Reader feedback plus the Nokia 770

A few weeks ago we discussed the Sony Reader and its fabulous display. From your letters it seems that there’s a roughly 50/50 split between those who think that e-books have a future and those that think they will make nice landfill.

Longtime reader and frequent correspondent Jack Miller wrote, “If I'm going electronic in my book reading I'm going right to audio books. Oh wait. They already have a device for that and it's a lot cheaper and it works in the dark even if I forget my glasses. Sorry -- I don't think e-books will ever catch on.”

Reader Bob Ackerman disagreed. Bob wrote, “I have been using my Palm TX and their included eReader program to read e-books. . . . The program includes all the expected reader features, including bookmarks, searches and management of multiple books on the device.”

Several other readers had similar experiences with the Palm e-book reader. Leland Whitlock wrote, “I was reading your article about the Sony e-book reader. It sounds horrible. For e-books I use a Palm TX with iSilo. I can convert any Web site or text file with little effort. There are also many e-books in this format available on the Internet for free.” Leland pointed out that “a Palm TX with iSilo costs much less than Sony's device.”

So, it looks like the Sony reader is missing the mark that the Palm TX has been hitting for some time. While it sounds from these letters that the price of the Sony Reader is a negative, we wonder if the real problem is the trade-off between features and price – the Reader doesn’t give enough bang for the buck.

What if the Sony Reader had been designed by Apple? Imagine something like a large iPhone with no buttons, just a touch-sensitive screen, auto-reorientation, and so on. That configuration would make an e-book more useful than a book without making its user interface more intrinsically complicated. What do you think?

This week we have a neat device for you that has some of that iPod polish: The Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. As its name implies, this is a tablet designed for a range of Internet functions and it occupies a curious middle ground between PCs and PDAs.

This is very much a Nokia product – it has the heft and feel of the company's top-end phones weighing in at a comfortable 8.1 ounces and measuring 5.5 inches high by 3.1 inches wide by 0.70 inch thick. The display is gorgeous. The 770 has a 800-by-480-pixel, 64K-color, 4.13-inch TFT active-matrix display that is remarkably readable even when displaying whole Web pages and PDFs.

Driven by a 220-MHz, ARM9-based Texas Instruments OMAP 1710 processor, the 770 runs a version of Linux called Maemo or, in the Nokia literature, IT 2006 (that’s the current version; IT 2007 is due out in a few months).

The 770 comes with 128MB of flash RAM and a 64MB Reduced Size-MultiMediaCard – you can also use an RS-MMC card up to 1GB.

The 770 has a USB connection so you can move files on and off the MMC storage from a PC and, in terms of wireless connections, it has built-in support for 802.11b, 802.11g and Bluetooth, all of which work exceptionally well.

The user interface is nice looking albeit a little eccentric in layout and perhaps overdesigned, but it's very usable all the same. Performance is good, though occasionally you’ll wonder what’s happening because there is no busy indicator.

So, what can this device do? Well, actually a surprising amount. It comes with the Opera 8 browser, a Flash player, VoIP using Google Talk, instant messaging, an e-mail client, an audio player with Internet Radio support, an RSS reader, a video player, an image viewer, a file manager, a calculator, a simple editor and the inevitable games (but weirdly, no solitaire!). You can also add a whole range of freeware open source applications.

Priced at around $300 the 770 is perhaps a little expensive, but as a tool for busy network managers it would be a fantastic alternative to toting a laptop around as they rush around their enterprises trying to stop things from falling apart. Definitely worth checking out.

Stop rushing long enough to write to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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