eBook - Read it and Weep
By Jim Bray
I may have seen the future of the printed word, but I hope
eBooks are certainly nifty gadgets, so maybe I'm just an old stick
in the mud when I say I'd rather have a real book or magazine on my lap.
RCA sells two models: the $150 REB1100 and the $400 REB1200. Of
the two, I preferred the bigger REB1200, which looks like an etch a sketch with
a leather cover that automatically turns the unit on and off when you open
and/or close it. The 1100 looks like a PDA.
You can buy a lot of books and magazines for a couple of hundred
bucks, so the eBook had better be better if consumers are going to dispose of
their disposable income on it. Unfortunately it isn't, and it isn't going to
replace paper the way it's currently designed.
Still, being a sucker for gadgets, I leaped at the opportunity to
try the eBooks.
The big model 1200 weighs just a tad over two pounds, is 7.5
inches wide, nine inches tall and just over an inch deep, so carrying it around
with you is no problem. It sports a 480 x 640 resolution 7" x 5" Color TFT LCD
Touch Screen that's quite easy on the eyes, though you have to hold it straight
in front of you to get the real benefit; as with other LCD's, if you move too
far to the sides the brightness drops off considerably.
Standard memory is eight megabytes of compact flash, which is
adequate for holding perhaps two typical novel-length books. You can upgrade
the memory by adding a bigger card, and I'd recommend this if you're going to
use the eBook all the time.
Why? When I received the eBook, it had the user's manual, two
novels and a couple of periodicals installed. But since I wanted to test the
eBook with a novel I was already part way through, I had to dump much of what
was installed already to get the new book to fit.
Downloading a book's kind of neat. The model 1200 comes with a
built in modem and a built in LAN card (the 1100 just has a modem), so all you
have to do is log onto the eBook Catalog Service, which the book finds
automatically when you plug it into the wire. Then you search the online
bookstore to find the book you want, pay for it via credit card, and it
downloads right into the eBook.
I bought Michael Crichton's Timeline for $6.95, then searched for
the point at which I'd left off in the print version.
Thus came my first major complaint. It took the better part of an
hour for the eBook to find the chapter heading I entered for the search, which
is totally unacceptable - especially if you're on battery power (RCA says you
can expect 5-10 hours of continuous use on a charge).
The interface isn't bad. You can use the included plastic stylus
or your fingertip (if you don't mind marks on the screen) to tap your search
parameters or credit card number onto the virtual keyboard you bring up. It's a
tad clumsy, but I can't think of a better way to do it short of having it read
Multiple pages of what you're reading store into memory at once,
but not nearly enough of them: it's SLOW! Sometimes it takes so long for the
eBook to flip pages that you think you may not have tapped the page turning
button hard enough and tap it again to make sure, which whisks you (when it
finally catches up) farther than where you want to go.
Likewise, the eBook lost my place once while I was flipping pages
(it usually remembers where you left off, and you can add a virtual bookmark
just to make sure), and it took about twenty minutes of fiddling to find the
And that's the bottom line. With a real book you can flip ahead to
see where the chapter ends or riffle through the pages to find a particular
chapter or section. With the eBook you can't, without sweating blood. So until
they figure out that human interface part, I don't think the eBook will be
anything more than a relatively expensive curiosity.
Too bad. It sounded so neat!
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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