Inexpensive E Reader Emerges

Electronic books have never really caught on with the American public. They seemed like the hottest idea ever for most unpublished writers and some small time publishers and millions of them were created. But they still sell for pennies if they sell at all. Consumers have snubbed them again and again in favor of a 500-year-old technology: ink printed on paper.

Realizing this preference for something people can hold in their hands and clean paper and type to read, electronic books have always focused on providing an experience that’s as close to traditional books as possible. I mean making it possible to print the book out on paper, staple it and read it. This still fell short of the ideal “book” construction people were used to, with the hard or paper cover and glued spine. It did not have the same “feel” as a “real book”.

So along came the gadgets with which to read the ebooks. Manufacturers tried like crazy to make them “book like” with a square shape that was thick but easily held in the hand. With a quick button that gave the same experience as turning a page. With making the backgrounds white with black type, just like a book. And, granted, sales of the Kindle and other readers have been hot. You can read my original post on E Readers to see the various offerings and what they are like.

But now there is one that takes a completely different tack, so different that it brings into question the definition of “book.” It is named the miBook(pronounced “my book”) and it is a book-sized white slab with a 7-inch color screen. The “books” it displays are memory chips with instructional videos. There are books available on cooking, home projects, gardening and child care.

These instructional “videos” show you exactly how to make food or cabinets or a garden, with sharp, concise visuals and voice overs from the built in speakers. After each step, the video will pause and wait for you to hit the “quick button” (my term) to turn the page. You can take as long as you need to learn what you are trying to learn, just like you can with a regular paper book.

But is it still a book if it’s a chip with videos on it? That depends on how attached you are to the original concept, the paper and glue printed book. But it’s quite possible to consider the MiBook a book since it does what a book used to do. You can hold it in your hand, you can view color visuals, you can stop and start just like turning pages. It is clean and easy to view. It is just like a regular “book”.

Photoco, Inc, of Ohio, makes the MiBook. Don’t confuse it with the Apple IReader. The MiBook is considerably cheaper than Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s Reader, both of which start around $300. I mean, $300 is what makes the e readers out of my league at this time. I can buy a real book on Amazon itself for less than a dollar a lot of the time so why would I put my paycheck (and my WHOLE paycheck) on a reader to read ebooks? Well, that argument is starting to fade with the introduction of the MiBook, which is starting on the market for around $120. It’s available some places online for around $75 and the package includes two free book. Extra books sell for $20 each.

This makes an e-reader a little more realistic for someone like me, although I’m not ready to go over to it yet. I realize it’s super good for the planet, cuts back on tree destruction, takes a lot of crap out of the landfill and doesn’t clutter up my home like the hundreds of books laying around the homestead today! So there is no doubt in my mind that I will eventually go over to an e reader. I’m just waiting for prices to get more in line with my income, that’s all. And I am sure that will happen.

Do note that the MiBook lacks the single most popular and accessible feature of the Kindle: wireless access to Amazon’s e-book store, for near instant buying gratification. But, in comparison otherwise, both the Kindle and the Reader are limited by their “electronic ink” screen technology. They both consume very little power, but they can’t show colors, and don’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. So, in this area, the new MiBook just has them beat. I mean, they hit this OUT OF THE PARK.

The MiBook uses the common but popular liquid-crystal display (LCD). Since it uses a lot 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. It does not operate wirelessly like the Kindle but it does have a rechargeable battery, so it can be used untethered. The big problem with this is that 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. Just don’t expect it to operate throughout a long day at school or an afternoon at the beach without recharging.

The books the MiBook reads are Secure Digital memory cards, just like the ones 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. This makes it pretty darn cool in my book. Anytime something has more than one function, it doubles it’s value. I like the part about playing homemade videos on them, which makes them really fun. And when you’re not reading, just play some music and dream for awhile.

However, there are some big drawbacks to using the MiBook The screen on the reader is really poor quality and nothing looks good. It’s never sharp and sometimes it flickers around. However, on the bright side, the screen is about the quality of an old TV set and so video plays ok. It’s when reading type like with books that it can be somewhat tough to read. Flickering around when you’re trying to read text can be a drag. Pictures on the “picture frame” end up looking kind of cheesy, too. I am sure that with updated models as the idea catches on, improvements will be made.

I can’t dismiss it just yet, especially since it’s closer to my wallet size at $75. So far not too many people are that excited about it but it is an interesting item that can’t be ignored. It may be a contender for the Kindle in the lower income market, even though Oprah has endorsed the Kindle and sent the sales through the roof! I mean, did you know you cannot even get one now? It might be a year before you can! I mean, even at the $300 price. Amazing.

But, in general, the MiBook is a good idea for anyone who wants easy to follow instructions or recipes for cooking or crafting. It might make a good gift for a kid who wants to make home videos and play them back for viewing. The music playback is fine so perhaps it can be an addition to the iPod collection. In time, with a better screen and upgrade for the battery operation, the MiBook could become a real competitor. If it continues to offer a color screen, it will always have a shorter battery life. This makes it hard to compete for readers who spend hours reading on the beach or at the park. The company should consider making it wireless. That would open it up to book downloads from the Internet, and let it work as an Internet radio player.

And no matter what they do to the MiBook to make it better, they MUST keep the price under $100. In this economy, nothing new is going to beat out the big boys unless it’s cheap. That’s my prediction. And if they can keep it cheap and make it easier to read, it could take the prize at next years Christmas wars.

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