Digital devices have been slowly creeping into our lives over the last decade, replacing items that we once took for granted with electronic equivalents. MP3 players have all but usurped portable tape players, and can you even remember the last time you took a camera film to be developed?
But, despite the introduction of various portable devices, there’s one area in particular that has yet to see any serious competition from a battery-powered impostor – the humble paperback book.
The main reason for this is that mobile LCD technology may be fine for composing emails or watching a video, but it has neither the contrast nor battery life to make it suitable for reading reams of text. Fine if you just want to skim through a thousand-odd words, but an unappealing prospect if you’re faced with a 70,000-word tome.
Dutch firm iRex Technologies is hoping to change all that with the iLiad – an eBook reader with a display that’s comparable to reading an actual book. Switch it on, open an eBook and the image you’re presented with is nothing short of remarkable. It’s so good it actually looks fake. It’s only when you turn the page do you realise that it’s a proper display and not a static image stuck on a label.
iRex has also designed the device to mimic the action of reading: when you come to the end of the page, you push the vertical flipbar on the left-hand edge from right to left, as if you were turning the pages of a real book. It’s comfortable to use, too, with the device measuring 155 x 16 x 217mm and weighing just 389g – about twice the weight of a normal paperback and considerably less than a hardback copy of the final Harry Potter, for example. The 8.1in display stretches to 122 x 161mm, which provides enough space for around 20 lines of text at an easily readable font size.
The iLiad uses a powerefficient electrophoretic display, which consists of tiny black and white particles suspended in a viscous liquid. If a negative charge is applied, the white particles move to the top and become visible; reverse the polarity and the black particles are shown. The real key is that it doesn’t require a backlight and needs power only to change the image. Once set, it doesn’t draw any further electricity until it needs to be redrawn.
The iLiad has a claimed battery life of 15 hours, but it depends on how much you use its features such as Wi-Fi or the digitiser. If you’re just using it as a page turner for a couple of hours a day, it will comfortably last a week between charges. The built-in digitiser allows you to draw on the display with a stylus or navigate the menu, and the 802.11g Wi-Fi adapter also comes as standard. Unfortunately, USB, mains power and 10/100 Ethernet are relegated to an external dock, leaving one more thing to carry with you – or lose.
The built-in Wi-Fi can’t be used for web access, either, and instead will connect only to the iRex Delivery Service, which allows content to be pushed onto the device or to a PC, which is a convoluted affair involving setting up shared folders on the network.
Underneath the quirky but attractive casing, there’s only 256MB of internal flash memory – of which a mere 128MB is available for storing content – but there are slots for both CompactFlash and SD/MMC and a USB port for flash drives, so there are plenty of expansion options. And with most novels occupying less than a megabyte of space, the small internal storage is less of an issue.
It can read content in PDF, HTML and TXT format, so you can find a wealth of free, out-of-copyright content from sources such as Project Gutenberg. If you’d rather read something more recent then it supports protected eBooks in Mobipocket format, but not those using Adobe or Microsoft’s systems. It’s also possible to sync with RSS feeds, but this has to be done via the Mobipocket software on a PC and can’t be done directly from the device.
It’s the onboard software that lets it down, though. It isn’t that it’s unusable – you can browse your virtual library and read eBooks on it – but it isn’t as intuitive or polished as a device this innovative deserves. You can’t, for example, copy a book from a USB flash drive to the internal memory without hooking it up to a PC. It’s also fairly slow – not a problem when you’re staring at static pages, but it can take ten seconds to open a file, and a second or so to change pages.
So we’re left with great hardware, let down by poor software. It does the job, but it lacks the polish of a truly consumer-orientated device. If iRex can fix the software issues and, ultimately, bring down the price, it could even have a potential iPod for books on its hands.
This Review appeared in the December, 2007 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing
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