Pricey e-book reader gives customers no reason to buy
The high-tech office column
First published in Business in Vancouver,
Issue #610, July 3, 2001
by ALAN ZISMAN
Last week, we looked
at Adobe's updated Acrobat, a tool for making electronic
versions of your documents. Adobe Acrobat PDF files can be found all
over the Internet and on CD-ROMs, and are viewable on nearly every
personal computer and even on Palm and Visor
But for casual reading, toting around a notebook
computer and waiting for
it to boot up is too much, while the tiny screen of a Palm or Pocket
handheld is too little.
RCA/Thompson is betting that there's a market
for something in between:
a paperback-sized e-book reader that powers on instantly. The company
released a pair of second-generation gadgets, aimed squarely at the
consumer electronics market. They kindly loaned me one of each.
The smaller, cheaper (about $500) monochrome REB1100,
about the size of
a standard paperback novel, looks like an oversized Palm. Shipped in a
case, it sports a USB jack to connect to your computer and a phone jack
connect directly to the Internet to purchase and download books and
The colour REB1200 is larger, more like a trade
paperback and much more attractive, as befits its $1,000 price. It's
got a leather-like cover and turns on and off simply by opening or
closing the cover. It lacks the computer-connection of its lower-priced
sibling, but doesn't need it. Instead, it comes with both
a phone jack and a network connector. Either way, it uses the Internet
connect to the Gemstar e-book site. Using the phone line, it
checks for a toll-free number for your dialing area; alternatively, you
set it to use your Internet service provider.
The Internet connection is almost totally transparent,
ideal for someone who just wants to find something to read and doesn't
want to be bothered with
The 8.2-inch, colour screen is bright enough to read
in the dark and it's
easy to navigate through your book. The book automatically opens to
you stopped reading. Readers can set electronic bookmarks, highlight
and even add notes in the margins. Unlike a real book, it's easy to
your highlighting and notes.
Unfortunately, the screen resolution, like a computer
screen, makes for
somewhat coarse text quality; even low-quality newsprint is a
better-quality read. Other than that, the unit is a nicely implemented
piece of hardware. The rechargeable battery is good for about seven
hours at a shot, while downloaded
reading material is stored on readily available Compact Flash cards.
eight-MB card that comes with the unit holds about 5,000 pages of
which can be erased after you're through reading it.
As well-done as the hardware is, the business model
doesn't make sense to me. You're limited to getting reading material
from Gemstar. While it offers
downloads from several mass-market publishers such as Random House
and Penguin, along with newspaper content such as the Wall
Journal and sections of the New York Times, there doesn't
to be any way to access the other free or low-cost content available
And with e-books on Gemstar costing about as much as real books,
little financial motivation to download them.
I simply can't imagine too many consumers paying $500
or $1,000 for an
e-book reader and then going on to pay $30 or so to read a best-seller.
There is a potential market for these devices.
Engineers, technicians and
service people who need to travel around with a bulky set of technical
books could benefit by reducing that bulk to electronic form and could
the costs of both the reader and the e-versions of their texts. But you
find that sort of material on the Gemstar site.
Nice devices, but not at those prices. Sorry.
Late flash (March 8 2002): Reader Jeffrey Kraus
"I agree that not being able to load your own
documents is not a good
But it is possible to convert and load user
documents using the compact flash card. More details including a
program that does this conversion is
available at my web site: http://krausyaoj.tripod.com/reb1200.htm".