Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gadgets: Skype Phone, BeBook

There are 2 gadgets that I bought more or less recently and I would like to describe my impressions about them. The first gadget is Belkin Skype Phone and the second is BeBook book reader. The second one I got was Belkin Skype phone, since it had a good price on the Skype website, it was Skype certified and finally that Skype chose this phone to sell and not the similar phones from Netgear and SMC.

Why bother with the Skype dedicated phone, you would ask? Well, first, I never really liked running Skype on the PC. IMHO, it consumes a reasonable amount of resources (it used to almost halt my older desktop PC). Second, I thought it would be nice to sit on the sofa and talk on the phone and not to stand in front of the computer. There are advantage that Skype on the computer would give you, such as more clear sound and a webcam. Generally the device is good when you think you might be using skype while the computer is off.

I would say that Belkin Skype phone became quite a disappointment to me after I had it for a couple of days. First and one of the major problem is the battery life. Obviously, it has to be connected to WiFi all the time, but even in the standby mode it will give you 2 days maximum without a re-charge. Second, is the connection problem. It does disconnect from time to time even when you do not talk, and when you talk you really need to have the router visible to the phone (if I go around the corner to the kitchen, most likely it will start disconnecting every 3-5 minutes). In addition I did not find the way how to disable the sounds that get played when it gets connected and disconnected. The last argument that I would like to present is the design. It looks and feels a bit bulky. The screen should have been bigger in comparison with the case of the phone. The plastic feels pretty cheap. It has some sharp corners and generally it looks soo much better on the pictures than it does in real life. So, from my point of view, neither technology, nor the hardware vendors did a good job in this case. I would not recommend buying this type of phone at this point and wait for the next generation.

As about my second device, BeBook, I really like it. It has the exact features that I need and does not have the ones I do not need. I did not want a device with the full keyboard – this is a book for reading and not for writing. Second, I did not want a touch screen which again has nothing to do with reading and then uses up the battery much faster. I wanted a basic USB connection (mini USB) and not WiFi, Bluetooth or similar. It does have the SD slot for the card as well which becomes really handy. The device displays the text quite nicely, like a good newspaper; it does display images not too bad either (well, as nice as you can go with black and white newspaper). The book supports txt, doc, rtf, html, pdf, mobi, lit, fb2, bmp, jpg, chm, rar, zip and some other formats. It can play MP3 files as well. It supports any TTF type fonts that you can upload. It reads international and Cyrillic characters. The producers update the firmware quite frequently and listen to the requests of the customers quite carefully. The small disadvantage that I can point out is that it has only v 1.1 USB support which makes transfers of the bigger PDF files take longer time. I can put the books on the SD card instead that solves the problem.

A great thing about the ePaper that is used in BeBook (and other book readers as well) it that it consumes very little energy. The most power that it uses is actually to read the files and flip the pages. The actually displaying and keeping the current page does not consume energy at all (unlike the flat panel displays). So, there is nothing that illuminates there. The drawback of that is, of course, that you need a source of light to read the book. You need a source of light to read the book.
The company that makes the BeBook is planning to add the touch screen and WiFi support to the newer versions of the device (to be able to read RSS feeds, for example) and that is why I almost rushed into buying a simple device like this that server my exact needs of the eBook reader.
I read from by BeBook while traveling to and from work and during lunch as well. I am really happy with the device.

E-Paper on Wikipedia
BeBook Official Site