Friday, October 31, 2008

Which eBook reader ?

OK I thought I post a short summary of my thinking in buying the Cybook Gen 3.

A up to date comparison of eReader is available on MobileRead here ( note Sony have just launched another reader with a touch screen ).

If you take a look at this matrix the first thing you'll realise is that almost all the eInk readers are using the same display technology - EInk Vizplex.

There are a number of basic eReader ( Cybook, Sony PRP-505, HanLin etc ), the iRex offerings with added pen interfaces and WiFi (iLiad and Digital Reader ), and the left field device of Polymer Visions Readus ( surely only purchased for the considerable wow factor of using it in public ).

Further divisions can be made between the prioitory systems and formats ( or to put it another way Sony vs the World ). If your primary interest is books then the key eBook formats are going to interest you.

There are a number, but the key players are Mobipocket (owned by Amazon, but operated at arms length ), Sony, + Adobe and Microsoft formats that don't seem to be supported by the readers.

Mobibooks have readers than run on a large range of devices from phones, to PC's and of course eReaders. ( The mobibook readers that run on the iLiad, Cybook and HanLin seem to be Java based - but I could have that wrong ).

All of them are designed to impose DRM upon us. And to some degree you are placing a bet on the organisation staying in existence int he future to support your upgrading your content between devices. Both Sony and mobipocket ( via Amazon) look stable for this.

However if you buy a Sony device then you will always have to buy more Sony devices. If you buy say a Cybook, your next reader could be from iRex and your content would follow you. This is the key point that meant I dropped Sony's attractive looking (and priced) reader from the consideration.

At that point its time to ask yourself if the addons from iRex are worth the money to you, and of course they come at another price - battery life. Whilst, for example, the iLiad has a 400MHz processor the power drain of its Watcom pen interface and WiFi considerable shorten life. The new Digital Reader has even greater problems since the full potential of power management software has yet to be released.

By contrast the Cybook and HanLin will run for very long periods of time on one charge. ( I took mine to EuroDisney for 3 dyas and back and the battery never dropped below 100% ). They have slower processors, but then fast interaction isn't the key feature and it will also mean lower power consumption.

In short I'd love to own and play with an iLiad or Digital Reader, but not at the price of a small Laptop.

Also there is the wild card of Plastic Logic's new product due out in early 2009. I have no idea what price it will start at, or what technical difficulties the first batch of production of a new technology will encounter. Hence I assume it will be 2010 before anyone who doesn't enjoy paying top dollar for being at the bleeding edge of technology will consider buying one. This potential release of a competitor is a real problem for iRex, as it may delay purchase decisions from people who might have bought their digital reader ( and I was sorely tempted ).

Hence I went for the proven, reasonable priced, technology of Bookeen's Cybook ( which beat the HanLin on looks - yes I can be shallow too ). See a brief demo below - of course Youttube is unable to do any justice to the display ...

I'll post an initial review of the device within the next few days.

PS A good source of information on all such things is MobileRead Wiki.


Michael said...

I would like an eBook reader, but I think an A4 size page would be the ideal for me. However, the issue of DRM is the great stumbling block because I'm only interested in a device which would enable me to load content I wanted. This would be from Gutenberg, Google books, or long technical pdfs. Do any og the devices you have researched allow this?

Man in a Shed said...


I think nearly all the devices I looked at would allow common forms of DRM free text to be viewed.

The comparison table I cited in the post gives a good summary.

My Cybook handles basic HTML and PDF formated for the screen size ( ie something less than A5 ) well. I have War of the Worlds in both formats on it right now (which is now out of copyright), and they both look good.

I've downloaded a few project Gutenberg books - and I think you often have a choice of formats. ( I think google books are in a scanned format and unless you can download them as pdf - where they will take up much memory space if you could - I don't think you can use them remotely - but I'm willing to be corrected on this point ). There are also free books in the mobi format at mobipocket who have over 9 thousand books in English which can be read with their reader for free.

However a word of warning on A4 pdf. Whilst the Cybook will display it - the text is too small in portrait, and hardly acceptable in Landscape.

For such an application your looking at iRex's products.

The iLiad will be marginally better, but the Digital Reader is really aimed at A4 documents.

The draw back here are the price ( over £400) and the immaturity of the supporting software - especially in terms of power management. Now iRex promise improvements soon, and a similar story was seen with the introduction of the iLiad. However your paying a lot of money for a bleeding edge product. Also I can't help but wonder what the Plastic Logic device will be really like.

Hence in my case I went for a proven product with excellent battery life, which is really targeted at just book reading.

What happens for Christmas 2009 is another story ...