It may be some time before ebook readers replace the printed page, but they've certainly being gaining their fair share of column inches recently on the back of releases from Sony and Amazon. ViewSonic, best known for producing monitors, is now also looking to get in on the ebook-reader game with the VEB612. At about £260, it's more expensive than many of its big-name rivals, though, so has it got the style and features to justify the higher asking price?
Generic but stylish
ViewSonic hasn't exactly broken any new ground with the VEB612's design, but it's still a relatively stylish device. The white finish may feel slightly plasticky, but it certainly gives the device a clean and fresh appearance. As the VEB612 is relatively petite, measuring just 127 by 203 by 9mm, it's pretty comfortable to hold too, and, at 180g, it's unlikely to push you over the hand-luggage limit when you're off on your travels, even if you're flying with Ryanair. We also like the way that ViewSonic has included a white leatherette case with a magnetic clasp on the front, to keep the VEB612 safe when it's tucked away in a backpack or suitcase.
As you'd expect, the front of the reader is dominated by its 6-inch screen. As with most ebook readers on the market, this uses E-Ink technology to produce a very stable monochrome image that's extremely easy on the eye. The display has a resolution of 800x600 pixels, so text, images and graphics looks reasonably sharp. It can only show eight greyscale levels when rendering pictures and graphics, though, whereas many of its rivals are capable of displaying 16 shades of grey.
Lacklustre format support
Compared to other devices, the VEB612's format support is rather limited. It only supports the PDF, TXT, ePub, HTML and PRC formats, whereas Sony's models also support the Word, RTF and BBeB formats.
ViewSonic has been stingy with the on-board storage too, as there's only 512MB of memory. In comparison, the iriver Story has 2MB of memory. Nevertheless, you can always top up the internal memory using cheap SD memory cards via the slot on the top edge of the device. Files are transferred from a PC via the mini-USB port on the bottom of the VEB612, as, unlike the Kindle, this model has no Wi-Fi or mobile-data support.
When it comes to battery life, the VEB612 isn't found lacking. These types of electronic readers only really draw significant amounts of power when refreshing the screen, so battery life is generally quoted in the number of page turns you'll get per charge. The VEB612's rechargeable battery is rated at 8,000 page turns, which translates to around two weeks of usage. That's pretty good, putting this device slightly ahead of the likes of Sony's Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300.
So far so good, but the VEB612 falls flat on its face when it comes to its software. Put simply, there are so many features that either don't work, are buggy or reduce performance to a crawl that it really feels like the device is running on little more than beta software.
For example, our VEB612 struggled to render PDF files correctly, often mucking up the formatting by failing to show graphs and diagrams, or using the wrong font size in the wrong places. Also, with text files, it didn't always add the folded-page icon when a page was bookmarked, even though the mark appeared in the bookmark list.
Similarly, the on-board MP3 player was extremely buggy. Although you can listen to MP3s while reading a document, the device slows down so much that you won't want to bother. Even worse is the fact that it often skips half an MP3 track, as well as suffering playback glitches, making it hard to listen to songs.
We've got no problems with the ViewSonic VEB612's hardware, as the design is relatively attractive and the screen is reasonably good. But, at present, the software is so buggy that it really makes the device a pain to use. As such, we'd recommend you check out something like the Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300 instead, especially as it's almost £90 cheaper.
Edited by Charles Kloet