It’s fair to say that Amazon made the E-Ink display mainstream and it wasn’t until the Kindle made it to market that ebook reader sales started to pick up. Choice of course is always preferable in any market, so when Kindle became popular, we started to see a flurry of other devices in different form factors and functionality reaching the market.
This review covers the BeBook Neo featuring a 6-inch E-Ink display weighing in at just under 300 grammes. It’s smaller than an iPad and it’s design consists of a plastic front and aluminium back giving the BeBook a solid and weighty feel.
At the bottom of the device you will find an SD card slot, 3.5mm audio-out connection and mini-USB port. The BeBook Neo comes with 512MB of built-in flash memory – plenty of storage to keep a bunch of titles with you wherever you go. SD card slot expansion will provide extra storage with support up to 16GB cards – ideal if you plan on using the BeBook Neo for music as well.
A simple circular control system below the screen can be used for most of the basic navigation and operating the on-screen menu system. However the device becomes much more responsible and usable when you control it with a stylus. This makes web browsing much more usable for tapping on the keyboard.
Whilst this device clearly wasn’t built for getting the full rich experience of web content, the fact that it’s available is a bonus. The black and white e-ink display won’t win any awards for viewing your friends photos on Facebook, but for reading text-heavy sites, a favourite blog or news site for instance, the BeBook Neo works great. The complete end-to-end experience hasn’t been considered for this device, so ideally you will still use the BeBook Neo with a laptop to source content and transfer to the device.
E-Ink displays promise superior clarity in displaying static text content making them the closest to reproducing the sharpness of printed text. The BeBook Neo doesn’t disappoint with high-contrast text even at smaller font sizes. But just like a printed book, you do need as much lighting as you would with a printed book in order to see the text. The bonus of using E-Ink as opposed to a backlit LCD is the significant savings in energy consumption. E-Ink displays only use energy when the screen changes – for instance when you turn over the page. When the display is ‘on’, because the ink doesn’t require power to maintain its state, it doesn’t use any power. In real world terms this means extended usage when you’re away from a power point.
With the addition of a stylus-based touchscreen, the BeBook Neo also allows you to write and store notes. Choose from a blank page or one of the pre-installed templates including a music sheet for composing music. It’s certainly a useful feature but it does take some getting used to in order to in getting comfortable writing on the small screen.
The BeBook Neo software is fairly intuitive to navigate, however I was surprised to discover that the stylus was required to connect to Wi-Fi. The web browser is responsive and does a good job of rendering web pages in their original format. Viewing the web in black and white takes a bit of getting used to, but its actually quite serene to get the text content coming through so crisp. It’s a shame there’s no RSS feed reader or a browser view mode that can strip away all the excess ‘noise’ that don’t really work on a display of this type.
Non-touchscreen e-readers come in at £150 with the BeBook Neo priced around the £270 mark, so you really do need to factor in whether the ability to make notes on the device is an essential or desirable feature.
Overall, the BeBook Neo is a smart device that aspires to do more than the name suggests. The inclusion of Wi-Fi connectivity and a stylus-based touchscreen gives it the edge over similar devices. Its build quality feels like its well put together, with no flexing of the plastic with a seamlessly moulded aluminium back, giving the BeBook Neo a solid finish and helps justify its higher pricing.