iLiadHere’s a hands-on review of the iLiad, mixed in with an essay on e-books.

In Trusted Reviews, Sandra Vogel sensibly vents against harsh DRM and proprietary e-book formats. She puts in a word for ASCII-focused Project Gutenberg.

Vogel is right–ASCII can be turned into a number of diffrent formats, athough it would be nice for readers not to have to worry about this.

So how does she feel about the iLiad, which apparently will now go on sale in April rather than March? Well, she appreciates the glories of the technology but is frustrated that the iLiad isn’t more of a full-fledged computer. I myself think that time and lower prices will take care of that–I am guessing that I’d vastly prefer reading e-books on it rather than a Tablet PC. Excerpts from her article:

The iLiad is about A5 in size, and is mostly screen. It has a limited number of buttons around the sides, including a rather clever long bar that you push to move from page to page. You can interact with it using a stylus too, and can write onto the screen, annotating documents or making your own drawings onto ‘blank paper’.`

The 1024 x 768 pixel screen is ideal for reading texts. It has a flat mat finish rather than a shiny bright one so that it doesn’t glare at you like PDA and smartphone screens can. Consequently it can be stared at for long periods of time. And it is graphically rich enough with 16 shades of grey to show enough colour gradation to give a good approximation of newspaper print…

The screen uses technology from a supplier called E-Ink. This is very different from the types of display technologies we are used to. It has low power consumption, can be read in the sunlight, and produces text which is remarkably clear and well defined. iRex isn’t the first to use E-Ink, and you can find more examples at the E-Ink Web site….

iRex is keen to offer its content to readers through its own portal service. The idea is that you’ll be able to subscribe and then get downloads automatically, for example the daily newspaper sent in time for the morning commute via you broadband connection. That puts the iLiad into the category of devices I don’t really want to carry – one which relies on a subscription to a service that will only deliver to a single device.

But the iLiad is not limited just to this kind of use. It has slots for Compact Flash and SD cards, and you can use these or a link to your computer to put your own content on. The iLiad supports PDF, XHTML, TXT and MP3 formats, with more to be added. These are all nicely non proprietary and open up the possibility to read Project Gutenberg books, for example.

My take so far? Well, the iLiad is certainly very compelling as an idea, and having seen the technology in action I can confirm it is stunningly high quality. But the hardware doesn’t quite do it for me. It is a bit large for the pocket, and I’d have to carry it as well as whatever PDA or smartphone I also needed at the time as it can’t duplicate their functions. The same goes for anyone else needing to work on the move – this is a reader, not a fully fledged computer.


  1. The review says you can write on the screen with the stylus. But there is little detail, and I wonder how that may work given the extremely poor refresh rate on e-ink screens. Besides, the jianke e-book we saw recently on video had to refresh the whole screen for even small changes. Does anyone have any idea how they might make writing on e-ink work?

  2. If I have understood the thing correctly the exceptionally poor refresh rates are due to the full screen anti-ghosting that is done. Such anti-ghosting doesn’t necessarily have to be done when writing with the stylus.

  3. pardon my dumbness… could you please ellaborate on that a little bit further, if you have some spare time? I don’t really understand the anti-ghosting concept.

  4. Well, apparently the e-ink screen suffers from ghosting when the device doesn’t do the annoying blank-negative-blank-newpage dance that can be seen in the videos linked to earlier. However, a little ghosting isn’t annoying (and probably isn’t even visible) on highly non-uniform content such as handwriting. If you use the “eraser” and then write on the same area again you might want to manually de-ghost the screen (I assume there is a ‘de-ghost’/’refresh screen’ button) to make the erased area un-ghosted, but I don’t think I’d bother.

  5. If the hardware interface for the new display is anything like the old one, it is possible to do at least row by row accessing of the pixels, if not RAM access. Though there is about a 1/10 to 1/4 second to get the black to white transition…

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