The future of reading just got a little more crowded-for the books, at least. Weighing just under 3 pounds and measuring 0.75x8.5x10.5 inches (HWD), the new electronic book from SoftBook Press can pack 1,500 pages, or about five books, into its 2MB of RAM. And unlike other e-books, the SoftBook Reader includes a built-in modem that lets you download content directly into the device rather than connecting to a PC for transfers.
As with most cutting-edge technology, however, you'll pay a premium: The e- book costs $299.95, plus $19.95 per month for content that includes 100 literary classics as well as front-page news from national news services. Though there's not yet a wide selection of downloadable books, the SoftBook has volumes of worthwhile features that will come in handy when more books become available.
Among the SoftBook's perks are adjust able screen settings such as font sizes for replicating large and small print, screen brightness and text darkness, and a single button for turning pages forward and backward. And because the screen is the most important-and fragile-element of the unit, it is protected by a leather cover, which also turns the unit on and off whenever you open and close the SoftBook.
Readers can write marginalia on the screen with the stylus, insert pages of notes, bookmark pages, highlight passages, and operate the page-scrollbar along the screen bottom. A search for words or phrases is another convenience.
Buying and downloading content is a simple process, thanks to the built-in 33.6Kbps modem and the company's online SoftBookstore (www. softbookstore.com). Users can dial up and download roughly 100 pages per minute directly. Purchases are also stored at an online bookshelf for downloading at any time.
SoftBook Press offers more than 1,200 books in electronic format, but only a handful of them are current best-sellers-and they cost you roughly $16 each. The SoftBookstore site also offers content from newspapers, magazines, and computer-industry publications at their newsstand prices.
Despite its capacity to store large amounts of text, comfortable use of the SoftBook is hampered by two problems. Lefties will find it hard to handle because its page-turning button is located along the front of the right side. Second, the device forces users to choose between screen clarity and battery life. The battery lasts from 2.5 to 5 hours, depending on screen- brightness settings; recharging takes about an hour.
Portability and capacity are the SoftBook's strong points. But a lack of new books for downloading limits its usefulness. That could change with the recent e-book standard, which has the support of Microsoft, SoftBook, and competitor Franklin Electronic Publishers. But until an extensive library of titles becomes available, the SoftBook Reader will have limited appeal.
Product: SoftBook Reader
Company: SoftBook Press
Menlo Park, CA; 800-222-5861, 650-463-1800
Support: Live toll-free phone support, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays (PT); one- year limited warranty on parts and labor
Suitability: Interesting technology for bookworms looking for a more portable method of storing, carrying, and reading their latest epics
Mfr. Est. Price: $299.95
Source Citation:Halpin, Jon. "SoftBook Reader: A Little Light Reading." Computer Shopper 19.12 (Dec 1999): 220. General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 1 Sept. 2009
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