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Cybook Gen3, just an ebook reader back

Cybook3

I have lots of PDFs, some of them in English, others in French, Spanish etc., and all I want is to be able to read them on the move, on a nice and large E-ink screen. The reader will also need to be able to display other alphabets correctly. This means a DRM enabled ebook reader is OK, but is not really a necessity. I also do not want to spend too much on the device, considering the PDFs I have did not cost me a lot.. Well, the Kindle is not available in the UK, and the Sony PRS-505/PRS-600 are too costly. For these reasons, I ended up buying a Cybook Gen3. This was flogged cheaply by WH Smiths at the time for around £130 (around a year ago). For this you get a nice 6 inch E-ink display, which is the size of a typical paperback. The internal memory is 512MB, but you can plug in a SD card to increase the storage further.

The thing I like about this device is it is a straight forward ebook reader, simple to use and very light. You just plug it into your PC via USB and it becomes a flash memory device for you to drag and drop your files on to. Remove the USB cable and you are presented with a menu of all the ebooks you have just loaded. The reader keeps track of where you have got up to in each book you visit, so you can simply carry on where you left off. The screen is as close to a paperback as you can get. You only use the battery when you flip between pages, so the battery should last for days, weeks even. If the ebook file is a text file or html, you can choose between three pre-installed fonts. You can get even more fonts by copying them from your Windows machine into the Fonts folder of the internal memory, as long as they are True Type (.ttf) fonts.

The one problem I have is with displaying PDF. The device allows you to zoom by fit page, fit height, and fit width modes, plus other zoom factors from 40% to 100% (provided you upgrade to the latest firmware 1.5 or 2.0). However, there is no panning supported. This means that either the text is too miniscule to read, or you will have to keep flipping left/right or up/down to see the whole page. Not practical at all. As this is the bulk of my ebook files, I was rather disillusioned and was ready to give up. Off it went on to the shelf and remained there until, well, last week.

I decided to give it another go, having read about various ways to make the pdf more readable. One method is to crop the margins, which take up at least 25% of most PDF documents. I tried using pdfcrop, but the result was rather disappointing because I still could not read the cropped pdf, and the file is also massively large.

The next method is pdftotext/pdftohtml. of which pdftohtml yields better result because it inserts pagebreaks etc., making the flow more pleasing than just the text mode. Neither utility will give you original formatting or embedded images etc., but as I am more interested in the contents only, this does not matter too much to me.

The last problem, which threatened to kick the reader back to the shelf, is that it simply refuses to display French and Spanish text correctly. The output of pdftotext/pdftohtml simply displays as garbage on the screen for all accented characters. I was ready to give up when I, by chance, stumbled on a French text file which displayed correctly in the reader. As text files do not contain formatting information, I was intrigued as to why this file works and my files do not. Visual inspection does not produce any noticeable different. Anyway, I finally managed to crack it by loading the files into Textpad and check the Document Properties. It turned out that the file that works is encoded as UNIX/ANSI, whereas all the files produced by pdftohtml/pdftotext are in UNIX/UTF-8 i.e. a different character encoding. It seems that the Cybook device only understands ANSI encoding (unless you load it with a font which works for UTF-8). This is the last piece of the puzzle. All I need to do is to either use Textpad on Windows to save the file using the ANSI encoding, or to use iconv (iconv -f utf-8 -t ms-ansi {file name}.pdf) on Unix. The output. if done to html, is the one achieving the best rendering on the Cybook from a PDF original.

Oh bliss, many hours of tranquil reading, with a featherlight device, instead of a pile of books. All I need now is a few weeks on a beach somewhere warm!

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 by by David at 18 Feb 2010 15:29:58
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