Cool-er Reader review
There's increasing interest in eBook readers, prompted mainly by Amazon's Kindle initiative.
The idea of carrying around hundreds of full-length books in electronic form and reading them from a slim, mini-tablet has a certain geek-appeal, but to be a practical alternative to the paper versions, a reader has to be affordable and offer a similar reading experience. Interead's Cool-er aims to address both of those requirements.
The Cool-er uses a 15cm (6in) diagonal E-Ink screen. With its high contrast and very low power requirements, it's a technology used by most currently available readers, although Cambridge-based Plastic Logic will be releasing a rival screen soon. The Cool-er comes in a range of colours, making them look a bit like over-sized iPods. Unfortunately, the plastic case isn't of the same calibre.
Controls and connectors are scattered around the edges of the machine and there's a five-way wheel below the screen for basic navigation. Down the device's left edge are buttons for menu, exit, orientation (portrait or landscape) and sound, as the machine can play MP3s - although, sadly, not AACs - and audiobooks. There's a toggle volume control in the right edge.
Along the top edge are a power switch - the Cool-er also powers down automatically, unless you tell it not to - and an SD card slot, which can be used to expand the 1GB of internal memory to 4GB. At the bottom are a mini USB connector and a headphone socket.
The Cool-er uses a simple variant of Linux for its operating system and NTX Reader software, which takes around 30 seconds to load. Unfortunately, once the device is ready to use, you still have to make your way through a number of menus to find the book you were reading on your last session. At least it remembers the page you were on.
Reading off the screen is comfortable and since the E-Ink screen is passive, it gets better the brighter the ambient lighting is. We had no trouble in bright sunshine, but it was harder to read by a bedside light.
The internal rechargeable battery is good for 8000 page turns, and since the screen only uses power when it's refreshing, you'll get through a good few books before it'll need a recharge. The reader will happily sit unused for weeks, without flattening its battery.
Connect the Cool-er to a Mac via USB and it's seen automatically as an external storage device. It comes with no supporting software, as none is needed: you simply drag and drop files between machines. It reads documents in .pdf, .epub, .fb2, .rtf, .txt, .html, .prc and .jpg formats, although .epub and .pdf are favourites.
The reader won't read Word files, either .doc or .docx, and is temperamental with .rtf files, often stripping out the hard returns. PDFs are displayed well enough, although all files copied appear to generate double-entries in the reader's file tree.
The Cool-er is well supported with more than 300,000 custom-made eBooks from the coolerbooks.co.uk site. While there's a good range of contemporary fiction, the prices aren't as keen as those on Amazon's site. You can download more than a million public domain titles for free, though.
Overall, the concept of the Cool-er is neat enough. The screen and battery life are excellent and although the buttons are rather too stiff, it's the firmware that's the main bugbear. It feels rather makeshift, has too many idiosyncrasies and spoils what should be a very pleasant reading experience. It could do with a good tidy up.