Saturday, November 08, 2008

First review of Cybook eBook reader

I've had my Cybook Gen3 for over two weeks now. Its been with me to Disney Paris on the Eurostar where I could easily read. I've used it in the house and of course in the shed.

My first reactions are that I'm happy with my purchase, and I'd go out and buy again if for some reason I needed to. Of course I have a few issues, which I'll list below, but the executive summary is a good product for reading electronic books.

(Click on the images for a better look - really these scaled down photos do not do it justice by themselves ).

On the positive side:
  • Its a great screen (600x800 pixels 166dpi greyscale) - and most other ebook reader use the same technology and manufacturer ( including Sony ). It looks very good in sunlight. I find the new ecofascist energy saving bulbs give a less white background - but that applies to everything else in the house.
  • Its light - lighter than a paperback ! (6.13 oz / 174 g with battery)
  • Battery life is looking very good (bookeen claim 8,000 page flips per charge which is via its USB cable for a rechargeable battery). I've just managed to make it go from 100% to 90% ( I didn't notice any intermediate levels of power - maybe it records in 10% bursts I'll have to watch closer to be sure ). I have the power off at 15 mins - which is time to go away and make a cup of coffee and still have it on when your back.
  • The mobi reader software ( available for most eBooks except the Sony ) has allowed me to read rss feeds a I have downloaded a few blogs. Interestingly I find the longer posts easier to read in this format - normally I prefer short blog posts on LCD. I have a feeling that this may be a more general benefit of the display technology that could habe major implications as it matures.
  • The 512MB of memory has been more than enough so far. I suspect my main use of the SD card would be for refreshing new software releases.
  • I've been doing a lot more reading with this device than I normally do. It is in some ways easier to use than a book.
  • Once I caught myself trying to turn the page over by reaching for the top right of the device. In general I enjoyed reading the books that the device presented - rather than using the device itself. That's the way it should be.
  • There are a considerable number of stores that sell eBooks which this device can read - you are not tied to one supplier ( hello Sony ), but see my comment on DRM issues below.
  • The cover that came with my Cybook is robust and gives me some reassurance about leaving it around the house.
  • My kids don't want to play with it - yet.

On the negative side:
  • Using the book cover is wise and its clearly been built to provide some strength that the unit itself perhaps lacks. Reading forums on the Internet broken screen seem a common problem - though it must be remembered that such forums are self selecting for people who have issues and problems.
  • The device really does need its cover to protect it - but since that's the way I would have wished to use it anyway its not a problem.
  • The book cover needs to give more space around the main control button at the bottom right. Using your finger to go forward a page (something your going to be doing a lot of) often leads to contact with the book cover also. In addition the cover creaks when you press down on it. This doesn't bother me as I approach pushing the forward key with my left hand now - but if anyone from Bookeen reads this you need to fix it.
  • The device uses a mini-USB cable to link to your computer ( blue tooth would be far better - but I guess it would cost and drain power ). The cable cover on the bottom of the device is only really designed to be removed without the book cover on. Now there is a gap in the book cover but it doesn't allow you to access the finer nail slit that enables you to pull the device out. I could only remember my late father's habit of getting out the modeling knife to fix such devices or improve them. Maybe I'll need to get a scalpel type knife to sort this out.
  • The device has a audio capability, but as it requires a 2.5mm rather than the standard 3.5mm headphone socket I won't be using it. Frankly most of us get out music from else where and I would be tempted to drop this capability.
  • DRM ! You're place in the maddening world that the media companies put us in with regions for DVDs. Not all books are licensed for sale across all countries. Just as the barriers have come down with purchasing electronic goods from the US on the internet so you can't buy some books in the UK. This is not a fault of this device or even technology. Its those Luddites in the dead tree publishing industry trying to replicate their outdated business practices in our world. ( Enterprising readers will easily find ways around such limits - just as my DVD player has become multi region after 10 mins research on the internet ).
  • The buttons on the side are out of place. Really you need to see buttons. I'm always trying to remember which is which.
  • The central control 4 way button with select button in the middle. This middle button really should advance the page - its the command you'll give most often and should therefore be the easiest to actuate.
  • There is one issue which I'm not sure how it will work out. The navigation support within the library is essentially flat and hence that limits how many books or documents you can reasonably have loaded up at a time. But then once you've read them why leave them there ?
  • There a some difficulties with A4 and even A5 sized pdf documents being readable. This is really an eBook reader first. Wildgoose put a reference to PDF Cropper in comments on my first post on this. I'll have a go with it a bit latter on to see if its a viable solution here.
  • The device boots up and down when it switched on and off. Now my old Psion 5 only booted up once and ran in a suspended mode when switched of to make it appear to come live instantly. Surely this should be the aim for such devices ! I wonder if there would be any advantage to suing EPOC as the operating system here ? Boot up time is about 20 secs - but due to low power drain you can leave it on whilst you head of to do something else without catastrophic battery power loss - that's they key benefits of the eInk technology and the sensible processor speed Bookeen have chosen.
  • If your new to current eInk technology you should realise that all these devices have a far slower refresh speed than other display technologies ( see my earlier post here for a movie of the Cybook being used ).
But remember overall I fairly happy ! I've been doing a lot more reading recently and if I had a daily train commute into work the Cybook would be my new best friend.

As I said earlier what I'm really looking forward to is reading the books I've purchased and avoiding filling the house up with more dead tree matter which my wife will try to convince me to throw out, but I'll insist on keeping. ( You might like to try this selling point on your spouse if you need to justify one. )

This is the key point - I'm not thinking about the device when reading, but the book I'm reading. Except perhaps for pre-empting the end of the page with the page turn button to read the last few words whilst the device prepare to refresh.

Engineering is the art of compromise between competing constraints and this device looks well engineered, except perhaps for a potential weakness on strength - which I can't and hope never to confirm. Yes there are other devices that do more and have bigger screens (see iRex) or better styling (see Sony), but the combination between processor, memory, user interface, battery life and price (£180 right now at WH Smiths) is pretty good going.

There is one key test left to carry out. I need to persuade my wife to read a book on it and say what she thinks. That may take a little persuasion - plus I'll have to give it up for a week or so - and I'm not ready for that just at the moment !

[ I'll link any posts on these devices with the Cybook keyword - so search here to see any other posts ].


wildgoose said...

The buttons on the left are certainly awkward.

As for the power connector, in fairness to the Cybook it actually recommends that you remove it from its case before you plug it in to charge it - you shouldn't let it get too hot and so they are obviously concerned about heat dissipation within the case if you leave it plugged in.

I have also loaded up a large quantity of Japanese manga (Hikaru-no-Go) on mine which has resulted in my machine now having 215 pages of documents available, (each page of manga being a JPG or PNG and thus taking up a "slot"). The Cybook scales these images beautifully but it would be extremely helpful if it included the ability to jump to a page!

It also produced thumbnails of books/images, unfortunately it appears that the colour JPGs cause it to crash and reboot whilst producing the thumbnail image. I decided to circumvent the repeated crash/reboot cycle by quickly converting such images to greyscale after which all has appeared to be well.

So far I'm impressed with the PDF support - it's better than I expected.

The biggest problem is the failure to support folders. Quick and dirty hacks (like filtering out images in the library display) are just that - hacks and work-arounds. I know, I'm a programmer, I've done just such tricks myself in the past.

The display really is very good. I have also been digging out various Computing books I have on PDF and HTML, it is really nice to have such a library immediately available.

Man in a Shed said...

That's a good point about the case.

I was hopeful of good support for loading up CHM helpfiles, having loaded the one I'm preparing for my product - which worked well.

However the key Microsoft help files didn't import well into mobi reader's software.

I find the navigation issue hard to understand as most other devices have some form of folder structure. Maybe a subsequent software release will sort this. ( I have yet to carry out a software update ).

But all in all I'm fairly happy, and eagerly await future products when this display technology matures' having spent a fairly modest amount on a useful current device.