To seriously punish the credit card this year I decided to buy an Irex Iliad … for my other half as a present (yeah right). It’s an ebook reader for the uninformed. It uses this E-ink technology. E-ink displays are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The aim of the technology is to look like paper. They’re not quite there yet, but they’re very close.
Unlike LCDs there is no backlight. Sure there are LCD displays with no backlight, but they often don’t look very nice and usually have a restrictive viewing angle. E-ink has the viewing angle of printed paper. When we first got this thing I just walked around it looking at it from strange angles. When I mention this E-ink stuff to people, they seem to always say ‘but you could have bought a laptop for the same price … and hey you can read books on a laptop’. But the thing is most people don’t read books on laptops. Staring at a bright LCD screen for hours on end is not pleasant when reading a novel, and hence not many people bother. And you can’t hold a laptop as easily as these lightweight ebook readers.
A key disadvantage of EInk currently (2007) is that a page refresh takes about a second or so. So you can forget about watching a video on it. So it’s kind of focused on ebook readers at the moment where that second between page turns is acceptable (its not as bad as I thought).
There’s a comparison of the current crop of ebook readers on the mobileread.com site. Most have the 6 inch screen, but the Iliad has a larger 8 inch screen and its a touch screen as well. Due to the laggy screen refreshes, doing anything with the pen on the screen is naturally laggy. Its good for selecting stuff and the odd quick note, but I wouldn’t want to write a book with it.
The other key reason for getting the Iliad is that there’s quite a decent user and dev community behind it. All these ebook readers appear to be linux based, but its easy to get the SDK for the Iliad and so far quite a lot of linux programs have been ported to it. Obviously some programs won’t be very useful due to the way the screen refreshes, but already there is an MP3 player, ssh access, calendar, web browser.