You may not have heard of Astak, but it's one of several non-name-brand companies that are jumping into the e-book reader space with a range of new models, including the 5-inch EZ Reader Pocket Pro reviewed here.
While this model is smaller than the Amazon Kindle, which has a 6-inch screen, we actually like the size of the Pocket Pro and other 5-inch nontouch-screen e-readers, such as the Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-300). This model, like the Sony, has a list price of $199, so it makes sense to compare the two units, especially since both models have Adobe Digital Editions compatibility, which allows you to read downloadable e-books in the secure ePub format that's increasingly becoming the standard--outside of Amazon's Kindle--for online e-booksellers.
Measuring 6 inches high by 4.1 inches wide by .4 inch deep and weighing 6 ounces, the Pocket Pro is about the same size as the Sony PRS-300. It's hard to call it a true pocket device, such as the iPhone, but it will slip into the inside pocket of most sports coats (we tried it with a blazer), as well as cargo pant pockets.
From a design standpoint, the Pocket Pro features a rubberized finish that Astak reps claim is less susceptible to scuffing than the finish on Sony's Readers. There may be some truth to that--and we did like the feel of the finish--but overall the Sony is sleeker looking.
We appreciated that the Pocket Pro comes with a nice faux-leather cover with a magnetic clasp that keeps the cover closed when you're finished reading. You also get such features as an SD expansion slot for more memory (there's 512MB of internal memory and you can add cards up to 16GB). The battery is user replaceable, and provides up to two weeks of reading on a single battery charge. All of those are nice pluses.
This model comes in a number of colors, including white, black, red, blue, pink, and purple. Like most other electronic paper products, this Astak and its larger sibling, the 6-inch EZ Reader, use "E Ink" technology, which serves to make the letters and words on the screen look more printlike in their appearance. One of the characteristics of E-ink is that when you turn a page or scroll from one onscreen menu item to another, there's a slight delay as the screen refreshes. That's true of this model, too, and we sometimes noticed some ghosting of the menu screen on the page (you press a button to pop it up) until we refreshed the page. Otherwise, the screen (800x600 resolution, with eight levels of gray scale) is pretty easy on the eyes. Like all of these readers, though, you'll need to read in a well-lit environment, because there's no laptop-like backlight.
One of the Pocket Reader Pro's biggest strengths is the number of formats it supports. The full list includes: Adobe PDF (with reflow capability), RTF, TXT, Microsoft Word (DOC), EPUB, PDB, FB2, TXT, HTML, LIT, PRC, WOL, CHM, TIF, RAR, ZIP, DJVU, JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, and MP3. You can also view JPEG files and other image files (though, without any color, they come off like something you'd see on an Etch-a-Sketch) and listen to MP3s as you read.
While there's no tie-in to a major e-book store like Sony, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon, at this moment, you can download titles from such lesser known e-book stores as Shortcovers and Books on Board, as well as other sites that offer thousands of free titles.