E-reader roundup: 8 devices compete for the crown

We look at the current state of the market and review 8 of the most popular e-readers

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Ectaco jetBook Lite

The jetBook Lite is a bit outdated in its technology but is compatible with a wide range of e-book formats -- and it can use regular AA batteries or rechargeables, which some might find convenient.

Ectaco jetBook Lite

Ectaco jetBook Lite

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For openers, the jetBook Lite doesn't offer 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity, lacks MP3 capability and has limited built-in memory. What's more, the jetBook Lite's monochrome screen is the smallest and has the lowest resolution of any device we tested, and it uses an inferior-looking TFT (thin-film transistor) display technology rather than E Ink.

The most prominent feature you'll notice about jetBook Lite's black, all-plastic body is its rounded, asymmetrical battery hump in the back. While all the other e-readers have a built-in rechargeable lithium battery, the jetBook Lite is powered by four AA batteries. Making a virtue of necessity, the dimpled hump actually makes it easier to hold the device in your left hand, though righties may find it somewhat inconvenient to hold and turn pages one-handed.

What's interesting: This no-frills e-reader packs a lot of compatibility that will keep it from becoming obsolete anytime soon. It recognizes and displays many popular formats, including ePub, Mobi, PRC, RTF, TXT, PDF, FB2, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP and Adobe DRM. Since it accommodates SD cards, expansion capacity is almost infinite. And if you're a linguist and enjoy reading foreign books in the original tongue, the jetBook Lite supports ePub contents in 28 languages, ranging from Albanian to Vietnamese. Because you can quickly swap out universally available AA batteries, you needn't fear that you'll run out of juice when you're far from civilization and a convenient electrical outlet.

What's good: The jetBook Lite is literally a take-everywhere e-reader because, even with the battery hump, it's small and light enough to slip into your jeans' back pocket. Both the page number you're on and length of the book are displayed, as well as the percentage already read.

The page screen turns quickly, and without the hesitation or ghosting sometimes experienced on E Ink displays. For the lazy-minded, you can program it to automatically turn pages. Content can be easily organized into folders. And just in case you don't know where to look for free public-domain books, there's a folder with a list of Web sites where you can download content.

What's not: When you hold the jetBook Lite in your hand, it feels more like a cheap and insubstantial electronic game than a quality instrument. Characters aren't as crisp, dark or contrasty as those displayed on E Ink screens, and you can even see actual pixels when you bump up the font size to the max. And there appears to be no way to change, add or remove any of the preassigned folders in the jetBook Lite's internal file manager.

Bottom line: The jetBook Lite is a good choice for users who don't want to be tied to a single e-book source, expect to be away from civilization for days or weeks at a time, and couldn't care less about added extras like music and Web access. But for those who are more interested in quality, convenience and versatility, we feel that you'll be happier looking elsewhere for your e-reader.

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