This is the final installment of my review of the Hanvon e920 (PLUS) - you can read Part 1 (my reasoning behind purchasing it) HERE and Part 2 (how I got it and changed the language mode) HERE. In this post I'll discuss how I set it up, the features I really like, and some of the issues I have had to get used to. I've also embedded a video review here for those who want to watch a live demo. For further usage details, read on below the video.
Set Up - Navigation: After changing the language mode to English, I decided to look through the Home screen options. You can navigate to the 'home' screen at any point by selecting the house icon at the top left of the screen. The e920 has two modes: finger touch and stylus. The finger touch mode is not as responsive as the Kindle Paperwhite (check THIS article for possible reasons why), and I find that using the stylus gives a better response, however both modes work fine (registering over 80% of taps, impressionistically). The default setting is to automatically switch between the two modes, though this can be changed. The stylus is located in the device at the top right (back), and when it is removed the reader enters stylus mode - otherwise it is in touchscreen mode. There are more options while reading in stylus mode, but I'll discuss that a bit later.
Along with touch navigation, there are several buttons on the lower part of the Hanvon, below the screen. These buttons can be used for navigation and are arranged in three parts: left, center, and right. The left button scrolls between pages, including menu pages (left=left, right=right). The right button scrolls between menu options (left=up, right=down). An underline (on menus) or an arrow (on files) identifies the current highlighted item. The center buttons include a 'MENU' key, an 'OK', and a 'back/return'. As you would imagine, the menu key brings up menu options, the OK key selects the highlighted item/option, and the 'back/return' goes up a level to the previous menu/page.
Using the left button I was able to look through the Home screen options. A radial counter at the bottom right showed me which page of the Home screen I was on - so far, there are three pages of 19 total Home menu options. Selecting 'Library' allows you to view folders on your device's internal storage. Selecting the 'SD' icon at the bottom of the screen allows you to view the contents of your Micro SD card. You can also use the web browser and visit the Hanvon bookstore, but since everything was in Chinese (and the browser defaults to the Hanvon site) and because they ask you to set up a Hanvon account, I gave up on that.
I wanted to set up a dictionary since I found it useful to have one on the Kindle. Unfortunately there are not very many options for English dictionaries on the Hanvon, that I'm aware of (perhaps if I set up a Hanvon bookstore account there would be more options). Setting up a dictionary is quite easy, however, and is simply a matter of selecting the 'Dictionary' Home menu option, on the second page of the Home menu. My English language options were the Longman Dictionary and Internet Glossary (which only works if you connect it to the internet via WiFi). Neither seemed to work terribly well while reading, and there is no way to highlight text while using Ebooks, which seems an oversight.
Wifi is relatively easy to set up, either by pushing the power button in the opposite direction, or selecting the WiFi icon in the top right of the screen. Again, buttons and sensitivity leave something to be desired, but with some patience it works. One issue is that there seems to be support only for networks that just require a password. When I tried to connect to my school network (which requires a domain\username and password) a logon authentication window popped up after a minute or two, but the onscreen keyboard did not, meaning there was no way to input the appropriate information. This seems like something that a firmware update could fix. Passwords and wireless networks are automatically saved.
Connecting to a computer is quite simple - either by using the included mini USB cable, or by using a micro SD card. More on the SD card later. When you connect via USB, your computer will recognize the drive as 'Untitled'. I have no idea if there is any way to change this. There are several folders with Chinese names, some of which contain files and some of which do not. One folder contains images, another contains audio files - you can put your images and audio files in these folders, respectively. Images which you put into the folder within the images folder will be used for the lock screen background - for best results, crop any images you wish to use as backgrounds to 1200x1600 and place them in this folder, removing images you do not want to have displayed. The device will choose one of these images at random when you lock the device.
Using an SD card is simply a matter of treating it as you would a USB drive or any other storage device. Keep in mind that for best cross-platform results you should format it as FAT 32. You may also notice that if you copy files to the SD card (and to the internal memory, for that matter) from a Mac, some oddly-named files will be created on the card. These are tiny files which OS X creates for indexing and which are hidden on OSX but are clearly visible to the Hanvon's Win CE environment. To keep this from becoming an issue, I use a program like CleanEject, which deletes these files from the SD card or device just before ejecting it from my Mac.
Reading PDFs is where this device is most useful (to me). With your finger you can select menu options for the text-to-speech mode, darkness, and display area along with a few others. However, with the stylus there are more options, namely annotation (with optional embedding) and highlighting/extracting text into a text file that corresponds to the name of your PDF document. The annotations are particularly useful for highlighting elements of PDFs that don't have selectable text (i.e. scanned documents and/or PDFs created over 10 years ago). The extracted text is great for pulling out quotes for later incorporation into papers.
Reading ebooks is OK. Unfortunately, unlike with my Kindle Paperwhite (and unlike the PDF options just described for the Hanvon e920), there is no way to select text in Ebooks (i.e. highlight for dictionary or store it for later) neither in finger nor pen touch modes. This seems quite an oversight. There is also only a single font available for Ebooks, though the font size can be adjusted. Overall, I found ebook reading to be pleasant, but not as pleasant as the Paperwhite, which I will probably keep around for just that purpose.
All in all, I am very happy with my purchase of the Hanvon e920. It does everything I want for PDFs. The main issues that make the experience less than fully enjoyable are the slower response (and inconsistent registering) of the touch screen both in finger and pen modes, and the lack of dictionary support or fonts. However, after a week of acclimation, I have gotten used to the response time and am enjoying it much more. The audio player, expandable SD card slot, and other features are simply pluses to an already enjoyable and useful device. I'm sure I'll discover more about it as I continue to use it.
As a final note, the Hanvon e920 uses Windows CE Core 5 as its operating system. However, I have not been able to figure out how to add fonts to the system (despite posts like THIS), which I think would give a better reading experience. Perhaps there is a hack which would allow such a thing, but there may also be some licensing restrictions.
This is Part 2 of my review of the Hanvon e920 e-reader (mine is the PLUS version, which I think is the second generation), Part 1 of which is HERE. When we left off I was describing my reasoning for purchasing the device, namely specs that were better than either the Kindle DX or the Icarus eXcel, and a lower price point. After purchasing the device for less than USD $300 (on AliExpress), all I had to do was wait for the delivery, which in Singapore took two weeks or so from China (since I chose the free shipping option). I checked the tracking number daily, but Singapore Post is notorious for not updating tracking (possibly it was on a ship from HK), and finally it went from 'shipped from Hong Kong' to 'delivered' (it's such a small country, after all).
The package was well-wrapped and the device arrived unharmed. Here's a picture of the box that it came in. All that was in the box was the reader, some documentation in Chinese, and a software CD (also in Chinese). Yup, no English-language support.
Turning the device on was straightforward using the power button on the lower left. For an unboxing video (of the first generation of the device), look HERE. The power button is a bit finicky, but I discovered that there is a small blue LED indicator on the front of the device which lights up when the reader's processor is active. When the processor is active (LED on) the use of buttons doesn't register, which is perhaps why the power button seems finicky. Sometimes when the device is off, the power button also requires a few tries before it registers (you know it has registered when you see the blue light).
When the device turns on it defaults to a welcome/home screen. Everything is in Chinese. At this point I was like "Uh oh, how do I figure out how to change the language to English?" Fortunately I have a bunch of Chinese-speaking friends (I live in Singapore after all) so I wasn't too worried about asking for help if I needed it, but I took another look at the device first. There are five icons at the top left of the screen: a house, a note, a play button, a gear, and a refresh sign. I tapped the gear icon (remember, this is a touch screen) and it brought me to what I assumed was the settings page. All the options were still in Chinese, but I simply selected the first option, and a little window popped up with a few selection possibilities: Chinese characters and the word 'English' (in English). Selecting the 'English' possibility transformed all the options into English, and... voila! English language mode entered - level up! *cue Atari video game music*
So far I have had the device for a week, and it works really well, though it takes some getting used to. In Part 3 of this review (which includes an embedded video review) I'll discuss how I set up the device, what my favorite features are so far, and what the challenges have been with getting used to the Hanvon e920 (plus).
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.
I'm a linguist and singer-songwriter. I write about life, travel, language and technology.