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.
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.
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).
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.
Like the Kindle, Microsoft Reader also has a built-in text-to-speech feature, although the results are just as robotic.
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.
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.
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.