Those hungry for an electronic literary fix now have more choice than ever when it comes to choosing an ebook reader. The iRex iLiad was followed last year by the Bookeen Cybook Gen3 and then the Sony Reader PRS-505. Now Dutch company Endless Ideas has brought its BeBook to these shores.
Priced at around £230, the BeBook is slightly more expensive than the impressive PRS-505, but is it the better device?
Nobody wants to carry a chunky lump of a device around with them just to read some digital novels, so, thankfully, the BeBook is relatively small and compact. It's only slightly taller and wider than half an average-sized magazine and, as it tips the scales at just 220g, it's light enough to slip into a bag without feeling like you're carrying around the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Like all other ebooks on the market at the moment, the BeBook uses an e-ink display. This has a resolution of 600x800 pixels, produces sharp-looking text and can render pictures using four shades of grey. This type of display is very different to a standard LCD screen. It doesn't use a backlight and produces a very high-contrast image that's rock-steady and very easy on the eye. In fact, the BeBook's display is almost as readable as a normal book, even for very long periods of time.
The BeBook supports multiple fonts. In most formats besides PDF, you can quickly swap fonts while you're reading. You can also use three levels of zoom to increase and decrease the size of text and graphics on the page. With most, but not all, documents, the BeBook reflows the text to suit the new level of magnification.
In our experience, the BeBook is better at handling PDF files than the PRS-505 and it also supports a broader range of formats, including Mobi, PRC, ePub and LIT.
The 512MB of on-board memory may not sound like much, but, as most ebooks are quite small files, it allows you to store plenty of documents. The reader also has an SD card slot that can take cards of up to 4GB in size, so it's doubtful that you'll run out of reading material when you're on the move.
The BeBook's battery life is also exceptionally good. The battery takes 3 hours to charge and, once it's full, it lasts for around 8,000 page flips, which translates into around a week's worth of use. This matches the Cybook Gen3 and is better than the PRS-505, which is capable of 6,800 page turns.
When it comes to design, comparing the BeBook to the PRS-505 is like comparing Asda's £20 'city' suit to Savile Row's finest tailoring. The Sony model's classy metallic finish and the BeBook's plasticky case just don't compare.
Endless Ideas hasn't done a great job on the menu system either. We don't like the way the row of numbered buttons at the bottom of the device is used to control menu entries that are listed in a column down the left-hand side of the display. The two should surely match up. This isn't helped by the menu system feeling sluggish.
The music player is also buggy and changing equaliser presets can sometimes result in alarming audio glitches coming through the headphones. It's also baffling that the device only supports USB 1.1 for file transfers. That means the only sensible way to transfer large files to the BeBook is to first copy them on to an SD card and then slot it into the device.
Endless Ideas' BeBook is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has good battery life, great file support and an excellent screen, but, on the other, it's hampered by a sluggish menu system and plasticky, unappealing design. We could live with these failings if it wasn't for the fact that the Sony Reader PRS-505 manages to avoid them, yet costs slightly less.
Edited by Charles Kloet