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Old 12-14-2007, 12:34 AM   #1
i, Podius
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iRex iLiad vs Sony Reader 505 for a university student

Which should I buy?

There are, I know, a whole bunch of these threads, but I thought it’d be best if I could tap your collective expertise in helping me with my particular situation.

So first, a little about me: I am a university student, having just finished my BA in Ancient History and Philosophy, planning to do honours in Ancient History next year. I’m also an aspirant writer.

The principal use intended for my e-reader will be to read course notes - of which there is, I can assure you, no shortage. Now, the majority of these exist in the form of A4 formatted PDFs, which are usually scans of books, so they’re really 2 A5 pages side by side on the one A4 page. There are also usually notes in .DOC format that my professors make, typically collections of quotes from ancient sources.

I would also use it to read books, particularly classics from the Gutenberg Project and perhaps comics as well.

At the moment I have a Dell Axim x51v with a foldout Bluetooth keyboard that I use for taking notes in class and I print out the course notes. I’m particularly fond of the Axim because its battery life is around 14 hours with the extended life battery, and it’s small and light as well – much better than a laptop, in my opinion. However, that said, it lacks advanced the advanced text editing capabilities of a full document editor, and its screen size (3” 640x480) essentially precludes any in-depth editing, which is left for when I get home.

So as I see it, I have two options: I get the Sony Reader, and use it in parallel with my Axim for my course notes. The advantages of this as I see it are:
1. It’s cheaper
2. The Sony has a far better battery life
3. The Sony is smaller, lighter, &c.
4. It's sometimes preferable to have two separate devices for reading and writing, particularly when you're doing both at once

The disadvantages:
1. The Sony isn’t great for reading large PDFs
2. Screen size

Alternately, I could get the iLiad, combined with an installation of AbiWord, and a folding USB keyboard (assuming it’s not possible to get my Bluetooth keyboard working using a USB Bluetooth adaptor?) and then use it both for reading my course notes and taking notes, as well as writing when I’m out and about. The advantages here would be:
1. Bigger & higher resolution screen
2. The ability to annotate my course notes
3. The iRex would be smaller and lighter than the combination of the Sony Reader and my Axim – though I would probably still carry my Axim around for its other features, (like playing Monkey Island and watching videos).
4. Installing AbiWord would allow for more advanced editing features, most notably footnotes
5. Expandable via USB port

The disadvantages:
1. More expensive
2. Shorter battery life
3. Installing AbiWord (or any other useful software) voids the warrantee
4. Lower contrast screen?

Some questions:

* Is it possible to search text inside documents on the iLiad or the Sony Reader? Nope

* How does the iLiad’s screen stand up to use of the stylus? Does it scratch? Would I need a screen protector? How sturdy is it – is it easily cracked/broken?

* What sort of effective “real world” battery life do you actually get out of the iLiad?

* I recall reading somewhere that the screen on the iLiad has lower contrast than the Sony Reader, and thus isn’t quite as good for reading – is this true?

* I’m pretty technically proficient, so I don’t imagine that I’ll irretrievably brick my iLiad, but that said, what experience have people had with installing software and/or reflashing the iLiad? Should I be worried about voiding my software warrantee?

* What’s it like drawing/sketching on the iLiad? I’m no Da Vinci, but I wouldn’t mind the ability to do my doodles digitally if it’s actually usable.

* When you annotate a file on the iLiad, can you view those notes on your PC? If, for instance, I write a bunch of notes on a PDF, will they be saved into the file? How about .DOCs? I assume it wouldn’t for .TXTs. It stores the annotations in a separate .PNG file, Only for PDF, JPG, BMP and PNG

* When typing in AbiWord on the iLiad, does every keystroke cause the whole page to refresh, or can it manage just updating the section of the screen that is changing? "Standard typing refresh" - whatever that means

* What is it like using the iLiad with AbiWord as a document editor? Has anyone been doing it successfully long-term, or has it proven maddening after the first few days?

* Is it possible to switch quickly between, say, an open PDF and AbiWord? So if I was reading my course notes, then wanted to switch to write something in a document, then switch back to the course notes, how long would it take me?

* Is there a way to get the iLiad to stand on its own, either in portrait or landscape mode, without having to hold it? I’m thinking of when I’m typing; I don’t want to have to type one-handed while holding the reader. If need be, I suppose I could jerry-rig some kind of stand, but I’d prefer it if it could be done with the iLiad’s cover, or some such. Nope. But many standard book-stands will work, or perhaps even a hacked-up or origami one...

* What sort of external battery options are available for the iLiad? Has anyone made anything themselves? I read that tribble used a solar charger, but has to run it through the travel hub and car charger first. I would be happy to make my own little battery pack that takes a couple of AA’s, or a 9 volt battery or whatever, or even use a direct solar power solution, but I don’t want to have to carry around a whole bunch of adaptors.

* Is there a version of the Oxford English Dictionary in iLiad or Sony Reader-friendly format? And if so, is it searchable? Such a thing would be deliciously useful.

Initially I was leaning towards the Sony Reader, because of its impressive battery life and its small size. I figured that I could probably get around its unimpressive treatment of large PDFs by cutting my PDFs in half, as most of them are actually scans of two pages side-by side – however my understanding is that the iLiad would make this extra effort unnecessary. Also, having now seen an iLiad in the flesh thanks to Dymocks, I realise that it’s a lot smaller and lighter than I thought it would be (I imagined it being about the size of an A4 sheet of paper) and, having thought about it, I also realise that it’s exceedingly rare that I’m away from accessible electricity for more than a day, so if the iLiad’s “15 hour” battery life would probably be enough for a day’s worth of solid reading, annotating, writing, &c.

Plus, as it was my birthday on November the 23rd, I have the opportunity to get the iLiad as a combined birthday-Christmas gift, thus essentially making the price question irrelevant. However, when I think about it, I don’t actually tend to write on my uni notes that much, which means that tablet feature, while nifty, is probably not essential. Being able to edit documents on a high-res screen without a laptop, however, while again not absolutely essential, would be nice.

Sorry my inquiry is so long, but I’d like to be as well informed as possible before making my decision.

Thankyou in advance for your help,


Last edited by i, Podius; 12-17-2007 at 01:08 AM. Reason: Answered some of my own questions...
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Old 06-15-2008, 03:33 PM   #2
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I find it amazing that in this mobile read community that no one replied to your post in the past 6 months!!!

I do not have an iLiad to test. I only have what people say in reviews on the Internet.

A few things I remember off the top of my head: The operating system of the iLiad is Linux. I am not familiar with AbiWord, so I do not know its operating system. I do think it would be remarkable if you could copy the program on a flash drive and then actually install it from the flash drive to the iLiad. I assume that only data files can be read by the iLiad and that there is no way to run an executable file.

Everything I have read about the iLiad screen is that it is better or at least equal than the Sony Reader Screen. The iLiad screen is larger, but it uses 16 shades of gray as opposed the the Sony's 8 shades of gray. In a case where the Kindle's screen is the same size as the Sony's, then the Sony has the advantage with its 8 shades of gray over the Kindle's 4 shades of gray. In terms of dpi, Sony has the highest at 170; Kindle's is 167 and iLiad's is 160 (due to the increased size). I have not seen comments that the iLiad's screen has any problems. I did read in one place that the 16 shades of gray really improved the details in photos and graphics.

Also, the iLiad does not have a problem with its battery power. You can turn off the WiFi to lessen that drag. Actually, I believe it turns itself off. You press a button to start the session with the iDS; when all content that is waiting for you is downloaded to you, it turns itself off. Power is also consumed by the underlying Wacom technology, but when you put the pen in its cradle, that system is turned off. The only power consumption after that is the turning of pages, which is very small in its draw. I think your fears about running out of power are not well founded. The iLiad can be charged using the WiFi hub which also has a USB connector to connect the iLiad to a computer. I remember reading that you cannot just use an USB cable from the USB port to connect to a computer. Maybe the 2nd edition is different. Your link to the solar charger does not seem to have any mention of a solar charger.

There is now an iLiad 2nd edition that may improve some functions and I am not clear myself if what I have read is from the 1st edition or the new 2nd edition (apparently just came out in the spring of 2008). In the area of pdf's I do not believe your can search them. While you can change the size of the type, it is through a menu system that seems cumbersome. In your case, I believe the documents you will be looking at are from scans, so they couldn't be searched in Adobe Acrobat either since they are graphics.

As far as drawing on the iLiad, I have read that it is not so good for engineering drawings. You can change the shade of gray and the width of the line. It does not sound as if it is pressure sensitive as an Intuos3 tablet is.

Annotations of reading material are in two separate files that are merged using iRex software on your computer.

Since 6 months have passed, what did you decide to do?

Last edited by Marjorie; 06-15-2008 at 03:39 PM.
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Old 06-17-2008, 06:10 PM   #3
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Both the Sony and the Kindle have the same resolution - 167. Sometimes it is rounded up to 170 but this is not correct.

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Old 10-27-2008, 10:23 PM   #4
i, Podius
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Ha ha, well, I've been just as bad at responding to the thread! In my defense, however, I was working on my Honours thesis; there were a number of times I had to resist the temptation to come in here and procrastinate by writing a lengthy reply!

You can definitely install AbiWord on the iLiad (at least, according to what I've read), but it's a little more complicated than just copying it across... As far as I can tell, most people seem to use it to read document formats that are otherwise unsupported on the iLiad, more than as a wordprocessor...

You're probably right about the battery life, I think the most I've been reading at a stretch for my thesis was about 4-5 hours or so. I was also rarely far from a power point... On the issue of solar charging, however;

Originally Posted by tribble View Post
Well, i used a Solio for mine. Its not perfect, but it works, since the iLiad needs at least 9V to be charged. And you need the Travel Hub and the car charging unit in between. I havent found any pins for it yet, that could be directly be plugged into the travel hub.
Soli o- german Solio - Homepage

Could be interesting for Reader users, since it comes equipped with a usb plug. Will see if it works with the cybook aswell.
the "Solio" he mentions is a portable solar charging device, but, as he says, it has to be routed through the travel hub - a bit cumbersome, really.

As it turned out, I didn't read that many scanned PDFs at all - most of it was HTML; fortunately, there's been a concerted effort to get most of the ancient texts I've had to use onto the web.

However, to finally answer your question: I didn't get an e-reader. I needed a new computer at the start of this year to replace my 5-year old PC, and I was waiting for the new Mac Pros... then, of course, I realised it would be far smarter for me to get a MacBook Pro instead. Nowhere near as light, of course, but I had the assurance of it being able to do everything I wanted. However, now that my thesis is finished (yay!) I'm thinking I'll buy an iLiad 2nd hand anyway - I do rather like them, and I think it'll get as much use as a portable web-tablet around the house as an e-book reader, as well. So I'm just going to keep an eye on the flea market...
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