The Astak family of eReaders had high hopes to become a viable alternative to the Kindle and Sony ebook readers, but we've been disappointed by the features, despite a relatively cheap price. The Mentor is one of three eReaders unveiled by Astak in October 2009--the 5-inch EZ Reader Pocket Pro, 6-inch Mentor (or Mentor Lite), and the 6-inch EZ-Reader; a whopping 9.7-inch Mentor version is reportedly still in the works. Astak gained great publicity when it announced these products were on the way chock full of features and cheap, but the actual retail versions have less features, so beware the many "reviews" littering the web which hype the Mentor's planned, but not delivered, capabilities.
The Astak readers are a joint project between Taiwanese PVI (screens), Netronix (assembly and design and Touch expertise), and the California-based Astak (end design and sales). The two Taiwanese companies have extensive experience marketing many models of eReaders. The Mentor lite is actually a variant of the Netronix EB-600, the most copied eReader design in the world (a pity it isn't particularly exceptional). It has the same basic hardware as the the European Cybook Gen 3, the UK COOL-ER and Elonex, the Polish eClicto, the Russian Pocketbook 301, the South Korean Soribook, NUUT and the US eSlick.
The Astak Mentor comes in black or white with a satiny finish, and it weighs in at a slim 6.2 ounces. The e-ink display is rather standard, with only 8 greyscales displayable, as opposed to the 16 in the leading eReaders. It has seven buttons around the outer edge, all labeled with unintelligible icons, except for the obvious power button. There is no feedback when you press the buttons, a minor annoyance as we prefer a satisfying click typical of most eReaders.
The battery is good for about 8,000 page flips on one charge, good by current standards. Charging the Mentor takes 4 hours via AC outlet or 6 hours via USB cord. The battery is replaceable by the user, part of a welcome trend with newer eReaders. However, at 512MB of memory, it is on the sparse side, but you can add up to a 4GB memory card. The SD slot can be finicky, as with the similar Netronix model Cybook Gen 3--you have to push hard until the card is a little lower than the edge of the slot and wait for the obvious click to know that it's in, and getting it out you need to push it down enough to pull it out.
The Mentor only supports 9 file types--most of the ebook types, but no music files and only JPG for graphics. It does well with PDFs, allowing reflow of the documents. However, when reading ePub format books, the default is a light grey font and you can't change it, which does get hard on the eyes. We've heard anecdotal reports of difficulty and slowness with large files, and the device can lock up, requiring a reboot.
There's not too much else to say about the Mentor--it has the rather standard e-ink display and typical features you'd expect of a modern eReader. In fact, one of the few unique features of the Mentor is it comes loaded with Sudoku games.
Menu language is available in English, Spanish, German, French, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian.
Connecting: The Astak Mentor has no connectivity other than a USB 2.0 cable, a serious drawback when you consider leading eReaders like the Kindle 2 and Nook have cellular internet access for only a bit more money. The mini USB port itself is recessed, and you may have trouble using cables other than the one provided.
We're rather disappointed as early press releases said the Astak readers would have optional Bluetooth or WiFi support (and we still see a plethora of reviews and blogs out there which report this is as fact), but we'd guess these features were dropped to keep the price down.
Accessories: The Mentor comes with a simple carrying case, USB cable, and AC power adapter ( a rarity in a time when most eReaders ship only with USB connection for powering). The faux leather case looks good, but can be a bit fiddly to close, requiring you to align the magnets just right.
That said, Astak themselves have no other eReader accessories on sale on their website, and third party developer products are sparse.
Price: The Astak Mentor retails for a relatively cheap $239. However, if you're looking for a cheap, pure-function eReader, then we'd go for something like the Sony PRS 300 (a third generation eReader) at $200 rather than this first generation Mentor.