iRex Iliad and eBooks

by Henry Farrell on March 20, 2007

I’m thinking of getting an electronic reader, now that display technologies are finally catching up, but have been unimpressed with reviews of the Sony Reader, which seems to be the market leader in the US. The iRex Iliad looks to have better specs, but I haven’t seen any proper reviews of it. It doesn’t handle proprietary DRM stuff, but that’s not what I’m interested in reading – I want it more to reduce the load of book and article manuscripts that I always seem to lug with me when I am going from place to place. Anyone out there who has this machine (or another competitor), and is prepared to offer advice/opinions?



X. Trapnel 03.20.07 at 10:03 pm

I have the Sony Librie, the earlier Japanese version of the Reader, which I believe to be essentially equivalent. My judgment is that it’s not ready for what you want to do with it (because that’s what I want to do with it, and I find it very frustrating).

It handles HTML very well, but doesn’t do PDF well at all. PDF is a very page-oriented format, and the reader’s screen is much, much smaller than journal pages. What is needed is a tool to reformat PDFs to small pages *in a very user-friendly way*, and if such a tool exists I haven’t yet found it. If it’s going to take more than a few minutes to convert get the thing onto my reader, I find I often won’t bother. Perhaps you have more patience than I do, but the whole point is convenience, right?

The whole thing has me annoyed at the dominance of .pdf, frankly. (And grateful to Ethics and other journals that provide articles in html.)

It’s really a shame, because it seems to me that if there’s any real market for these devices, it’s academics (or law students), who already are in some way paying for tons of electronically delivered content anyway. If Sony devoted even a fraction of their advertising budget to user-friendly tools for getting content from the journals to the reader, it would become amazingly valuable, instead of only intermittently so.


Lance Knobel 03.20.07 at 10:33 pm

If you Google “irex iliad review” you’ll find a number of fairly thorough reviews. It seems that all of these readers are some way from being very useful yet.


doctorwes 03.20.07 at 10:37 pm

I have owned an iLiad for several months. I use it mainly to read academic papers and lecture notes in PDF format. The screen is large enough to make most of them readable in portrait mode (using the zoom to crop to the printable area), and there is also a landscape/zoom mode which is helpful if you are reading a paper containing lots of formulas with small subscripts. Very large files, such as scanned textbooks, can be rather slow.

The display is beautiful, much easier on the eyes than an LCD screen, and grayscale images look quite good. The ability to make notes with the stylus is very useful, though the lack of calibration software is a bit annoying. Generally speaking, the software is still a bit rough around the edges. On the other hand, the platform is reasonably open, making it possible to port third party applications.

I’m getting about 9-10 hours of battery life, which is fine for me, though there have been a lot of complaints from other users; apparently the next version will have a larger battery. Overall, I’ve been very happy with it.


kirk adler malone 03.20.07 at 10:42 pm

x.trapnel, does your reader take text files? If so, and if you are using linux or os x, open a terminal and type:

ps2ascii foo.pdf > foo.txt

and you now have a text version of your pdf that you can load into your reader. Windows users I guess need to have cygwin installed.


B. Chandrasekaran 03.21.07 at 12:08 am

I’ve been very happy with my Fujitsu Stylistic Tablet PC for reading books and documents. I can mark up the documents with “ink,” save or send to others with my comments. The Tab PC is quite light, about 3 lbs. I’m yet to be persuaded of the need to carry a separate reader.


Dmitri Petrov 03.21.07 at 4:07 pm

Do you know of any readers that are compatible with Macs?


oneoffmanmental 03.21.07 at 8:54 pm

Adobe Reader already reflows documents for Windows Mobile devices. Journal articles are quite readable on PocketPC edition handhelds, as long as they don’t contain images. HTC have a largish 5in screen mobile coming out soon. That said, battery life tends to suck.


oneoffmanmental 03.21.07 at 8:56 pm is the link describing the HTC Windows Mobile I mentioned above.


X. Trapnel 03.21.07 at 11:09 pm

The problem with the tablet PC / Windows Mobile devices is that they’re just LCDs. If you’re fine with reading text off of one for hours and hours, I envy you; the point of the Illiad and Librie/Reader is that the display is much easier on the eyes.

Kirk: thanks for the advice–I’ll see whether that’s any better. In the past I’ve used Acrobat’s own export-to-text feature, but found annoying having to deal with line breaks, footnotes, and special (not very special, really) characters.


Kenny Easwaran 03.22.07 at 7:22 am

Isn’t there a problem with exporting to text from .pdfs that are just images? I find that this is the case for .pdfs that either come from articles that were published more than about 10 years ago in certain journals, and of course for articles that I’ve scanned in myself at the department copier for personal use.


shane h 03.22.07 at 9:06 am

Good point that. How do the readers handle image-only .pdfs? JSTOR has nothing but these. And am I right that journals, not e-books, are the only thing that most people will use readers for?


Bryan 03.22.07 at 8:51 pm

“The problem with the tablet PC / Windows Mobile devices is that they’re just LCDs.”

What, aside from a dedicated Reader, might be ideas to solve this.


oneoffmanmental 03.23.07 at 12:23 am

In the complete versions of Acrobat, you can OCR the text and then replace the images with type. This will then reflow correctly on pocket reader.

JSTOR appears to be testing text-based PDFs for some journals.


C. L. Ball 03.23.07 at 9:07 pm


Does the iRex iLiad display JSTOR’s imaged PDF articles (the ones that were scanned as images not as OCR text) well? Does the pan/zoom function work well with them? I cannot find any information about this via Google, Teleread, or iRex in any definitive way. My concern is that the imaged PDFs (which are used by some other journals not in JSTOR too) will be illegible.



Charlie Stross 03.24.07 at 4:35 pm

I’m using a Nokia N800 web tablet as an ebook reader. Bigger, brighter screen than my previous PDA ( a Palm TX), has two SD card slots, and the FBReader package does an excellent job on most non-DRM locked ebook packages. At 800×480 the screen is a decent resolution, and if I switch wifi and bluetooth off it gives 6-9 hours’ reading time depending on screen brightness. It also gives me a portable web browser and email client (if I’m also willing to tote a bluetooth folding keyboard around).

Drawbacks: it’s very new, and the software is still rather a work in progress (it runs a new linux platform, Maemo). But it’s also small enough to slip in a pocket — it’s almost exactly the same size as the old Psion Revo or Series 3 PDAs — and for reading on-screen it’s the best compromise I’ve yet found.

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