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Editors' Note: The rating of this reader has been lowered since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace. Also, as of July 8, 2010, Interead (the distributor of this product) is no longer taking orders.
In the U.S., the Amazon Kindle remains the most popular and best-known e-reader on the market. But not everyone's ready to pay $360 for the device, and the Kindle doesn't appeal to international readers because its wireless capabilities don't work overseas. And that's where upstart digital readers like Interead's Cool-er come in.
The product's name was inspired by the concept of a "cool e-reader" and it's the first consumer electronics product from Interead, which has offices in the U.K. and New York and also has a companion online e-book store to support the device. The Cool-er's claim to fame is that it's lighter, less expensive ($250), more colorful (it comes in eight colors), and more "open" than the Kindle, accepting a wider variety of file formats, much like Sony's e-readers do.
On many levels, including screen size and readability, the Cool-er matches the Kindle 2, and even beats it in terms of memory expansion--there's an SD slot--and we appreciated that the battery is removable and replaceable (Interead will send you a replacement battery for $5).
|Dimensions||7.2 inches by 4.6 inches by .43 inches (HWD)|
|Screen size||6 inches|
|DPI||170 pixels per inch|
|Levels of grayscale||8|
|Processor||Samsung S3C2440 ARM 400MHz|
|Battery||Lithium polymer battery (1,000 mAh)|
|Battery life (single charge)||8,000 pages|
|Memory expansion||SD (up to 4GB)|
|File formats||JPEG, PDF, EPUB, TXT, MP3 (2.5mm headphone jack with a 3.5mm converter included for standard headphones)|
|Bookstore (titles)||More than 750,000|
The Cool-er is compatible with Macs and Windows PCs. To get a book or file onto the device, you simple connect it to your computer via USB and drag and drop files to the Cool-er as you would any mass USB storage device.
As we said, one of the big advantages to the Cool-er is that its supports PDF, EPUB books (the Interead bookstore is stocked with e-books in the EPUB format), and text files, and there's plenty of free e-books out there in these file formats. As for PDF viewing, there's no zoom button per se, but switching from vertical to horizontal mode crops sometimes enlarges the PDF, so it has a pseudo zoom feature. (We liked that you could rotate the screen with a touch of a button.)
However, as you might have gathered, the Cool-er does not accept Kindle books downloaded from Amazon. (Books you buy in the Interead store can be read on up to four devices, so you can virtually pass a book around after you read it. Amazon's sharing policy is more restrictive.)
Now for the bad news. While the Cool-er looks fairly attractive on the surface and is indeed lighter than the Kindle 2 and the Sony Reader, its build quality doesn't inspire confidence. It's not poorly built, but it does feel a bit too plasticy for a $250 device. The review sample I received already had scratches to the finish on the back (the Cool-er doesn't come with a protective cover but it should, even if it's a simple and inexpensive neoprene sleeve).
We were also slightly disappointed that the audio jack for MP3 playback isn't the standard 3.5mm plug, but is instead a 2.5mm jack that requires an adapter (one ships with device). That's not a big deal because chances are you're not going to use the Cool-er as an MP3 player, but it's just one of those annoying design flaws we have to point out.
Another drawback: the "page turning" on the device--when you move back and forth in a document--has a slower refresh rate than rival readers from Sony and Amazon.
Cosmetics aside, the bigger problem with the Cool-er is that its interface lacks polish and its buttons aren't designed all that well, both in terms of placement and mechanical function (the biggest issue is that they're stiff). Adjusting the font size, for example is a much more tedious process than it should be; a dedicated font button like there is on the Kindle would have been nice. You often end up dealing with menus within menus and check boxes you have to click. It's just a bit cumbersome, and style-wise, it's too generic.
Interead also contends with the fact that the e-books you'll find in its store are, by and large, pricier than their Amazon counterparts. For the record, Interead isn't trying to gouge anyone; Amazon is literally taking a loss (up to $5 or $6) on most best sellers to undercut the competition. And that's simply not a strategy Interead can afford to employ.
All in all, the Cool-er isn't a bad little e-reader and we had a good time throwing various file formats at it. The text didn't always display correctly--or the font was too small on some occasions--but we found a lot of good free material to read and the E-ink text on the Cool-er appeared sharp, with good contrast; it looked just like it does on the Kindle 2.
If the Cool-er cost less than $200, it would be easier to recommend. Hopefully, Interead can tweak some of the interface issues with a firmware upgrade or two, but as it stands, the Cool-er still feels like a first-generation product that has some kinks to work out. At this point, the safer buy in this price range is the Sony PRS-505, which costs only about $20 more online.