We’re seeing an ideological battle happening in ebook land. On one hand you have the e-ink advocates, who argue that anything but e-ink is hopeless for ebook reading, and that ebook readers should do one thing really, really well. On the other, you’ve got the LCD fans, who reckon that there’s more to life than just books and that having a device that can only handle one kind of media is a bit silly.
View Quest is firmly in the second camp, so its Bookbox is a multimedia device as well as an ebook reader.
At first glance the View Quest Bookbox looks like an oversized smartphone: it’s dominated by the screen, there’s a bunch of buttons at the bottom and the whole thing slips happily into a reasonably roomy pocket. Its price is similar to an Amazon Kindle or a Kobo Wireless eReader, with an RRP of £79.99.
Above is how it physically compares to an Amazon Kindle.
However, it’s much thicker than an ereader or smartphone – at 16mm it’s a bit of a porker. And the shiny screen means that, unlike e-ink devices, the View Quest Bookbox isn’t something you’d take to the beach – like all backlit LCDs, its screen is useless in direct sunlight.
That doesn’t mean you should write the View Quest Bookbox off, however. We’re in media player territory here, where devices are designed not for poolside reading but for the odd ebook at bedtime and watching blockbusters on the bus. That five-inch backlit LCD isn’t ideal for protracted periods of reading, but it’s crisp, clear and really rather good for video.
Factor in support for a surprisingly large range of file formats and the View Quest Bookbox starts to look much more interesting and attractive.
The View Quest Bookbox, then, is a kind of cross between Amazon’s latest Kindle and Apple’s latest iPod touch: more functional than the former and bigger and cheaper than the latter.
We wouldn’t recommend it for bookworms, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t recommend it at all.
Specifications and performance
The View Quest Bookbox is powered by an ARM 9 processor running at 400MHz, and its 2,000mAH battery promises six hours of ebook reading or 20 hours of music. There’s 2GB of onboard storage, and the integral MMC/SD/SDHC slot supports cards with up to 32GB capacity.
The five-inch screen delivers 800 x 600 resolution, which is adequate for a five-incher, and the user interface is pretty horrible to look at but simple enough to use.
You wouldn’t expect a touchscreen at this price, and you don’t get one. Don’t expect Apple-style engineering either. The View Quest Bookbox is perfectly well screwed together but looks and feels plasticky, and we found that some button presses caused ripples on the screen. Maybe we’re just incredibly strong – although we doubt it.
The View Quest Bookbox looks and feels like a slightly overgrown smartphone. The front is dominated by the screen with a handful of buttons – left, right, menu, zoom, return, play/pause and a d-pad – at the bottom, and the slightly curved, rubberised plastic back won’t slip around on tables or in your hands.
There are forward and back buttons on the right-hand side of the case – sorry sinistrals, but there isn’t a matching set on the left – and the familiar smartphone-style positioning of the power button at the top of the screen and headphone socket and micro USB port at the bottom. Unlike rival devices, there aren’t any built-in speakers.
The screen itself is a clear, bright 800 x 480 display with fairly narrow viewing angles: if you don’t hold it just-so, the image disappears.
As an ebook reader, the View Quest Bookbox is reasonably good. Its processor is hardly a screamer, but that doesn’t matter when all you’re doing is turning pages. Provided you hold the display at the right angle, text is reasonably clear – think typical smartphone screen – and it’s easy to adjust text sizes, colours and brightness or to add or find a bookmark.
The View Quest Bookbox supports ePub, PDF, TXT, FB2, PDB and HTML files, and it supports Adobe DRM so you can buy the latest Terry Pratchett from Waterstones or WHSmith on your PC or Mac and transfer it to the View Quest Bookbox.
There’s more to the View Quest Bookbox than books, though. It has a built-in MP3 player and photo viewer and its video player will happily handle DivX, AVI, MP4 and MKV files.
You won’t fit many movies into the 2GB of onboard storage, but memory cards are cheap enough that that shouldn’t be too big an issue.
We expected the View Quest Bookbox’s fairly low-spec processor to choke on faster clips, but playback was seamless and the battery delivered three to four hours of viewing before running out of puff.
Viewing angles remained problematic, though: this isn’t a device that several people can watch simultaneously.
We can’t help thinking that the ideal users of the View Quest Bookbox are children. There’s no Wi-Fi or 3G so there’s no danger of them accessing any video or books you haven’t approved, and at £79 the View Quest Bookbox isn’t so expensive that you’ll need to cover it in bubble wrap to protect it from jammy fingers.
As a portable video player, the View Quest Bookbox isn’t bad, but its screen isn’t the best, the UI’s pretty horrible and it looks embarrassingly old-fashioned next to an Amazon Kindle or iPod touch. It’d be a great way to keep a child quiet through an EasyJet flight, but we wouldn’t buy one for ourselves.
The View Quest Bookbox is reasonably portable, fairly rugged and cheap enough that you won’t care if the kids try to eat it or put it in the toaster. Video playback and support is superb, and the price tag is very low.
We’re not fans of LCD screens for ebook reading – viewing angles are poor – and the View Quest Bookbox isn’t the prettiest or fastest ebook reader around.
The View Quest Bookbox is caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is e-ink, which delivers a better reading experience than any LCD screen can offer, and the hard place is the iPod touch, whose retina display makes it a better ebook reader and whose apps do more than the View Quest Bookbox could possibly dream of.