image Robert J. Sawyerone of Canada’s leading SF writers—has published 18 novels, won the Nebula and Hugo, and appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Amazing Stories and other leading publications. His latest book is Wake. I’m reproducing with permission a post to Fictionwise’s e-mail list. Thanks, Rob, and we hope you’ll be back soon in the TeleBlog. – D.R.

image OK, I’ve just received got my Foxit eSlick (company info here), under the current Fictionwise promotion.

Delivery was very fast, even to Canada. I’ve waited a long time for an E Ink e-book-reading device that supports secure eReader format. This device does, but with some major deficiencies.

These eReader features, standard on other platforms, are not supported:

  • Dictionary lookup
  • Highlighting
  • Annotating
  • Adding your own bookmarks
  • Seeing how many pages/screens are in the current chapter * setting margin widths
  • Toggling justification on/off (mercifully, default is off)

Also missing is any way to change typeface. The only choice is Times Roman, or something similar; there is no sans-serif choice.

Features that are supported:

  • Change font size
  • Portrait and landscape reading

Biggest single problem:

The implementation of eReader software on the eSlick does an atrocious job of formatting text (and I mean atrocious—was this beta-tested at all?):

Periods, commas, question marks, and other punctuation wrap on their own to the beginning of new lines:

     end of sentence
     . Beginning of next

     Or this sentence
     , which has a comma

     ? That looks odd.

A phrase like "A U.S. senator" ends up as:

     A U
     .S. senator

Also, line breaks are allowed after opening quotation marks:

     "And so," he said, "
     it’s time to say hello."

Incredibly, line breaks are allowed after apostrophes within words:

     I really don’
     t know what they

Line break are also allowed mid-word, if a word contains an accented character: the o in the following is actually o with an umlaut:

     dinger’s cat

Other things that are irksome:

  • The middle button on the five-way navigator brings up "Go to Page" [by page number, with no buttons for first or last] which is silly (how often will you use that?). Even sillier is having it come up with the number "5" highlighted on the little keyboard, instead of "OK."  So if you press the middle button by accident—and you will, given the somewhat finicky navigation—it’s four key presses to get out of it. Down, down, left, center.
  • The software uses the term "Bookmark" on the menu when it means "Table of Contents." Fortunately, though, if the book has a hyperlinked table of contents, it does work on the eSlick.
  • No way to set margin widths—and, in my view, the default is way too narrow: if your lighting source is off to one side, the first or last character in each line often ends up in the shadow cast by the bezel around the screen. (I bought a black unit, but suggest you get white—the crowding of the text toward the edge of the screen might not look as bad with a lighter casing.)
  • The file directory, which supports folders but shows only the filename, not any metadata (author’s name, publisher, year), and only shows the often confusing filenames that Fictionwise assigns to e-books, which sometimes include numerical strings at the front. For instance:

A Thousand Words for Stranger.pdb

And, of course, if the filename begins with "The," the book is alphabetized under the Ts, instead of where it really belongs.

Bottom line

The good news is that the firmware in the Foxit eSlick is user-flashable. Let us hope a new software release, with much better eReader support, is coming soon.


  1. My grandfather used to say two things that are appropriate here: “There’s a reason why it’s a deal and the reason isn’t good.” and “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; you are liable to get bitten.”

    Then, of course, there W.C. Fields’ apropos opinions on the matter: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull” and “It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money,” either of which could be Foxit’s motto.

    Hmmm, makes me wonder if Foxit and W.C. are partners in the eSlick.

  2. Another aphorism springs to my mind: “Never buy a v. 1.0 of any computer or digital gizmo, especially without waiting to read several hands-on user reviews.”

    Now, having read this hands-on user review, I know better than to buy the eSlick Reader in this iteration.

  3. I really hope they get this right in the next software version. I think we’ll all be best served by their being a multiplicity of reading devices out there, but, my God, rushing things to market isn’t just bad for the specific product, it’s bad for the whole concept of e-reading, because people giving the notion a try and who are then burned won’t be back any time soon.

  4. IAWTC, Robert. I had a great first e-reading experience (the perfect reader, for me, was the Sony Clié), so now I’m a fan of the concept–even though it’s been a rocky road since. But I know so many others who have been frustrated on their first attempts at adopting technology. It hurts the whole industry.

    I do think it’s only a matter of time before someone gets it right. But I’d rather see someone get it right soon! 🙂

  5. Yes you are right and so far B&N and Foxit have ruined their good names. What a high price to pay for rushing a device to the market. The idea was good for Foxit, buy a PDF viewer from the experts, but sounds like they dropped the ball somewhere along the line.

  6. It is possible to override the font used for rendering reflowable text with a single TrueType font file (.ttf or .ttc) of your choice.

    Make a copy of the font file and rename it to fxfont.ttc, then place this copy in a folder called Fonts in the root of the eSlick’s internal memory (NOT the SD card).

    I like Calibri and Consolas, myself.

  7. I have been putting off getting a dedicated e-book reader largely because I want to carry as few devices as possible and I’m quite comfortable reading on either of my Palm devices, one of which is a Centro. The other reason I’ve been holding off is that I have quite an extensive collection of books purchased from what was originally Peanut Press, then Palm Digital Media, and now (apparently) Fictionwise, and I didn’t want to have to start a new collection with a new format.

    This device seemed ideal, but I am troubled by what Mr. Sawyer has written here. I notice on the eSlick Reader’s site that “Foxit eSlick 2.0 Build 1130 Firmware Update is Now Available.” I’m not hopeful, because Mr. Sawyer’s post is dated only two days ago, but I wonder if the device he received has an earlier version of the firmware or if he has the “2.0 Build 1130” and the problems he describes are evident even in this allegedly new version.

    I could live with most of the issues Mr. Sawyer mentions, such as the inability to set margins, dictionary lookup, and so on; the one that troubles me most is the odd line breaks. However, I think it’s important to note that I’ve seen these problems in the e-books I read on my Palm devices. It may be that the problem is not in the eSlick device but in bad or carelessly formatted eReader files, such as the use of a space between an opening quotation mark and the first letter of the word that follows it. I can’t blame the device for thinking that that space is a good place to allow a line break.

  8. Navamske, the eSlick I have, bought from Fictionwise, has the latest firmware (“Foxit eSlick Version 2.0 Build 1130”). Every single one of the problems I listed is in the current/new firmware (the one available as of 28 December 2009).

    As for what you say about having “seen these problems in the e-books I read on my Palm device,” please cite a specific commercial ebook from in eReader format that exhibits this behavior throughout; I bet you can’t.

    (Go ahead, cite the book: I’ve got Micropay dollars coming out the wazoo; I’ll buy it and check your claim on both Palm and Sony branded Palm OS devices.)

    I have read ebooks on Palm devices for six years now, and have never seen this behavior in ANY PalmReader or eReader formatted ebook (PalmReader is the old name for eReader software).

    Not to be argumentative here, but you are dead wrong when you say, “It may be that the problem is not in the eSlick device but in bad or carelessly formatted eReader files.”

    That simply is not true, and, given that you’ve never used an eSlick, you have no empirical reason to believe that it IS true — so why post it?

    I checked THE EXACT SAME BOOKS under MULTIPLE PLATFORMS running eReader (Windows, Palm, ECTACO jetBook-Lite), and ONLY the eSlick shows these problems, and it shows them with EVERY SINGLE BOOK, regardless of publisher

    The eSlick software for reading eReader files is indeed severely flawed. And THAT, my friend, is what’s “important to note.”

  9. Mr. Sawyer:

    “As for what you say about having ‘seen these problems in the e-books I read on my Palm device,’ please cite a specific commercial ebook from in eReader format that exhibits this behavior throughout; I bet you can’t.”

    You would lose that bet in the long term, because I know I’ve seen the problems we’re talking about; in the short term, feel free to consider yourself having won this hypothetical bet, because I haven’t bookmarked the pages where these anomalies appear and I can’t locate one on demand. But I read books on the Palm devices virtually every day, and the next time I come across such an instance, I will certainly let you know.

    “Not to be argumentative here, but you are dead wrong when you say, ‘It may be that the problem is not in the eSlick device but in bad or carelessly formatted eReader files.’

    “That simply is not true, and, given that you’ve never used an eSlick, you have no empirical reason to believe that it IS true — so why post it?”

    In fact I had several reasons for posting it. One is that implicit in the notion of a dedicated e-book device that’s compatible with eReader files is that, UI differences aside, there’s a reasonable expectation that the same file should display in the same manner — with the same anomalies, if any — no matter what device they’re viewed on. I have seen this for myself in reading the same .pdb file on several different Palm devices, an iPod touch, and a laptop PC. You are correct that I have never used an eSlick, and despite your somewhat belligerent tone, I have no reason to disbelieve you when you say that only the eSlick device exhibits these typographical issues. The other reason is that I know whereof I speak. I have been a book editor for thirty-two years, ten of them spent working on computer books; and in my present position I have been responsible for introducing the necessary elements in the editorial/production workflow to allow my organization’s titles to be ported to e-books. My point is that I am not a layperson when it comes to e-books, I have knowledge of typography, and I know how e-books are made. I’ve seen what I consider to be poorly or carelessly formatted e-books, examples being spaces around quotation marks and even markup tags that display *as* markup tags. All that being said, I’ll repeat that I accept your assertion about the eSlick’s apparent uniqueness among eReader/.pdb-compatible devices in exhibiting typographical weirdness that is not evident on other devices. And I am glad to know this, as it will certainly dissuade me from purchasing this device.

  10. Hi,
    I thought the eSlick Reader only supported regular pbd Files but not the secure version.
    Does it really work? Because I’ve been waiting a long time for such a device as well and wouldn’t sweat the disadvantages too much as long as I finally got one that does work with the format that 2/3 of my ebook library consists of.

  11. Beanz, my review of the ECTACTO jetBook – Lite is here. The ECTACO has a major flaw for reading eReader DRM’d ebooks, as you’ll see in the review. On the other hand, I actually quite like the hardware, and the more I use both devices — eSlick and jetBook – Lite — the less I like the ergonomics of the eSlick and the more I like those of the jetBook (which is easy to hold and use [change pages] with one hand). Also, the jetBook wakes up much faster, bringing you to the page you left off on in the book you were last reading; the eSlick dumps you at a main menu, and you have to re-load the book.

    Both devices need Firmware upgrades, but, ironically, the jetBook – Lite, even though it’s much cheaper than the eSlick, will ultimately have more features (or more that actually work); I doubt we’ll ever see dictionary look up or search on the eSlick, because it has no physical keyboard and only a five-way navigator, but the jetBook – Lite already has both those things for non-DRM’d plaintext ebooks, and the maker says they’re adding those features for eReader DRM’d books in the next firmware update.

  12. Whoa, Robert J. Sawyer. In looking for an acceptable ebook reader I’ve inadvertently stumbled upon one of my absolute favorite science fiction authors! (“WWW: Wake” FTMFW! — I’ve studied human consciousness for many years)

    Phew, but this is awkward because as star-struck as I am, you’ve also dashed my dreams of finding an competent ebook reader for all my PDF files.

    I saw there’s an eSlick 2.0.1 Build 0205 Firmware Update – it fixes the line break issues, and some of the other issues you talked about. It doesn’t seem to fix bookmarks, but there’s really nothing much out there that can handle PDF files. I’ve used Foxit PDF reader on my computer for a long time, so I was initially thrilled to learn that they put their expertise into the ebook market.

    The Kindle dropped to $189 today — as of this writing the eSlick is holding steady at $200. But Amazon is actually losing money and hoping to recoup it’s losses in ebook sales, something the eSlick can’t fall back on. Sadly, this is probably going to kill the eSlick. It just can’t compete with Kindles features and price.

    Anyway, I guess my question is: are you going to keep upgrading the firmware for the eSlick in the hopes it will become the device you were hoping for, or have you given up on it?

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