MobileInfocenter
Developer: The Price:
  • $10
The Pros:
  • Good font smoothing
  • Customizable colors
  • Customizable fonts
  • Dictionary and thesaurus
  • Convenient word lookup
  • Very satisfying VFS support
  • Support for hi-res screens

The Cons:
  • Add-ons can get expensive
  • Not as many features as other readers

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Palm Reader Pro Review
By Kezza
4/3/2002


A few months ago, Palm Digital Media released the Palm Reader Pro, available for both Palm OS and Pocket PC handhelds. The current release runs on most Palm-powered handhelds with OS 3.0 and above, including the Sony Clié series and HandEra 330. It supports the hi-res screens on both Sony handhelds and the HandEra 330.

First, using the reader. The basic use of this application is the same as its predecessor, the free Palm Reader (previously called the Peanut Reader). It, and all books, can be installed directly to a VFS expansion card, which will be discussed in more detail later.

When launching the reader, if a book is not already open, a screen pops up with a list of the books installed. Simply select a book and tap "Open." Once opened, the book will return to the last place you left it (unless this is your first time opening it, in which case it will start at the beginning). Pay books will ask for a registration code, which is your credit card number.

When a book is open, a toolbar is present at the bottom of the screen. From left to right, the buttons are: chapter selection, bookmark, notes, invert screen, information about the book, clock/battery popup, back, and a progress bar and page number.

Tapping on the chapter button takes you to a chapter index, unless the book has no chapter index, then an alert will pop up to tell you so.

Tapping on the bookmark button takes you to a bookmark list where bookmarks can be added, deleted, edited, and tapped on to take you where you'd like to go. When a page has been marked, the upper right-hand corner is "folded" down, like when dog-earing the page of a regular book.

The notes button pops up a similar list for storing notes to be associated with a section of the book. Each note consists of the page number and the note the user writes in. When a note is present for a page, a second button appears to the right of the notes button, which allows you to immediately access the note for that page.

The invert screen button does just that. This is nice on grayscale handhelds with the dreaded reversed backlight. By reversing the screen, it makes it much easier to read when the backlight is on. This is also helpful on grayscale handhelds for those who like the white-on-black writing, but this may be redundant if the color preferences are available to grayscale handhelds. Because Palm's FAQ and support for this application only refer to use on color handhelds, I'm not clear on how some functions behave on grayscale models.

The information button is where you can change categories, set books to private, and see the book title, current page number, and total number of pages.

The clock/battery popup button is pretty self explanatory. The back button is for books with links.

The progress bar can be tapped, and a different page can be selected either by moving a bar across or writing in the number of the page you wish to go to.

There are also several preferences that can be adjusted: General prefs (miscellaneous prefs), toolbar preferences (add or remove buttons from the toolbar, and change the location between the top and the bottom of the screen), screen preferences (change screen orientation, page-tapping actions, and display quality between high and low). There are also font and color preferences that can be modified, but they will be discussed later. Lastly, there is the autoscroll function.

The autoscroll feature is becoming more and more standard on all forms of ebook readers, and some people love it and some people hate it. Depending on what I'm reading, I usually love it. This one is pretty nice, and I think I may like it better than WordSmith's.

Autoscroll can be activated from the "Options" menu, by choosing "Start AutoScroll." When this happens, the application goes into full screen mode (the toolbar disappears) and begins to scroll.

The rate of scrolling can be changed using the scroll hardware buttons. Up for slower, down for faster. Tapping on the screen stops autoscroll mode, and the toolbar comes back. It's a little harder to get going than it is on other readers, but the auto-full screen and progressive rates of scrolling I find quite satisfying.

Most of the actions of the toolbar can also be had through the drop-down menus, so really it's a matter of personal taste. I've found it's best to have the functions I use most frequently in the toolbar, and everything else can be accessed in the menu. Since I don't need to invert the screen, I don't have that button selected for the toolbar, etc. Tapping and holding on a toolbar icon brings up the Palm Reader Pro help screen for toolbar button descriptions.

This reader also supports images and links (as mentioned before). Honestly, I've yet to acquire a book with either of these features. Though, I do know that if an image is larger than the screen display, tapping on the image placeholder icon opens the image, and it can be scrolled side to side to be viewed in its entirety.

The links work in conjunction with the back button. After a link has been followed to a new section, the previous section can be retrieved by pressing the back button.

VFS Support
Now for a word about VFS. This is one of my favorite features of the reader. When opening a book off of the card, instead of waiting to load the entire book into RAM, the reader loads only the portion you were last reading (based on preferences stored in RAM), and while you read it loads the rest of the book. This way, even if you're opening a 1.5mb book, it only feels like a 2 page book. The application can also be run from a card, and the amount of time it takes to load is comparable to loading any other similarly-sized application (this one is 215kb) from the card. Dictionaries can also be used (and, in some cases, must be used) off of a card. They also load in a reasonable amount of time. But they will be discussed later.

This is a $10 version of the freeware Palm Reader application, which reads a proprietary ebook encryption format. Any book can be converted to this format using a free application for Windows and Mac. So, what makes this so special that people would want to pay $10 for it?

Well, for the money, the reader has several enhancements. The first and most notable is the addition of a dictionary viewer. Included with the $10 purchase is Webster's New World Vest Pocket dictionary (460kb in size, 12,500 entries). For additional sums of money, you can also purchase the Webster's New World School and Office Dictionary ($7.95, 2.5mb, 58,000 entries) or Webster's New World College Dictionary ($23.95, 12 mb, 160,000 entries), all created by Hungry Minds. Roget's Thesaurus ($6.99, 672kb, 90,000 synonyms) is also available courtesy of Random House.

Fonts
Another enhancement is the ability to add on fonts. There is an option to purchase the Agfa Font Pack for an additional $10 with the reader ($15 if bought separately). These fonts are formatted specifically to be read on the small LCD screen of a PDA. They also maximize the sub-pixel font smoothing technology Palm has included in this software. There are also third party fonts available at PalmGear.com, some of which are free.

The basis of the sub-pixel smoothing is that instead of using entire pixels to anti-alias each letter (as most readers do), only portions of the surrounding pixels are used, resulting in a nice middle ground. Not too fuzzy, not too crisp.

This can further be enhanced by the next feature on the list, customizable colors. The various aspects of the reader all have customizable colors. The reader comes with a few combinations, all of which can be selected and modified to create a new theme, or new combinations can be created, saved, and named however the user wishes.

To change the color preferences, the user selects "Color . . ." from the "Options" menu. Once there, color sets can be previewed, created (by tapping "New"), or edited (by selecting "Edit . . ." from the Color Theme menu). In Edit mode, there are 4 objects that can be customized: background, text, links, and toolbar. Each has a pull-down menu with a list of 8 commonly-used colors, or you can choose "other." Choosing other opens the standard Palm 256-color system palette, and a pull-down menu allows the user to choose colors from the RGB picker, if that is preferred.

Different color combinations yield different levels of contrast and readability. It is a big plus that Palm has included a preview pane the editing screen. I would take a picture of it, but I can't edit the colors and have ScreenShot Hack installed at the same time. I should note that the screen colors are only visible when "high" is selected for screen quality in the screen preferences dialog.

Fonts can also be changed. This is also accomplished through the "Options" menu, by choosing "Fonts . . .". For each font selected, a preview pane is visible at the bottom, and a checkbox for font smoothing is available. Some fonts look better smoothed, others don't. I have several choices of fonts available to me, and honestly I can't remember if they came with the reader or what, but I know I didn't pay for them. My personal favorite is Gamma-Bk.

Dictionary
I have the School and Office dictionary. I decided to pay the extra $7.95, because I figured it would be a waste not to have a dictionary bigger than the one I keep in my briefcase (Webster's New World Pocket dictionary with 33,000 entries). I keep the dictionary on a MMC card, along with the reader and my books.

There are two ways to use the dictionary feature. The first is to select "Reference" from the Book menu. The second way is to tap and hold on a word in the book you are currently reading.

When you choose your dictionary from the menu, it opens on top of the book you're reading. The dictionary display consists of three portions: the top two-thirds is where the definition display sits. The bottom left is a lookup form where you can write in the word to search for, and the bottom right is a list of words, based on what you've written in the search form. This updates each time a letter is written, and the lookup process for the first letter has a delay. The best way to deal with this is to write in a letter, wait for the list on the right to update, then continue writing letters until the word you're looking for shows in the list. Then, select the word you want from that list, and the definition and usage shows in the top portion. When you're finished, tap "Done." You can switch between dictionaries using the drop down menu in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

If you choose the second route of word lookup, by tapping the word in the text of the ebook you're reading, the dictionary opens and automatically looks up the word you selected. This takes a second or so, but the delay is reasonable.

The definitions supplied are detailed, and include common forms of each word.

Conclusion
All-in-all, this is a very good Doc reader. There are other readers that do many of the same things for free, but lack specific functions that make this one worth the $10. The font smoothing, dictionary, and customizable colors make the money spent worthwhile, and I feel it's a pretty good deal at $10, when I could imagine Palm charging $15 or $20 for the reader. Since font packs and dictionaries cost extra, the price goes up with each feature you add.

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The main feature I use Palmreader Pro for.

dethblud @ 4/3/2002 3:32:38 PM #
When comparing readers most people forget the main feature of Palmreader Pro that compels me to use it. The ability to read the encrypted ebooks. It's mentioned in this review, but what people forget to add is that when you buy a book from Palm, you're pretty much forced to use the Palmreader. I like Pro because it ads features I could get from other readers, but allows me to read my PalmPak Series Sci-Fi card.

RE: The main feature I use Palmreader Pro for.
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 9:45:25 AM #
I think Deep Reader looks better, but I have to agree with the person who said the compelling reason for obtaining PRP is to get the latest and greatest encrypted offerings. I would love to be able to read the latest King or Clancy novel on Deep Reader.

Since I can't, I upgraded to PRP, which still looks pretty good. Thanks Kezza, for the review!

HandEra 330

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 4:15:06 PM #
The PalmReader supports the 330 very nicely. It has full screen support as well as all font selections.

Bill McKelvey
a 330 user.

RE: HandEra 330
kezza @ 4/3/2002 4:31:05 PM #
Thanks for letting us know.
The Palm support and Palm Digital Media sites have precious little information about what exactly the Palm Reader supports and doesn't support. Since I wasn't sure about the HE330 and couldn't find anything out from Palm, I couldn't really mention it.
Glad to see that it works well, though.

--------------------------------------
"Well, if it isn't the leader of the wiener patrol, boning up on his nerd lessons"
RE: HandEra 330
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 4:53:56 PM #
Just reaffirming the original comment. The free PalmReader and PalmReader Pro work very nicely in hi-res on the HandEra 330. It will even automtically close the virtual graffiti area to display text on the full screen.

RE: HandEra 330
Ed @ 4/3/2002 5:01:32 PM #
You'll have to blame me for editing Kezza's review to say that the H330 wasn't fully supported. Sorry, I don't have a H330 to actually test it. I was going on information from users posted after Palm Reader Pro was introduced. Apparently, these people were mistaken. I've changed the review.

---
News Editor
RE: HandEra 330
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 9:01:56 PM #
Support for hi-res on the 330 has been there since version 1.1.8. I'm not sure if the version numbers for PalmReader Pro match that or not.

Under "The Pros:" it ought to say support for hi-res screens instead of, "Support for Sony hi-res screens".

Iffy high-res usefulness?

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 4:33:39 PM #
IMO, I would say that this reader has great high-res usefulness. With the font changing ability, you can choose a font as small as you want. And as mentioned, it can use third-party fonts as well. A high-res Clie with Lubak's fonts looks incredible.

For a long-time, we were forced to use this reader if we wanted to utilize their great selection of books, but the improvements they've made in the past couple of months with both their freeware version and now this Pro version have made the reader stand out as well.

RE: Iffy high-res usefulness?
kezza @ 4/3/2002 5:04:53 PM #
The iffy hi-res usefulness comment was based on the fact that neither Ed nor I had any clue whether or not the reader worked on the HE330, thus making the hi-res and grayscale usefulness of the app questionable.


--------------------------------------
"Well, if it isn't the leader of the wiener patrol, boning up on his nerd lessons"

RE: Iffy high-res usefulness?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 5:09:42 PM #
OK, given that we now know that it does work (and well) on the HE330, the review should be updated to remove that as a con. Great review otherwise!!

RE: Iffy high-res usefulness?
Ed @ 4/3/2002 5:12:29 PM #
Done.

---
News Editor
RE: Iffy high-res usefulness?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 2:38:50 AM #
The main bit about 330 support is that while the free version of PalmReader does support the 330s hires, it only allows you to use the standard palm fonts, if you buy the Pro version you can select from all of the 330s available fonts (that made it worth the money for me at least!)

RE: Iffy high-res usefulness?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 3:47:12 PM #
What are Lubak's fonts and where can I find them?

RE: Iffy high-res usefulness?
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 4:31:23 PM #
Lubak created fonts to use on Clies with Fonthack 123 v4.0c. They can be found at www.domino.sk/lubak

Can Fonts be Installed on MS?

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 5:44:47 PM #
I was wondering if you can install the 3rd party fonts on the Memory Stick and have Palm Reader Pro see them.

Waste of Money and Memory for my m515

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 6:04:03 PM #
You call that Font-Smoothing? Are you kidding?? They just blur the fonts and make it worse! This is a waste of money and a waste of KB. Stick with the free Palm Reader.

RE: Waste of Money and Memory for my m515
IanJD @ 4/3/2002 7:04:02 PM #
I have to concur that the font smoothing isn't as good as that in Wordsmith.

RE: Waste of Money and Memory for my m515
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 8:10:37 PM #
DeepReader has some very nice anti-aliases font
smoothing (looks great on Clie hi-res). Has anyone
compared this with the Palm Reader Pro font
smoothing?

RE: Waste of Money and Memory for my m515
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 6:34:45 AM #
The extra features are not much use for me, though I can see why others might find them useful. The clincher for me was that PalmReader v1.1.10 seems to run a little faster that the Pro version and it has a smaller memory footprint.

If only CSpotRun could read peanut format!

Sub-pixel???
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 11:51:20 AM #
Can someone explain what sub-pixel smoothing means? How does one use a portion of a pixel as described?

RE: Explanation of font smoothing
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 12:28:30 PM #
See this link. It's got it all....

http://grc.com/cleartype.htm

???

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 8:13:22 PM #
ready books on a palm is like self mutilation

RE: ???
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/3/2002 8:23:17 PM #
???

RE: ???
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 3:12:31 PM #
I think that unready books are like self-flagellation.

Who's the reviewer

Vexel9 @ 4/3/2002 9:47:12 PM #
Hey Ed. I've never heard of this reviewer before? The Who's Kezza? The review is good. If you have his or her email address i would like to ask a question. Thanks.

RE: Who's the reviewer
kezza @ 4/3/2002 11:15:15 PM #
Hi, I'm the reviewer. You can get my email address from my profile in this site's discussion forums.
I'm suggesting you go there because if you have questions, there's just loads of useful people full of information there.
And, for some reason, I'm hesitant to post my email on here. And, yes, I realize it's readily accessible to anyone in the forums. Just call me paranoid, I guess.

--------------------------------------
"Well, if it isn't the leader of the wiener patrol, boning up on his nerd lessons"

A Required feature - HTML

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 5:22:26 AM #
Not a difficult thing to do, I would like to see an HTML reader added. Then the reader would be truly up to date.

BTW, I have been using the Palm Reader Pro for a couple of months, and quite enjoy it.

RE: A Required feature - HTML
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 8:27:01 AM #
Mobipocket Reader is an HTML Reader.

Speeding up Palm Reader Pro

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 6:05:00 AM #
I noticed that you can speed up Palm Reader Pro on certain devices like Palm IIIc, if you move the app to the flashrom of your Palm (e.g. with FlashPro)...

I could not verify this on a Clie 770, but it should work too.

(Palm Reader Pro can be *very* slow with the overall GUI behaviour.)

Still a RAM Hog

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 8:41:20 AM #
doesn't PRP still put big chunks in the base RAM for every doc in VFS? I dunno, and a couple RTA didn't tell me. iSilo still the one to beat, it's faster and more feature-laden. PRP is just a palm-branded reader for those who don't like research.

RE: Still a RAM Hog
kezza @ 4/4/2002 9:41:00 AM #
The chunks it leaves in RAM on my machine are typically around 8k, not big by any means.
Every once in a while, though, I'll find an 85k chunk. This usually happens if PalmReader crashes and doesn't get a chance to clear out memory.
I should probably mention that Screenshot hack and the colors preferences of palmreader don't get along. These are the only crashes I've had with palmreader.

--------------------------------------
"Well, if it isn't the leader of the wiener patrol, boning up on his nerd lessons"
RE: Still a RAM Hog
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 9:42:35 AM #
Not 100% correct! I find iSilo's interface ugly and a small Perl script with GREP patterns allows me to translate HTML tags to PML tags for using DropBook as desktop converter.

For Mac users, the DropBook converter is still the best and simplest choice for converting ASCII (7-bit) or converted HTML (PML tags).

:-) Lo

Colors + Screenshothack 1.5

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 10:13:22 AM #
Hi kezza!

You should mention, that "crash" (color menu with screenshothack) means crash with forced HARDRESET.
(At least this is what I experienced.)
I did a review in "beam" which is a free PalmReader eZine and pretty much came to the same conclusions like you.

You can get "beam" here:
http://www.pdassi.de/product.php?prod_id=3803

... but I should mention that it is in german.

alex

RE: Colors + Screenshothack 1.5
kezza @ 4/4/2002 2:52:54 PM #
To whoever wrote this comment:
Could you email me with details about your crashes with screenshot hack? I've been writing back and forth with the developer trying to figure out where the conflict is. I'd like to compare systems and software configurations and maybe find a common link.


--------------------------------------
"Well, if it isn't the leader of the wiener patrol, boning up on his nerd lessons"

Book locations

I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 10:54:14 AM #
Did anyone notice a change in where Palm Reader Pro would locate ebooks versus the free version? I'd been using the free version and it would locate the books in a couple different locations on my card, now it puts them in the Launcher folder. Yuck!

RE: Book locations
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 10:59:55 AM #
We used to search the entire VFS, but for people with huge cards and lots of files, we were too slow.

We now look in the launcher folder, \PALM\Books, and \My Documents\Peanut Press (so you can swap SD cards between Palms and PocketPC's).

The free version and the Pro version look in the same locations.

-peter fry
palm digital media group

RE: Book locations
rldunn @ 4/4/2002 11:03:52 AM #
I have all of my books stored in /Palm/Books and it works just fine with Pro.

RE: Book locations
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 11:10:42 AM #
Does the PR on a pocket pc allow you to read Palm ebook files without some sort of conversion?

RE: Book locations
I.M. Anonymous @ 4/4/2002 11:13:19 AM #
You do not need to convert any Palm or DOC book to read them on PocketPC's. We read the text directly out of the .pdb or .prc file.

-peter fry
palm digital media group

Dictionary launch
rldunn @ 4/4/2002 11:28:22 AM #
Hi Peter,

Do you have any plans on making the dictionary launchable? It's a nice dictionary, but it would be nice to be able to access it quicker when using an app other than PRP.

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