The latest generation of e-ink ebook readers kicked the ereader market up a level. Amazon's latest Kindle is its cheapest model yet, the Sony Reader PRS-T1 gave the Reader series Wi-Fi and the Kobo Touch turned many a head, arriving with features and style to challenge the best. But what about Bookeen? Can it rival the Amazon Kindle? The Bookeen Cybook Odyssey is one of the most beautiful ebook readers ever made. It lacks a few advanced features, but makes up for it with style.
French manufacturer Bookeen is not new to the ebook reader game, but its recent Cybook ereaders have suffered as a result of sky-high pricing, just as its competitors' price tags were in freefall. However, the Bookeen Cybook Odyssey takes a much more sensible approach this time. At around £130, it's no more expensive than Sony's latest - and costs roughly what the Kindle Touch would sell for, if it was available in the UK.
As well as being the most sensibly-priced - at launch - Cybook we've seen, it's the best-looking one too. All lightly curved edges and minimal design, it makes the Kindle look dull, with its insistence on drab button symbols and straight lines. The Sony PRS-T1 strived for a similar look, but messed it up by using a distracting glossy finish. Bookeen has got it right.
A variety of materials are used in its construction. Most of the front is black plastic peppered with subtle metallic glints, and the lighter screen surround layer has a soft touch finish. Conversely, most of the back is metal. A large-but-thin plate of brushed black aluminium dominates the rear, and the corners feature the same soft touch finish as the screen surround.
Most current-gen ebook readers favour plastic over aluminium in order to keep weight down, and it's refreshing to see metal make a comeback. Predictably, though, it has an adverse effect on weight. The Cybook Odyssey is 195g, around 30g heavier than the 2011 Kindle and the Sony PRS-T1.
However, ereader makers are on the cusp of fruitless spec-chasing on weight and the Cybook Odyssey is easily light enough to hold comfortably one-handed for extended periods. The metal and soft touch back combo works well too - offering a feel comparable with the full soft touch back style that has become the ereader norm. It offers less friction than many rivals, but doesn't feel as though you're constantly at risk of dropping it.
There are some ways in which the Cybook Odyssey feels as though it has traded-in ease of use for style, though. Although there are page turn buttons, each side only has a single one. Where the Kindle offers one-thumb operation regardless of whether you're holding the reader in your left or right hand, here page turning isn't so friendly. Hold the Odyssey in your left hand and you can effectively only turn pages back using your thumb. How hard would it have been to include two buttons on each side, Bookeen?
Bookeen's answer may well be that you can easily use the touchscreen to turn pages, but some people prefer to use page turn buttons, requiring less motion than any other method.
The Cybook Odyssey loses out to the Kindle here, but gains back some cred with its expandable memory and 3.5mm headphone jack. These have been left out of Amazon's latest ereader - judged of little use in a single-function device - but some people will appreciate being able to listen to music and load books onto a microSD card rather than forever relying on the 2GB internal memory. Both the microSD slot and 3.5mm headphone jack sit on the bottom edge of the reader.