Entertaining and PDA-like
At first glance, it's easy to mistake the eBookman for a Palm OS PDA that sports an ample backlit 200-by-240-pixel LCD screen. While its proprietary OS is not very sophisticated, the eBookman lets you synchronize with Outlook via Intellisync synchronization software. And while the eBookman has all the contact management synchronization functions you'd expect from your Palm PDA, all of this takes a backseat to the eBookman's true calling: entertainment.
The large, accommodating screen makes the eBookman an ideal book reader, and if you're afraid of squinting, it's also simple to change font sizes. Our test unit, the $199 EBM-911 with 16MB of internal RAM, provided enough elbowroom for novels, news, and the like. And if you don't need that much space, the $129 EBM-900 offers 8MB of storage.
And you may not need all that space, since the reading list is rather sparse, offering mostly classics, such as Bram Stoker's Dracula and foreign-language conversion books. Franklin promises that more titles and a Microsoft Reader converter will be available sometime later this year. One notable absence from the eBookman is the lack of any AvantGo- or Vindigo-like applications. These handy apps load fresh material from the Internet onto your PDA each time you synchronize, so you can read the New York Times, local movie listings, or restaurant reviews while you're on the go. Frankly, we were surprised that such a key bit of software was omitted from what's being billed as an entertainment-first PDA.
If you're not big on reading, you can enjoy audio books, though, since the eBookman supports the audible format and can play MP3s (audio books are also done in the MP3 format). This is where the MultiMedia Card slot in the back comes into play. MP3s are notorious space hogs, so extra cards are a welcome addition. And mercifully, unlike the RCA e-book readers, you're free to download the book and audio files to your PC.
Sounds pretty good
The sound quality of the eBookman isn't great, but it is good enough to enjoy most audio books. If you try listening to music, though, it sounds more like you're tuning into AM radio with its 96kbps sound. Don't bother looking for separate audio controls to adjust bass or treble--there aren't any. But you do have the option to record short memos or take notes.
Now, try comparing all of this to more single-minded devices such as RCA's REB1100 and REB1200. Both of the RCA units are clunky and more expensive and can only download e-books directly from the RCA-sanctioned online library. No files are yours to keep on a PC.