Darryl Adams is a government worker and internet tragic. A former IT worker, he still pines for the days of IBM keyboards that go CRUNCH and the glow of green screens. He can be found on on Twitter or on Facebook. Check out his site oz-e-books.com for more articles about e-book readers, retailers, formats and news (or will have when Darryl can be drawn away from reading Delimiter). The views expressed here do not reflect the views of his employer, the ATO.
review The Stash eBook reader is one of a range of eBook readers for sale at Officeworks. Priced aggressively at $129, it is a TFT screen reader with music, video and multimedia capacity.
The first thing I noticed was the box is way bigger than the device, which gives a false impression of its size. See above for an illustrative reason why:
Secondly, this is not an e-ink device, so you would expect a vibrant colour screen. Yet in comparison with the Kobo eReader, the Stash is very dark to look at. While there are 5 backlight options, even the brightest was dim compared to an iPhone, and the darkest setting was very dark indeed while still illuminating the screen. While this may be needed to get longer battery life, it is also a poor use of the technology.
Another issue I found with the screen is the viewing angle. Comparing with the Kobo and an iPhone, the read angle is very tight (it must be close to perpendicular to the eye for viewing). The iPhone and Kobo can be viewed at any angle. If this is a problem for users is hard to determine, but it is a step back from the good viewing angles in LCD screens we take for granted today.
The formatting of the eBooks does not have the polish of other eReaders. The menu system looks good, with a springbound book user interface. However, when browsing the books, the text is not formatted. Headings and page breaks are not rendered well, and the text looks like the books have been converted to text file format. Page turning in eBooks is very quick, however as it should be for a non e-ink device.
Also, if you do not use a program like Calibre to catalogue books, the Stash uses file names to display books. This is not a problem, except that the Stash’s free books all use obscure file names (an example is “B017(B).txt”). This is inexcusable, as there is no other way to search for books except for by file name.
The formats supported by the Stash are quite good: ASCII, Unicode TXT. LRC, PDF, HTM, FB2, ePub, WTXT. No MS Reader support, and there is no DRM support whatsoever. So this is not the reader to use for any Australian based eBook retail site.
As stated, the Stash also has multimedia support, with MP3, WMA, FLAC, AAC, WAV, OGG audio formats support, Real Media, AVI, FLV (Flash), MP4, DAT, VOB (DVD), MPEG, MKV (Matroska) and MOV (Quick Time) video support. Image support includes the JPEG, BMP and GIF formats.
PDF rendering is good. A graphic-heavy PDF shows up on the screen in full colour. The default setting is full page, and an A4 size page renders small on the screen. You can increase the size of the text, and the rendering is quite similar to the way the Kobo renders PDF, with a pan and scan required to read the whole page. If you love the Ken Burns effect for PDF, this is great, but makes it harder for most other uses (to be fare, the Kobo also shares this fault).
As a TFT device, battery life is not on the same level as with e-ink products. The device claims 7 hours with eBooks, 30 hours of audio (without backlighting) and 5 hours video playback. I have not tested this, but will endeavour to do so.
The actual physical design is a strong point. The page turn buttons (left and right) are in a good location for both left- and right-handed people. The buttons are well designed, and are actually more responsive than the Kobo. The only issue I had was the menu (m) and return buttons were not intuitive at the start, but I quickly learnt how they work.
Storage is very good, with 2GB internal memory and a SDHD card that can take up to 16gb. It also acts as an USB disk drive when connected to a PC. The box contains a power adaptor (almost mandatory for this type of device), USB-USB2 cable and earphones.
For an initial review, I am not overwhelmed by the Stash. It is very nicely priced, and the hardware is impressive but it has the feel of a cheap knockoff device, especially in the software and user interface (UI) side of things. If it had a better OS, this would be a very nice product indeed, and I almost have the urge to port a Linux OS onto the device.
A larger screen would also have been nice as well — the 5″ screen is just a bit small for my liking. It also has the advantage of being widely available in Officeworks stores, and would be easier to buy than even the Kobo for those who use brick and mortar stores.
Image credit: Darryl Adams