COOL-ER ebook reader review

This review is a supplement to the one on the Ubuntu Podcast from the UK Local Community.

The COOL-ER ebook reader is available in a range of colours. When the good people at COOL-ER told me that they only had pink review units left, I had a mental image of something the colour of Barbie’s car. It was a pleasant surprise when a unit in the palest of pinks with a brushed metal look arrived. Something I could definitely hold on a train without my innate masculinity being threatened.

The device is supplied with a standard USB cable and a quick start guide. No software is bundled, meaning Windows and Mac users have to download their copy of Adobe Digital Editions from the web. The lack of bundled software is reassuring to Linux geeks, because it means the device must operate as a mass storage device, which work flawlessly with Linux. On plugging it in, the COOL-ER automatically started charging and was detected and mounted on my Ubuntu system. The directory structure follows that of the on-screen menus: one for “Digital Editions”, one for music, another for other documents. Adding Free content to the COOL-ER is a simple click and drag operation, but adding DRM-protected books requires Adobe Digital Editions. Adobe initially promised a Linux verison of this Flash application, but have since reneged on it. So users of Ubuntu and other Linux distros are pretty much stuck to free books like those available from Project Gutenberg, a very worthy project and full of some great classical works, but a little light on pulp fiction.

The COOL-ER has 1GB storage, which equates to just under 900MB usable space. At about 1MB for a novel in ePub format, that’s a lot of books! It can also be supplemented by a 4GB SD card. I loaded the PDF version of Jono‘s Art of Community and a variety of books in HTML and plain text book from Project Gutenberg. Bizarrely, whilst the COOL-ER was rock solid whilst displaying the ePub book, it crashed repeatedly showing the HTML and plain text books. Some crashes resulted in the unit rebooting (a rather slow process which takes about theirty seconds) and on a couple of occasions required a reset using the dimpled button on the rear.

Because it is so light, the COOL-ER build quality doesn’t feel great. It doesn’t flex or bend in the way that you would expect a poorly constructed product to, but it does creak a little. A screw fell out of the unit whilst I was using it, although being a review unit, I can’t tell whether this is due to poor build quality or whether a previous reviewer hasn’t dismantled it and not tightened everything back up properly. The device is very light, weighing in at under 170 grams. It is lighter on the wrist than anything but the thinnest paperback. It has a beautifully simple appearance, with the only button on the front being an ipod-like 4-way dial with centre button, although the print on this did wear off whilst reading a single ebook. It looks as if it’s been designed as the ebook reader for the Apple fan. The high resolution epaper display is clear and easy to read. It is not backlit, like all ebook readers, and is ever so slightly too small to display a useful amount of text in a legible size at a comfortable reading distance. This means changing pages much more frequently than a paper novel and, as page changes seem to be as slow as with other ebook readers, the reading process feels disrupted.

It charges over the USB cable, meaning there’s likely to be a way to charge it pretty much anywhere. Charging seemed pretty slow, taking about 9 hours to charge from nearly empty to full. Geeks with the Ubuntu travel adapter will be able to charge it on holiday even without a laptop to hand. Next to the USB connector, on the bottom edge of the device, is a 2.5mm headphone jack. This is smaller than the standard 3.5mm size but apparently there is usually an adapter supplied (it was missing from this review unit). The chassis of the device is big enough to to incorporate a 3.5mm jack socket, so presumably it is the internal design which prevented one from being included. Hopefully a full-size socket can be included in future versions, as the need for an adapter detracts from the convenience of having the unit play MP3s in the first place. The right hand side has a rocker switch for increasing or decreasing the size of the text, whilst the left has four buttons for navigating the menu and other functions. The landscape-view button switches the orientation of the screen and works very well as a landscape display too.

What appeals about this device is its simplicity. Unlike the kindle or the Sony ebook readers, the front of it isn’t cluttered with buttons. It doesn’t try to be anything more than it is – a replacement for books. Yes, it incorporates MP3 playback, but reading a book and listening to some suitable music go hand-in-hand. What could be better than having your COOL-ER provide the music when you’re lying on the beach reading the latest Dan Brown? The COOL-ER is a great device for the price. If they could address the software issues in a future firmware release, it would be an excellent purchase.

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    One Response to COOL-ER ebook reader review

    1. D. Rimron says:

      Really, £189 for custom headphones (as good as), virtually no storage, fally-apart in your hands and no support for SDHC, markings that rub off and a hideously slow charge time….

      The lack of DRM on device without desktop software means that, as you put it, we’re gonna struggle for pulp – and I suspect it doesn’t support Audible formats either (since audiobooks go “hand in hand” with ebooks, to me)

      eInk is a slow display technology, but the later revisions are a higher contract and there is starting to be backlit versions to boot.

      I considered getting one for a “suck it and see”, but every colour except the silicon skin is out of stock (!!!) and you really have put me off.

      PLEASE don’t get me wrong, I’m rather glad you did, since you’ve just saved me half the cost of an iPad, and that’s got x16 the built-in storage, supports Audible, and takes standard headphones. I also expect that the markings will not rub off, or a screw fall out… 🙂

      -Dx