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With the arrival of the Apple iPad, many have wondered what the fate of the humble e-ink-based e-book reader would be. Compared to the multimedia-rich experience of the iPad, the plain black and white display and limited functionality of these devices feels decidedly archaic. However, as we concluded in our iPad review, if you want a truly portable reading device that is comfortable to look at for hours on end and can measure its battery life in days rather than hours then e-book readers are still worth going for.
But which e-book reader should you buy? Well, with its inbuilt Wi-Fi, a web browser, and Wacom-powered touchscreen technology, the BeBook Neo is certainly a premium example.
It's also one of the most elegant e-book readers we've encountered. Sure, the Sony PRS-600 probably pips it to the post for outright style, thanks to its all metal chassis, but the Neo's white plastic front and simple control cluster give it a clean simplicity that we rather like. On top of this, the sandblasted aluminium back gives it a solid feel unlike all-plastic models such as the iRiver Story and Bookeen CyBook.
The back did, however, split opinion in the office when it came to comfort. Unlike the smooth aluminium finish of something like a MacBook Pro, the Neo has quite a rough finish – think 1000 grit sanding paper. To some of us, this gave it a reassuringly grippy surface whereas others found it distinctly uncomfortable, like it was slowly smoothing your fingertips away. It also appears to add some weight because at 312g (about the weight of a small hardback novel), it's nearly twice as heavy as the all-plastic alternatives.
Below the 6in, 800 x 600 pixel e-ink display is the navigation cluster. This consists of two concentric rings and a central select button. The outer ring is used for opening the menu, going forward and back a page, and going back a level in the menu. As for the inner ring, it functions as a directional-pad when navigating menus and doubles for zooming in and out (increasing font size) when viewing a document.
Most of the other features are confined to the bottom edge where you'll find the volume control, a mini-USB port, the power button, a 3.5mm headphone socket and an SD card reader. The only exception is the touchscreen stylus, which is housed in a slot on the top edge - more about that later, though.
You don't get much in the box besides the reader. There's a white USB cable for attaching the Neo to a PC for charging and transferring files to and from it. You don't, however, get a case of any description or a dedicated charger, so you'll have to get hold of a generic mains-to-USB converter for charging when away from a computer.