May 7, 2007

iRex Iliad Reader Review

So I picked up the iRex Iliad reader, and so far I am way more impressed than I thought I'd be. What does that mean? Well lets break this down. I read an entire book on the device, one sized by Manybooks.net specifically for the Iliad, and so I have a good feed for what it means to read on it now.

First, the screen: A nice roomy 8 inch electrophoretic screen. This is the E-Ink that has been talked about for a few years now. The screen on the Iliad is has 16 shades of gray and is functionally a 768x1024x160dpi screen. The contrast is really quite remarkable. Not as good as an actual book, but this technology is really getting close.

The real issue of sorts for these devices is the ghosting and the interpage reset flashing of the screen. It seems if you are going to be updating a significant portion of the screen it will cycle the screen. I don't like it but I also don't think that it is a huge deal. The ghosting has the effect of degrading the experience as well, but it isn't a major big deal.

Page turn speed could be faster, too, but it isn't a big enough problem to break the flow of reading for me (and I am a fast reader). It is significant when the pdf is heavily graphic (like a graphic novel) but acceptable for more pdfs, for me. Screen size being what it is, your PDFs should be sized for an A4 paper to give a good experience on the device.

The pen based input is fun, but unless the software is improved, I can think of only a few tasks that would excite me to use this feature, and that is editing a document. By editing I mean "editing", as in, reading a manuscript and noting where it needs to be edited. The delay inherent in the system right now is annoying and frustrating if you try to sketch something.

The Iliad companion software so far is pretty disappointing. They were going for syncing functionality for the machine, but the implementation is horribly weak. Luckily the device is functionally a usb hard drive. Also, the 'news, books, docs, notes' buttons only apply to the limited internal memory, not on the externally changable cf or sd cards.

SD cards work, by the way, even though only mmc is noted to be supported. I haven't plugged in a CF card yet.

Settings are easy enough to , ah, set, and I had the Iliad on the network, updated and runing quite quickly. The presence of wireless, like the pen enabled input, was neat but in the end nothing all that exciting due to the lack of fun things to do with the pen or on the internet from the device.

The software that is running on the Linux based Iliad is, well, serviceable. I've certainly used worse software on a ce device, but they could make the device quite a bit more usable. The mobipocket reader which recently pushed to the reader is pretty great, but I think that the main reader app should be revved to be just as good. The Sony software is, well, better than the Iliad software, but it is my hope that Iliad continues to improve.

Also, power management needs a fair amount of work, as does the aforementioned ui. As I found out, if you lose your pen, then you can't set a variety of settings. Also, I want to smash the ethernet/usb/power dongle. It angers me. The device should have USB built in and charge from it. To add insult to injury, it wants a B style USB connector to connect to the dongle, while every other device I own wants a usb-mini.

The form factor is just about perfect. Great texturization of the chassis and the page flip bar is brilliant. Good, big screen with decent enough contrast. Books are better for contrast, but reading the Iliad is like reading a very thin-papered paperback book.

But...is it worth the price? If it were cheaper, then I'd say yes, right now, it's pretty expensive, if useful. I'll post again in a few months, if I'm still using it and after a few trips to London....

15 comments:

Will Halbyrd said...

This is OT, but seeing as comments have been disabled on the FLOSS Weekly page, I don't really have any other place to contact you.

Simply put, I am disappointed. In ep 17 of FLOSS, you promised that you'd be getting the show back on track, that it would indeed be moving towards a weekly schedule, as promised in the title. Noise was made about Maddog helping with the acquisition of high-profile guests, even taking over when you were unable to host.

So where's episode 18?

Fraize said...

I've got a Sony eReader. It only does SVGA, but is about 5 x 7. PDF rendering is awful, but it reads .DOC and .RTF files wonderfully. If the Iliad was available, I would have paid more for that instead.

Marius said...

I'm very happy with my Nokia N800 as an e-book reader. The width of the screen is about the same as the width of a typical paperback, the height is maybe a quarter of a book. The N800 is thinner and fits in a shirt pocket, unlike a paper book. The screen has an incredible resolution (225 dots per inch, 800x480, 16bpp) and the price ($400) is lower than the Iliad. Plus, you get WiFi/Bluetooth, a web browser, VoIP, mp3/video player and a bunch of third-party apps (such as FBReader for e-books in a multitude of non-DRM formats). It also runs Linux.

Michael said...

$400-700 to read books? I'm baffled by the price points for e-readers. I can get a decent used laptop for that much.

Marc said...

For that price I'd rather buy an iPaq or fully fledged PDA of some sort.

Mike said...

I own a Palm Tungsten T/X and read a variety of formats. I have converters to convert in and out of PDF and Microsoft Reader formats as well as others. I use it to manage my checkbook, play games when I am bored, read many books with many types of readers, listen to audio books in several formats and I use it as an MP3 player as well. I purchased a small GPS unit recently with Tom Tom software and use it in the car for a voice guided navigation system. The T/X was 300$ with a 69$ bluetooth keyboard thrown in for free. The GPS with software was 169$. I also use it to surf the web via the bluetooth connection with my phone. The screen is quite large and very colorful, just great resolution. I am able to download software directly to the device as well as audio books from my Audible account and ebooks from my Mobipocket account. I can also purchase directly from Mobi and download directly to my Palm. There is so much software that is available to do so many things, I simply cant begin to list them. My point is that for a total cost of around 500$, I have it all in the palm of my hand (pun intended). Why would I spent so much money on a device that does just a fraction of what the T/X can do. For a larger screen? Only reason, and not compelling enough to justify the huge expense. I headed to Borders when the Sony reader first came out, intending to make the purchase. When I held the floor model in my hands I found it to be very slow with clunky controls and seemingly not very sturdy. The slow page turns were frustrating and the menu systems aggravating to navigate. The screen was beautiful, but I walked out without it. My T/X has almost all the functionality of a laptop, with both Bluetooth and Wifi and a high-resolution color screen. Anyone wanting to carry many, many books, documents, photos, etc, I couldn't recomend it more highly.

Simon said...

Guys, it seems that you are ignoring two IMHO very important points while comparing Illiad with Palms, laptops, IPAQs and such.
1. e-ink technology which gives you uncomparable reading experience
2. Incredible battery life
I read ebooks for about 15 years. I started with Psion 3a, used several Windows Mobile devices (not to mention laptops of course). I have Samsung Q1 UMPC to read from. Gosh, I even read from my Nokia 6680, by installing Repligo reader on it when I have nothing else to read from. But... nothing, NOTHING can be compared with e-ink based e-reader. I have Illiad and my friend has Sony eReader. I don't want to compare these two device 'cause I don't want to destroy our friendship :-). Besides that I fully agree with the author, especially regarding software quality.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is the lack of functionality here. But to my mind, this is a plus. I end up spending most of my day wandering about the office with one or more pieces of paper with little scribbles on them. My laptop is too heavy and too power hungry to drag around all day, and I don't need that kind of power.
Bottom line, you wanted the paperless society, well this is one huge step closer.

Henk van Ess, Voelspriet.nl said...

Just updated my Iliad with the RSS-reader that came out today. Must say: finally I like the product. I can download 100+ feeds and the Iliad will not only leech the headlines, but the whole underlying text. Still silly that a wireless device like the Iliad needs to be filled with a clumbsy interface, it should be possible to download the RSS feeds wirelessly..

Lance said...

Looking forward to comments after the road test.. especially the editing and note-taking aspect. Electronic paper and tablet functionality are the future. Also, if iRex is releasing useful updates, I'd love to hear about them too.

... can't use wifi to sync news headlines?? Apparently only the marketing department at iRex is aware that the bar for devices is now set by Apple.

Glum Grendel said...

Thought i'd write something about this product.
I have been reading ebooks for a long time - beginning with some very small screens. I've even had epod! then the symbian phones, smartphones, and recently palms - i really can recommmend sony palm for reading - the best screen ever. Now I read from a palm m505 - archaic a bit - but i'm happy.
The basic thing that needs to be changed is the operating system - put eithe r a Palm 5 or symbian in those machines an they'll shine. Instead of making the processor run faster the maker could work on bulky software!

Vegar said...

Thanks for a great review. It gave me a few important pointers in regards to which reader to get

Anonymous said...

I recently bought the Irex Iliad.
To be honest I find it a bit disappointing.
To charge you have to connect the charger to the dockingcable, the dockingcable to the Iliad (why not directly to the Iliad)
As mentioned no MiniUSB.
You can't move/copy files from/to internal memory to MMC or CF.
The powerconsumption is considerable if you insert a SD-card or/and CF-card (About the same as a PDA with backlight, you would expect a much better batterylife without backlight)
Not many types of files are supported (which is a bit strange for a device with a sole purpose of reading eBooks, you would expect that it would be able to read almost any kind of ebook-type or document type)
I don't have the impression that the people at Irex are working hard to improve things (the Iliad is around for more than a year.)
You would expect that Irex would provide software to convert all kind of eBooks/documents to a format that is readable by the Iliad, but alas, what they give you is a document how to convert to PDF with the use of thirdparty software.
If you are considering buying the Iliad, I would advise to think it over thoroughly.

Rene

Anonymous said...

18GB-CF-card and put linux swap file and applications on that .... then your options are endless :-) f.ex

listen to internet radio
big music collection
a database of all your stuff
spreadsheet app
control itunes remotely
use linux multi-thread technology to quickly switch between apps ... like books,notes,web-pages,audio-controles

This device has 13 button functions that can be altered to do many different things including having more than one function at once with short or long clicks

But then again it was intended for reading books !!

Term papers said...

The real issue of sorts for these devices is the ghosting and the inter page reset flashing of the screen. It seems if I am going to be updating a significant portion of the screen it will cycle the screen. You don't like it but You also don't think that it is a huge deal. The ghosting has the effect of degrading the experience as well, but it isn't a major big deal.