So it’s been more than a month now since I bought my first e-reader, a Bebook. I was triggered to this purchase when a colleague brought in his Sony Reader to work and happened to bring it to the resident geek (me) to showoff. Needless to say I was blown away as to how far the technology had progressed and I knew immediately that I had to have one myself.
While my first contact with an e-reader was the Sony one which looks very spiffy, I knew I wasn’t going to get that one as I don’t like to support a company which treats its customers as criminals. Instead I looked around to see which system would fit my budget and be as open as possible, which means that it wouldn’t try to lock me in to their own stores and it could read as many formats as possible.
I was initially considering the Iliad but I gave it up due to the hight price tag, my other choice was between the Amazon kindle and the HanLin Ebook but I quickly turned down Amazon once I figured out that I would have to basically only read what I could buy from Amazon. HanLin with its wealth of supported formats and low cost was the obvious choice for me. Bebook is simply the brand of this model I chose as it comes from many different distributors.
So I bought mine for €325 (Which was a bit more expensive than the price displayed on the MobileRead wiki) from the main site for the product and to my surprise it was at my place in less than a week.
So now, after quite a bit of using it, I feel I can provide an informed review from my perspective.
Reading in General
For someone who reads a lot, reading on the monitor screen is a bit of a pain. It’s not too comfortable for the eyes and it’s not very easy to read when you’re not at your desk. As I like to read on trips, outdoors and on the bed, using a laptop was out of the question. Not only is it not comfortable in all situations, but the battery barely lasts. Not only that, but with bright enough light, you can’t read at all.
The bebook (and anything based on e-ink and e-paper technology like all e-readers these days) allows you to carry a portable book which has most of the benefits of paper, like the ability to read it in the sun, lack of glare and portability and the added benefit of the gigantic amounts of space that are available for electronic storage.
For the casual or avid bookworms among us, it means that you have a book-sized device which can contain thousands of books and you can still read them as you would any other book.
Organization and Use
The books in your Bebook are organized in folders as per a normal hdd. Indeed, when you connect it to your machine, the contents are displayed as a normal USB drive which allows you to use the device without needing any special software or specific OS. The later fact, that I can use my Bebook on my GNU/Linux without any issues whatsoever is a very big plus for me.
Other than your folders and subfolders, the Bebook provides you the ability to look through the recent books you had opened so that you can easily return to what you were reading in case you were navigating elsewhere. And finally since you can put an SD card in, you have the ability to have multiple SD cards for multiple book collections (as if one 16Gb card wouldn’t be enough that is).
Within books, if they are created properly, you have the capability to jump to chapters and subchapters. Most file formats other support such a function and this means that if you have a book with, say, multiple stories, you can easily use the navigation to jump to the exact one you wish.
As you read books, you have the capability to set electronic bookmarks which allow you to not only save a position you were in so that you can return to it if you need to go out (which is done automatically when you enter a book anyway) but you can also use them to mark specific locations in the book so that you can find the in the future (say to mark a good quote and such). Unfortunately at the moment it does not support highlighting or anything similar which would have been a very useful feature.
You have also various other capabilities like 3 levels of zoom and the ability to jump to the front and end of any book but these are not things you use very often in my experience.
Display and filetypes
The bebook supports quite a lot of filetypes for displaying content but I can’t say that at the moment any of them is perfect. To some degree I’ve discovered issues with most of them, but fortunately they are minor enough to not create a big issue with reading. I’ll list some of the types I’ve tried out and the various problems I’ve encountered.
- PDF: A well constructed pdf ebook in displays perfectly and this is the reason why I use this format the most. With the Capability of Open Office to not only export documents to pdf format but also construct metadata such as chapters and comments, I have the ability to create documents for perfect reading pleasure1 .
Unfortunately at this point PDF documents still have an annoying bug where differently formatted text is not displayed if it was not in the page the document opened. This means that If you open a document in a page with no bolded text and later on you find such a text in the document, you will instead be looking at a blank space. There is a workaround but we’re still waiting for the devs to fix this once and for all.
A thing that you should be aware about pdfs in Bebook however is that A4 pdfs (Which is what you will most likely download from non-ebook specific sites) will be displayed with very very small text size, which is practically unreadable. That is because Bebook tries to fit one page of text, into one page of the bebook shrinking the text as appropriate. This is why you need specially prepared pdf documents in order to read comfortably. If you are stuck with A4s however, you can still read them by making use of the the zooming function at maximum. You will need to hold the bebook in a landscape position but that’s all.
- RTF: Many people in the fora swear by this format since it does not have the annoying disappearing bug as the pdfs do and you have many more options for zooming. However I do not prefer it since it has another bug which removes all empty lines (making paragraphs hard to distinguish), it does not display images and it does not support chapters.
Still, it’s the easiest format to create files for so it’s certain to remain popular.
HTML: It is a great benefit that one can easily save a page from the internet into a native html document, tranfer it to his e-reader and then read it at his pleasure. I admit that a major reason why I selected the Hanlin model was that it could read html files without hassle and thus it would allow me to read my rss content on the go.
Of course it’s not without its share of problems. Bebook still has difficulties displaying apostrophes and some other special characters but not everywhere. Some documents I can read without any hassle at all. At the moment, html displaying still needs some ironing but they are generally readable.
- FB2: This is a newer format pioneered by Russian science fiction fans. To this day, this is the one I’ve found to be displayed the best of all and giving the most features (many zoom levels, chapters, images and more). It would have been my choice of format but unfortunately it has a major disadvantage for me: I’ve yet to find a decent file converter and most instructions about it seem to be in Russian. As such, I only have to wait until it has matured a bit more and more options exist. Still, as a fan-initiated option, it is certain to get a lot of features that are useful for the reader.
- EPUB: This is really what I’d like to use most, as it’s an open format which is aiming to become a standard for ebooks. As a result it has a lot of data included in its XML which can be made use of for the benefit of the reader and it’s certain to remain free from the interests of a corporations, unlike say pdf files.Unfortunately, for all those benefits, the parsing of epub files still needs work from the developers as it seems to have similar problems with html files. Special characters are screwed and text seems to acquire and lose empty spaces seemingly at random. Once this is fixed I’ll certainly start using it though as not only does it support a lot of features like fb2, but I also have an platform free open source convertor and excellent library software available.
Among other things, Bebook stands out for its amazing battery life. Due to the page display technology, no energy is required to display a page once it has been drawn. This means that as long as you don’t perform any functions with the device, it consumes no energy at all. And this is why the developer does not count the battery-life in hours but in page-turns, of which the Bebook can achieve over 9000 before it requires a recharge. Of course, with the pages holding less text than usual due to the size, this does not easily repressent normal books pages but from personal experience, I can say that that means usually about a month of constant use.
One of the things I love with having an e-reader is that I can actually read a book without using my hands. I simply lay it on my feet or blanket in a comfortable position and then I only need to use my arm to switch the page when I’ve finished. Compared to a normal book which you always have to keep in an open and upright position forcefully, this avoids getting tired after a while (as I know I do) from simply keeping your arm in a non-relaxed position.
Another loved feature is how I can now easily put down a book without having to worry about marking my page or accidentally closing it and losing my place. I can either simply put it down and know that when I pick it up, it will simply be waiting for me or, if I’m afraid of pushing a button accidentally, I simply press the key-lock button and put it in my pocket. I can’t explain how much I love that I don’t have to fold page corners or hunt for the bookmark.
For me the Bebook is a perfect tool, especially since I wish to read a lot of texts that already exist in free form online and see no reason to pay for something that is public domain. Add to that the number of interesting online essays that I come in contact with on a daily basis and for which I simply do not have the will to stay on the desk in order to read them, and you can see why it’s practical.
By choosing the Bebook among others, I now know that I can have access to literature without having to appease the manufacturer of my device. I can make use of the best format that fits me and if the original developers prove to slow in improving the firmware, I can simply move to free software alternative which already looks very promising.
Even though this was a generally expensive purchase, I haven’t regretted it for an instant. Each week I discover a new thing that I love about using an e-reader and it has already made me start reading much more.
Hopefully this review has given you a good impression of the device and all the benefits it can provide. If you are considering buying the same model as I have, then you can simply use my email address email@example.com as a promo code to get a €25 discount. It’s a bit late now for a Christmas gift, but it would make a great gift (even to yourself) nonetheless.
- I will write up a guide for this so stay tuned if you wish to see my method [↩]