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As the country holds its breath for the long-awaited launch of Amazon's Kindle, traditional booksellers are jumping the gun by offering other ebook readers. Waterstones has chosen the impressively built, if aging, Sony Reader PRS-505 and now Borders is exclusively selling the Elonex eBook. Available for around £190, the eBook is similar enough to the Interead Cool-er to inspire a distinct sense of déjà lu (get it, French fans?). The price includes 100 pre-loaded, copyright-free classic titles.
The Linux-powered eBook is clearly built on the same bones as the Cool-er, albeit with a few key differences. Out goes the Cool-er's faux-iPod plastic styling and in comes the altogether more stylish, tactile and robust matte black rubber finish.
The eBook is light, at just 180g, and comfortable to hold in one hand, although its lack of dedicated page-turn buttons forces you to use the clumsy circular navigation pad. Side-mounted menu and return buttons are small enough not to hit accidentally, and there's a rotate key for flipping into a gimmicky landscape mode. There's also a button for a terrible Sudoku game. You can use its controls to adjust the font size.
Unlike the Cool-er or the PRS-505, the eBook doesn't even attempt to play MP3 tunes. The eBook starts up and responds to menu commands slightly faster than the Cool-er, but it's much slower than the PRS-505 overall. Surprisingly, the 6-inch, e-ink display is sharp, high-contrast and very readable -- and better than the Cool-er's.
The home screen shows files by name, date or size, with no way to search through the titles, let alone through the books themselves. There's no built-in dictionary or centralised bookmark list: you have to laboriously check bookmarks inside each individual title.
The eBook has around 400MB of internal storage, which is enough for hundreds of books. It's thoughtful of Borders to pre-load 100 classics, even if they are all freely available from Project Gutenberg or Google Books. Locating them in the root menu of the eBook causes problems, however. Adding just a few titles via USB leads to file-volume errors that prevent you from saving any more. It's easy enough to solve -- just create some folders and move the books across -- but highlights the half-finished feel of this basic device.
When it comes to file flexibility, the eBook is average. The safest choice is ePub files, which display quickly and scale well to different font sizes. HTML and plain-text files are slower to load but remain readable. It's best to avoid PDFs if possible, as they can be very slow to load and render erratically. Some documents look fine, while others are almost illegible. Low-resolution JPEGs look great on the crisp eight-greyscale screen but anything over a few megapixels either fails to display or causes a restart.
The eBook easily syncs with Adobe Digital Editions for buying copy-protected ePub books from Borders or elsewhere. Don't worry that you can't see its pre-loaded titles in your library: Digital Editions only recognises ePub and PDF files, not the HTML and plain-text files used by Borders for the free titles.
Like the Cool-er, the eBook charges only via USB and gives around 8,000 page turns per charge.
Unless you're an ultra-weight-conscious traveller keeping track of every gram of luggage, there's little reason to buy the Elonex eBook over the Sony Reader PRS-505. Sony's device is better-built, easier to use, faster and comes with a leather case. You can even find the PRS-505 for around £40 less than the eBook at the moment.
Edited by Charles Kloet