Recovering Gadget Addict
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Originally Posted by paulkbiba
By the way, I can't get the links to the review to work.l
Seems to no longer be there. I've managed to capture the text portion of it and include it here, but I couldn't find the images and the pdf. Maybe rmeister can help us out?
A Review of the eBookWise eb-1150
Updated March 4, 2005: Minor cleanup and added some reader comments at the end.
In late 2004, FictionWise (www.fictionwise.com) introduced a new web site called eBookWise (www.ebookwise.com), selling a dedicated e-book reading device and a selection of unencrypted and secured content for it. Unfortunately, solid detailed information about the device has been difficult to come by. How does the device work? What is the display quality like? How does the device handle large libraries? How does it handle e-books you already own?
In February I made the plunge and purchased one myself. This article serves several purposes: to describe the device, how it works and my qualitative opinions on it; to discuss content options for the device; and to address the quality of e-book offerings available today. My approach will be fairly conversational, but a summary of pros and cons at the end will serve those of you who just want to get to the point.
Making the Purchase
The current price of the eb-1150 is about $130 (as of February 2005). I purchased the reader by credit card on the eBookWise site, and selected Fed Ex 2nd day shipping. Be warned, as I had forgotten: this option does not provide delivery on weekends, so my box did not arrive until Monday.
In order to make the purchase I had to create a login on the eBookwise site. I already had one at FictionWise, and since the two companies are one and the same, my FictionWise login worked just fine. Important point: If you already have a FictionWise account, use it at eBookWise. It will pay off later on.
I was disappointed that the e-mail I received did not have a Fed Ex tracking number. After I had received the device, I logged into eBookWise and found a message waiting for me - notification of my product shipment, with the Fed Ex tracking number. It had not occurred to me to log back on to eBookWise until after the order had arrived; most web merchants include that data in a confirming e-mail. eBookWise may wish to consider either changing this, or indicating on the e-mail receipt that you can log on to the web site to check shipping status.
The order includes a $30 credit at eBookWise.
Opening the Box
My order arrived the following Monday (which happened to be Presidentís Day). I discovered then why the Fed Ex number was not available at the time the confirming e-mail was sent: the device is drop-shipped from ETI.
The eb-1150 is, in fact, a re-branded ETI-2 device made by Ebook Technologies, Inc. (www.ebooktechnologies.com/devices.htm). Inside you get the device itself, and a vinyl carrying case with a flap at the top; a standard RJ-11 phone cable; a non-standard USB cable; a power supply, and an 8 page quick start guide.
The guide suggests charging the unit for 2 hours before use, so I plugged it in and let it sit.
Then you will need to go to the ETI web site to download USB drivers for your computer - both Windows 2000/XP and Mac OS X are supported. The term Ďdriverí, however, is rather in-appropriate, particularly in the Windows version; it is really an application that goes into your startup folder that acts as a proxy server for your reader, taking tcp/ip traffic from the reader and re-directing it out over whatever internet connection your computer has. You will need to install this driver in order to do your initial registration; while you can use use a dial-up connection directly from your reader instead, I have not tried this scenario.
The OS X version of the driver uses a standard package installer, and requires a reboot after installation.
I will talk more about the device physically, and the starting content you get with it in a moment. Next I want to discuss setup and registration of the device, which has the potential to confuse a lot of people who donít go step -by-step and carefully read everything they are presented with.
Setup and Registration
First things first: you will have two bookshelves: one is hosted by ETI, and is accessed directly through your reader; it contains the sample content you get with the reader out of the box, and any personal content you upload through ETIís Personal Content server (which will be discussed later). The second shelf is provided by eBookWise, and contains only the content you purchased at that web store. (If you are also a FictionWise member, then you have *three* bookshelves, which I will discuss shortly.)
So first things first - the USB driver is installed, the cable is connected from the reader to the computer. Power up the reader and follow the directions in the Quick Start Guide to create a new bookshelf. You do this on the reader itself using the stylus provided.
When the registration form came up, my name and address were already filled in. A user id and password is suggested for you. The password is a random collection of numbers and letters, but is not mixed case and does not contain punctuation. Write the user name and password down. I suggest writing them in the Quick Start Guide so you know where to find them in the future.
Once done, you are presented with the usual license agreement. After accepting it, you are presented with your on-line bookshelf, which simply mirrors the content already provided on the reader.
Youíre not done yet - you have created the bookshelf through ETI, and this is where you can store personal content. Now you need to register your device with your eBookwise logon - the one you created when you ordered the reader.
Log on to your eBookWise account, and on your reader open the bookshelf to display your last name and User ID. You enter these into a form on your account to register your reader device, and are then taken to your empty bookshelf.
The eBookWise web page noted that I had unencrypted e-books in my FictionWise bookshelf, and gave me the option of importing them to my eBookWise bookshelf. The process is fairly quick: you are presented with a list of books, you check each one you want to copy to your eBookWise bookshelf, and click a button. A few seconds later, the titles show on your eBookWise bookshelf.
Once youíve done this, you can visit your on-line bookshelf on your reader device, and select the books from your eBookWise bookshelf to download onto your reader.
The integration of FictionWise with eBookWise is a smart move; I will discuss this more when I talk about content later on.
Finally - What is the reader like?
The reader is about a tall as a mass market paperback, but wider and a bit thicker. It has a bulge on the back of the left hand side, to make it easier to hold. It weighs less than a pound.
To give you some idea of its true dimensions, here is a picture of the device. On the left is a Palm Tungsten T3 PDA, fully extended. In the middle, the eb-1150. The third device is a ViewSonic ViewPad 100 - a ďSuperPDAĒ with a 10Ē display, similar in size to many Tablet PCs available today. As would be expected, the T3 weighs less, and the ViewPad weighs considerably more (about 2.5 pounds).
The eb-1150 is a good compromise between portability and screen size. I used the T3 for reading several books using Palmís eReader, and while I like the portability and the quality of the display, itís small size irritated me. I used the ViewPad for a long time, with MobiPocket and uBook, along with image-only pdf files. While it performed admirably, battery life was problematic (battery drain while not in use was unacceptably high), and the screen was too bright to use in a darkened room without incurring eyestrain. The screen was almost a little too large for reading big blocks of solid text.
Another picture, to give you a better sense of scale:
The device holds comfortable in the left hand. Your thumb naturally rests on the top button, which pages down; there is another large button below it that pages up. Iím conflicted on this; on the one hand I would expect the lower button to page down and the upper button to page up; on the other hand, holding the book your thumb naturally rests on the top button, and youíre far more likely to be paging forward than backward. (You can re-map these keys to the top button pages up and the bottom button pages down. I tried this, and after a few pages ended up switching it back.)
For the left-handed reader, there is an option to rotate the screen so you hold the book in your right hand, and the buttons will be re-oriented to work the same way. Unfortunately you also have to hold the book upside down, and the logos on the front donít rotate as well...
It would have been nice to be able to rotate the display to a landscape orientation, particularly on the large font display, but this is not an option.
The brightness and contrast settings are adjustable right on the reader, and while the slider controls for them have a wide range, the actual usable range of settings is rather narrow. This is not a problem; with a bit of fiddling around you should find an acceptable setting that is comfortable for you to read.
The display is a grayscale backlit LCD. Clearly some compromises were made on the display to reach the price point desired.
I feel the choice of a grayscale versus a color display, for reading of general fiction books and books not requiring color photographs or illustrations, to be a very good decision. The absence of a strong white background being actively lit directly at you helps reduce eyestrain.
The display area is 5.5Ē measured vertically; not a large as a paperback book, but close enough. The resolution of the display, however, is less than stellar. I would have preferred to see a full 640x480. The serif font displayed takes on a slightly blocked appearance; the pixels that make up each character are readily discernible. No one will confuse reading this device for the printed page. The font has a few quirks that take getting used to (the lower-case Ďlí looks a lot like a Ď1í, for instance), again an artifact of the displays low resolution.
Update one week later: While I still hold to my criticism of the low resolution of the display, I have quickly acclimated to it. The standard size serif font is clearly legible; give the book a few hours of reading and frankly you will stop noticing the display.
Assuming that whoever authored the e-book youíre reading did their job properly, you have two display sizes to choose from. The standard size mimics closely a typical print size in a mass-market paperback:
The larger display reminds me of the old easy-eye editions (anybody remember those paperbacks, with the green-tinted paper?) This almost, but not quite, doubles the page count of the ebook:
Unfortunately, if the person who built the e-book hard-coded any font sizes, this feature will not work correctly, if at all. This is a shame, because I could see this being very useful for people with less than perfect vision. However, the library where you choose which book to display always uses the smaller font - something that should be made optional.
(The pictures above are slightly blurred, so donít display the fontís quality quite as they appear in person. The device also has better display contrast than the pictures here would indicate.)
In normal indoor use screen glare is minimal, but in bright sunlight or outdoors reflected light on the screen will make it difficult to read. A good anti-glare coating would not be remiss.
The power button is on the lower right edge of the reader, and is slightly recessed to make it harder to accidentally hit it. The unit powers on in a matter of seconds, and shuts down almost instantly.
Battery life has been superb; I only use the device one or two hours a day, and only recharged it after the first work week of use because I was accustomed to having to do that. Battery discharge when not in use appears very minimal. The device reports 18 hours of use available on a full charge, but I have yet to wear it down all the way to verify that claim. Sometimes the device will sit on my shelf two or three days before I get back to it, and having most of the charge I left in at is a refreshing change from the PDAs Iíve used.
The battery, by the way, is not user replacable. Again, nothing on eBookWise or ETI indicates how to replace a dead or faulty battery. Make no mistake, it will wear out, and you donít want your device rendered useless just because of a dead battery. Either eBookWise or ETI must address this issue.
There are a few quirks on the user interface that should be addressed. The device includes a 1/4 inch headphone, but no software on the device makes any use of it. The bottom of the screen has a musical note icon, but pressing it bring up the settings menu - clearly the icon is mislabeled (possibly this device, manufactured in Taiwan, is repurposed from some other design?). Another icon on the top of the screen shows a page being rotated. This same button allows you to change contrast and brightness settings of the display, again a poor labeling job.
The device comes with 8 MB internal memory for storing content, and has a SmartMedia card slot protected by a rubber flap on the back. Contrary to some reports, I have had no problem inserting or removing cards from this slot. A 128 MB card ran me $50 at CompUSA, with another $25 for a USB card reader. It was money well spent.
Content - The Quality of E-Books
Like most e-book readers, this one has a rather poor library. Books are sorted into extremely broad categories. Most of my books fall under ďGeneral FictionĒ, though items you upload through the Personal Content server will show up in a ďPersonal ContentĒ category. Thereís no way to change the classification of a title in your library or to change the sort order.
Once you get more than a few dozen books in your library, it will be something of a mess.
Looking at the sample books that come on the device - three novels and a users guide - almost show the full potential of this reader; but the biggest deficiencies are not in the device at all, but in the content available for it.
The eb-1150 conforms to the Open E-Book Publication Structure specification, probably version 1.0.1. This specification details what formatting options can be used in the display of electronic text, and what a fully-conforming display device must be capable of doing.
You can come awfully close to replicating a basic paperback book: indented paragraphs with full justification (instead of web-style paragraphs without indentation and extra inter-paragraph spacing); page breaks between sections or chapters, fine control of margins, indenting, and so on. With the exception of full justification, the sample e-books included take advantage of these capabilities to create a truly first-class presentation.
The only feature I feel is really lacking compared to eReader or Microsoft Reader is a table of contents link. A book can have a table of contents, which is really a set of hyperlinks to other parts of a document, but thereís no hot key to take you directly there. You can, with one press on the screen, jump immediately to the first page of a document and then page down a few times until you reach the table of contents, but a hot-key would be preferable.
Downloading some unencrypted titles soon proved to be a disappointment. Some books are no better than reading from a web browser display - just one long page of text, and you have to use your readerís search function to find chapter headings. In other cases I found nothing short of negligence - one e-book I downloaded had all the paragraphs - every single one of them - centered. (Thinking this was just one bad file, I downloaded the same title as a RocketBook edition - same thing there too! How the heck did this not get caught?)
This does not speak poorly to the eb-1150 itself, but to the care and attention paid by e-book publishers. Until greater attention is paid to the quality of their product, e-books will remain a niche product. Publishers of unencrypted titles must put more effort into the presentation of their titles. A bare minimum should be page breaks between chapters, a table of contents as hyperlinks, and indented paragraphs with full justification - in short, book style formatting.
Frankly, running a spell checker wouldnít hurt either.
Update one week later: I have purchased two secure books: Neil Gaimanís Stardust, and Clive Barkerís Imajica. Both are superb presentations, with a cover image, table of contents with hyperlinks, and all everything you get in a print edition except the back cover. Now I just need to hope my device never breaks or gets replaced.
Encrypted vs Non-Encrypted Content: The DRM Trap
I have generally resisted purchasing encrypted books for the eb-1150 for one simple reason: books are locked to your specific device. This means if your reader breaks and you have to replace it, or if you migrate to a newer model in the future...you are probably out of luck. FictionWise already had to back out of a plan to let Gemstar RocketBook owners transfer their encrypted content to the eb-1150; donít think for a moment that this problem wonít rear itís ugly head in the future. Any DRM mechanism that is tied to a specific piece of hardware is creating a future scenario where you lose all the content you legally paid for.
For this reason I have mainly purchased unencrypted ebooks through the FictionWise store. Many of the unencrypted titles are available in multiple formats including the IMP file format this reader uses. Once you have purchased content on FictionWise, you can go to your bookshelf on eBookWise and copy your unencrypted books from your FictionWise bookshelf to your eBookWise bookshelf. The process takes just moments, and once completed, you can download books onto your reader directly from the eb-1150.
Why go to all that bother when you can just buy them on eBookWise? On eBookWise, you only get one format - IMP, which only the eb-1150 (and other re-branded ETI-2 devices, I think) can read. To really protect yourself from future hardware or software problems, you should really download your e-books in one or two other file formats as well, such as Mobipocket, Palm database, or Microsoft Reader (as these formats are increasingly ubiquitous).
IMP: The Proprietary File Format Trap
My other criticism of the eb-1150 is itís inability to display any file format other than its native IMP. You canít just copy a RocketBook or plain text file onto a memory card and load it into the reader; all content must be converted to an IMP file before being loaded onto the device.
(Interestingly, the IMP file itself is not used directly. When you first load an IMP file on the reader, the device blows the file apart into a number of separate resource files and then deletes the IMP file itself. This all happens under the covers, but there are two side effects of this. First, if you load an IMP directly onto a SmartMedia card using a USB adapter on your computer, and then read that card on your computer later on the IMP files will be gone. You must not delete any files on the card directly (you can delete books from the bookshelf on the reader). Secondly, you will want to be sure to keep backup copies of any IMP files you create yourself or download from sites like FictionWise or BlackMask.
Personal Content: ETI Server Method
If you have word documents, rich text format files, plain text files or html documents, you can convert them to IMP files and load them on your reader fairly easily.
First you browse to your personal bookshelf following a link provided on the eBookWise site. (The domain says filamentbooks.com, but itís really just another part of ETI by all appearances.) You log-on with the user name and password the device gave you and that you wrote down in your Quick Start guide (you did write them down, right?). Using a series of web forms, you select a file to upload, you type in the title and author of the document, and click a button. Once done, you power up the reader, plug in the USB or phone cable, and connect to your on-line bookshelf.
This method will work well for short documents that really are yours - word files, contact lists, a short web page you downloaded, and so on. Unencrypted RocketBook files will also work. However, you have no control over the formatting - you just take what you get.
Strictly speaking, you are not supposed to use this method for anything you donít own copyright to - no discussion of fair use rights is made on the web site when you go through this process. Whatís more, space is limited: your file can be no more than 2 MB in size, and you only have 10 MB space available on your on-line bookshelf. Whatís more, you can only move the converted file to your reader; you canít get a copy of the converted IMP file to store somewhere else for backup purposes.
So for people with significant RocketBook libraries, or a lot of personal content they wish to use, this is not a viable option. Fortunately, two other options are available.
eBookWise Librarian, GEB Rocket Librarian
Both of these names refer to essentially the same product. The program has three essential functions: to store and organize your e-book content on your computer; to create new e-book content from a variety of source files; and to transfer those files to your eb-1150 without having to use a third party web site. In particular, if you have a large collection of text files (such as Project Gutenberg titles), html files or older RocketBook files, this program will convert them for you quickly and painlessly.
For Windows users with a large collection of files, this program is a must. When running, it intercepts your readerís attempt to access the internet through your computer to access your on-line bookshelf - this program essentially becomes your on-line bookshelf. As an alternative, you can direct the program to write your bookshelf out to a SmartMedia card directly.
You can download the program from www.breeno.org; the programmer has set up a discussion forum there, and is fairly active on newsgroups (including the FictionWise Yahoo! group).
I attemped to use this program on my Mac OS X system using Virtual PC 7 running Windows XP SP 2. While it worked flawlessly the first time, the second time I was unable to get the reader to communicate with the Librarian program. After half an hour of reboots and twiddling, I dropped it. I believe it can be made to work, but my preference would still be for a native OS X application instead.
My Mac Solution: SmartMedia Card and Reader, ETI Publisher
Warning: This is for serious geeks only. After a few weeks of playing around, I finally settled on an all-Mac solution that works.
For purchased content through FictionWise, I download the IMP file and store it on my computer. It becomes my backup or safety copy. Then I copy the file onto the SmartMedia card I keep in my reader, right into the root directory of the card. Load the card in the reader, turn it on, and the file is quickly imported into my library.
For personal content, ETI makes available free application called eBook Publisher. Versions are available for Windows and Mac; unfortunately the Mac version is an OS 9 application, but runs without a problem in the classic environment. It also comes with a pdf instruction manual that is well worth reading, and a copy of the Open eBook Publication Structure. Itís a bit dry, but definitely worth reading - everything you ever want to accomplish with formatting is done through Cascading Style Sheets, but the specification is not completely HTML or CSS complaint.
Using this tool, along with a really good text editor (BBEdit is one common suggestion, though the free version called TextWrangler should be sufficient for these purposes) will allow you absolute control over the appearance of your documents. Using a tool like rbmake (rbmake.sourceforge.net), you can blow apart an unencrypted RocketBook, use search and replace in a text editor to make a few clean-ups, and create a new IMP file for reading on your eb-1150. Iíve done this with a few titles now, setting full justication, cleaning up bad font decisions, creating a table of contents with link - and the results are superb. Considering that eReader Studio for Palm and the MobiPocket content creator program both cost money, this is a delight given itís zero dollar price tag.
One Last Criticism
FictionWise and eBookWise have made it very easy to purchase books and load them onto your reading device. Finding the book you want to purchase, however, is a royal pain.
The developers of the FictionWise web site would do well to play around on the iTunes Music Store for a few hours. The ability to browse by multiple criteria would be extremely helpful. At the minimum, I would love to see a drill-down such as this: select a genre, see all the authors in that genre, sorted by last name. Provide a series of links by the first letter of the last name (click on ĎBí, see all the authors in that genre with a last name of ĎBí). Then click an authorís name and see all their titles.
This would be much more like browsing a bookstore. It would also be nice to to set certain flags on searches: (short stories vs. novels, for instance).
The current system works fine when you know a specific title youíre looking for, but casual browsing is much more difficult. The categories I look at sometimes for for a few thousand pages. I really donít have the time to click through them all; a more efficient browsing mechanism is definitely called for.
Is the eb-1150 perfect? No, itís not, but it may be as close as weíre going to get until low power digital displays really come of age (and if manufacturers, like Sony with the Libre, donít keep screwing up the opportunity). The reader is reasonably sized, light, and has a good display. Storage capacity with a SmartMedia card is very good. I carry it to work every day, hoping to get an hour lunch to read, and since I have several titles in the book I can choose on the fly which one I want to read; itís kind of like the iPod of e-book readers. I just plug it into its charger every couple of days, and I donít have to worry about battery life. The display adjustments make it comfortable to read in average room lighting or in bed while the significant other is sleeping. I like being able to add books to my collection without taking up additional real-world shelf space, and I really like the fine control the eBook Publisher program gives me over the appearance of titles I convert.
The few warts this device has can be quickly glossed over, and the I got used to the display rather more quickly than I thought I would. If you want a dedicated device and donít need PDA functionality, and you donít want the extreme portability a PDA gives you, than the eb-1150 is a good match for you.
Summary of Pros:
* Excellent form factor: a little larger than a mass market paperback; weighs less than a pound.
* Bright screen display
* Excellent battery life and charge retention when device is not in use.
* Port for SmartMedia card allows considerable expansion at little cost, and ability to load content onto device without third party websites required.
* Regular and large font display for e-books that are properly authored.
* Rotating display to accommodate left-handed readers.
* Purchasing and downloading secure books is smooth and easy.
* Hardware is a good value for the $130 price tag.
* Authoring tools run on Windows or Macs (unfortunately only in Classic); can produce well-formatted e-books. Publishing tools are available at no cost (compared to the for-fee programs available for Palm eReader or MobiPocket).
* Wide range of titles available in IMP format on FictionWise and BlackMask.org.
Summary of Cons:
* Battery is not user replaceable.
* ETI or eBookWise need to address how to obtain replacement batteries.
* No ability to display landscape.
* Ability to use large font display dependent on book authoring.
* Secure e-books are tied to a specific device; may not be transferable to other hardware in the even of an upgrade, replacing a lost or damaged unit, etc. eBookWise web site says nothing about this situation.
* Books purchased from the eBookWise site cannot be downloaded to your computer first; you cannot store backup copies of your purchased content on your own hardware outside of the eb-1150 itself.
* Quality of unsecured content on FictionWise is highly variable.
* Cannot display any content other than proprietary IMP format - no native display of plain text or html.
I forgot to mention that the eb-1150 is only sold in the US and Canada. Canadian readers be alert! Katy from the Yahoo! FictionWise group writes: "Canadian purchasers will pay additional GST, PST (varying with the province), Brokerage and Disbursement fees (FedEx) of from $45.00 to $50.00 Canadian."
Other readers have also reported exceptional battery life. Reader De reports: "Depending on how the backlight is set, I've had everything from around 8 hours at a full charge to nearly 24 hours. I've had this hardware sit around for weeks and the charge doesn't go down any noticeable amount."
A couple of readers have chimed with varying opinions on formatting: one indicated a preference for ragged right or left-justified text, and another stated a preference for san-serif fonts for body text. My own preferences are decidedly the opposite in both respects. Both formatting options are dictated by the the e-book author when the book is compiled to an IMP file; at least, in practice, that is what I have found. It would be preferable for the end user to be able to dictate justification and font family and size for the display of their e-books. Surely providing the option would make e-books more versatile and user-friendly than static print text.
About This Review
My intention is to update this review as necessary.
This review is stored at homepage.mac.com/rmeister0.
Please e-mail comments, corrections, and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This review is dated March 4, 2005. It was written using Apple Pages. Photographs were taken using a Canon Rebel digital SLR, and manipulated using Adobe Photoshop 7.
Thanks for all the readers who have chimed in with additional facts and critiques.