Bewildering Stories Editorial
by Jerry Wright
Last year I picked up a rather cool cell phone called a Treo, from the guys who made the Palm Pilots. Aside from all the other little gimmicks, games, and general usefulness it had, I found out I could read stories and books with it. I downloaded something called an “e-book reader” called Mobipocket, and with that, I was introduced to the world of e-books on a handheld device.
There are literally tens of thousands of books available for download to an e-book reader, some costing $5.00 to $10.00, many just free for the downloading. There are a number of places you can get reading material. A ton of it is available at the Gutenberg Project which primarily material that is out of copyright, but there are also a lot of free novels available from Baen Books. If you like Science Fiction or Fantasy, Baen has a wide selection of free novels and stories available for download to your computer or handheld device. Other great sources are Fictionwise and Embiid Press where there are some free books, but most of the material is for sale for anywhere from 25 cents to ten or fifteen dollars.
Of course I’ve occasionally downloaded books or stories to my computer, but reading onscreen is just no fun at all for any length of time. The handheld really changed my reading habits. For example, I went on a trip to California with my son and his family. When it wasn’t my turn to drive, I could read one of the novels I’d brought. Even after dark. Yep, most handheld devices have what is called a “backlight” so you can read after dark. And it is actually a pleasure to do so.
But now there is another device I “just have to have”. This is an e-book reader called the EBOOKWISE 1150 e-book reader also known as the EB–1150. It was originally sold by an outfit called Gemstar but retail sales ended in 2003 when Gemstar closed its online store. These unsold devices were languishing in a warehouse.
Enter e-book retailer Fictionwise.com. They have rescued these e-book readers and rebranded them under their own eBookwise.com name with a dedicated ebook store, which is easy to use and buy from, for support.
Although Fictionwise sells these e-book readers for $129.95 (and they come with $30.00 worth of store credit to buy books), these readers are available for $99.00 on eBay. Same thing, your choice (no book credit, though…) Anyway, why would even a techno-nut like me want one of these? Lemme give you the rundown.
The reader is about a tall as a mass market paperback, but wider and a bit thicker. It has a bulge on the back of the left hand side, to make it easier to hold. It weighs less than a pound.
To give you an idea of the size, here is a picture of the EB-1150 with a Palm Pilot.
The eb-1150 is a good compromise between portability and screen size. I've used my Treo for reading several books using Palm’s eReader, as well as Mobipocket, and while I like the portability and the quality of the display, its small size irritated me. There are bigger readers, but they weigh too much, and eat batteries like crazy.
The EB-1150 fits comfortably in the left hand. Your thumb naturally rests on the top button which pages down, and there is another large button below it that pages up. On one hand you might expect the lower button to page down and the upper button to page up, on the other hand, when holding the book your thumb naturally rests on the top button, and you’re far more likely to be paging forward than backward. The keys can be re-mapped so that top button pages up and the bottom button pages down. Some have tried this, and after a few pages ended up switching it back.
If you are a left-handed reader, there is an option to rotate the screen so you hold the book in your right hand, and the buttons will be re-oriented to work the same way. Unfortunately you also have to hold the book upside down, and the logos on the front will be upside down, but that is a minor quibble.
The brightness and contrast settings are adjustable right on the reader with slider controls that have a wide range. However the actual usable range of settings is rather narrow. This is not a real problem. A minor bit of fiddling around allows you to find an acceptable setting that is comfortable for you to read.
The display is a grayscale backlit LCD running at 320 by 240 pixels. Clearly some compromises were made on the display to keep the price down.
The display area is 5.5” measured vertically; not a large as a paperback book, but close enough. The resolution of the display, however, is not the greatest. I would have preferred to see a full 640x480. The serif font displayed has a slightly blocky appearance; the pixels that make up each character are readily discernible. No one is going to confuse reading this device for a real dead-tree book. However, it takes very little time to get used to it, and for reading in bed, or at night, or (ahem) in the bathroom, this is a little jewel.
E-Books are getting more popular, and I understand that kids in Japan are reading books on their cell phones. Now that is a small screen.
Copyright © 2005 by Jerry Wright for Bewildering Stories