The complete guide to eBook readers - August 2009

With Sony's official launch of the Touch Edition and Pocket Edition, there's now officially more eBook readers on the market than you can shake an entire branch of sticks at. Some are quite expensive, others very expensive and they all seem to support their own unique text files, many of which no one's ever even heard of. Naturally, we at Pocket-lint are not going to leave you dangling in the wind. So, if you've been using a few eBook apps on the iPhone or the DS and want to get more involved without the LCD eye burn, then take a gander at our run down of all the models out there. Happy hunting.

The Big Players

Sony Reader Digital Book - PRS 505

Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
8

Storage:
256MB + SD card + Sony Mem Stick

Files supported:
LRF, PDF, TXT, RTF, ePub, RTF, TXT, MP3, AAC (non-DRM), JPEG, GIF, PNG & BMP

Weight:
250g

Dimensions:
175 x 122 x 8 mm

Availability:
$279/£195

There's a lot to like about Sony's range of eBook readers and the cheapest one out there at the moment is the Digital Book or the PRS-505 - an upgrade of the 500 which went out of production. It's a very similar creature to its predecessor only thinner - as is the trend - and with four times the storage capacity. It uses an E ink technology although an improved version on the 500 which offers more shades of grey, a brighter white state - for higher contrast - and a faster refresh time for each of the 6,800 page turns you get on every charge. There's no internet connectivity, so all the content must be sideloaded via the cards or the USB port but the Sony portal does provide books for sale as well as half a million free works in the public domain thanks to Google. Worth bearing in mind.

Sony Reader Touch Edition - PRS 600


Screen size:
6" touchscreen

Shades of Grey:
8

Storage:
512MB + SD card + Sony Mem Stick

Files supported:
LRF, PDF, TXT, RTF, ePub, RTF, TXT, MP3, AAC (non-DRM), JPEG, GIF, PNG & BMP

Weight:
286g

Dimensions:
175 x 122 x 10 mm

Availability:
$299


No QWERTY on the touchscreener from Sony but there is a stylus and virtual keyboard for when you need. It comes with an onboard dictionary - Oxford English, of course - and in black, silver and red. The launch shows a very reasonable level of value for a touchscreen reader which indicates both Sony's level of attack on the market as well as perhaps a hint of the competition they expect to face in this field. The only real weakness next to the Kindle is the lack of Wi-Fi or any OTA transfer.

Sony Reader Pocket Edition - PRS 300

Screen size:
5"

Shades of Grey:
8

Storage:
512MB + SD card + Sony Mem Stick

Files supported:
LRF, PDF, TXT, RTF, ePub, RTF, TXT, MP3, AAC (non-DRM), JPEG, GIF, PNG & BMP

Weight:
250g

Dimensions:
159 x 108 x 10 mm

Availability:
$199


The smaller Pocket Edition is designed to replace the lower end PRS-505 and comes, again, very competitively priced. The missing touchscreen and wireless connectivity puts it in competition with the rebadge budget models further down the list but there's every reason for the public to stick with a name they trust when the money's right. The battery will last for two weeks and 6,800 page turns - which ever comes first - and there's the bonus of the Sony eBook portal to help make up your mind.

Sony Reader Daily Edition

Screen size:
7"

Shades of Grey:
16

Availability:
$400 (US only)


Housed in an aluminum casing, the screen will be able to display 30-35 lines of text in portrait mode and will be the first of Sony's to offer 16 levels of greyscale. Its internal memory will hold more than 1000 ebooks plus they'll be a memory slot to expand further. Best of all though, the Daily will finally see a mass market eBook go full 3G and, with luck, it won't tie users down to any one particular network.

Amazon Kindle

Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
4

Storage:
256MB + SD card

Files supported:
MOBI, PRC, TXT, AZW, MP3

Weight:
292g

Dimensions:
191 x 135 x 18 mm

Availability:
$299 (US only) - out of production


Released while the jury was more out than it currently is on eBooks, the orginal Kindle didn't help the cause an aweful lot with its notably unusual looks, to put it kindly. It doesn't have a world of supported file formats with the notable absence of fairly basic standards such as DOCs and PDFs, however Amazon did supply a conversion process by e-mail but at a price. There's no Wi-Fi. Instead the Kindle did - and still does in all the later incarnations - rely upon Sprint's specialised data network to provide the Amazon Whispernet service where users can download eBooks over the air or onto a computer and sideloaded via USB. Volumes cost anywhere between $0.99 and $200. These files are heavily DRM-protected, though, with Amazon making it quite clear that they are licensed works and not purchased. All the Kindles come with a 3.5mm jack for MP3 listening, QWERTY keys and, just in case you were thinking of buying one for outside the States, all Whispernet payments must be made by a US payment card. Sorry.

Amazon Kindle 2

Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
16

Storage:
2GB (1.4GB user-accessible)

Files supported:
MOBI, PRC, TXT, AZW, MP3, AAX

Weight:
289g

Dimensions:
203 x 135 x 9 mm

Availability:
$299 (US only)


This February saw the long expected upgrade with Amazon addressing the aesthetics in all the right ways. The Kindle 2 is half as thick and marginally lighter but some of the other changes have not gone down so well. The increase in the shades of grey means that some of the ink has less of a contrast with the background and that's caused a few users to complain of headaches and even downgrade to the Kindle 1. The SD card slot has also disappeared which has effectively vastly reduced the potential number of books you can carry around. That said, there's still room for 1,500 non-illustrated novels. File formats are largely the same but the Kindle 2 has seen the addition of a text-to-speech function for the visually impaired and those wishing to believe Stephen Hawkins is reading them a story.

Amazon Kindle DX

Screen size:
9.7"

Shades of Grey:
16

Storage:
4GB (3.3 GB user-accessible)

Files supported:
MOBI, PRC, TXT, AZW, MP3, AAX, PDF

Weight:
540g

Dimensions:
264 x 183 x 9 mm

Availability:
$489 (US only)


The Kindle DX was designed for students and other people who might use sheets closer to A4. It also happens to work quite nicely for the newspaper subscriptions which are also available through Whispernet. With a nigh on 10-inch screen, it's the second largest eBook reader out there at the moment and the only one of its family to support PDF files without any pre-conversion needed. It'll also give you up to four days of use on one charge and that includes Wi-Fi use . It's also one of the few eBook reader so far to come with an accelerometer.

Budget Models

Samsung Papyrus

Screen size:
5" touchscreen

Shades of Grey:
4

Storage:
512MB

Files supported:
Unknown

Weight:
Unknown

Dimensions:
A5 (148mm × 210mm)

Availability:
Coming to US and UK "soon" for $299


If there's one thing Samsung does well, it's to nail the opposition on price. So it was of little wonder in June when the Papyrus was announced for $60 less than the Kindle. It will feature a stylus for the touchscreen and 512MB of on-board memory but there's no SD card slot to back it up. Aside from being able to read the latest digital versions of your favourite books, the model will also double up as a note and memo taker, world clock, diary, calculator and contacts organiser, making a truly modern day Filofax. What it won't have, though, is all the connectivity options seen with the big players. It does come in a few different pretty colours. Not sure that's quite the same, though.

Hanlin eReader

iBook V3, Walkbook, BEBOOK, EZ Reader, Paprye 6.1, Koobe
Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
4

Storage:
512MB + SD card

Files supported:
PDF, TXT, RTF, DOC, CHM, FB2, HTM, WOLF, DJVU, LIT, ePUB, PPT, MOBI, TIFF, JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, MP3, also ZIP & RAR storage

Weight:
210g

Dimensions:
184 x 120.5 x 9.9 mm

Availability:
£199


It's easy to see why the Hanlin eReader is a popular choice - the price and the fact that the file types have nearly made it to a third line. It may not be the prettiest but there's a reasonable amount of storage on offer, you get 7,000 page turns per charge and there's no need to muck around with file conversion. You can more or less sideload anything you like straight onto it to read on the move. On the downside, there's no wireless web connectivity available but then that's what keeps the price and weight where they are.

Cybook Opus

Screen size:
5"

Shades of Grey:
4

Storage:
1GB + microSD card

Files supported:
HTML, TXT, JPG, GIF, PNG, ePUB & PDF

Weight:
150g

Dimensions:
151 x 108 x 10 mm

Availability:
£215


Another from the pocket-sized department is the recently launched Cybook Opus. It's got an excellent whack of storage and a solid 8,000 page turns before you have to plug it in again and, for one reason or another, the company has opted to go with microSD rather than its bigger brother. It's got an accelerometer, a slightly smaller screen size - the same as the Sony PocketReader - but it doesn't look too hot on supported file formats. The website says that you can get new firmware to support PRC but at the expense of losing PDF compatibility. Still, if you want your eReader to be as portable as possible, it is one way to go. Surprisingly though, more expensive than Sony's model.

Cybook Gen3

Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
4

Storage:
64MB + SD card

Files supported:
MOBI, PRC, PalmDoc, HTML, TXT, PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, MP3

Weight:
174g

Dimensions:
118 x 188 x 9 mm

Availability:
£200


If you were after something a little more standard, Cybook have had a reader out since 2007 called the Gen3. Very reasonable value for money at £200 and a fair amount of file support. The only things to watch for here are the small onboard memory of 64MB and the frustrating 2.5mm jack for your audio. Adaptor not included. You still get a perfectly healthy 8,000 page turns per charge but, with a model that's two years old now, don't expect a work of art.

COOL-er eReader

Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
8

Storage:
1GB + SD card

Files supported:
PDF, ePUB, FB2, RTF, TXT, HTML, PRC, JPG & MP3

Weight:
178g

Dimensions:
183 x 118 x 11 mm

Availability:
£189


It may not have the same extensive file support as the Hanlin but the COOL-ER is in the same league. To its credit, it's a little lighter, a lot prettier and a tenner cheaper. It's also got plenty of onboard memory which may not seem like an issue when dealing with text files but once you start using more MP3s, you could well come unstuck without the extra space. Again, you're looking at 8,000 page turns per charge, a library of 300,000 volumes available for download, and comes in a choice of eight iPod nano-like colours. All in all, a very good choice. Let's just hope that the person that named it has long since left the company.

Foxit eSlick

Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
4

Storage:
512MB + SD card

Files supported:
PDF, TXT, MP3

Weight:
180g

Dimensions:
188 × 118 × 9 mm

Availability:
$260


It'd be a bit of a surprise is Foxit's reader didn't support PDFs but the shocker here is that the eSlick isn't compatible with much more. There's no wireless connectivity and it's a pretty basic eReader all round. So, it seems like quite a lot to ask for $260 plus postage and tax for a device that only readers PDFs and TXTs while playing MP3s like just about every other device under the sun.

Elonix eReader

Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
4

Storage:
512MB + SD card

Files supported:
TXT, PDF, HTML & ePUB

Weight:
180g

Dimensions:
188 × 118 × 9 mm

Availability:
£190


From the same rebadged Netronix EB-600 family as the eSlick, the COOL-er and the Gen3, is the Elonix reader stocked through Borders. It comes with 512MB of memory - enough for approximately 1000 eBooks - and 100 "classic titles" preloaded. You can also get an accessory pack which includes a 4GB SD card and leather case. You get the same 8,000 page turns per charge but this time it's a little easier to get hold of on these shores.

The Weird, Wonderful & Expensive

iRex iLiad 2nd edition

Screen size:
8.1" touchscreen

Shades of Grey:
16

Storage:
256MB + CF, MM & SD cards

Files supported:
PDF, HTML, TXT, JPG, BMP, PNG, PRC

Weight:
435g

Dimensions:
155 x 217 x 16 mm

Availability:
£549


An 8.1-inch touchscreen with stylus is a very nice thing but iRex seems to be living in a dream land if they think anyone's going to pay over £500 in the UK for the privilege. Yes, we're starved of the Kindle DX over here but nobody's that hungry. There's some reasonable file support going one here and some slightly archaic media card support but where iRex justifies the cash is in connectivity and malleability. To break that down a little, the iLiad supports Wi-Fi and 10/100 Mbit/s Ethernet LAN and you can download books directly to the device as well as sideloading. The malleability comes with the touchscreen and stylus which allow you to annotate your content as well as just read it. It's still damn expensive but if you have to doodle as you go, it's the only choice really.

iRex Digital Reader 1000

Screen size:
10.2" touchscreen

Shades of Grey:
16

Storage:
1GB + SD cards

Files supported:
PDF, TXT, HTML, PRC, ePUB, JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF & BMP

Weight:
535g

Dimensions:
217 x 268 x 12 mm

Availability:
£599


Bigger still and for an even larger belt of cash is the more recent iRex Digital Reader 1000 which either comes as is, with a touchscreen or with a touchscreen plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth depending on whether its the 1000, the 1000s or 1000SW you go for. In fairness to the whacking great outlay, these are the largest eReaders of all right now and, short of MP3 playback and DOC support, they let you do just about anything you need. One major criticism of these devices has been the battery life, though. It's measured in time rather than page turns and the company had to remove their claims that it "lasts for days" after figures of just 12 hours were reported back by customers.

Sony Libré

Screen size:
6"

Shades of Grey:
4

Storage:
10MB + Sony Memory Stick

Weight:
300g

Dimensions:
126 x 190 x 13 mm

Availability:
Japan only


The Libré breaks a firsts for our list. It's the only device here to run on AAA batteries if you lose all the stored up mains power. It was designed to be about the same size and weight as a normal book and the idea is that you can use the QWERTY keys to add notes in the margins of your texts. It was the result of a project between Sony and the Japanese publishers and it uses the Broadband eBook format with the content provided Publishing Link and books that last 60 days before expiring.

Fujitsu FLEPia

Screen size:
8" colour screen

Shades of Grey:
262,000 colours

Storage:
4GB + SD cards

Availability:
99,750 yen (£725) Japan only


If ever there was proof that Japan is streets ahead of the rest of us, this is it. The FLEPia is the first and only colour eBook reader in production and there are no plans to take it out of the country so far. It smashes all the others for online storage with a capacity for around 5,000 books and it'll run for 40 hours on a single charge. No news on what files it supports but then, they're probably not files we've ever heard of on our rudimentary computers.

Plastic Logic

Screen size:
8 x 11.5" flexible display

Files supported:
DOC, TXT, ePUB, XLS, PPT, PDF

Availability:
Second half of 2009 onwards


This reader is aimed primarily at the business market and supports Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint and Adobe PDFs, as well as newspapers, periodicals and books. Plastic Logic says the device has a gesture-based interface and will offer wireless connectivity. Unlike all the other devices, it's flexible thanks to its plastic display. We're supposed to start seeing them from the end of this year but, without a sniff of news on the matter for a while, 2010 would seem more likely.

Readius Pocket eReader

Screen size:
5" rollable

Shades of Grey:
16

Storage:
256MB + microSD

Files Supported:
HTML, PDF, ASCII, ePUB, JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, MP3, AAC, WMA

Weight:
115g

Dimensions:
115 x 160 x 21 mm

Availability:
Awaiting rescue


The Readius looks like a sad tale of something that's never going to see the light of day. If it ever does make it out of the blocks, it'll be the smallest eReader by far and the only truly pocket sized offering. It's all possible because of the rollable screen which tucks away neatly when not in use. It's touted to offer 30 hours of battery life but, best of all, supports both HSDPA and Bluetooth 2.0, so you can download books just about wherever you are in the world. The site's still active but the Dutch company behind the project has become a victim of the recession.


>