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Old 08-18-2006, 03:48 PM   #1
KillerRabbit
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What I am looking for in an ebook reader

I hope that iRex, Sony, Hanlin and others read this and see my comments as an opportunity. I realize that this specific forum is for iRex, but I really didn't see one that was more appropriate.

I am Army National Guard officer and am currently a staff officer. That means, among other things, that I lug around a large box of books (primarily Field Manuals). Most of these are available for download as PDFs. While I do have a laptop and use it to view these manuals, I really think that a eink-type device would make my life much easier.

I suspect that there is a significant market available in other military offiers / NCOs like me. I am sure there are other fields / professions where similar interest and opportunity exists.

However, looking through the specs of all the readers, they all seem to have shortcomings.

1. Standard batteries. The best would be AA, although AAA would be OK as well. The most common battery in the Army inventory is D, but I think that would make the device too big. AA are also quite readily availble through the supply system. Worst case, I would simply take a supply of my own AA or AAA rechargable batteries and a recharger to the field and that would work just fine. However, having to put the device on the charger for several hours that may be running off a generator (in some cases, I recall that it would be overnight), would be a problem.

2. Screen size. It seems that the iRex has the largest screen (8" diagonal) and the Hanlin & Sony both have 6" screens. I'm not sure how well a 6" screen would work. I have my doubts. A 10" screen would probably be the optimal balence between screen size and overall device size.

3. Price. I'm willing to pay some coin for this, but iRex's price of $810 US seems a bit steep. I'm probably willing to pay a little more than most people, since I think I could use it as a tax deduction.

4. Formats supported.
a. PDF is a must and it -must- be directly supported, i.e. does not require using an application on a computer to fold/spindle/mutilate to then transfer to the ebook device.
b. MS Office formats. This would be nice, but not essential. Again, reference would be for direct file support vice conversion to some other format. Worst case, I would conver to PDF on my laptop and use it.

5. Search, bookmarks. It would be really nice to have a easy method to search through an ebook for a string and to be able to bookmark pages, chapters, etc.

6. Color vs. B&W. Color would be nice, but not essential. If it only raises the price, say 10% above B&W, then I would probably spring for color (everything else being equal). However, having bought more than a few electronic devices over the years, I would probably go cheaper for my first device and then a few years later, upgrade to whatever new product comes to market.

7. Interfaces. I read that the iRex has USB, Compact Flash, and internal flash. I like that. I really don't see that I would have much use for the wireless interface. If I can transfer files from PC to ebook reader directly via USB, that would probably be sufficient. If I could also transfer from USB stick or CF card (in addition to reading files from those storage devices), to internal flash or another attached storage device (i.e. USB stick to CF card) that would be a bonus.

8. Page refresh / loading. I've read that the time to change pages takes up to 2 seconds and I've also read that the newest version 2.6 is faster. That's good. There really isn't anything about what I'm doing that requires a fast page change. It's just the same annoyance factor that applies to everyone else.

Well, that is my laundry list.
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Old 08-18-2006, 04:30 PM   #2
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So you're a military head who calls himself KillerRabbit and posts random wishlists to random forums. Woo, I'm glad I didn't miss it.
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Old 08-18-2006, 04:58 PM   #3
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Welcome to the Forum, KillerRabbit! (Do I detect a Monty Python reference?)

Well, you do have quite a list! I don't really have anything useful to say about some of them, but I'll hit a few. Perhaps others will chime in on the rest....

Let's see...

Of the three current (available or pending) readers, the closest to a standard battery is the HanLin, which uses a standard Nokia cellphone battery. However, something to consider here is that the final goal of these things is to allow you to go a couple of weeks without needing a recharge. iLiad isn't there yet, but they are making some progress.

The iLiad's U.S. price ends up being closer to $700 (depending on exchange rate), as non-Europeans don't have to pay the VAT (unless you're stationed in Europe, of course). Don't know how much difference that might make to you.

All three will handle PDF's natively, but it'll be impossible to tell which suits your need best until you can actually compare them to one another, difficult when two aren't released, and the third isn't sure what it'll end up doing to handle them. For MS Office, PDF & RTF (as applicable) will likely end up being your best options. Though HanLin claims they will support the MS file types natively in the V2.

They'll all do bookmarks, and it looks like the only one that won't do searching is the Sony, as it doesn't seem to have any direct input method. Ditto for annotiations.

Color. Well, e-ink *has* developed a 12-bit color display prototype, but it's several years from commercial availability, apparently, so for now if you want e-ink, you want grayscale. (shrug) And considering that the e-ink is the only thing that allows the crazy long battery-life ....

Interfaces, they all have USB, Sony's has a mini USB. iLiad will take a USB flashdrive (I don't think anyone's had the chance to try that on either of the others). They all take SD (or at least MMC in the iRex case), while HanLin & iLiad also take CF, Sony does the memorystick as its second type. And it appears that all three show up as a USB drive when connected to a 'puter.

I think iLiad lets you transfer from flash drive/cards to internal memory (someone who actually has one can answer that better ), but I don't think anyone's found any indication on that either way for the other two.

Page refresh. Presently, the absolute minimum refresh time for an e-ink display appears to be .5 seconds, with 1 second being the current standard, as that approach allows for a cleaner background (less ghosting). The time beyond that is rendering time for the unit to create the image that the screen will display. iLiad recently has implemented a pre-rendering scheme, so it seems to be getting pretty close to the minimum, as long as you're going to the "next" page, rather than jumping around. Most iLiadites have said that it's not too bothersome. I've seen one of these, by the generousity of an iLiadite who lives near me, and could be bribed with free coffee. It was running the non-pre-rendering version of OS at the time (~2 seconds), and I found it fine for reading purposes.

The videos of the HanLin and Sony appear to be pretty close to the minimum too. Although, come to think of it, I don't think I've seen a vid that showed page turning in a PDF, only e-texts, which it seems to me should have lower rendering overhead. (shrug)

Of course, the U.S. Military will probably want to develop it's own version that has no EMF emissions, does everything okay but not great, weighs 30 pounds (most likely), and costs a mere $2.5 million per unit.
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Old 08-18-2006, 05:21 PM   #4
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Believe it or not, your specs don't sound very different from what we've got now (or will get in near future) with the iliad.

Ok, except the screen size. But this will change only with next generation devices.

So now let me sum up the answers to you requests, some of which already appeared here on the board:

1. power density. you could make the iliad run on batteries, but it is going to increase the weight significantly if you want the same uptime with one set of batteries.
Better idea: Get one of those nifty little battery-based chargers for - well, about every device out there. It's basically a battery holder plus a piece of silicon transforming the voltage. No big hack. Or ask iRex to offer something like this.

2. bigger screens cause an increased risk of glass break. So let's wait for iRex to figure it out in their next generation device or just crop your pdfs. You don't need the white margins.

3. It's second generation eInk now, if you're not willing to pay the price now, wait. It will be dropping.
A too high price for new gadgets is hardly worth a mention, isn't it?

4.a) true already; b) OpenOffice will be supported quite soon if there's an SDK, i assume. M$ Office will take longer.

5. You're military. Make iRex an offer they can't refuse. Offer to buy, let's say, 1000 iliads and ask them for USB keyboard support and a string search in pdfs. I'm quite sure that could speed things up.

6. you're right, color for reading books isn't really useful. The Iliads grey levels with anti-aliasing are quite suitable for reading.

7. network connection on the iliad is a great thing for software updates and in the future content aquisition. Imagine getting the newspaper without booting your pc in the morning. Implementation of basic file management is actually planned for the iliad, if i got it right.

8. true. 1 sec is he physical limitation of this generation eInk. You can live with it, it's slightly more then you need to turn a page physically.


I hope this helped slightly.

Don't forget: the future is now. it's just not widely distributed yet.
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Old 08-18-2006, 05:42 PM   #5
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Don't forget: the future is now. it's just not widely distributed yet.
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Old 08-18-2006, 07:17 PM   #6
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Considering I'm pretty much in the exact same boat as you I figure I'd give you my thoughts on one of the three choices. I recently got my iLiad. Largely for reading what you spend your days carrying around.

Pretty much everyone answered most of your points, I'd just like to fill in a few spaces.

While the iLiad is the largest piece of hardware out there it is still insufficient for reading a field manual. As you're aware most of them are A4. You can still read them if you crop off the white margins. I don't know what the eyesight requirements are in the US military but I guarantee you do not want to read 50 pages of that manual in one sitting at that size. iRex is going to eventually make this usable once they implement zooming, scrolling and turning the screen horizontally. Until those features are in the package, the device is not all that useful for your purposes.

There is one other issue I think you should consider. Durability. This is definately not something I would throw in a pack and expect not to break. While its enjoyably light, it really was not made with industrial use in mind. I've been trying to figure out for a week how to encase it so its destruction proof yet still functional, to be honest I don't have too many ideas. Maybe a rubber mold around the outside and a plastic cover.

So my recommendation is you wait, at least until december. When the SDK is released and all the features are implemented it will be more useful to you.
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Old 08-19-2006, 09:18 AM   #7
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The Sony Librie runs off AAA's (as well as a nice wall brick) and there are several programs that let you convert PDF's for reading on it. It is small and light and fits in a cargo pocket. However, Sony used a pearlescent plastic for the case that chips out and falls apart ala Fahrenheit 451.

Both the Librie and the iLiad can be put inside ziploc bags to help better protect them from the environment. The stylus on the iLiad works quite well through a ziploc.

The iLiad is hoping for 2 second page turns, the Librie delivers them.

If you need to buy something now, that works off batteries, has all its features implemented, the Librie is really the solution. But be aware that its plastic case is a real liability. Keep duct tape handy and use it more rapidly than I did when the chipping out begins.
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Old 08-19-2006, 10:30 AM   #8
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Bigger screens.
Mine would be a 10" diagonal colour e-ink tablet with about the same characteristics as the Irex but with much faster processing and display.
Of course software availability.
I'd like it at half a pound with a maximum of 1/2" of perimeter protection,3/8" thick.
Buttons would be screen thumb icons.

One way to make it work would be to make it in two parts just like a music player where you have a box with all the controls and the headphones. The reader would have a small control box and a separate very thin flexible screen.
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Old 08-19-2006, 10:30 AM   #9
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As much as I hate to turn anyone off e-ink, there is another possibility. (But if you want to read comfortably in the sun, it doesn't sound like anything can compare with e-ink.)

Anyway, what I'm suggesting is that small form tablet pc might be an alternative. You said you are using a notebook right now. In response to my "dream tablet" specs, James Kendrick at JkOnTheRun.com) told me about the Fujitsu P1510D which is a tablet convertible, so it can also a notebook. But it would work like a slate also, which may make it a lot easier to read from. It would be portable like a Franklin Planner size, satisfy any laptop needs you have, and it would have full windows capabilities, so you could do all that the regular Adobe Reader can do with pdfs like zoom, as well as run programs to read and convert just about any non-DRMd format you want.

Basically it could do whatever you do with your notebook now, and you wouldn't have the two second page turn delays, or slow document search times. Those are no big deal if you are mostly reading, but would seem to be a problem if you are mostly jumping around a lot in a large document while you are looking for the little bit of the document that you actually want to read.

It has an optional 6 cell battery that apparently would give you something like 5-6-7-8 hours life which might last you through the day. Plus 60 gig hard drive.

The main problem for any non e-ink device is that it would likely be hard to read in direct sunlight.

The secondary limitation is that it might be more like $1200-$1500 by the time you get what you need with the extended battery, case, etc.

Along the same lines, UMPC might be a slightly cheaper and much more portable option... like the Samsung Q1.

This is just a thought for a different kind of alternative. But it won't give you a display anything like the awesome e-ink descriptions we've been hearing about!
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Old 08-19-2006, 11:59 AM   #10
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As much as I hate to turn anyone off e-ink....
Quite right, Bob, No one thing is everything. If a Laptop, tablet or UMPC is the better choice for a given purpose, then that's the better choice. That's all there is to it.

Maybe someday they'll get e-ink, or something like it, developed enough to replace our PC monitors. And maybe someday we'll get those Star Trek PADD's (I can dream, can't I? ), until then, we'll just have to keep figuring out the best compromises for whatever situations we're actually faced with. That makes it a good idea to keep all the possibilities in mind.
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Old 08-19-2006, 01:02 PM   #11
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I think iLiad lets you transfer from flash drive/cards to internal memory (someone who actually has one can answer that better ), but I don't think anyone's found any indication on that either way for the other two.
You cannot transfer from internal memory to SD/MMC and CF and bacwards.
They said that will be implemented in future release
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