Hands on: Cool-er eBook reader review

20th May 2009 | 17:11

Hands on: Cool-er eBook reader review

We get our mitts on the latest electronic book on the block

Biggest electronic book download store

Update: we've now published a full-review of the Cool-er eBook reader

British start-up company Interead is set to launch the latest electronic book (or 'eBook' as we've all taken to referring to them) at the massive publishing industry shindig that is Book Expo America in New York later this month.

TechRadar is the first media outlet to get hold of a sample of the new device, which you can see pictured right here. We'll bring you our full in-depth review of the Cool-er eBook on Friday of this week, after we have had a couple of days to properly play around with the thing and read a (short) story or two on it.

First impressions are that it is very light and noticeably smaller and funkier-looking than the only other decent eBook currently available in the UK – the Sony Reader. A couple of minutes of tinkering with the Cool-er and you immediately realise what the company is trying to achieve. It is trying to market the idea of the electronic book as a fun entertainment device and, as such, in comparison it makes Sony's poor old Reader seem rather dull and overly serious-minded.

Interead founder Neil Jones says he was tired of readers that were unwieldy, expensive and restrictive in terms of their ability to let you choose and share a wide range of eBooks (read: the Amazon Kindle). In addition to that, the Cool-er is both PC and Mac compatible – a major failing with Sony's fuddy-duddy and clunky-ish old Reader.

Cooler ebooks certainly take design inspiration from apple

So Jones set out to produce a device which was affordable (and at £189 it is well priced), smaller, faster and lighter than the Kindle and the Sony Reader and from first impressions it looks very much like he's achieved that. If anything, from first hand testing in the office, the Cool-er is 'too light' – being around an ounce lighter than a typical paperback. We're not yet sure if this is an altogether good thing, but provided the device is rugged enough to throw in a bag or take to the beach, we're sure it's not a deal-breaker.

The company's line is that its funky and affordable new electronic book - in association with its new, comprehensive electronic book download store at coolerbooks.com with over 750,000 titles available at launch - is set to usher in the "iPod moment that e-readers have been waiting for," by setting up the "iTunes of online bookstores" which they hope will appeal to the non-technologically minded. Interead is already claiming that coolerbooks.com is set to be the biggest e-bookstore in the world. But will it be the best or the most profitable?

Customers that have Kindles or Sony Readers or BeBooks or other non-Interead devices will of course be able to use coolerbooks.com, although Cool-er owners will get a 25 per cent 'for life' discount from the store. Whether or not this new online store will be able to compete with the likes of Waterstone's eBook store in the UK or Amazon's eBook store (which is currently still US only till at least late 2009 at the very earliest) remains to be seen. That will all be down to price points, clever marketing wins and the as-yet-difficult-to-measure whims of the many thousands of eBook users out there.

Interead's marketing team talking to supermarkets

Interead's marketing team is talking to supermarkets, bookstores and other retailers about getting the devices into the hands of everyday readers, in addition to the early adopter market (many of whom will have already shelled out for a Sony Reader and most likely be waiting for the arrival of those touchscreen, internet-connected devices with colour e-ink screens which we are bound to see over the next year or two).

Cool-er takes design inspiration from apple

Looks wise, it looks like an oversized iPod nano, it comes in eight different colours (including the rather girly 'hot pink' or 'vivid violet' and the slightly more conservative 'silver shine' or 'black jack') and it fits neatly into your jacket pocket, exactly in the same way as a Penguin Classic paperback. Natch!

As well as working with your PC or Mac, the Cool-er supports eight languages (English, French, German, Portugese, Russian, Spanish, traditional and simplified Chinese), its rechargeable battery lasts for 8000 page turns (ie more books than pretty much anybody could read on their honeymoon oepub, txt, jpeg, any kind of PDF, plus MP3 for music and audiobooks), and the DRM is not totally restrictive - as it lets you share the eBooks you download from coolerbooks.com with up to five other devices or friends or family members - in an attempt to encourage sharing, foster a new culture of online book clubs and to combat the ever-present menace that is digital content piracy.

Overall, while it has some serious competition from the behemoths that are Sony and Amazon, the Cool-er eBook is the best contender we've so far seen – and while it is 'feature-light' in comparison with the latest (notably more expensive) 3G or Wi-Fi, text-to-speech and touchscreen devices from the big boys – it covers all the basic features that the mass market consumer is going to want from an eBook when that "iPod moment for e-readers" arrives. It delivers eBooks well on a nice looking device that you are not going to feel embarrassed about pulling out on the tube or in an airport lounge.

The real question is whether or not that moment is now or five or ten years from now, with Interead clearly hedging its bets on it being sooner rather than later.

So there we go. They were our first few impressions of the latest eBook on the market snapping at the heels of the burgeoning electronic book publishing industry. Stay tuned for our first in-depth review of Interead's Cool-er eBook later this very week.

Finally, if you fancy checking the device out for yourself and happen to be in New York next week, then head over to Book Expo America to say hi to the designers and the Interead team at the company's beachside bar (which - in fitting with the 'eBooks are fun' ethos - is set to be fully complete with hot cocktail waiters, a samba band and sand!!)

electronic book eBook Kindle Amazon Sony Reader Cool-er Interead
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