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Old 09-19-2008, 02:00 AM   #1
Darqref
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Six months on the button: a Gen3 review

Since we're seeing yet another wave of rumors about new hardware releases, I like to contribute my thoughts about the current wave, and where I'd like to see improvements. I'm going to assume that everyone can look up the Gen3 specs, so I won't restate that kind of info. I've also tried to delete some comments I had about software that isn't really Gen3 or Mobipocket specific.

Background: I'm and avid reader. I re-read books, I keep books that I'm going to re-read. While my interest can be captured by lots of areas, I tend to buy SF (which on my shelves includes fantasy but usually not horror.) I've owned a Rocket Pro for about 10 years, and I've been more or less happy with it. I don't buy books with drm (anymore, I bought a small handful at the start, but stopped on general principles.)

Current Hardware: Cybook Gen3, from the first NAEB batch. I have not chosen to worry much about firmware updates, because I haven't read anything included that grabs me (I'm still running build 538). 2GB SD card, and I have a PC with a multi-card reader included in the floppy drive, so I can easily slip the SD card out, and then load books directly to the card. This means I can leave the USB cable attached to the charger, a minor benefit. I received the brown "fake leather" case, and have modified it (see below.)

Good things:

1. I like the screen visibility in general. I can read outdoors well, and the glare coatings seem to work much better than the screen of my Rocket. eInk is better, but not fantastically better, than the lcd screen of my Rocket.
a. I like the larger variety of fonts and font sizes. Rocket only had two sizes, and adding my own selected font took up a good chunck of available memory.
b. I do think the eInk is easier on my eyes, but because of points below that doesn't really come into play.
c. Screen size is about right for my taste, but I'd like to at least handle one of the larger plastic screens when they come out. I don't need to read material with technical tables (while it would have been great when I was in college, that's long past), so I don't much try to read PDFs. With normal reflowable content, this size fits me ok, and larger would be a bit harder to take on travels.
d. Page turn speed doesn't bother me. It's fast enough, although I could wish for less of a double-flash, and it's certainly faster than I could turn a paper page.

2. I use the standard SD card that came with the Naeb unit, and I've never come close to filling it up. I chose to keep my library on my PC, and only load the books I'm about to read. I tend to keep 20-25 books on the card. The option of carrying my whole library sounds interesting, but I also see lots of comments about the time it takes to index that many books, and the difficulty of finding anything without better folder support.

3. I like the software that is becoming available to manipulate books into mobi formats. It's neat to have so many sources of reading material, with more arriving all the time. Since there really isn't anything except the reader that comes with the Gen3, everything else is my choice for tools to manipulate, convert, catalog or otherwise manage my books. I've produced a couple of "books" to use on my reader, a couple scanned from paper and one or two downloaded political evaluations to help with a recent election. MobiPocket Creator is pretty easy if you are handy with a computer, but I can easily see that those who aren't really comfortable with computers in general also won't be comfortable doing the manipulations needed to get personal content into a good looking form.

4. The Gen3 has helped me continue my normal habit of buying things in electronic format first (but only if no drm) then getting paper for anything I want that is left. I buy only one author in hardback, and that's only 'cause I keep going to hear her read on book tours. I won't go to an electronic only mode until I am more confident in the lifetime of my reading devices.


OK, now for the more problematic things.

1. I've broken the screen once, and as a consequence I'm paranoid about damage. I don't think I did anything specific to damage it, and I do believe this specific design can be assembled in a way that is more vulnerable to screen damage than other designs. The first couple of months I thought the case was a pain, and liked to take it out of the case to actually read, just cause of the way it sat in my hands. I took it on a trip with me, and the device sat exposed to outdoor camping temperatures overnight. Next morning it was broken. Then I read about Derek's gen3 breaking in his hand, and read lots of other people having screen problems, all of which reinforced my paranoia. I ended up making a bulky travel case to really, really pad everything, and also strengthened the front of the normal leather case.

a. Travel box. I built a box out of wood and cardboard. On the inside, I put some leftover carpet pad (hey, I'm cheap and this was laying around after putting in new carpet!) sized to hold the Gen3 in it's leather case. It won't rattle, and the whole pad makes sure that if the box flexes a bit, it can't effect the gen3. Then I wrapped the outside in more thin foam padding, and covered everything with some leftover sueded leather. Whole thing ended up being about the size of a small shoe box, with padded corners and such. looks like a home project, but it works.

b. strengthened case. I took a piece of aluminum, about 1/8 inch thick, and cut it to be just a little bit smaller than the front of the leather case. (I originally wanted to put the aluminum inside the front, but when I tried that it made the leather hinge too tight.) By the time I had cut and filed the edges to they were smooth, the piece had a very slight concave shape, so I put the curve away from the screen. I drilled a couple of holes in the edges of the aluminum, and glued a slightly larger piece of leather to one side, then wrapped the edges of the leather around the aluminum. I used some strong cord and a leather awl to punch through the holes in the aluminum/glued leather and into the front of the leather case, then tied knots. It's now tied in six places, but I could cut the cord if I really need to take it off. It's on the outside front, so the front of the reader is protected when closed. I can still bend the case back around to hold it behind the reader, but I don't do that since it never felt comfortable in my hands that way. The weight of the reader plus case has gone up by about half, but that still is lighter than my Rocket..The leather color doesn't match, and again, it looks a bit crude. So far it has worked though.

2. Power. The batteries don't last long enough. If I sit and read for most of a day, the battery will run out, due to the number of page turns. I actually get about the same length of reading time per charge as I do with my Rocket. It is true that the charge will hold for a long time, but if I'm actually using it, those umpty-thousand page turns get used up way too quick. I think a longer use battery would be a really important improvement, I would be willing to have a thicker, heavier device if the battery life was 3 or 4 times as long. I use it almost every day, but I'm more conscious of when the battery has run down, and two or three times it has gotten low enough to not allow either another page turn, or even shut down. At least my Rocket warned me when the battery was low. And since I can't read and charge the battery at the same time, I have to go find something else to do or read. (the Rocket can function while hooked up to the charger.)

3. Software. The Boo Reader doesn't really bother me, but there are annoyances with the size of included pictures (boy, that's a real tiny map.) I don't tend to use a dictionary, and with the current battery life, I'm much more likely to go find a paper dictionary anyway. After trying things for a bit, I find I don't like to use the Mobipocket desktop reader to manage my library - I want to be able to segregate files by publisher or other source, and keep stuff in folders, and etc. the desktop reader doesn't play well with folders, so I wrote a small app in MS Access to catalog my books and move them around to various places the reader and/or the sd card might end up connected. It has the added advantage that it will work if I end up with stuff in other formats.

I'm eager to see the progress on the OpenInkpot project. Since I don't use DRM, I would be happy to use a reader program other than mobipocket, but so far it hasn't been that much of a distraction. I pay attention to methods of removing drm, but I have not at this point have not actually done it. I want the tools available, but I'm conflicted about the message I send if I start actually buying drm stuff, since that would seem to tell a seller that the drm is acceptable.

(btw, a strong note. I REALLY don't like drm, in all forms. I agree with statements to this effect made by some of the members of this board that appear to be fairly radical in their beliefs, but I HAVE NEVER PIRATED ANY ELECTRONIC MATERIAL. Not once, never, in any format of media. I just want to buy the stuff for a fair price, with no restrictions on what I can do with it for personal use.)


4. Ergonomics. I hate the buttons. I have found only one position that I can hold the reader and reliably get a page turn. I think I probably average at least two button presses for each actual page turn. Before buying the Gen3, I was able to handle a PRS500 - it was locked with a cable, but I could pick it up and handle it, and the power even worked one time (Sony should shoot someone at Fry's for not maintaining a usable display...) I found I did not like the joystick style of button, and the ones on the Gen3 seemed easy at first. I think I felt better about it when I actually used the gen3 out of it's case, since I could see the led for button presses. However, over the summer it has seemed to have gotten harder to get a smooth page turn. I find if I let my had slip down to the corner of the button, sorta between the forward and down sides of the square, then the button doesn't activate. annoying.
I'd really like a new reader to have much different buttons. I liked the button style of the Rocket, which seemed easy to use in either hand. I have not yet gone back to a PRS505 display where I can really hold and play with buttons (or a Kindle, for that matter) but I'd like to have physically seperate forward and back buttons instead of the current i-pod-like "four-buttons-around-a-fifth-in-a-square". I want to just press a button, not have to find which *section* of a button to press. I think the inclusion of a flexible display into a fixed-size reader would make the reader much more failure resistant, and allow a wider range of physical buttons. I hope at least some of the new readers fit my hand and habits better.


Conclusions:
It's a good reader. I use it for fiction, and it works for me. While it was gone having the screen replaced, I happily went back to my Rocket.

Would I buy it again? No. Part of my original decision was loyalty to the NAEB crew and their effort to find an affordable reader. Part was my antipathy to all things Sony, due to their previous escapades with drm and rootkits, and just general idiocy. Part was a tiny experience holding the Sony 500, wherein I did not like the buttons and hit a couple of things by mistake (but I ended up hitting the stupid mp3 button on the gen3 a few times too.) And I extended that tiny experience to pictures of the Kindle and thought it looked ugly and likely to cause mistakes in button press.

What would I buy now? I'm not sure. I would want to hold and try both the 505 and Kindle, and I'm curious about the upcoming Astek devices. I'm not really interested in the other devices that are physically the same as the Gen3, since my problems are with the physical buttons and screen. I want something that is more resistant to damage, and that has a longer battery life. New rumors and specs that imply things will be even thinner and lighter leave me suspicious, because I don't believe they'll have enough support to the screen. In any case, I am more likely to demand personal access to a device before I actually buy one.
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Old 09-19-2008, 02:24 AM   #2
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What an impressive review !

Thanks for sharing your impressions

By the way, the battery ran out quickly since the beginning ?
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Old 09-19-2008, 02:42 AM   #3
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A couple of comments:

1. I think you might have a faulty battery. I honestly can't imagine that it should be possible to drain a battery in a day's reading.

2. The nav button is dramatically improved in the 512MB model of the Gen3 - it's much "softer" and more positive in its action. The latest firmware (796) has all but eliminated the issue of missed button presses.
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Old 09-19-2008, 12:41 PM   #4
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First

Thanks for sharing your personal experiences with the device, and for an outstanding post - I bet lots of future possible owners will be very grateful by this post.

One more thing: upgrade your machine to the last firmware, it makes a zillion differences from the version you are using, especially concerning your problem with the buttons, it just resolves it and thus makes the use much smoother, even if the buttons themselves would become suddenly much softer to the touch.

One other thing: I agree with HarryT, one day per battery… I think you have a bad one.

You are right: it’s a hell of a good device, and I do love to use mine all the time.

Best regards,
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Old 09-19-2008, 11:29 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
A couple of comments:

1. I think you might have a faulty battery. I honestly can't imagine that it should be possible to drain a battery in a day's reading.

2. The nav button is dramatically improved in the 512MB model of the Gen3 - it's much "softer" and more positive in its action. The latest firmware (796) has all but eliminated the issue of missed button presses.
Well, I'm pretty sure the battery is not faulty, its the second one to do this (I was forced by idiotic US Postal Service to mail my gen3 back to Bookeen without the battery, so when they sent me a new one it had a different battery installed.) Behavior was the same both before and after the screen break. I can read fairly fast, and I usually get about 2 novel-sized books read before the battery gets too low. By my estimates, this is on the low side of the page counts reported, but not astoundingly so.

I've flashed the new upgrade, and I'll try that for a while, but Bookeen sent back a 64mb unit when the screen was replaced, so I don't get the new hardware. I do have to point out that I'm still mildly annoyed with the buttons even if they worked easily every time, since I'd like them in a different place. It took a few weeks of working with it to give me time to adjust to everything before I became convinced it wasn't perfect for me.

I guess the end result is that I have found that ultimate small size isn't my top priority - I'd trade a thicker, heavier unit for more battery, better screen protection, and buttons that are physically more like the old Rocket.

Last edited by Darqref; 09-19-2008 at 11:29 PM. Reason: typos
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Old 09-30-2008, 03:41 AM   #6
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I've been using mine since last Friday and it's a phenomenal little piece of hardware. The interaction between the Mobipocket Reader on the PC and the device is outstanding and up until now I've been very satisfied with the Cybook.

But it's not all roses, I've also got some gripes, mainly the delete button not functioning (it's a pain to remove a demo or other kind of text) and the flat structure os the Library that makes it difficult to navigate. I remember that Microsoft Reader had a «Last read» structure making it easy to select a book previously read. No such thing on the Cybook. One has to navigate the entire Library just to get either to the RSS feeds or to the book one is currently reading.

P.S.: Hello DDHarriman, looks like we live in the same city. Small world indeed. I've been putting up a kind of diary (in portuguese) on the BBdE forum (bbde.org), if you want to drop by and add some comments you're more than welcome.
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Old 09-30-2008, 09:21 AM   #7
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Hi

Great! Found it, "favorit" it.

BTW: nice review - I knew already the blog and I find it has quite some great posts about books.

One other question: Lisboa or Almada (as you say we are from the same town).

Great you enjoy your toy - I have mine since begin of February and the more I use it the more I enjoy it.

Best regards,
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Old 09-30-2008, 12:43 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by DDHarriman View Post
(...)

One other question: Lisboa or Almada (as you say we are from the same town).
(...)
Almada for living, Lisbon for working.
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Old 09-30-2008, 01:07 PM   #9
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Ok then we are from the same town.

Enjoy your new toy.
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Old 10-05-2008, 10:49 PM   #10
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ereader and mobipocket are so easy to "liberate" from their DRM that I suggest learning how to get and use ereader2html and mobidedrm and then buying books in that format Works like a champ!
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