The BeBook Club is a pared-down version of the BeBook Neo - minus the Wi-Fi connectivity and sporting a redesigned navigation control. The device boasts a 6-inch E-Ink display with an 800 x 600-pixel resolution and a rather average 8 levels of grey. The Club is equipped with 512MB of built-in memory and the inclusion of an SD card slot means that this can be expanded. It's described as being suitable for the "average and occasional reader", so we had a close to look to find out exactly what that means and whether it can compete with the likes of the Kindle and Sony's e-readers.
Measuring 196 x 121 x 10.6mm and weighing in at 278g, the device is certainly chunkier than the Kindle. However, it's still small and light enough to easily slip into a bag. The simple design includes a chic matt white finish, while the back of the device is predominantly made up of elegant brushed aluminium. Not only does this look cool, it's also cool to the touch so it should keep your digits from getting hot and sweaty.
Along with the 6-inch screen, the front of the device is home to buttons for turning the page backwards and forwards, along with Menu and Back buttons and a set of multidirectional navigation buttons and a Select button, which for some reason is joined to the left-hand direction button. Along the bottom edge of the Club, you'll find volume up and down controls, a Mini-USB port for charging and connecting to your computer, a power button, an SD card slot and a 3.5mm jack. Having the power button on the underside of the device is a bit a of a strange choice, that seems to be more about aesthetics than function. Although it's neatly hidden away, giving a slick finish to the visible edges of the device, it can be quite easy to press accidentally, particularly if you want to rest the Club on a hard surface while reading. We also found it a bit odd that the volume up button is on the left, while the volume down button is placed to the right, as it's usually the other way round on most devices.
The first thing you'll see on the Quick Start Guide that's included in the box is a large message that reads "The BeBook Club does not have a touch screen. Please do not press the screen". It may seem obvious that not everything nowadays offers a touch screen, but we're so used to it both on tablets and other e-readers, that it really is difficult not to casually swipe the screen when navigating around the onscreen menus, as it's something we've come to expect.
Before you start buying paperless books, the first thing that you need to do (besides charging the device) is to set the time zone, time and date. Most of this is pretty straightforward, although the interface for setting the time is clunky beyond belief and infuriatingly (and ironically) time consuming. The manufacturer suggests installing Adobe Digital Editions in order to manage your e-books and transfer them onto your device. This free piece of software is fast and easy to download and does indeed provide an easy place to collate all your electronic literature, as well as providing the key to unlock and DRM-protected content that you buy from online book stores.
The device takes just over 10 seconds to power up, after which you'll be taken straight to the icon-based home screen. From there you can access the Library to get to your books. As with other BeBook devices, the Club supports a wide range of file formats including EPUB, DOC, PDF, TXT, CHM, HTML, FB2, DJVU, mobipocket, PDB, JPG, PNG, WAV, MP3, TIFF, GIF and BMP.
When reading a book, the only things you'll see on the screen are the text itself, along with a battery level icon, the page number/total number of pages, and a handy bar graphic that shows you how far through the book you are.
The text itself is extremely sharp and easy to read, while the E-Ink screen is very easy on the eyes. Although it's possible to use tablets such as the iPad for reading ebooks, the backlit screens on these devices are certain to take their toll on your peepers after a while, and they're difficult to read when you're out in bright daylight. If you're in the market for a device to regularly read books on then a product with E-Ink technology is really a no-brainer.
Although the screen makes your books perfectly easy to read, it only supports 8 levels of grey, while the e-readers from Sony and Amazon both offer double that amount, making them slightly sharper. You're unlikely to be fooled into thinking that you're looking at a piece of paper when reading on the Club as the background is rather grey, especially when compared to its rivals.
Obviously the device automatically bookmarks the page that you're on so that even after turning the Club off and on again, you can pick up exactly where you left off. There's also an option to manually change the screen orientation if you prefer a landscape style of reading. You can scroll through the pages, rather than simply flipping to the next one, but we found the scrolling to be rather sluggish. We also found that zooming in on pages was such a convoluted process that it was best left alone. The 512MB built-in memory is a fair bit smaller than the capacity offered by the Kindle or Sony's Reader Touch. However, the SD card slot does you give you the capability to upgrade, so this shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Unlike its big brother, the BeBook Neo, the Club does not include Wi-Fi connectivity. Obviously the absence of Wi-Fi means no web-based functions but it also has the advantage of saving you valuable battery life. And as the non-touch screen isn't really set up for web browsing anyway, the lack of wireless internet is no great loss. Meanwhile, the impressive battery life offers a claimed 12,000 page views or 25 hours of music playback.
You can load music files onto the device simply by connecting it up to your computer and dragging and dropping. We loaded it up with a few MP3s to test out the audio credentials. Operation is simple enough, although navigating through the onscreen play, stop and skip buttons becomes a little tedious. There's no built-in speaker, so you'll need to plug some headphones into the 3.5mm jack on the underside of the device. As you'd expect, sound quality isn't mind-blowing, but it's perfectly reasonable and even did a decent job of reproducing the heavy bass and gravel-throated vocals on our Soulsavers test track.
Overall, this is a decent e-book reader that's compact enought to carry around all day, while the E-Ink screen is clear and comfortable to read. The product has a reasonably chic finish, although it simply doesn't exude the same level of class as its main rivals. We also found navigating around various onscreen menus to be somewhat clunky, while features such as zooming were so arduous that we felt that they weren't worth bothering with.
If this was a budget option then we wouldn't hesitate to recommend it but, sadly, it's not. You can get a Kindle for around £40 less, or opt for the Wi-Fi and 3G-enabled for the same price. Likewise, it's not that much cheaper than Sony's e-reader, particularly as the performance isn't as good. This isn't a bad product at all, but we think there are much better options around for you to spend you hard-earned cash on.