Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Google Books iriver e-reader - some early reports

The picture accompanying this was from an AOL Tech photo-set in an story in January, in which settings tended to be out of focus or differently lit for one or the other, but this photos shows the two e-readers at about equal size and perspective and you can see what is described in the review by Melissa J. Perenson for PCWorld yesterday.

  I've selected the points that jumped out at me, but it's her usual longer, balanced review, and it'll be much better to read the full piece.

Today PCWorld added the overall rating of 3 stars out of 5, with the heading summary of:
Pro's: "Clean interface ... High-Resolution XGA E-Ink display and
Con's: "Buttons are stiff, and poorly placed ... Sometimes sluggish navigation"

"Bottom Line: This e-reader offers a crisp, high-resolution display, but its chintzy design leaves much to be desired."

The Title of the review is: "First E-Reader Tied to Google's Ebookstore Sometimes Frustrates."

Reason?  In her trials with the iriver e-reader, "I found myself frustrated by the Story HD's cheap design, poky performance, and Google Books interface.

Details of the Perenson review for PC World
Now, I had wondered, when I saw photos of it the last two days, whether or not the text would look dark (as I mentioned in yesterday's first look), because although the Nook Simple Touch (NST) e-reader has the same screen technology as the Kindle 3, the NST fonts are much lighter to me, almost as if they were going for designer looks rather than taking advantage of the text to background contrast.  I also wondered if the touchscreen technology, even if there is no layer over the basic screen, somehow affected the darkness of the fonts.  For one thing, Nook Forum customers have pointed out that their Nook 1 or 'Classic' has darker text than the Nook Simple Touch.  The lightness of the NST text actually was hard on my eyes when I used it.

So I was particularly interested in what Perenson says about this:
' Text looks sharp and clear, with smooth rendering and no pixelation or artifacts.  The display supports 16-level grayscale.  Text appears finer on the Story HD than on the third-generation Amazon Kindle, but its black tones lack the contrast and punch of the Kindle (and the Barnes & Noble Nook, for that matter).

The lower contrast may be, in part, an optical illusion caused by the Story HD's beige bezel; the Kindle and Nook each use a dark gray, borderline black bezel.  Personally, I prefer the dark bezel to the cream-colored texture of the Story HD.

I routinely found the light text to be an issue while reading.  Although the sans serif font--the Story HD offers only one font choice--rendered smoothly and lacked pixelation, the weak contrast meant that my eyes had to work harder to read.  Contrast improved dramatically when I bumped up the font size from the default third option to the larger sixth option (you get eight in total). '

  She also points out that there are no page-turn buttons on the side of the device, despite the fact this is not a touch screen device.  iriver put the page turn controls in the centered bar (2 inches long) above the keys and just below the screen.  That is apparently a 4-way navigation bar, and is also called a 'button' in the review.  That bar or button does 4 directions but no click-in as is done with the Kindle 5-way button, which uses the center area in the way a left-mouse-click is used.
  With the iriver, you press the dedicated Enter button at the right for that.  I actually like that, fewer accidents.  As mentioned in the summary, she "disliked how stiff the buttons are."

  Perenson was very positive about the Nook Touch and the Kindle 3 in earlier reviews, but says here:
' The keyboard is not conducive to typing at all: The buttons pushed uncomfortably into the pads of my fingers, and made crunching noises as I pressed them.  My fingers actually hurt just from the typing involved in the setup process.  In fact, when I realized that I had to set up my Google Checkout for the account I used with the Story HD, I elected to do so on my PC rather than suffer typing all of my information in on the Story HD's keyboard. '

Positive points: "the iriver supports PDFs and EPub files (including protected Adobe Digital Editions), as well as text files, FB2, and DJVU formats.  It also can read Microsoft Office Excel, Word, and PowerPoint documents.

  The Kindle indirectly supports (via email conversion) only Microsoft Word from that office suite.  At some point, I imagine you can put your own documents up in your Google library or 'Cloud' though they've not said so yet.

  A feature of the dedicated Google Books reader is that you can store your documents on the Cloud instead of on your device and then read them 'there' from any of your devices that can read Google books.  And each would go to the last-read page.

  Downside: You have to have access to WiFi access to do that on the iriver e-reader itself.  Being on a subway or bus during a commute, you'd do better to have the book on the e-reader.

Perenson goes through many of the menu levels and talks about the functions, which I wish more reviewers would do.  She also takes you with her through a session at the Google Books store, describing what works well for her and what doesn't.   Some of the processes are cumbersome and she mentions 'annoyance' at a couple of points.

I had also wondered yesterday about highlighting and note-taking.  Perenson says, "there's no way to make annotations - something that the e-readers from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo all do."  But she adds that Google has said they plan to add annotations "later this year through an over-the-air update."

TopTechNews reports that Phil Leigh, a senior analyst at Inside Digital Media, finds the shopping experience "not nearly as easy as it is at Amazon" and ends, "I don't think this e-reader will be competitive."

Bear in mind that Google is going to have agreements with several other e-readers to have full access to and direct downloads from the Google Books store.  This is just the first one.

Charlie Sorrel at Wired delivered the unkindest cut of all, and it's in the title: "Google and Iriver Make World’s Ugliest E-Reader" :-)   Well, it does look like the Kindle, but the gold-plated portions are not my ideal either.

  He goes on a bit more about this, and I have to admit it's pretty funny.
  Then he points out that it also supports zipped image files (for reading comic books).   Others have said the Kindle quietly does also, but I've never tried it myself.

  His ending thought: "But it’ll come down to the software, and the range of available titles.  Currently, the leaders here are Amazon and Barnes & Noble."

Google does have over 3 million books, although only a few hundred thousand are contemporary pay-titles.   Yesterday's first-look at this included my having seen (coincidentally) last week that a book costing 99 cents at Amazon costs $14.72 at Google.  I have a feeling that Google does so much, that the bookstore probably doesn't get the attention that the other online bookstore vendors give theirs.

Kindle 3's   (UK: Kindle 3's)   K3 Special ($114)   K3-3G Special ($139)   DX Graphite

Check often: Temporarily-free late-listed non-classics or recently published ones
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.  Liked-books under $1
UK-Only: recently published non-classics, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. Person's review is sort of at odds with the PCMag review, which was pretty glowing about the clarity of the display. It's as if they were looking at different devices entirely.

    I still want to see it for myself, but apart from the screen, the rest of the features don't interest me, and clearly at this point it is not as polished as the devices it competes with (though the gold keys presumably can be polished ).

  2. I saw some photos of it which made the text look like the Nook Touch's which is too gray for ME, so I wondered.

    Yet others rave about the Nook Touch screen (which is contrast-wise backwards), so I'm not surprised someone who likes it for many qualities it has may not even notice the less-dark fonts but if you read books rather than browse, you'll tend to notice.

    Not even annotations! Oddest thing is the page-turn placement. Quite a stretch! Very funny about the gold keys being polishable :-)

    I think we'll suddenly see a lot more of these Google Books attached e-readers. Their wording is aggressive - they want as many e-reader makers as possible to use their functionality. What better way to get an ereader name out there...

  3. Re Google books attached readers, yes, I think this is first of several. I was surprised to find that even at there is no mention of iRiver. Probably the usual Google left hand, right hand lack of coordination.

    Also I still don't understand how Google's independent bookseller partners actually make money selling Google ebooks, when all of the apps and now this device connect to Google's storefront directly. I guess their customers just have to forgo that convenience and buy on their website. Ideally you could set a preference with your Google account to designate the bookseller you want to support, so it didn't matter whether you used Google's storefront or not, in terms of steering your business to your preferred bookseller. I think it would make Google a more popular option, at least for people who still read print books and are conflicted about moving to ebooks and abandoning beloved independent booksellers.

    Just out of curiosity, which text sizes/typefaces on Nook are 'too gray' for you? I may be a mutant, but I'm using Caecilia size 2 and while I hope for some improvement, I'm reading comfortably for long periods. I haven't found the other typefaces as attractive, and books using embedded fonts don't give you an option. (I am going through a phase of reading as many library ebooks as possible before Kindle borrowing kicks in, and demand reduces availability to near-zero levels—so my Kindle is not getting as much use lately.)

  4. "Person's review is sort of at odds with the PCMag review, which was pretty glowing about the clarity of the display. It's as if they were looking at different devices entirely. "

    Of course the other possibility is that they just made stuff up after reading a press release. :^)

  5. Tom,
    ----) "Just out of curiosity, which text sizes/typefaces on Nook are 'too gray' for you?"

    I mentioned it in another post's comment area.

    Twice, I tried every single font-face and size but the only ones dark enough were the huge jump betwee size 4 and 5, from what I remember, and then it was too large and I wouldn't like to read it at that size.

    It's clear even in lower sizes (but so is the Kindle for me, as I sometimes read it in sizes 1 or 2 if I want more on the screen) but it's just too light in shade. I just dislike that.

    I guess some people are sensitive to it and some aren't.

    You're smart to get at those library books early before the Kindle lending starts.


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