Formats HTML
eBook Formats FB2.zip
eBook Formats FB2
eBook Formats TCR
eBook Formats EPUB
Document Formats TXT
Document Formats RTF
Document Formats DOC
Image Formats JPEG
Image Formats BMP
Image Formats TIFF
Image Formats PNG
Rated Battery Life 2 to 3 weeks
Size 5.5 x 4.6 x 0.5 inches
Weight 6.6 ounces
Warranty/Support Two-year limited parts-and-labor/Phone and e-mail support 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST)
Company Website http://www.pocketbookreader.com