Viewsonic's VEB620 is another entry into the emerging electronic book reader market, and offers a good feature set for anybody interesting in reading text on an electronic device.
In many ways there's nothing really out of the ordinary here, the ViewSonic VEB620 features a 6-inch electronic ink display with an 800 x 600 resolution. It's a good display, however, with crisp highly readable text. It also gets one-up on many other devices by including a fairly reasonable 2GB of onboard storage (especially given the size of electronic books).
In terms of file support all the usual suspects are covered: ePUB, PDF, FB2, TXT, HTML and XML, although it lacks support for more complex documents like Microsoft Excel or Word documents. Support for JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and MP3 files (including a small speaker on the rear) enables multimedia playback.
Documents are loaded onto the device via the USB cable. Either by dragging and dropping them directly or syncing via Adobe Digital Editions. This ensures support for DRM book files that can be bought from Waterstones.com and other online booksellers. The ViewSonic VEB620 is both Mac and PC compatible.
There are a number of things it lacks. But these are all good things. It doesn't have WiFi, which is great. It also doesn't have a touchscreen, which is also great. You may be tempted to think that adding these things would improve the device, but our experience with book readers suggests that keeping things simple improves electronic book readers. The slow processors and electronic ink screen refresh don't compliment touchscreen browsing of books and Internet browsing is dreadful. Not having these features clears the deck for you to concentrate on reading books.
If you disagree, then Viewsonic has a model further up the food chain called the VEB625 which sports both touchscreen and WiFi. But you really want a touchscreen handheld device with WiFi connectivity and a full colour display then consider moving up to Apple's iPad.
Like all electronic ink displays, battery life is measured in page turns rather than hours. In this case 8,000 page turns. We've yet to encounter full colour book readers using electronic ink displays, and the ViewSonic VEB620 is no exception. How these full colour displays will change the e-reader market remains to be seen.
One feature it does come with is auto rotation. ViewSonic refers to this as the G-Sensor and it determines which orientation you are holding the VEB620 and adjusts the display accordingly. It requires calibration but after that simple process seemed to work effectively enough. The effect is slightly ruined though by the Please Wait alert that lasted 9.12 seconds (we timed it) between changing orientations.
It's a nice looking piece of kit though. The device itself comes in a slimline white plastic, which is fairly standard for this sort of product. However, ViewSonic has thoughtfully included a nice white leather case with a magnetic clasp giving it a more executive (but not too stuffy look). The buttons are thoughtfully laid out, and like the Kindle 2 it has thumb buttons on the side for page flipping. The slow processor prevents it from being snappy to the touch though, and we found navigating menus to be a chore.
The ViewSonic VEB620 may not be as sexy as the iPad, if truth be told it's not as functional either, but it's cheaper and does one thing well which is display the text of eBooks. Lacking the WiFi and touchscreen bells and whistles may lead you to think there are more comprehensive devices out there, but we prefer the simplicity of the Viewsonic VEB620 over more technically crammed electronic ink devices. It may be no match for the iPad, but it holds its own amongst rival eReaders.
Having said that there's something of an issue with the price. At £199 it was a reasonable price for this class of device until the iPad launched and Amazon reacted by slashing the price of the Kindle to $189, which comes to £146 by the time you've added VAT in the UK. At a good £50 less, and with free 3G for downloading books, the Kindle 2 is the better choice at the moment.