Tagged with ‘ereaders’

Requiem for an iLiad

At iRex Technologies they did a lot of things wrong. Browse a few of the older threads about the iRex iLiad at the irex mobileread forum and you'll get a sense of most of what the company did wrong. It went bankrupt, although the reason it did is probably not as closely related to those errors as it is to increasing competition in the ereader market at the time (Amazon.com had just released the Kindle 2 in 2009 and then came out with the Kindle 3 in 2010 and others — like Barnes & Noble with its Nook — had just gotten into the ereader market with new products). A problem with the US market where FCC approval for the new DR800 was delayed didn't help.

Which is a shame, because for all the problems the iRex iLiad had, it also hit a couple of sweet spots for an ereader, namely:


8.1″ is exactly the right size for an ereader.

In case it wasn't clear already, I own an iLiad (yes, the one right there, on the right). I was one of the earlier adopters and I've loved the reader since the start. Of course there were (and still are) problems with the device, but for me, the good very much outweighs the bad. Call me a fan.

And one of the most important reasons for this is that iRex got the size of the device exactly right. The screen on an iLiad is almost exactly the size of a standard paperback, which means the reading experience I have while using the iLiad is the same as when I read a real book. I get a sentence length that's mostly the same, but much more importantly, the frequency with which I need to turn a page is the same. I don't need to turn a page more often than I would with a paperback, which is the case with the smaller ereaders that were mostly (and still are) popular when the iLiad was released.

Another good thing about the size of the iLiad is that it fits in your hand. I can't really make a comparison here, as I've never really read a book on another device, but for the iLiad the size is right. It's bit heavy, maybe, but I've come to like the heft. A book doesn't weigh nothing, either. And if something is going to contain thousands of books, I want to feel that (at least a bit) in its weight. Call me old-fashioned.


The controls on the iLiad are mainly good for two reasons: the page flip-bar and the stylus.

The page flip-bar is the long cantilever on the left side of the iLiad, which you can flip to the right or to the left. This is used to flip the page of a book, and to me it's one of the best features of the iLiad (when it works correctly). To me, it feels totally natural to flip the bar to the left to advance to the next page, and flip it to the right to go back a page. Mimic the motion you would perform to flip the page on a real book, to flip the page on the ereader. Genius.

Although I haven't used the stylus as much as I thought I would for actual writing on the device, it's still a very good way to navigate on a screen. I prefer it to most forms of direct touch screens. Another (not unimportant) benefit of the Wacom penabled system used in the iLiad is that it doesn't require a special coating or extra layers on top of the screen, which makes the iLiad eink screen better than most of it's touch screen competitors.


The iLiad is a linux device, and iRex Technologies did what it could to facilitate hacking the device. Within limits, of course, but I've still to see another ereader manufacturer that comes close to offering the hacking possibilities that iRex did. At first glance, I think maybe Onyx could come close, seeing as they have an SDK available for their ereaders.

The potential for users hacking your device and coming up with useful improvements is certainly there. You only have to dive into the developers corner for iRex devices on mobileread to see what can be done. I installed a few of the enhancements you can find in the forum area on my device, and actually hacked the code on my own device to get it to do some things it doesn't out of the box.

How cool is that? Granted, not everyone will want to do stuff like that, but the fact that it's even possible is what counts. And I happen to be one of those people that do want to hack at the internals of my devices. Sadly, these days, most devices don't offer you that choice.

Farewell, but hopefully not too soon

As you see, I've only touched on the reasons I like my iLiad. Mostly because all the negative things to be said about the device are already there on the Internet to be found. And why beat a (literally) dead horse?

I've had my iLiad for a few years now, and I still use it daily. Recently I've been thinking about getting at least a backup for when it dies. The screen is known to be fragile, and it's my biggest fear that I'll drop something on it and break it. IRex is no more, so good luck getting a replacement.

So, I've been keeping an eye out for a potential replacement. I've thought of buying one of the few second hand iLiads still being offered once in a while, or maybe even it's successor, a DR800.

But not so long ago I came across the announcement of the Onyx Boox M90. It has a slightly larger eink screen than the iLiad (9.7″ instead of 8.1″), but the device itself is not that much bigger. And, Onyx also seems to care about customers that want to hack on their devices, so that looks promising, too. Alas, no flip-bar, and it seems a problem with the controls was the reason behind some delays before it was released just recently. But, another plus, it uses the same Wacom penabled technology that the iLiad uses.

So I'm not sold yet. But I have time, my iLiad is still working perfectly, and if it's up to me I'll be reading books on it for many years to come.


The sharp word.


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