The BeBook is an electronic book (ebook) using an electrophoretic display from Dutch company Endless Ideas BV.

There's no backlight and it instead uses power to move a coloured dye to represent text and images. In contrast to more commercial models from Sony (see Sony Reader PRS-505 review) and the Amazon Kindle, the BeBook is aligned to the open-source free book market. To that end it supports a larger array of formats, from PDF to HTML to RTF, along with various graphics and audio formats.

Support for DRM-restricted formats is included in the BeBook though, for the MobiPocket format, so your choices for buying new books is limited. But there's a wide body of out-of-copyright work in the public domain, with online projects such as the regarded Project Gutenberg aiming to digitize written works, already hosting 25,000 books. The complete works of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde are just a click away.

Sourcing ebooks from such a wide variety of sources (of admittedly varying quality) throws up a number of problems. Text and rtf files from Gutenberg have hard returns after every 72 characters, which makes line breaks on the BeBook appear in the wrong places. Text in PDF files was often too small to read, even after you've zoomed in to the margin widths, or used a third level of zoom to flip the page into landscape mode.

HTML files often crashed the BeBook, and we didn't find the ability to read PowerPoint files, images nor MP3 files of much use. Microsoft LIT and DOC files either didn't open or took 15 to 20 seconds to turn a page, making them virtually unusable. The best bet is to find a good source of RTF files online - such as the excellent Manybooks - and use that to fill the BeBook with readable material.

Other issues include forced hyphenated of long words, and even across pages. And chapters would start in the middle of pages; in general the inconsistent nature of these text files lacks the finesse of a real book. Still, you get what you pay for and free access to a huge library of classics may be worth a little untidiness.

The slightly shaggy nature of the available text files is matched by the down-to-earth feel of the BeBook itself. In its black plastic case with tic-tac buttons and e-paper screen, it has a retro feel, rather like an old Psion.

The BeBook's screen resembles paper, and is no harder to read for long periods. It uses power only when you turn pages, and claims to provide 7500 page turns on a single four-hour charge. There is a slight delay when turning pages, when the screen will flash solid black.

There are some nice design touches to the BeBook. It's well-designed for the left- and right-handed, and the leather case works in both directions. But it will sell on functionality rather than looks.

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BeBook: Specs

  • Electronic book with electrophoretic display
  • 6in (800x600) screen
  • supports PDF, MOBI, PRC, EPUB, LIT, TXT, FB2, DOC, HTML, RTF, DJVU, WOL, PPT, MBP, CHM, BMP, JPG, PNG, GIF, TIF, RAR, ZIP AND MP3
  • USB 1.1 port
  • headphone jack
  • 512MB internal storage
  • SD Card slot
  • lithium-ion battery 950mAh
  • 184x120x10mm
  • 220g
  • Electronic book with electrophoretic display
  • 6in (800x600) screen
  • supports PDF, MOBI, PRC, EPUB, LIT, TXT, FB2, DOC, HTML, RTF, DJVU, WOL, PPT, MBP, CHM, BMP, JPG, PNG, GIF, TIF, RAR, ZIP AND MP3
  • USB 1.1 port
  • headphone jack
  • 512MB internal storage
  • SD Card slot
  • lithium-ion battery 950mAh
  • 184x120x10mm
  • 220g

OUR VERDICT

Whereas Sony's device requires Adobe Digital Editions and is aimed at selling you books, the BeBook is better suited to the array of free online material. This may be more challenging, but as we got used to finding texts in a readable format, so our opinion of the BeBook's usefulness rose. It lacks the elegence of Sony's offering, but the BeBook is a versatile e-reader.

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