Tuesday, October 9, 2007

First Cybook Gen3 review

BAEN is a succesful and inspired science-fiction publisher in the US. They are very active in the ebook domain especially with their famous ebook webscription system (http://www.baen.com/).
They were among the first to receive and test Cybook Gen3 pre-engineering samples and now they release their first review.

Here it is:
"A couple quick qualifications before I start my review. I have never had a chance to use an eInk device for an extended period of time. I’ve played with the Sony PRS-500 in the store but that is about it. The unit I tested was an engineering sample with software version 0.98. I am a board member of NAEB (Not Another E-Book, LLC) and we are looking to distribute an eInk device.

The first thing I noticed unpacking the Cybook was how solid the unit feels. Unlike LCD devices eInk screens are all plastic. If you press in on any device with an LCD screen you will notice the screen distort, this does not happen with this reader. I’ve gone so far to pound on it, only with my fist, and seen no change. It’s taken a couple of minor spills from 4 feet or so onto both carpet and concrete with no damage. The only complaint I have is that both the USB port and the headphone jack are under a rubber cover. The headphone jack really should be exposed at all times. On that note, the headphone jack is 2.5mm, not 3.5mm.

The screen itself is excellent, if it wasn’t for the bezel you would have a complete 180° of viewing angle. As you can see from the pictures it isn’t perfectly white, the color can best be compared to newsprint. However during my usage that wasn’t an issue except in the lowest of light conditions. Just like a book, the display is 100% reflective. For this reason there is no backlight. The display at 166 dpi is as sharp as they come. The full specifications are at Bookeen (http://www.bookeen.com/specs/ebook-specs.aspx).

Software wise this unit is a mixed bag, with it still in beta, that is to be expected. However several earlier requests for features have made it into this version. Bookeen has stated that they plan on developing the software even further after release.

Moving books on and off of the device is as easy as drag and drop. Once you plug the USB cable into a computer the Cybook and an SD Card, if installed, show up as a standard USB drive. Bookeen is stating that the next version of Mobipockets reader software (http://www.mobipocket.com/en/DownloadSoft/default.asp?Language=EN) will recognize and sync with the eReader. This will allow you to use that package to manage content.

The reader currently uses a flat library structure. This means that no matter what folders you separate your books into once you load them onto it they all show up in the library display. The library can display 5, 10 or 20 items on a page, although at 20 unless you know the covers they are somewhat hard to read. Currently all items are sorted by title. There are also sort by author and size options that are currently grayed out and not usable. Is this library structure going to be a problem for you? It depends on how you use the device. If you plan on keeping just your current reading list on the device and your main library is elsewhere, there isn’t a problem. However if you plan on putting your entire library on the device it will take you some scrolling to find what you want. For example, Baen’s Free Library (http://www.baen.com/) currently contains 100 books. In .PRC format the entire library only takes up 55.3 MB. Looking through 100 books is easy, but how about 1800? Currently the it handles .TXT, .PDF, .PRC (secured and unsecured) and simple .HTML formats. Support for complex HTML will be coming later release. You can also store and view pictures; it does an excellent job of grayscale converting. The current version does not include the audio player so I was not able to evaluate that.

For controls there are 7 buttons, On/Off, Music, Menu, Back, Delete, Volume +, Volume -, and a Compass. The compass is on the front of the unit and seems to be the most confusing of the controls. Everyone I gave the Cybook to thought that it was just a fancy single button instead of five. (Left, Right, Up, Down, Enter) Hopefully Bookeen will add some graphics to the unit pointing this out. The On/Off button is at the top of the unit. It requires you to press and hold in order to power on or off the reader. All the buttons have a nice crisp feel. My only complaint is that the compass is somewhat small. I have a tendency to hit both the Up and Enter keys at the same time.

Like all other eInk devices Bookeen likes to quote battery life in page turns. I find this slightly misleading. I’m sure if you sat there and just flipped pages you would get close to the 8000 claimed. It has an 800mAh Li-Polymer battery. Unlike some other consumer devices the battery is easily accessible and user replaceable. The only tool need is a miniature phillips screwdriver. It is recharged from any standard USB port. Once turned on the Cybook never fully powers down, instead it goes into a sleep mode. I feel this is a reasonable compromise between extending the battery life and response speed. In mixed use I got about 3 to 4 days between charges. Others have reported about 1 week in sleep mode. Note that this is without using the audio player. Once you start driving headphones, battery life will decrease.

Overall I have enjoyed using the Cybook. It is great being able to read my eBooks in bed without a heavy laptop or outside in the bright sunlight. It has a lot of nice software touches, like being able to adjust the font type and size on the fly. One of my co-workers loved the thought of no more reading glasses. It has an activity light in the upper right-hand corner that indicates when it is working on a command. As the screen is static this is enables you to know is it really doing something or ignoring me. Pages flips are fast, and if you accidentally hit the turn page button more then once, it will ignore the second one. I also appreciate the fact you are not locked into one store with the Cybook. Many places sell secure Mobipocket books. Even Harlequin (http://www.eharlequin.com/) recently added support for that format. That is not something we are seeing from Sony.

James B Franks

Please note that NAEB stands for another Not Another EBook: a BAEN's initiative.
Visit http://www.naebllc.com/


Jason said...

Sounds interesting although I'd prefer to be able to organise books within directories, as so many of my favourites are series which need to be read in specific orders ~ hopefully this will incorporated at some future date?

igor said...

I have been on the waiting for almost 3 months to get news from Booken. I have been put off and ignored and then the deadline keeps slipping...

Not impressed with customer service. Add the price differential between USA and Europe and I've decided that I simply don't trust Bookeen anymore.

I'm going with the Sony PRS505 which is cheaper, supports all the same formats, is AVAILABLE NOW and I can call up the internet company selling them and get friendly, professional responses. I'll have it by the weekend (express delivery) rather than simply HOPING that bookeen will get their act together before the end of the month!