The book of riches
Taking the $699 REB1200 in hand, we couldn't help but feel a sense of luxury. Open the attached leather cover, held closed by two magnets, and the unit turns itself on, revealing a large (8.2-inch diagonal, 480-by-640-pixel-resolution), color touch screen. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, we found the screen to be extremely sensitive to viewing angle and the displayed text to be quite pixelated. Though the display didn't strain our eyes, we think that many readers will long for the printed page after a few hours with this electronic version. On a more positive note, the easy-to-use contrast and brightness controls let you adjust the display for any lighting conditions, so you can read in the dark. It's also easy to increase the font sizes.
The device weighs a hefty 33 ounces, which makes it less portable than a paperback. It runs for 5 to 10 hours on the rechargeable lithium-ion battery; that's only about a quarter of the time of the cheaper, black-and-white REB1100. The REB1200 connects to the outside world using the 56kbps modem or an Ethernet adapter, allowing you to download compatible books that you purchase into its 8MB of onboard memory (that's about 8,000 pages' worth). However, there's a very limited universe of books to choose from. It supports only books released in the Gemstar eBook format, which currently consists of the top-selling nonfiction and fiction titles, a few periodicals, and a smattering of classics. The REB1200 won't display books in the Microsoft Reader or Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader formats. And the books you buy can only be read on your e-book, not on your PC or on a friend's e-book.
We downloaded the latest issues of Newsweek and Fortune into the REB1200, but we were disappointed to find no photos or illustrations whatsoever. This just underscored our frustration with the product. We'd love to be able to use its big screen and network connections to browse the Internet, manage our contacts, or compose e-mail, but all it can do is display books; it can't even download other documents you might need for work. The unit's cool Highlighting, Markup, Search, and Bookmarking features could be very useful, but since there's no way to get textbooks or technical manuals onto the device, those features have little actual practicality. We were also surprised to see that it lacked some of the features of the much smaller and cheaper REB1100, including a USB port for connecting to a PC. Also, while the REB1200 has a dictionary, it's more complicated to look up a definition.
It's hard to imagine paying $699 and lugging around a nearly two-pound device just to read a few preselected books. The REB1200's design has potential, but you can't read all of your books, magazines, and documents with it. Until that situation is corrected with greater book selection and wider support for other document formats, we recommend that you stay away from this reader.