Electronic books: Papercut-free reading
August 5, 1998
by JoAnne Robb
(IDG) -- What do you get when you cross a bookworm with a computer geek? A digital reader.
Until recently, digital readers didn't have much to read. Forays into electronic book publishing had failed miserably: Books on CD-ROM were silly attempts to digitize. After all, who would want to read Stephen King in front of a PC when they could buy the analog version and sun themselves at the beach while flipping pages? What's more, books on CD made publishers a little squirrelly; from their perspective, it was far too easy to make duplicate copies or to print out books. Stand-alone electronic units -- much like today's personal digital assistants -- haven't had much success either. The Sony Bookman used CDs and had a low-res screen.
But by the end of the year we'll see two new products that may revolutionize reading; more e-book devices are expected next year. Softbook Press's Softbook and NuvoMedia's Rocketbook are tabletlike gadgets that hold thousands of pages of digital text -- but the similarities end there.
Softbook Is All Business
The $299 Softbook is targeted at the professional market. The three-pound unit is about the size of a standard piece of letter paper, only thicker. Buy this leather-covered tablet and you'll also have to pay a monthly subscription fee of $20. (Note: I was unable to get a preproduction version of the Softbook for testing.)
Here's how it works: Attach the Softbook to your phone and press your way through the menus till you find your book of choice. (You can look up the names of titles first on the company Web page--see link at right.) Once you've made your selection, the text is automatically downloaded--at speeds of 100 pages per minute--to the Softbook unit.
While you read, you can annotate the text or search for a particular word. The Softbook's standard configuration holds about 1500 pages of text and allows you to read for up to five hours on one battery charge.
One thing to keep in mind with a Softbook: You won't find a lot of pleasure reading available in this format, so you'll probably find this purchase more practical if you normally lug a lot of heavy job-related texts around. Jim Sachs, Softbook chair and chief executive officer, says that there will be about 300 popular titles when the unit is released.
Rocketbook: Where Paperback Meets Pixels
If you plan to snuggle up with an electronic book after work hours, you might be better off with a Rocketbook. The Rocketbook is much smaller than the Softbook--it's about the size of a paperback -- and will add only 20 ounces to your backpack or briefcase. It holds up to 4000 digital pages and runs for an astonishing 40 hours on its battery, according to a company representative.
I was impressed with this little unit when I tested an early version. First, the backlighting was excellent: I could see the text in the darkest room of my house, or in the bright sunlight outside. And I could change the orientation of the text so I could hold the Rocketbook vertically or horizontally, which is handy if I want to recline on my side while reading.
Another perk is that Rocketbook isn't planning to distribute titles, so you won't have to pay monthly fees. Instead, you'll get your books from the publishing companies and booksellers you're used to buying from, including Barnes and Noble. Finally, Rocketbook has many of the perks of the Softbook: You can annotate or search text -- and if you delete the text of a book accidentally, you can download it again, gratis.
The downside? It looks like the Rocketbook will cost a little more than the Softbook. Although final pricing wasn't available as of this writing, I was told that the unit will cost "$500 or less" -- a significant jump from the $299 price tag of the Softbook. Also, the Rocketbook isn't PC-free like the Softbook. To buy book titles, you first have to download them to your computer and then transfer them to the Rocketbook through a cradlelike device that's attached to your PC.
So what's a digital reader to do? Wait. Since neither electronic book will be available till the end of the year, we'll find out then which format -- if either -- will win the hearts and minds of publishers and readers.
Back to the top
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.