When it comes to ebook readers, manufacturers tend to fall into two camps. Some start from scratch and ask: "What would make the best ereading experience?", building their devices accordingly; others build multi-purpose gadgets and then go: "Aha! Let's make it do ebooks too!"
There's nothing wrong with either approach, but if you're also building to a tight budget, the latter approach means there's a risk of cutting too many corners. We think that's what's happened here.
On paper, the Elonex 705EB looks just the ticket. A seven-inch tablet-style ereader with HD video support, 4GB of expandable storage, FM radio, support for DRMed ePub books and the ability to reflow PDF files for just £129 looks like a bargain, and it's nice to see devices in more colours than just black or white.
However, stretching an 800 x 480 pixel display over seven diagonal inches means that you end up with a pixel density that's lower than a smartphone, ereader or tablet. Images have noticeable banding and text is noticeably pixelated. We suspect that the lack of small fonts for reading is because they'd give you a headache, and even at larger sizes, the on-screen type is indistinct.
Viewing angles are poor, too – tilt the Elonex 705EB away from you even slightly and items start to disappear.
There are other concerns, too. Where other manufacturers tend to choose either a touchscreen or physical, clickable buttons for navigation, Elonex has gone for flat buttons around the bezel that don't provide any resistance or feedback. Instead, a vibration mechanism rumbles when you press a key.
You can see what it was trying to do, but it doesn't quite work. Luckily, you can turn the vibration off. It'd be nice if the device's user interface had been given a bit of TLC too: it looks like it was put together in Microsoft Paint.
It's not all bad, though. While the screen isn't HD, it can output 720p HD video (AVI, FLV, MKV, MPG, MPEG and VOB) to your TV. The MP3 player supports WAV and MP3 and has an internal speaker for when you don't fancy headphones, the photo viewer can handle JPG, PNG, BMP and GIF images, and the ebook reader supports EPUB, TXT, HTML and PDF.
In the latter case, text-based PDFs reflow to fit the current zoom level, which is handy for PDF ebooks from the likes of Smashwords, although the feature doesn't work with more graphical PDFs such as magazine pages. DRM is handled by the familiar Adobe Digital Editions, although you can simply drag and drop non-DRMed files from your PC or Mac in USB mass storage mode, and there's a text-to-speech mode for TXT files.
Claimed battery life is a reasonable eight hours for reading and 30 hours for music. While Elonex doesn't have a book store as such, it does provide Freebooks, a collection of 1.5 million free ebooks. Don't expect to find the latest Ian Rankin or Lee Child in the catalogue, though, the catalogue is the usual freebie collection of classics and obscurities.
As you've probably guessed, we're not keen on the Elonex 705EB as a dedicated ebook reader: even short reads weren't particularly pleasant.
However, the combination of an anti-glare screen, decent video performance and microSD card support means it's a decent alternative to a portable DVD player for travelling. We can imagine using one to keep a child amused on a long car, boat, train or plane journey - although older children will probably ask why you didn't just buy them an iPod touch.