The Eken M-001 as Ebook Reader: Its’ All About the Apps

Back in June, I acquired an Eken M-001, an Android-powered tablet computer with a seven-inch display, occasionally referred to as an “Apad” or “ePad”. It normally sells for around $99 USD, making it pretty much the cheapest such device on the market. In July, after owning it for a couple of weeks, I wrote about my first impressions with the machine.

The short summary, for people who don’t want to re-read that: It’s an awesome e-book reader, and kind of ill-suited for many of the other things that people try and do with it.

After about six months with the thing, I’m still incredibly pleased with it, and have come to the conclusion that it’s the apps that make – or break – the device. To be somewhat helpful in that regard, here are some of my thoughts and experiences, after a lot of extensive use.

All Hail the E-Book

For e-books in EPUB format – my preference – I’ve not found anything that can beat, or even come close to, FBReaderJ. Seriously, as an e-book reader, this is the “killer app”, and it’s free, as well. It’s extremely fast, it’s very stable, and it’s just about infinitely configurable. The sole thing it lacks that I could ever imagine having a need for is a search function, should I sometime find myself reading technical non-fiction e-books. I consider that unlikely, but…

Amazon does also have a Kindle app that will run on the Eken, which will allow you to read anything from the Kindle Store. It’s great if you like to buy e-books on Amazon, but the actual reader app, IMO, leaves a bit to be desired compared to FBReaderJ, which, for my money, pretty much renders it useless.

You Can Read Comics, Too

I didn’t plan to read comics on the Eken, but when I stumbled across an app to do that, I figured I’d give it a try. Droid Comic Viewer is a flexible and configurable comic viewer that theoretically supports a large number of file formats. I say “theoretically” because the very small number of comic files I was able to get it to open, it read painfully slowly. As in, it would take ninety seconds to load the first image, and up to sixty seconds to “turn the page” and load a subsequent image. Rar files, zip files, directories of uncompressed images, it made no difference; this app is slow as molasses when it decides to run on the Eken, which is infrequent.

Happily, there’s A Comic View, another free app, albeit one that actually works. It only supports zip files, but considering that it actually opens and displays them within a few seconds – even if they’re over 75MB in size – and consistently loads new pages in around a quarter of a second, I can’t really complain. It’s not as configurable as the Droid Comic Viewer, but it actually works, which for my money basically renders any criticisms moot. 🙂

PDFs and Such

I rarely would want to read anything on the Eken that’s only available in PDF format, but the standard viewer that comes with it does a decent enough job that I haven’t bothered trying to find an alternative.

Make it Better, Faster, Stronger: Firmware?

After experimenting with around a half-dozen different firmwares for the Eken M-001, I’ve settled… on the current (as of this writing) “official” firmware from Eken, which can be downloaded from SlateDroid. It’s stable, has no major annoyances, and pretty much “just works”. As an e-book reader, none of the third-party firmwares I tried made any appreciable improvement. Some promised improved battery life, but this was not visible in my testing; I think most of them adjust wireless settings, which has no effect when you almost always have the wireless turned off, as I do.

Speaking of battery life, I consistently get seven hours’ use on a single charge when reading e-books with FBReaderJ, and at least six hours when reading comics with AComicView. This is of course with the wireless turned off. No, this is not as good of battery life as a Kindle, a Sony Reader, or an iPad, but it’s perfectly adequate for most people, and a much better figure than some of the other websites discussing the M-001 have thrown around.

Closing Thoughts

The Eken can be had from various places online for $95-$99, shipped; another $15-20 gets you a case and screen protector. There are now a few (very) slightly cheaper dedicated e-book readers out there, which as far as I’m concerned are hampered by lack of firmware development and third-party apps; it’s not that they’re necessarily bad (I don’t own one, so don’t know) but the whole lack of customization to meet personal preference is not terribly appealing, given the usual standards of “default” software on designed-in-China electronic devices.

As far as I’m concerned, if you want what is essentially an open-source e-book reader, the Eken is the way to go; it does e-books and it does them very well, and it can also perform a (growing, thanks to app developers) number of other tricks, though not necessarily as well. As a netbook, or even a “tablet PC”, it’s pretty lackluster, true. But as a $99 e-book reader with a few other abilities, which can also, in a pinch, check your e-mail, browse the web, stream music, and, even, apparently, share torrents (why?), it’s pretty much hard to beat.

Published in: Geekiness, General | on December 1st, 2010| Comments Off on The Eken M-001 as Ebook Reader: Its’ All About the Apps

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