iRex iLiad

iRex iLiad is an ebook reader device featuring an 8.1-inch, 768x1024, 8-level greyscale, first generation e-ink (meaning: slow refresh rate) screen, 400MHz Intel XScale CPU, wifi, wacom digitizer, CF+MMC+USB storage, and a (buggy) Linux OS. It’s good for most of text reading activities (unless you want color magazines), easy to carry around (only 390g), and with lasting battery life (though 10-hour is pretty shabby among competing devices). But at a $699 price point, is it really worth it?

My Impression

The answer is in the pictures I took: Corner, Logo, and With iPhone Under the Sun. Low-res images just don’t do it justice. Reading is the best in day time where sunlight is plenty, but at night with a good lamp it’s also comfortable.

iLiad’s size is just right, neither too small to cramp the text, nor too big to fit just one hand. The design is ok, with buttons arranged on the left and lower parts, good for people holding it with their left hands. Though I’d prefer a crosspad kind of navigation control, the long page flip bar has a great feel mimicing the flipping of a page.

The build quality is only moderate, nothing flimsy, but it doesn’t shake well. Really, if you shake the thing, you could almost feel that something is breaking loose from within. So take my piece of advice: don’t shake it.

The screen takes scratch from the stylus pen or finger pretty well, but unfortunately my unit has a tiny thin scar on the bottom part of the screen, not disturbing when you read, but still visible if I look for it. Probably a factory defect, or cuased by some sharp object on my part, I don’t know, and don’t mind.

Reading is pleasant. Due to the limitations of e-ink, the screen usually takes 1 second or so to do a full screen refresh, e.g., displaying next page, and could leave some ghosting effect for partial refresh. A full refresh works like this: old content fades out to blank screen, which then immediately flashes to whole black before the new screen content fades in.

It really isn’t as bad as it sounds, and if you are really reading the text, you actually don’t even notice the screen lag. The ghosting effect generally goes away at the next full screen refresh too.

Holding the iLiad using one hand is comfortably and steady, because the back cover has a curved recessed area from the middle to the lower part, which is great for finger grip.

Fancy operations that can’t be done using the buttons must be done by a stylus. Pointing and clicking is as easy as expected, but writing on the surface is kind of lag due to the slow response of e-ink technology. The writing software only displays jaggy lines, which doesn’t help the overall experience either. Nonetheless, taking casual notes using the stylus is ok, but not extensive use. Aside from the PC software that supposely will convert the handwriting to text that I’ve not tried, it also has some built-in text recognition, except that it only works with the virtual keyboard to help text entry like system settings, but not for notes.

RSS Feed and News Paper

The wireless function is designed to do online system update or to transfer newspapers from Windows shared folders, or Samba directories for that matter, to the reader.

For the lack of better sources, I go to feedbooks to grab my daily Slashdot, Gizmodo and Lambda the Ultimate news. Slashdot RSS is perhaps the worst, short paragraphs with little information and no images, but having been an anonymous coward for the past 10 years, I just can’t rid of it from my life. Gizmodo’s RSS, on the contrary, is nice and detailed even with pictures.

Books and Papers

iLiad is perfect for reading electronic books. I only read PDF, so can’t comment on the usefulness of the MobiPocket software. It’s Java, so I simply avoid starting it on my iLiad at all time.

The 768x1024 resolution and a small 8.1 inch screen is a bit of a struggle for A4 or Letter sized PDF papers, but not bad at all. With the white border cropping and a bit of zooming, it’s a non-issue. The real trouble is with the software, a xpdf based PDF viewer called ipdf, which doesn’t provide much bookmarking facility to allow instant multi-point access, but I can deal with it.

Hack Is All We Do

(to be written)

To Buy or not to Buy?

A4-size PDF reading, inking, and a best-under-direct-sunlight e-ink screen. If these are what you want, You have to swallow its ridiculous price as iRex iLiad is the only choice today. For anything similar or better, you’ll have to wait at least another year.

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