RCA's black-and-white REB1100 strikes a reasonable balance between price, portability, and features. And in this era of MP3-playing cameras and multifunction printers, you have to admire the fact that this e-book is just for reading books. However, that singular purpose, coupled with a rather limited selection of books, means that this gadget will appeal only to those who constantly read several best-sellers simultaneously. RCA's black-and-white REB1100 strikes a reasonable balance between price, portability, and features. And in this era of MP3-playing cameras and multifunction printers, you have to admire the fact that this e-book is just for reading books. However, that singular purpose, coupled with a rather limited selection of books, means that this gadget will appeal only to those who constantly read several best-sellers simultaneously.
About the size of a paperback book (5 inches by 7 inches by 1.5 inches) and weighing 18 ounces, the REB1100's molded plastic fits comfortably in your hand. The black-and-white touch-screen LCD (5.5-inch diagonal size; 320-by-480-pixel resolution) is certainly better than the display on a Palm Vx, but the relatively low resolution means that letters appear as if they were printed with a dot matrix printer. Two large buttons let you page through a book with ease. The unit runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that provides 20 to 40 hours of use.
There are some advantages of illuminated liquid crystals over paper. For one thing, the REB1100's backlighting opens a whole new world of reading under the covers. Those with less-than-perfect eyesight will appreciate the ability to increase the font size easily. You can underline or annotate interesting passages or look up any word in the built-in dictionary with just a few presses of your finger or taps of the included stylus. The unit's 8MB of memory can store about 8,000 pages of text--about 20 novels' worth--as well as editions of periodicals such as Newsweek or the New York Times. The unit sports a headphone jack and a music button; however, RCA hasn't enabled any music or audio book features yet.
You can purchase and download books and periodicals to the REB1100 using the internal 33.6kbps modem, or you can go to online booksellers such as Barnes and Noble, purchase a book, and download it using your PC. The text is transferred to the e-book over a USB cable. Very strict copy-protection rules prevent you from reading the book on your PC or loaning the text to a friend; you can read it on only your e-book. To make matters worse, the selection of titles available for the REB1100 is limited to the top-selling novels and a smattering of nonfiction books; anyone interested in science or history or less popular novels will be quite disappointed. You can download only titles specifically released for RCA's readers, because the REB1100 doesn't support Microsoft Reader books or Adobe's e-book format. The REB1100 won't work with Word or other PC formats either, so you won't be able to review that big proposal or lengthy online documentation.
Overall, we found the unit pleasant to use. The screen's a bit small compared to the area of an average book, but the backlight and the easy paging add a lot to the reading experience. An electronic book reader isn't a bad idea, but it should be a tool that allows you to read everything you want to read--which this $299 gadget won't do. It will take a much better book selection, a lower price, and an improved screen to make this attractive to the masses.