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The jury's still out on whether eBooks will ever truly hit the mainstream, but certainly there's been more activity around them in 2008 than any previous year. Unfortunately Amazon hasn't yet brought the Kindle to the UK, but Sony did create quite a stir with its elegant PRS-505 Reader which managed to bag itself a recommended award back in October. So the question is, can a small company from the Netherlands called Endless Ideas take on the role of giant killer and knock Sony off the top spot with the BeBook?
Like most of the current crop of ebooks on the market the BeBook is slightly smaller in size than an A5 sheet of paper. Unfortunately style-wise it's more Primark than Armani as its plasticky grey case just can't hold a torch to the luxurious matt silver finish of Sony's Reader. Nevertheless, at 220g it does feel quite light and it certainly won't weigh you down when you chuck it in a backpack or suitcase.
None of the ebooks we've used have what you'd call overly intuitive interfaces, as sadly no one has yet been able to come up with a GUI that will do for eBooks what the original iPod did for MP3 players. The BeBook is no different in this sense. On the one hand it trumps models like the Sony Reader and iRex Iliad with a tighter menu tree that cuts down on button presses. However, this plus is largely negated by the overly sluggish nature of the device and some rather odd design decisions made by Endless Ideas. The most jarring of these is the location of the menu buttons. Although the menu entries are numbered and shown in a column down the left hand side of the screen, the numerical buttons corresponding to these entries are arranged horizontally across the bottom of the device which just makes them feel a bit odd to use.
On the plus side the BeBook supports multiple fonts and character sets and these can be changed while you're reading a book in most formats, although not in PDF documents. You can also choose between three different levels of zoom. The zoom works in different ways according to whether text in the document can be reflowed. In documents with re-flowable text the Bebook simply magnifies the text at three different levels. However, in other types of documents it simply zooms in and out on the page, with the largest level of zoom switching the display from portrait to landscape mode to fit more text horizontally on the screen.