The Bookeen Cybook Odyssey uses a 6in 800 x 600 pixel e-ink Pearl screen. This is virtually identical to the type seen in most current ebook readers of note, including the Kobo eReader Touch, Kindle and Sony PRS-T1.
Consequently, the basic reading experience it offers is excellent. Contrast is good, text is reasonably sharp, and you won't get the glare and eyestrain associated with reading off an LCD screen. In this most basic sense, the Cybook Odyssey makes no significant steps forward, and E-ink quality hasn't changed dramatically over the eighteen months. If you have a good ereader from 2010 or later, buying this won't likely come with a huge step up in "image" quality.
What has improved in recent times is the speed at which pages can be turned. Bookeen is keen to stress that the Cybook Odyssey features a powerful processor, an 800MHz Cortex A8 Texas Instruments chip, and goes as far as to claim having invented the "fast e-ink" with this reader.
Predictably, it's something of an overstatement. The Cybook Odyssey can turn pages very quickly, but requires letting go of the full page refresh. This is the black flash that happens you turn a page. It's unsightly, but has an important function. It flushes-out the E-ink screen, removing the afterimage that hangs around after text or images have been displayed. Giving you manual control over when a full refresh happens is employed in both the Kobo Touch and Kindle, to make page turning faster - hence why Bookeen's claims are a touch too bold.
The Cybook Odyssey lets you choose between refreshing every page, every five pages, every 10, or - here's the crazy one - never. As an e-ink screen starts to look raggedy after a screen or two of text, we stuck with the single-turn refresh. Bookeen also lets you manually override refreshing. Hold down the page turn button and the ereader will go into high speed mode after a second's pause, flipping pages at a rate of knots - around five a second. Admittedly, this is quick.
However, accidentally triggering this page-flicking is a fairly common annoyance, more common than actually needing the feature, in our experience. Mistakenly resting a finger on the left page turn button is a particular pitfall when reading in a less-than-upright position - such as when in bed or lounging on the sofa - because it's possible to press the button down on its edge without resulting in any "click". There's no option to turn the fast-turn feature off, and it's a shame. Too many times, we ended up 30 pages away from where we wanted to be.
This page-flicking mode is what Bookeen is directly referring to when talking about "fast e-ink". When executing single page turns, there's still a fractional delay. Ereader fans shouldn't be too keen to get rid of all page lag, though. That tiny pause is part of what makes e-ink ebook readers feel so... book-like.
There are several omissions and odd choices in the Odyssey. Turning pages using the touchscreen requires just a tap rather than a flick, and again it's easy to do so accidentally while reading in bed. This ereader doesn't use the standard ereader touchscreen type - most use an IR-based system - but the capacitive type, which only reacts to conductive surfaces rather than anything solid.
There's no way to limit touchscreen page turns, and it's an annoyance - as is not being able to re-program the physical buttons. Some other readers let you take a good amount of control over touchscreen behaviour, but here you have to make do with what Bookeen gives you.
Almost all the Odyssey's niggles could be fixed with a firmware update, but as is they're significant - especially given the £40 premium you pay over the Kindle. The most serious is the lack of a dictionary. Being able to tap on a word to look it up in the OED is probably the best reason to have a touchscreen in an ereader, but here you can only highlight text and make notes. There is a dictionary in the French version, but not here. Bookeen is, however, working on including this feature, and it is currently in beta.
Compared to the Sony PRS-T1 and Kobo Touch, which let you search the web, the dictionary, Wikipedia or the rest of the book for a word or phrase by just holding a finger down on it, the Odyssey's performance here is poor. It's a serious stumble that Bookeen shouldn't be making at this point in its ebook-making career. And one that would turn us off the reader entirely if it wasn't so downright lovely.
These advanced features are thing many ereader users simply won't use, though, and it has the basics sorted. There are 20 font sizes and you can choose between eight tasteful fonts. Thanks to the 800Mhz processor, the Cybook Odyssey is very quick to update whatever you're reading with any changes made.