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silverstreak

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Member since:30.03.2005

Reviews:98

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My Little Black Book Reader

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31.01.2011 (19.02.2011)

Advantages:
Easy to operate; backlight included .

Disadvantages:
Short battery life, no keypad .

Recommendable Yes:

93 Ciao members have rated this review on average: exceptional See ratings
exceptional by (78%):
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  3. Mildew82
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WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH

When it comes to technical gadgets, I'm afraid I'm a bit of a dinosaur, although on the plus side my indifference means that I'll probably get through life without bumping into lampposts and passers-by whilst absorbed in some hand-held gadget or another. I don't expect to develop RSI in my thumbs through vigorous texting or gaming, and any deafness I might suffer as I grow older is likely to be through general wear and tear rather than the result of having music blasted into my eardrums via a pair of earplugs attached to a length of wire. Though I have to admit, I've been very tempted of late to treat myself to an e-book reader, and being a person to whom shelves of unread books are as visually pleasing as those containing bottles of the finest wines or olive oils, it goes without saying that I've been suffering a crisis of conscience. On the one hand, there's a deep sense of guilt that by climbing aboard the digital bandwagon I'll be contributing to the eventual demise of the high street bookshop; on the other, and from a more practical slant, I've simply run out of space for any more books at home, and since I can't quite bring myself to dump them off at the nearest charity shop, there they all sit, gathering copious amounts of dust. So I've recently begun to do some research, weighing up the pros and cons of getting an e-reader, but more or less accepting that I'd do the deed at some point during 2011.

GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES

My husband must have been paying more attention to my musings than I'd given him credit for, because on Christmas Day, I unwrapped not the Amazon Kindle that I'd presumed I'd eventually acquire but a rival version from a company called Elonex, whom I have to admit I'd previously never heard of. I now know that they are a British company specialising in tablet computers and e-book readers, of which my version is the somewhat unimaginatively titled 500EB. Compared to both its own 'big brothers' in Elonex's e-reader range and Amazon's Kindle, the 500EB is very minimalist in style, it doesn't have a keypad and there are just seven rather unobtrusive buttons situated below the 5-inch screen. I can't say I'm too aggrieved at the lack of a keypad, since it's unlikely that I'd ever need to use it; my prime reason for getting one of these devices is to read books and not much else, so I see little point in having functions that aren't going to get used. The screen, although a little smaller than most rival e-readers, is perfectly readable and if anything, the smaller size makes the whole gadget just about the right size to fit into one (average-sized) hand.

The 500EB comes in a stylish box made to resemble a real book and with it is supplied a mini USB charger and a pair of earphones that must have been designed with Noddy's best friend in mind. They're far too big for my delicate little lugholes and keep falling out, so if sound is something that's important to you whilst reading, you'll probably need to buy a more suitable pair. The USB charger is very 'mini' indeed, in that the short cable doesn't allow for the e-reader to sit on my desk while its battery is being charged, but the problem is easily solved by using an AC adapter which my sons use to charge their I-Pods. Setting the 500EB up for use was fairly easy despite having to employ a magnifying glass to read some parts of the user manual, particularly the page showing the key to the operating buttons. I discovered later that the manual can also be accessed from the settings menu, where you can change the font size to make it easier to read, but in true chicken-and-egg style, you don't find this out until it's too late.

LIBRARIES ARE NOT MADE; THEY GROW

My ever pessimistic but practically-minded husband had murmured his annual disclaimer that he had “kept the receipt in case you want to change it”, and I'm ashamed to say that there were one or two occasions when I was tempted to take him up on the offer, the first being when I realised that I wasn't going to be able to download books from Amazon, where I had stored some vouchers won in a recent prize draw. The problem is that while Kindle content can be downloaded to various Windows and Apple devices, the format isn't compatible with the rest of the e-book industry, which has had to make its own arrangements in the form of Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). ADE is a software which encrypts content protected by DRM (digital rights
Pictures of Elonex 500EB
Elonex 500EB The Box
The box it came in
management) and which is free to download; just as well, because the e-reader is useless without it. Downloading ADE to a computer is a process which the manual explains very well, and this turned out to be a painless exercise, even for me. It works a little like I-Tunes in that once you've downloaded some books you can create storage files – appropriately called bookshelves in this case – into which you drag and drop downloaded items which you can then sort in a variety of ways: alphabetically, by author and so on. Transferring the downloaded books to the e-reader is just a matter of connecting the device through the USB cable and then dragging a title across to the 500EB icon. Of course, the ADE system means that unlike the Kindle, there's no Wi-Fi capability, but being realistic, I can't envisage my needing to download a book whilst away from my computer, so I don't feel that I'm missing out on anything by not having that function.
FREE BUT NOT SO EASY

And so to the book downloading process itself, which is where I hit another temporary snag. Earlier, whilst working my way through the various menus (it isn't true that only men don't read instruction manuals properly) I had somehow managed to delete all the preloaded out-of-copyright books – I still don't know exactly how I did it – so I thought it best to practise with a few free downloads before attempting anything which might cost me money. Free books can be downloaded from the Elonex site itself, although the vast majority of them seem to be foreign language publications, or alternatively, there are a number of other sites on the internet, some of which don't require registration or membership. I used ManyBooks.net., which I found to be quite user-friendly. The manual is slightly misleading here, because it tells you that downloaded books will be added automatically to the “Purchased Books” section of the ADE library, and after several frustrated attempts I learned that the key word here is “purchased”. I found that free books weren't going into the library automatically and instead, I had to manually save them to a file and then transfer them to the library. When I eventually summoned up the courage to buy a book online, the process worked just as the instruction manual says, which I must say was a relief.

With Amazon out of the running for purchasing e-books, the two main alternative choices for the UK are WH Smith and Waterstones, neither of which have nearly as wide a range as Amazon, and both tend to be a bit more expensive across the board. It's worth mentioning that while certain out-of-copyright books are available free on Amazon, the other two will make you pay for them, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, for example, costs Ł1.49 from each, whereas I obtained it free from Elonex. It and many others are also free on a number of other sites. However, both WH Smith and Waterstones are quite easy to use, with WH Smith coming out marginally on top, except for the 'Sort by Author' function of its search facility, which doesn't work. There's no argument that Amazon is the better site overall and this is one area where I feel a bit miffed about not having a Kindle, I have to admit.
I'VE GOT A LITTLE LIST

When the 500EB is switched on you're taken straight to the library of downloaded books, with the book that you were last reading placed conveniently at the top. The rest of the library is accessed by scrolling through the titles listed, and while you can sort books by title, author and category, there isn't a function to search for a particular book. At the moment I have just nine books stored, but I can envisage it being a long and tedious task to locate a specific title should I ever reach the stage where I've downloaded the thousands of books which are supposedly able to be stored in the reader's memory. Incidentally, the Elonex website claims that 2GB (3000 books) storage space is available, although the specifications on the box claim double those values, so it's anybody's guess which is correct. And despite the manual stating that the device supports a memory card of up to 16GB, online reviewers have asserted that in fact 8GB is the maximum. Conflicting information, but again, this isn't something which I imagine I'll have a need for in the future: it's far more likely that I'll be as blind as a bat before I accumulate that many books, in which case I'll be past caring.

Reading various user reviews of e-book readers, there's a lot of talk about e-ink and how it's supposed to be easier on the eye than a standard LED screen, but as I've never seen a Kindle in the flesh, as it were, I can't tell you how the two compare. The 500EB has an LED screen which apparently has anti-glare properties, and I can't say there's been a noticeable amount of glare since I've been using the e-reader, but I have noticed that on the odd occasion that the sun has shown its face during the past month, the reflection at certain angles makes reading a little more difficult. Fortunately, you aren't restricted to reading in black and white since there are six font and background colours to choose from, and I've found that switching to, say, a white font against a blue background, or black against yellow can help considerably. Some colour combinations don't work together at all, however, much the same as with any type of screen.

Apart from changing the font and background colours, the 500EB will let me do quite a few other things, for example, I can set virtually any number of bookmarks as reference points, which will stay in place until I remove them and if I want to go to a specific page number I can do that too, as well as adding books to a favourites list. Books can be read in either portrait or landscape view, I can adjust the standby settings to suit, and sitting unobtrusively at the bottom of the screen as I read are the battery indicator, the date and time, and a reminder of what page I'm on and how many pages there are in total. To turn the page I can use either of two buttons below the screen or those on the right hand side of the device, the latter pair acting as volume buttons when listening to music. So despite other possible shortcomings, the 500EB is sufficiently equipped to keep the average reader satisfied without being too complicated technically.

A BOOK AT BEDTIME

The driving factor behind my keeping the Elonex e-reader was the fact that it has a backlight, which is something the Kindle doesn't have. These days, I am prone to waking in the early hours and being unable to get back to sleep quickly, and I find that reading is a good way to make my eyes feel tired enough to make me drift off again. Therefore, a device with a light was a necessity so that my husband doesn't have to endure being woken by the bedside light being on, and in fact, it's rather useful for reading by artificial light too, especially now that most of our lamps are equipped with ridiculously inefficient low-energy bulbs. Sometimes, in complete darkness, the screen can be a touch too bright, but I'll either adjust the brightness or change the background colour in order to compensate. With every advantage comes a disadvantage, it seems, and in this case, the backlight means that the battery life is shortened dramatically. I've read that the Kindle's battery life is around a month, whereas the 500EB has just six hours for reading purposes and twenty, it's claimed, for listening to music, where no backlight is required. I haven't tested those timings to the minute, but I'd say the six hours is probably fairly accurate, based on shorter reading times and corresponding battery usage. Whilst a month's battery life is very impressive, I have to ask myself whether it's really so inconvenient to have to charge the battery every six hours or so, and the answer is actually, no, it isn't. Realistically, I'm probably never going to be in a situation where I'd want to read for more than six hours and not be within reach of an electrical socket or a computer, so on balance I'd rather have the backlight than be without it.
AND THERE'S MORE...

Naturally, a device for reading books was never going to be just that, in the same way as a mobile phone isn't merely a way to make and receive phone calls. The 500EB is no exception, and while I can understand that many people find it comforting to listen to music at the same time as reading, I can't quite fathom why one would need to store photos and videos on an e-reader. As my fourteen-year-old son declared rather profoundly recently, “Multi-tasking is only possible when two different senses are involved – it doesn't work if you have to use the same sense for two activities”, and I have to say I agree with him; I can't read and look at photos on the same screen at the same time, so why bother with such a function?. Notwithstanding, I decided to see if I could master adding a few photos to my new toy, should I ever feel the urge to flick through them in the middle of the night. Surprisingly enough, I managed it quite easily – I won't be attempting to meddle with video clips, however, – so now, there my snaps are, probably never to be looked at again. If I change my mind though, I can do all sorts of interesting things like rotating them and viewing them as a slideshow, as long as I don't mind using up the battery even quicker. It seems that anything involving the use of colour, such as viewing photos or changing to a coloured font or background, eats away at the battery life faster than ordinary reading does. I haven't yet downloaded any reference books with coloured illustrations, but I imagine the effect is similar.

I GOT THE MUSIC IN ME (LITTLE BLACK E-READER)

I thought I might come round at some point to listening to some relaxing music whilst reading, so I was slightly more enthusiastic about downloading a few pieces of music. Time for some more toys to be thrown out of the pram, however, as I struggled to get any of the media players installed on our PC to acknowledge the 500EB, and I began to think that Elonex really must be regarded as a poor relation to the big boys currently dominating the e-reader market. Windows Media Player thought it was a USB Flash Device and whilst I thought I'd managed to import several tracks, these turned out to be in WMA format and therefore not compatible with my e-reader, which requires either MP3 or WAV, according to the specs list. I-Tunes refused to acknowledge the e-reader's existence in any shape or form, at which point, aforementioned 14 year-old decided that I was beyond help, and left me to it. After several frustrating hours of getting nowhere, I remembered that before our computer was wiped clean by a virus some months ago, it had had Real Player installed, a program which I'd hitherto not got round to reinstalling. Five minutes later and success came at last; I now have two thirds of a Classic FM triple CD on my e-reader and one of these days I might be really daring and buy myself a set of earphones that don't fall out. Or pigs might fly. But there you are, I've mastered nearly all of the e-reader's functions and if I can do it, anybody can.
READING THE SMALL PRINT

As must have become apparent by now, I'm keeping my unexpected but welcome Christmas gift and in fact, I'm now getting along with it very well. I love the fact that I can now read without having to sit directly under a lamp during the evening, or without a light on at all in bed, and I've come to terms with the slightly smaller choice I have of books available to download compared to the Kindle. I'm even pleasantly surprised at the ease with which I can read on such a small screen, something which I'd always been sceptical about in the past. It helps that there are five font sizes to make use of, so that even the tiniest of print doesn't hamper my ability to read without straining my eyes. There are one or two minor niggles: the button which should take me straight to the music function doesn't work, but on the rare occasion I might use the facility, I can access it through the main menu, which is no great inconvenience; another odd thing is that within a minute of being switched on, the screen goes blank as the e-reader appears to switch itself off. This might happen two or three times, after which everything is normal again, so I'm not sure if this is a general problem or one peculiar to my particular model. One of the reviews I read suggested disabling the standby function, which I've now done, but it doesn't seem to have had an effect . Maybe I should have taken the e-reader back, but each of these anomalies seems so minor that it doesn't seem worth the effort, and since Elonex's website has a support section, I might just get in touch with them before the guarantee is up if the problem persists.

NEVER MIND THE QUALITY, FEEL THE WIDTH

Cost wise, I suppose it's a question of “you get what you pay for”, although in truth, you don't necessarily want or need all that you get. I see that the standard Kindle now costs Ł111, whereas the Elonex 500EB is currently on sale at Waterstones for Ł79.99, quite considerably less. Like the Kindle, it doesn't come with a case, which I think is essential for a gadget like this, but you can buy an Elonex protective slip pouch with a pull-strap for a little over Ł14, making the complete package come to less than Ł100. For anybody looking for a decent enough e-reader without all the bells and whistles, then I'd say go for the 500EB, but I'm aware that it won't be suitable for everyone; for my part, it does what I want it to do, and until such time as I lose or drop it, or heaven forbid, it stops working, I'll stick with it. That's not to say I'll never wonder what the Kindle would have been like in comparison, nor, I suspect, will it stop me from ever buying 'proper' books again. Dinosaurs, like leopards, rarely change their spots.


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Comments about this review »

Gingerkitty 07.10.2012 16:50

Superbly reviewed. I've been toying with the idea of an e-reader, and am always interested to read about the differences between the different brands...

ryanando 20.09.2012 14:13

E from me

Mildew82 19.08.2012 16:36

Excellent review!

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Product details

Manufacturer Elonex
Screen Size in Inches 5
Supported Formats DRM Text : ePub (Adobe DRM protected), PDF (Adobe DRM protected), BBeB Book (PRS DRM protected), Text, RTF , JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP , MP3 (Non encrypted), AAC (Non encrypted) , ePub, BBeB Book, PDF, TXT, RTF, Micrsoft® Word, (Conversion to the Reader require
Touchscreen without Touchscreen

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Review Ratings »

This review of Elonex 500EB has been rated:

"exceptional" by (78%):

  1. Gingerkitty
  2. ryanando
  3. Mildew82

and 73 other members

"very helpful" by (22%):

  1. lillamarta
  2. Ri0TT
  3. Novabug

and 19 other members

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.



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