Sunday, 7 December 2008

Mibook is the one

Electronic books are the persistent wallflowers of the gadget world.

Consumers have snubbed them again and again in favor of a 500-year-old technology: ink printed on paper.

Mindful of the dominance of paper, devices for reading electronic books so far have focused on providing an experience that's as close to traditional books as possible. But there is one that takes a completely different tack, so different that it brings into question the definition of "book."
This is the MiBook (pronounced "my book"), a book-sized white slab with a 7-inch color screen. Its "books" are memory chips with instructional videos. There are books available on cooking, home projects, gardening and child care.

For instance, the "Amazing Party Food" book shows the steps to making 150 different dishes, including a raspberry souffle, accompanied by voiceover from the MiBook's speakers. After each step, the video pauses, waiting for you to hit a button and go on to the next one.

Is it still a book if it's a chip with videos on it? That depends on your viewpoint. But it's quite possible to consider it a book if it does what a book used to do.

The MiBook, from Ohio-based startup Photoco Inc., is also considerably cheaper than Inc.'s Kindle or Sony Inc.'s Reader, which start at $300. The list price for the MiBook is $120, but it's available for as little as $75 online, including two books. Extra books are $20 each.

The MiBook lacks the single greatest feature of the Kindle, which is wireless access to Amazon's e-book store, for near instant buying gratification. But both the Kindle and the Reader are limited by their "electronic ink" screen technology. It consumes very little power, but it can't show colors, and doesn't even do a good job of showing photos in shades of gray. Video is out of the question, because the display is very slow to update.

The MiBook uses a very conventional liquid-crystal display. Since it uses much more power than electronic ink, the MiBook is designed to be used at home, connected to a power supply. It has a fold-out stand, so it can be placed upright on a kitchen counter, and comes with a small remote.
But it also has a rechargeable battery, so it can be used untethered. Curiously, though, there's no indicator to tell you how much juice is left in the battery, or when it's fully charged. The manufacturer says the MiBook can show video for two hours on a charge, and cursory tests support that.

The books are Secure Digital memory cards, used in digital cameras and other gadgets. The slot on the MiBook will accept SD cards with pictures, music, text and homemade videos on them, meaning it can double as a digital picture frame and music player, or even, yes, as a regular e-book reader.

Sadly, the MiBook fails to fulfill its potential here, because its screen is of poor quality. Nothing looks really sharp, and it flickers. This doesn't matter so much when showing video — the screen is certainly no worse than an old tube TV set — but the idea of reading a novel or even a short story on it is unappealing. Family pictures don't look very good either.
Still, we can't dismiss the MiBook, particularly at $75. Despite its lack of buzz, it's certainly the most interesting e-book reader to come out since the Kindle, which is now out of stock thanks to an endorsement by Oprah, and unavailable until next year. The MiBook could be a good gift for someone who wants easy-to-follow directions for cooking or home projects.

With a better screen and some attention to the battery issue, the MiBook could have a better shot. With a color screen, it will never have the battery life of the "serious" e-book readers, but it would last for some hours of reading around the house or on the commute. And is it too much to ask for Wi-Fi? That would open it up to book downloads from the Internet, and let it work as an Internet radio player. Oh, and keep the price under $100. Please, Santa. I'll expect it in your bag next year.
On the Net:

Download ebooks on - See that post with different algorithms in metabole - See the journal French Metablog with today different posts -


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