This article is by Darryl Adams, a government worker and internet tragic. A former IT worker, he still pines for the days of IBM keyboards that go CRUNCH and the glow of green screens. He can be found on on Twitter or on Facebook. Check out his site oz-e-books.com for more articles about e-book readers, retailers, formats and news (or will have when Darryl can be drawn away from reading Delimiter). The views expressed here do not reflect the views of his employer, the ATO.
review Kogan is an Australian brand that forgoes brick and mortar retail and sells its product only via the internet. Known for its TV and other consumer products, this is the company’s first e-reader release.
Overall, the hardware is well-produced and there are some nice touches. The reader has a SD card slot (with a dust cover), 2 buttons on the left-hand edge, and 12 multi-function buttons on the right (flush to the screen). It also comes with a headphone jack and USB jack on the bottom, and a small reset button (requiring a pin or similar to activate) on the back. The power button is on the top right corner of the device.
The unit feels solid to touch. However, if there is one fault, it is that the buttons are stiff and feel plasticky when pressed. While more responsive buttons would have been great, this does not distract from the Kogan to a great extent.
The 6 inch e-ink screen is whiter than other screens I have seen and the display is crisp and has a fast refresh rate. Text and pictures render nicely, and this is the first reader that I have tested that does a great job on PDF files. Instead of the pan and scan that I have seen on other devices, the Kogan displays the files fully and nicely on the screen. Text-heavy PDF files can be reflowed, making them easier to read on the Kogan; however, this feature is not so great on graphic heavy files.
E-book files are well-supported, with the basic rendering of the reader using FBreader and DjVuLibre open source programs. The Kogan even has MS Word support via Anitword. The use of Linux is a good choice, as it allows a wide range of fonts and good graphics support using Linux libraries (such as like libpng, libjpeg, libgif and libexat for XML).
The reader also has music playback — it is capable of any codec supported by MAD Mpeg decoder. I found the supplied earbuds slightly tinny, but the ability to play music (and for that matter, a 16 shade greyscale picture viewer), an added bonus.
Digital Rights Management support is supplied by Adobe, so any store that uses Adobe DRM will be supported (in real terms, everyone except Apple, Amazon and books using Microsoft DRM).
The menu system on the Kogan is simple and elegant. The page forward/back buttons are used to flick through the menus (and the book pages themselves). The right-hand buttons relate to the information displayed on the screen. The top button is the menu button, and the bottom is the return to previous level. When there is no menu, the other buttons are inert. The Kogan can allow text and number inputs, so you can search large libraries with ease. Alphanumeric entry is based on a similar system as that used on mobile phones (and this is one reason I would prefer better tactile buttons). It does take a little to associate the top and bottom icons to what their function is, but once learnt, it is a fast and effective system to navigate the power of this device.
Booting up the device is not the fastest experience, but once started, the device is responsive to input.
If there is one flaw in the reading experience, it is that there is no last page memory. The software has a rich bookmarking system, but you need to mark your page before turning off or going to another book. Books themselves are tracked with the recent button on the main menu screen, but the 1st page is displayed when the book is opened. The manual step to keep track of your last page is one feature that I would prefer to be fixed in a firmware update.
The Kogan comes supplied with earbuds, a USB cable and a leather cover. At $189 the device it is about $40 more than the Kindle Wi-Fi, but is $10 cheaper than the Kobo. It contains 1500 e-books, including many Aussie classics and works in the public domain. The fact that it supports the Adobe DRM schema makes it a great device if you buy books from Aussie e-book retailers (and the fact that it supports most e-book formats makes this device less tied to one or two retailers).
The fact that this device is built on the best of breed open source, yet works with a propriety but widely used DRM schema makes this a very strong device. For those with a wide library of e-books in different formats, this would be a great reader. Tweak the buttons and some UI features, and this for me would be the perfect reader, and a strong first effort from Kogan.
Image credit: Kogan