With all the buzz about Amazon's new Kindle 2, you'd think this revamped ebook reader was the most advanced piece of technology this side of designer children. After all, for $350, you get a color screen, Wi-Fi and Web browsing, video playback, 60GB of storage, and a reasonably usable keyboard.
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Oh wait, you don't get any of that stuff. No, that's what $350 can get you if you invest in even a low-end Netbook, such as the new 10-inch Acer Aspire One. Not only is there a wide range of PC software available for buying and displaying e-books (and tons of free content as well), when you're done with all that readin', pop open a Web browser and rot your brain with some Hulu videos.
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While some PCs have simple controls built into their video drivers for screen rotation, most Netbooks do not. We downloaded a free app called EeeRotate, obviously originally intended for use with an Asus Eee PC, and after running it, we were able to rotate the display by holding down CTRL+ALT and the right arrow key (the same combo, but with the up arrow returns the screen to normal).
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First up was Microsoft Reader, which uses .lit files, available from several online e-book retailers (although not Amazon). Originally released in 2000, the software has a dated, inelegant interface.
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Like the Kindle, Microsoft Reader also has a built-in text-to-speech feature, although the results are just as robotic.
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Adobe's Digital Editions reader, not to be confused with its PDF reader, was similar, albeit with a less dated-looking interface, split between a virtual bookshelf and a reading panel.
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We were able to use the space bar to flip pages in Adobe Digital Editions (seen here), and the Microsoft Reader has a progress bar along the bottom of the screen, called the riffle control, for dragging through the pages quickly.
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In the end, our $350 Netbook was not a perfect substitute for the $350 Amazon Kindle 2. Our Acer Aspire was heavier and harder to hold onto, and while the screen was bigger, unlike the Kindle's muted grey-on-grey, the bright glow of the LCD screen is tiring to the eyes after a while. Still if you're looking for a single mobile device that reads current books (even if they cost more) and has access to a huge library of free public domain works, it's an alternative to lugging around a Kindle and a laptop on your next trip -- at least until Amazon makes the Kindle a $99 doorbuster for its digital book business.
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