Ebook readers aren't new - but it's only recently that there has been enough industry support and books available to bother buying them. Just in time for this explosion is the Cool-e-reader or Cool-er, a budget, lightweight ebook reader.
What you first notice about this device is how light it is - at first we thought we'd been sent a dummy version as it weighs in at only 178g. This is primarily due to it's entirely plastic construction. Although it's apparently been drop-tested, we don't think it would take much to crack this device - especially by landing on a corner - as they often do. You can twist the device in your hands and during testing we lost one of the screws out of the back - never a good sign! A metal construction would have been much more solid, but would have also been heavier and considerably colder to the touch on those winter mornings - one plus side to the plastic route.
Unfortunately, it's not just the construction material that's at fault - the main directional pad - used for selecting pages, menu items or playing the built-in Soduku is really not very nice to use - feeling cheap and poorly constructed - which is a little how the Cool-er looks.
The Cool-er will apparently last up to 8000 screen refreshes before needing charging via the USB port. There's no backlight as it uses an E Ink display - par for the course for these devices - so reading the screen is like reading a book, with the eye strain associated with backlit displays. If there is enough light to read a normal book, there is enough light to read the Cool-er. Thanks to a satin finish to the screen, it even copes well in direct sunlight, as the (non-touch) Sony Readers do, and it has the standard 800 x 600-pixel resolution.
Getting books onto the Cool-er couldn't be simpler - via USB it acts as a simple Mass Storage Device, or you can insert an SD card instead. There is no software included (or necessary) - you simply drag and drop your publications. This meant it worked perfectly under Ubuntu Linux as well as Windows without any drivers. This is fine for books that don't feature any DRM, but if you want to read the latest blockbuster purchased from an online store, you'll need Adobe Digital Editions to handle the rights management. Again, free, simple, and par for the course.
The Cool-er is based on a Linux OS and we've been informed that the entire OS will be made GPL in the near future, allowing developers to chop and change the firmware to add the features they require. It supports PDF, EPUB, FB2, RTF, TXT, HTML, PRC, JPG and MP3, so you'll be able to view images and listen to music if you choose. Annoyingly, the Cool-er uses a 2.5mm headphone jack instead of the standard 3.5mm jack - although an adapter is included.
Selecting your book is a simple affair and will return you to the last page read. You have the usual options such as font size, font face, ability to bookmark and where available - an index. If you're progressing at a normal reading pace, the delay of moving between pages is not really noticeable as the screen refreshes. E Ink displays are inherently slow to refresh due to the way in which they work, so if you planning scanning through a book, you'll soon get frustrated.
The Cool-er is a competent device, but we do have strong concerns over it's built quality. For nearly £180 it just feels "cheap", especially when compared to the similarly priced Sony Readers made from brushed aluminium.
We're excited to see another brand on the market, but in its current incarnation, we can't help but feel that it could be better. If the Cool-er was under £100, we'd recommend without a qualm - but spending nearly £200, you won't be impressed with what you're looking at in 6 months time after being chucked around in your briefcase on your morning commute. Either wait for the price to come down, or get something more solid like the Sony devices.