Review of the Hanvon N510 ebook reader (2009)

Update: I installed OpenInkPot on this thing!

I installed openinkpot on my hanvon N510 and it is awesome! pages turn about 2x as fast, a bunch of small errors are fixed, there is way better support & browsing. The file listing page looks a lot better. It is awesome! Oh yeah, and they disabled auto-shutdown (something I always thought was strange, since ebooks theoretically don't need to ever shut down). So the thing stays on forever. It also has a clock & calendar which is sort of useful. I love openinkpot! Installation was easy - basically I just had to put a file onto the card and then boot, and it overwrote some of the stuff inside the device. TOTALLY worth it.

In other news, prices of ebooks are way down, since the kindle price was lowered! I have heard Chinese ebooks are lowering their prices, too.

Update 2:

This review is getting kind of old, I broke this thing, and I have got a kindle 3 now which I suppose is a better device.

Review of the Hanvon N510 ebook reader

I bought the Hanvon N510 ebook in zhongguancun, a big electronics market in Beijing, about a month ago, in July 2009. It cost RMB 1650, about US 240 at the time. I had read about the kindle, and this seemed similar, but smaller. The Kindles I've seen are huge - at least the DX is. This one is smaller, about as big as a day planner.

The average book here costs about 20 rmb - so it's about 100x the cost of a paperback book. Since then I have read two and a half books on it - Excession by Iain M. banks, Glasshouse by Charles Stross, and am now reading The Golden Age by John C. Wright. Overall, I love it and the books it's let me read - living in China it's hard to get current books in physical format, so I ended up not reading. I'm also looking forward to using it on vacation, where I think it'll be brilliant.

Included in the package:

The device

2 GB SD card

a really extensive library of chinese books on it, that I haven't read.

about 30 western classics - war & peace, etc.

USB charger

leathery case with magnetic snaps - this is pretty good, snaps closed nicely and protects the screen. No logos on it at all, either, which is good. Probably reduces theft.

The Device

It's very light - much lighter than a book. It's pretty comfortable to hold. Pleasantly thin.

The surface is black, bumpy but smooth plastic. It's good.

To the left side of the screen there are 10 buttons, each labeled in white with a number. I found these to be distractingly high contrast, and blacked them out with a marker.

Above the screen is a golden company logo. This is also high contrast and annoying and received a similar treatment. In the lower left corner there's another greenish logo. Why do companies put these logos everywhere? We already bought the device. In China this thing is really expensive - people spending the equivalent of 1.5 months waiter's salary for an ebook shouldn't need to be flashing logos. But this is China and showing off is still done at all income levels.

Overall the default appearance is a bit too busy, but it looks better now.

The Screen

This part is very important! It's really, really white. In good light (daytime, interior or better) it's wonderful to read off of. Letters are black and the background is white. In bad light (night, interior, next to a 50 watt bulb) I still read off it all the time. It's not quite as clear, but still good. At night I often read in bed while next to a 40-watt bulb. In that case, if it's directly in the light it's perfectly fine to read - if it's not in the direct light, but only in the reflected light, it's starting to get annoying.

I have never tried to read by moonlight - but starlight is too dark.

Glare

Glare can happen if you hold it at some angles in bright sunlight, but it's not usually a problem.

Smudges

Haven't gotten any smudges on the screen yet. The seam collects dust, but so far I've just brushed it away with no problem.

Page Flipping

This is important! - when you flip a page, it takes time to redraw. The screen temporarily goes black, and flashes, then the new page is there. I'd estimate it takes about 0.8 seconds. It's not instant by any means, but also not too long. I found that after a while I just zoned out to it - when I'd get near the bottom of a page, about two lines before the bottom, I'll push the button, then glance over the words. While it's flipping I'll think about them, and then continue reading.

It's somewhat annoying that it takes this long to flip pages; and it puts some load onto your brain. But it's not very much.

It turns out that this amount of time is always necessary to change anything on the screen - so most of the interface has been designed to let you jump directly to where you want to go - instead of moving around with arrow keys, you just push the left side button next to where you want to go.

Fonts

The English font looks fine for text format. The first two books I read were in txt format. The one I'm reading now is in pdf, and one page has a huge amount of text - probably 3-4 physical book pages. The most zoomed out level is to show one pdf page - and this results in super tiny text. Luckily the medium zoom level is perfect. The font on this pdf doc looks really good, too - even better than the txt format books I read. Other pdfs I have tried a bit have looked fine at least at some zoom level. The problem with pdfs is that there is sub-page paging. In the pdf I'm reading now, one pdf page is split across six pages. When you reach the end of a pdf page, it jaggedly is cut off and if you push down again, you are at the top of the next pdf page.

Control button

This is a round piece of plastic curving fairly deeply into a pit in the middle. It is placed in the lower right corner of the device. It's like a seesaw switch with 4 ways it can go - not my favorite type of button. Outside this circle, there's a metal ring, sticking above somewhat, which has the same function. When you put your finger in the depression, you can rock to one side and push down, but you can't direct the force to the edge - then you'll end up hitting the outer ring. So you have to sort of aim for it, rather than just pressing until it moves. I prefer to push inside the circle, because the outer ring is thinner and harder to press, and has an (even) firmer resistance.

This button is used to move up and down pages and for a lot of navigation. I think it would be a lot easier if it were like a normal button - you push down on an edge, and it moves until your finger hits the back surface the button is embedded in, so you know you have pushed it. This button is not bad, but it could be better. Perhaps the high resistance is a reaction to reports that the kindle's resistance was too low. I almost never accidentally flip a page.

Placement-wise, in portrait mode it's convenient for my right hand, but not the left. The reverse applies for landscape mode.

Zoom button

Below the screen there is a zoom button. There are three levels of zoom. For txt files, these are "small", "medium", "large". Depending on lighting and how I feel, I usually read in small or medium for text. For pdf, in some cases the smallest zoom is really small, but medium is fine.

Alignment button

Next to the zoom button there's a button that flips the text from portrait to landscape. The first book I read landscape, the second portrait. They both have their benefits. I have heard, line length matters a lot for fast reading. At medium format, portrait style, you can read almost an entire line at a time. I need to practice my speed-reading more to find out which one is better.

Left side up/down button

There is also an up/down button on the left side about 2/3 up the way of the device, but I don't use it. I think it flips pages back and forth.

Buttons next to the screen.

On the left side of the screen, quite close, are ten buttons labelled with a number, and a corresponding triplet of letter ("ABC") under them. It's too close to the screen, and white on black just emphasizes the non-perfect blackness of the screen. Once blacked out with a marker, they're not a problem. These ten buttons are used for navigating the set-size menus - the book list built into the device has ten rows - to choose a book, you just push the button next to that row. It's convenient, much better than navigating up and down and then pressing "enter" as you would on a PC. This method is used throughout the interface. And this is another proof that the labelling wasn't needed - the buttons are already laid out in physical proximity to the screen option they choose - no need to go through an extra layer of indirection to interpret their meaning.

Charging

The device ran out of power 2/3 of the way into my first book - which is weird cause it's rated for 8000 pages per charge. Once I charged it, though, it has made it through a couple thousand more pages, and the batter meter is only 1 unit down, out of about 5.

It charges through a usb connection to a computer.

Speaker/mic/headphones?

Never used them.

Data

The SD card is loaded as a mass storage device - If you create folders there in Windows, they will show up inside the device bookshelf with the same name. So you can just move books around freely. You can have folders within folders, too. When browsing your bookshelves from within the device, files in formats it doesn't support don't show up. I think even folders which don't have any supported files won't be shown either.

Supported Formats

It can display txt, htxt (the included files were in this, but I don't know what it is; it may just be compressed txt), pdf, and html. I haven't tested any others. It doesn't read lit files. I haven't been concerned with it so far - since I have access to the files, if I ever need to read anything, I can just rip the text on my computer and put it in a readable format.

Software

Bookmarking (original meaning!)

The last 9 files you've read are kept in 'recent reading', in order of last access time. And it also remembers what page you were on. This is great. I still find that after I put it down, I have a number in my mind - and I think, wait, what is 243? Why am I remembering this? Oh yeah, it's the page I was on. And I can let myself forget it. The years long habit of remembering where I was isn't necessary. For docs which are paged internally, though, it only remembers the pdf page. So in the pdf I'm reading now, I may be on page 100, 4th sub-page down. When I resume, I'll be at the top of 100. This is annoying, but not that much of a pain.

9 books is fine - the top one is always the one you're reading now, and the others are just sitting there, waiting to be picked up again.

Autoturnoff

As I understand it, the device takes no power at all to sustain a page - it's actually physically changed to the new configuration and could stay that way forever. Nevertheless, after an hour, it turns off automatically.

Problems

The device is not without problems:

Longline Shortline

Some books can have longline-shortline. Excession had this. But if you switched to landscape mode, it was fixed. If that hadn't worked, I could have fixed the file - or gotten another one. So I don't think this is serious.

Turnon Time

It takes about 15 seconds to turn on completely, then another two button presses to get to your last book. This is somewhat annoying for elevator reading. But once you realize it, it's easier to turn it on as you're walking down the hall and it'll be ready to go. Since it costs nothing to keep the screen on, and battery power is almost unlimited anyway, this is mostly not an issue.

Word Merging

This is the one serious problem. I'm not sure if the pdf I'm reading now is messed up, or if it's a display problem, but on every page the space between two words will be removed. It really slows down your reading speed. There's about 2 or 3 of these per page, now. I am hoping it's just an OCR error in the original scan of the book.

Summary

The device is pleasing, and pretty useful. For my situation in China, unable to get physical books without a huge delay, it's awesome.

Future Plans

I would like to get a foldable solar panel array that could be used to charge this and a 16GB SD card. That would be able to hold enough books to last a lifetime. It'd be the perfect thing to bring to a deserted island. If your spaceship crashed on a deserted, but survivable planet, just one of these could contain enough information to sustain a reasonable civilization.

Getting Books

Various internet sites have freely downloadable books, such as library.nu. However, that can't be legal. Another place that has a lot of books is the channel #bookz on IRC. If you haven't used IRC before that can be weird, though - sort of like visiting an alternate steampunk version of the internet. Like a platypus.

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11/4/2018 5:11:20 PM
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