The last year has been quite busy - I completed my PhD, got hired on a 1-year contract as a postdoctoral Research Fellow, and have since returned to India and done many other things. Needless to say, I haven’t been updating my blog very regularly.
This post is intended to remedy the situation somewhat, in the form of a review of a device I recently purchased as a Christmas gift for myself - the Hanvon e920. There are no comprehensive English-language reviews of this device, which is a shame, since it is quite a useful e-reader, particularly for those academics like myself who read a lot of PDFs. Because of the lack of reviews I actually agonized for a bit over whether to purchase it, but when I thought about it for awhile and compared it with its only real competition (the Kindle DX and Icarus Excel), I finally bit the bullet.
The Kindle DX, Icarus eXcel, and Hanvon e920 are pretty much the only 9.7 inch e-readers on the market. There are larger e-readers, such as Sony’s 13.3 inch reader, but currently there are drawbacks to such solutions: Sony’s, for example, only handles PDFs and retails for around USD $1000 (currently on sale for $800). I’ve owned a Kindle Paperwhite since 2013 after my friend Eric got one and showed me how it handled PDFs. The main reason I got one was because I was on my way to North-East India to spend 5 months doing fieldwork and I wanted an easy way to read linguistic articles and textbooks while trying to learn the Pnar language - the Paperwhite can handle a large library, is extremely portable, and allowed me to bring along ebooks to read for pleasure when I got really stressed out by cross-cultural living. The backlit display and the 2-3 week battery life were also quite handy in a place where electricity was not always easy to come by.
While I found the Kindle Paperwhite useful, there were some drawbacks when it came to reading PDFs. The main issue was how small the fonts were. This could be dealt with to some extent by changing the orientation to landscape mode, but then navigating PDFs could be troublesome, as I would often have to re-find my place on the page when moving to the next section (further down the page). Whitespace was also not always handled well by the Paperwhite. Sometimes I could manually crop the pages on my computer, save the PDF, and then copy the files to the Paperwhite. But the majority of articles still had fonts that were much too small for easy reading. Fortunately I have pretty good eyesight, but it gets tiring after awhile.
Thus began my search for a large-screen e-reader that handles PDFs. Originally I planned to get a Kindle DX - a professor friend of mine had one and it looked like it was exactly what I wanted. Similar storage space as my Paperwhite, larger screen… but the drawback was that it had no touchscreen. One of the benefits of my Paperwhite was being able to highlight text and take notes, but the DX doesn’t have that.
Then I found the Icarus eXcel. Same size as the Kindle DX, but with a touchscreen and multi-configurable (check out THIS video review). The Icarus eXcel also lets you set your page frame (viewable area), annotate PDFs, take notes, and has a ton of other functionality. But the price is a bit off-putting, and some people on forums said that it is simply a re-branded Onyx Boox M92.
After searching through a few other forums, I discovered the Chinese company Hanvon. Apparently they make e-readers for a few other brands, but their own brand of e-readers is sold to Chinese consumers. At first I wasn’t sure if I could use their e920, as it seemed there was no English support. But the specs were quite staggering - 9.7 inch screen with 1600x1200 resolution (!!), PDF support and great zoom options, support for a variety of other formats, expandable storage, touch screen and stylus with the ability to take notes and annotate PDFs, an MP3 player and more. Honestly, it seemed almost too good to be true. And then I discovered that you could only buy them in China.
Fortunately, after quite a bit of searching and Google Translate, I found that some Chinese vendors were selling them online via TaoBao and AliExpress, with free shipping to Singapore. The English versions of their pages were a bit confusing, but being a Linguist I figured I could understand them well enough and decided that they weren’t scams. And I managed to find one on sale for under USD $300. So, like I said, I bit the bullet and bought it.
This post is getting a bit long, so I’ll continue it later in Part 2 (now HERE), which will also include a link to a live video review of the e920. For now, you can compare the specs of the Kindle DX and Hanvon e920 by clicking on THIS link.