Problems with my PocketBook 903

I’ve decided to make a public record of the things I think should be changed with the PocketBook 903. Some are serious bugs, other little niggles, and yet others things about how the company behaves. Mostly this record is so I won’t forget things to check once updates start to appear. Some issues occur in multiple categories.

System level issues

  • Writes to my microSD card fail in unspecified ways. The bug is all the way upstream from Samsung (makers of the SoC) but neither company tries to help.
  • Formatting the microSD card triggers a recalibration of the touchscreen for no apparent reason.
  • Turning Bluetooth on and off is (apparently) only accessible in the settings, and there’s no choice for temporarily on. Wifi can be turned off from the status icon, why not bluetooth?
    Found another way: mapping the power switch to “last read books” pops up a window with Bluetooth toggling, button lock, power off, books, music player.. should be the default.

Usability issues

  • The virtual keyboard is not usable with the buttons.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • pdfviewer zoom menu is not usable from the buttons.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • Web browser does not use the digitizer calibration. (Not verified; but for others, the scrollbar can be unreachable.)
    2.0.5 has an additional web browser, Links, which also supports buttons.
  • Trying to open bookmarks placed in AdobeViewer may open pdfviewer (if it was last used for that book), which does not know the bookmarks and goes to the first page.

Documentation issues

  • The manual shows the virtual keyboard of a 602, which is quite different on a 903 (602 type works without stylus, 903 type does not).
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • At one point, the manual shows a quickmenu with both Voice and Settings choices. I have found no such thing as Voice is in AdobeViewer only and Settings in FBreader.
  • Overall, the manual is simply poorly translated. (Not reverified; in 2.0.5 it’s also poorly formatted.)

Company behaviour

  • Much of the core software is GPL or LGPL licensed. PocketBook have not published the source for the currently distributed versions, and are withholding the development tools as well.
    It actually gets worse, as the previously published “sources” simply weren’t. It is not OK to just shove a .o binary file into the GPL kernel sources.
  • The microSD write bug was replied with “get a class 4 card” and then ignored. No indication why a class 4 should work better was made, nor is this a documented requirement, only something spouted on the forum. It is also a violation of the SD specification.
  • The device is apparently tivoized, with PocketBook withholding root access from the owner, and firmware updates in an undocumented format (possibly GPG signed, the libraries are there).


  • Bookmarks in PDFviewer do not show up in the Notes menu (from the main menu).
    Fixed in 2.0.5. However, mixed bookmarks cause confusion in both Contents order and trying to open them, as PDFviewer and AdobeViewer do not use the same format.
  • PDFviewer handles grays strangely, rendering watermarks and backgrounds black while leaving others.
  • The table of contents is inaccessible if the PDF doesn’t have one, even if notes or bookmarks have been placed.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • The zoom choice from the menu requires stylus input.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • The search command does not find anything.


  • The search command hangs when looking for more occurences, possibly only once reaching the last.
    Fixed in 2.0.5 – but it can still miss occurences, and the hang seems to occur when searching backwards, still.
  • Switching pages with the dictionary up leads to a hang. The Dictionary button causes a page turn, so this can be triggered with two presses on the same button.
    Fixed in 2.0.5.
  • The text to speech volume cannot be preset, and is only controlled with a horrible menu popup cycle. Compounded by the total lack of level indication and strange behaviour (goes from loud to normal, then cuts out entirely).
    2.0.5 improves the situation by making the buttons work.
  • Text to speech language should be settable per book, and in the reading mode itself.

Web browser (Midori, 2.0.5 also has Links and an unknown contender in Bookland)

  • Touchscreen calibration is not supported.
  • Rotation is not supported.
  • Settings are not saved. (Review made a workaround.)
  • Bookmarks are hard to access and cannot be edited.
  • Entities are not properly supported (shows on the default page, google mobile).

Main menu

  • Most widgets are merely dumb icons: Dictionary, Calculator, Sudoku, eBook, PocketNews. Worst with Calculator, which looks like it has buttons but doesn’t.2.0.5 makes the calculator work, and improves the separate calculator app.
  • The theme is poorly matched to the screen size. There are blank regions on the top and bottom. (2.0.5 tweaked the corners.)
  • In last open books, one cannot get choices for the book/file itself like in Library.
  • Pictures have been shown with a double width calendar widget; I’ve found no way to get that.


  • The list of dictionaries is quite unwieldy. Add some sort of categorization (by language, for instance) and use a larger part of the screen!
  • Dictionary from the main menu immediately demands a word. Entering nothing shows nothing, while anything else allows browsing the dictionary. It should open like a book.

Music player

It is downright strange to expend so much effort on audio hardware and none at all on the software.

  • Only accepts MP3. There’s no excuse for not supporting Vorbis.
  • Does not handle any structure at all; only a list of all MP3 files installed, with or without shuffle.
  • Widget only shows filename up to the first period. “2.Autiotalo.mp3” is not called “2”.
  • Volume buttons do not control volume unless focus is directly on the mp3 player.
  • No bookmarks, necessary for audio book use.

Zoom and scroll controls

This gets its own heading because it’s really common to pdfviewer, djviewer and AdobeViewer.

  • It’s a no-brainer that zoom and pan should be selectable with the stylus. They aren’t.
  • There should be a zoom to contents command, rather than zoom to page width.
  • Fit entire page is also an obvious missing entry.
  • Multipage view should be sensitive to page size; I had comic strips that would fit several on top of each other, but there’s no such layout choice.
  • Vertical scrolling is only available in page steps; there’s no way to finetune to strip the top margin. Frequently renders the nicer zoom levels impractical.

Note taking

This is where it gets ridiculous. The old SDK featured drawing with the pointer in notes, but the 903 does not. The scribble program is entirely unorganized. Bookmarks can’t be named. About the only thing the pocketbook has going for it here is use of well known formats (html and bmp). review has written an addon to link screenshots and scribble together.

Fixed in 2.0.5. The SDK options to edit text and graphics for notes are now present, although the eink optimizations making Scribble responsive are not present.

January 2.0.4 update

Triple fail here. First, the update is called 2.0.4 – just like the version I already had from December. Second, in renaming the “games” directory “applications”, they added a script that automatically removes the games directory, whatever is in it, and not only when installing the update. Third, it broke the DRM. As the only improvement I’ve heard of is a prettier virtual keyboard, I think I’ll pass.

March 2.0.5 update

Some real changes here. Much improved calculator app and widget, several bugfixes, new Links web browser, working notes. It still keeps removing the games directory. It also turns out the “pretty” keyboard added button navigation, so it’s not only cosmetic.

I’ll surely find more things to update soon enough, and there’s bound to be one or two I simply forgot. But it’s a start, and once put here I can find them again.

10 thoughts on “Problems with my PocketBook 903

  1. I know this is not a help desk, but you seem to know a lot about the Pocket Book 903. I can no longer open an book. Do you have any idea what’s going on? No problems with PDFs and my epub newspaper but it wil not open any epub book.

    • No, I do not have much of an idea. You might try using the context menu from the library browser (either long tap, or menu button) to select an alternate viewer. Someone else also had trouble opening a book they had a bookmark in, but could remove the bookmark from the Notes list. My main advice, however, is to go to the MobileRead forums with this sort of question.

      • Thanks, I will do that. An option to set things back to factory settings would be useful for me now but is not available to my knowledge.

  2. I am new to standalone ebook readers and 903 is my startup model. Thank you for your excelent list – as a newbie I was unsure if these quirks I have also noticed are results of my misundestanding or crippled software. I have also run into problem with new empty microsd cards, I have placed description and solution on mobileread forum.

  3. You’ve got a lot of info here on this site, and most of it’s negative. Would you actually recommend a Pocketbook?

    • Not in general. I still get some use out of it, but I feel it’s not good enough for the price, and the company aren’t doing enough to fix it. Unfortunately, I do not know of another model to recommend, either; at the time I got it, it may well have been the best option. The Kindle DX series is too restrictive, and the Boox M90 wasn’t around. It also matters to me that the makers respect the free software they benefit from; Pocketbook appeared to do this, but not fully (not even to the level required by license). Onyx appear to publish things properly, but I haven’t inspected it closely (as I had to to see Pocketbook’s lazy mistakes).

  4. Hello Yannv, thank you so much for your detailed comments. It’s really frustrating the device is tivoized, but it looks like there are a few bugs in the firmware that let you gain root access to the thing:

    Have you had a look at this?

    I’m really thinking about buying this nice gadget: it looks as if all the features are there, but are poorly implemented as a whole, but with quite a bit of hacking it could be almost perfect, e.g. I’m quite impressed by the scribbling demo video… :^)

    • Last I heard, the more recent firmware (which I have) closed that bug. It’s certainly doable to make a mix and match firmware with the newer notes and root access, and I believe the firmware can be downgraded. I haven’t tried.

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