Reading between the lines

Reading between the lines
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First Published: Tue, Mar 02 2010. 08 27 PM IST

Priyanka Parashar / Mint
Priyanka Parashar / Mint
Updated: Tue, Mar 02 2010. 08 27 PM IST
The Infibeam Pi is India’s first home-grown e-book reader. E-book readers are the hottest gadgets in the world right now, spurred mainly by online retailer Amazon’s Kindle, launched in 2007, and the announcement of the upcoming iPad from tech hipsters Apple Inc. Between 15 November and 19 December, Kindle became the highest-selling gift item of all time on Amazon.com, beating the usual contenders—video games, physical books and Apple’s iPod. Almost every other tech giant, from Sony to Samsung, has unveiled e-book readers it plans to launch this year.
Priyanka Parashar / Mint
For the uninitiated, e-book readers use a special “E-ink” screen that simulates reading a physical book. The greyscale screen is a low-power, non-backlit display, and can read and display documents in various formats.
Before the Pi’s launch, however, the only legal way of buying an e-book reader in the country was Amazon’s International Kindle—which, apart from numerous headaches with customs duties and a three-week shipping period, also cost you roughly around Rs18,000. The Pi has an introductory price of Rs9,999, including shipping.
At first glance, the Pi even looks like a cheaper Kindle. It’s missing the Qwerty keyboard of Amazon’s device; instead it has a four-way directional button for most navigation requirements. The Pi has a tacky plastic feel to it. In the review copy we received, the battery case was screwed on incorrectly, and could only be refitted after removing a bunch of screws.
The absence of the keyboard robs the device of some convenient e-book reader features—such as search and basic note-taking—but the Pi somewhat makes up for it with a rudimentary on-screen keyboard for searches within books. It also plays MP3s, a useful feature for those wanting some quiet reading in a noisy place. The Pi has 512MB of onboard memory, sufficient for nearly 150-200 books, and is expandable through an SD card slot.
The Pi’s screen is clear and sharp, and reading is a painless experience. Once you get over the initial wariness of reading from a screen, the device quickly becomes a pleasure to use—we raced through nearly 300 pages of a 598-page, non-fiction title with no problems at all, and it beat lugging around a hardcover on a bus or Metro.
The onboard operating system suffers from slightly sluggish performance, and takes a good 40 seconds to boot up. We didn’t experience a single crash or freeze, though the navigation buttons sometimes took a good hard press to register. One annoying feature is that the device shuts down after about 15 minutes of disuse. When this happens, the Pi also seems to sometimes lose track of where you were in the book. This means having to wait through the 40-second boot-up sequence again, and spending a good few minutes getting back to the page you were on. This doesn’t happen when the Pi is charging.
But most of these issues can be solved through a simple software update, and are not deal breakers. The Pi is solid, though we’re not confident about the buttons holding up during prolonged use.
The battery life is generous, and can easily last you up to a 1,000 pages of reading on a full charge. The device also has support for Indian languages, a supremely useful feature for those reading multilingual manuscripts or textbooks.
Infibeam’s e-book store is disappointing. Those buying the Pi will have to rely mostly on “personal collections” or e-books purchased from other sites to get the books they want. Infibeam promises a selection of up to 100,000 titles soon, but seems rather sparsely populated at the moment. A quick search for popular authors such as Chetan Bhagat and Shiv Khera produced no results. Among the better stocked sections of the store is “classics”, rather redundant since most of these are available for free on online libraries such as Gutenberg.com
On the whole, the Pi offers a competent device at an aggressive price. It’s not quite the Kindle—its build quality is a bit suspect, and the e-book store is poor—but is well worth picking up. It’s a good e-book reader that’s one or two software updates away from challenging your paperback collection.
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First Published: Tue, Mar 02 2010. 08 27 PM IST