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....