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Old 05-15-2010, 10:41 PM   #1
richard37
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richard37 began at the beginning.
 
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My first impressions of the Boox

The case is pretty nice. Thin, light, easy to hold. It does have a couple of major design errors - the slots for the SD card and the pen are too tight making it a huge effort to remove these peripherals.

There are nine navigational buttons on the front of the case and once you get used to them they do work very well. However the layout is weird and it took me a few days before I stopped regularly hitting the wrong button. A grandmother who could easily understand the simple elegance of the iPad's single button would be completely lost with this. And part of me thinks, "OK so I can learn this, but if companies like Apple can produce an interface that doesn't NEED to be learnt, why are other companies still making me tax my brain with sub optimal solutions?"

The screen for me was rather disappointing. Apparently it compares well to other e-reader screens, but I have never owned another e-reader. Since the material is known as 'e-paper' I naturally assumed it would compare well to paper, but it doesn't. The contrast is much lower. In daylight it is absolutely fine, but if you read by electric light you do notice that the text is black-on-grey rather than the black-on-white of paper. This isn't a negative mark against the Boox - I assume it's a problem for the whole industry.

The touchscreen is a huge missed opportunity. It is required for two purposes: annotation and dictionary look-up. Everything else is easier to do with the buttons. Annotation is fine for PDFs but doesn't work for other formats. Dictionary support is rubbish. You have to hit several buttons to activate it, and half the time it doesn't find the word even if you know the word is in your dictionary. This ought to be pretty easy to fix in firmware and would make a major difference.

Wi-fi on the unit is also a waste. It runs Linux and has an open SDK so you would expect a variety of applications to be available by now, but there aren't. The only official app is a web browser, and it is pretty poor. (The user community has also created a basic text editor). So until the software improves you really may as well get the cheaper version without the touchscreen and wifi, since you aren't missing anything.

The actual book reading is very good. PDF support is excellent. There are a variety of zoom options that make large PDFs easy to read, and you can also attempt to reflow the PDF's text which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, but it's not Onyx's fault that PDF is such a crappy format for books. MOBI and FB2 formats also work great. EPUB I think uses different software for display (written by Adobe) which is not as good because it lacks the option to change the font. But you can work around that by converting your EPUBs to FB2.

Overall I think it is a good product and if you require a 6" device that can read PDFs well, or a device with a touchscreen that isn't horribly glossy, it may be the best currently on the market for you. The iPad may be better designed but it's not an ereader. The Kindle or the Nook may be better designed, but I'd never buy something that attempted to tie me into one provider's DRM store. But it's a shame that it gets so close to perfection only to be let down by such easily fixable problems. Even ignoring the hardware, if they just fixed the software it would immediately become the clear market leader.

If the whole product were simply crap I would actually be far less harsh on it - it's the sense of missed opportunity that makes me bitter. Can you imagine how many prototypes for the iPad Steve Jobs threw in the bin to get it right? I find it hard to believe the Boox even HAD a prototype before it went into production or else these obvious things would have been noticed immediately and fixed. But I guess that is where consumerism has got us - people are willing to put up with, even trained to accept, devices that sort-of-just-about work except some features don't. After all they're cheap and why get worry about it when next year you will replace it with a new model that will have a whole new set of problems. At least here the core feature, the reading, works well.
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