Rumour has it that Amazon will be announcing (or possibly even launching) their ebook initiative on Monday. Included with this is their first foray into the world of hardware manufacture with the “Kindle”1 ebook reader.
Earlier this month, the good folks at Bookeen launched (as in: actually shipped) their third-generation ebook reader, appropriately called the “Cybook Gen 3“. I’ve been watching their progress avidly, and the second I heard that the Cybook was shipping my credit card and I leaped into action. Being quick on the draw, I managed to get my order in early enough to get one of the first shipments. Within days (possibly hours) their initial supply had sold out and all other orders were delayed from a Nov 2 ship date to sometime in mid-December.
I received my Cybook (from Paris, via FedEx) on Nov 7 and have been using it daily since. I’ve taken some pictures, which you can view over at my flickr photo set.
It is, as I say, very much like living in the future. There are some rough spots of course, but also some unexpected highlights. Here’s a quick rundown:
Readability: The contrast and resolution on the Cybook are great. I’m really impressed by the clarity and readability. These e-ink based ebook readers do not include a backlight, so you can only read them anywhere you can read a regular book. The Cybook screen is nicely matte, so there’s no glare issue whatsoever. Grade: A-.
Memory: The Cybook comes with 64mb of content memory and has an SD slot for memory expansion. The 2gb of additional memory I’ve added will allow me to put somewhere in the region of 3000-5000 books on it. Grade: A+++ I’m living in the future.
Weight and size: roughly 300g including cover and battery; roughly the same height, width, and thickness as a 300 page regular (non-trade) paperback. Grade: A+.
Battery life: the Bookeen folk estimate that a full charge should last around 8000 page turns. The e-ink technology apparently only draws power when changing what’s displayed, using no power otherwise. At this point I’ve read around 300 pages and the battery indicator is still pegged at 100%. Grade: A+.
Ghosting, page turn speed: Both excellent. I have seen no evidence of ghosting yet, but this may be an issue that takes a few tens of thousand of page turns to appear. I will post an update later if this happens. Page turn speed (the length of time it takes to completely change the display after pushing the button) is excellent. Not instantaneous, but still faster than actually turning a page in a physical book. No complaints here at all. Grade: A-.
Formats: The Cybook allows you to read ebooks in four formats — mobipocket, HTML, PDF, and plaintext. The mobipocket format is, by far, the best. HTML is second best being quite readable with functioning hyperlinks (assuming the hyperlinks are within the same document — these things aren’t hooked up to the internet). Plaintext is OK, but hard-wrapped formats get all messed up — I need to find a script to un-hard-wrap the Gutenberg plaintext files. PDF — well it depends for what size paper the PDF was formatted. If the PDF is formatted to a paperback-sized page, it’s fantastic. If the PDF is formatted to 8.5×11, then it’s utterly illegible with no way to resize the fonts or zoom the pages (that I have found). Grade: A+ for mobipocket, B+ for HTML, B- for plaintext, D for PDF.
User interface: Overall the UI is good, but not great. The “menu” button (which you use to navigate back to the main library screen, set bookmarks, adjust font sizes, etc) is awkwardly placed. The main “select” button is really too clicky — it’s just loud, when it should be silent. The little rubber cover for the USB port is a bit flimsy, doesn’t really get out of the way sufficiently, and is bloody impossible to remove when the cover is on. I am somewhat tempted just to rip it off now and save myself the trouble of dealing with it entirely. Otherwise, the Cybook is great. Grade: B.
Cover: Nicely made, well designed, good fit. Only comes in a somewhat disappointingly ugly brown and costs an extra $40. Hopefully other covers will come available over time. The cover is absolutely essential, however, even though it is brown. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. It’s worth every penny. Grade: A.
Manufacturing quality: The Cybook is well made and feels very solid. I definitely don’t feel as if I have to baby it or be excessively cautious when slinging it into bags or backpacks. The cover helps, of course, and I strongly recommend you buy a cover if you get one of these. Grade: A.
DRM: Buying ebooks (mobipocket format, f.e.) requires that you enter your device PID before you can download the book. This, I assume, is how they’re enforcing Digital Rights Management (DRM), which is just a fancy way of saying “you can’t lend other people your ebooks, ever”. Given that ebooks are currently priced roughly equivalent to physical books, this is an annoying pain in the ass. Publishers are really going to have to rethink the pricing scheme on these things, because paying the same for a DRM’d ebook and a regular physical book is just nonsense. Grade: bullshit.
Overall, I’m very happy with my Cybook. It’s small, light, comfortable to read, and does its job well. Unlike the rumoured Amazon “Kindle”, it doesn’t do wifi or have a keyboard or read email (wtf), but I’m really OK with that. I spend all day on the Internet — when I’m reading it’s quite specifically an opportunity for me to get the hell away from the machines.
I’m very excited by the possibilities Amazon’s ebook initiative may open up. Currently buying ebooks can be challenging — the seller sites tend to be atrocious, and selection is slim. Being able to buy mobipocket-format ebooks through Amazon.com (with all its reviews and whatnot) would be absolutely brilliant. We’ll see what happens on Monday!
1 – “Kindle”, seriously? Def’n: catch fire; cause to start burning. That’s a little Fahrenheit 451 of them.