Left Behind?

Anyone joining the race to provide e-readers at this stage faces something of an uphill struggle. Even though the UK's only serious player at the moment is Sony, rumours of an imminent Kindle launch, and perhaps a slightly-less imminent offering from Apple mean the stakes are high.

So a product that is anything less than "all-singing all-dancing", pitched at around the same price point as the Sony e-Reader, begs the question: why? Is the company behind it hoping to pick up consumers on a short-term basis? Is it hoping people will have only seen the over-priced iLiad? Surely it can't think of itself as a real contender against the titans expected this autumn?

The BeBook has got me asking all of these questions. First, however, a confession— I'm not what you'd call a technophile (despite having owned a Discman and a MiniDiscman—anyone remember those—I stuck to my Walkman until I woke up in 2006 and everyone was talking iPods). If I glance at a manual, it's to make sure there is at least an English-language section. So it has taken me a while to get this baby up and running, even though in all probability it's child's play.

Once it's on, I scan through the various classics on offer—Dickens, Austen, Homer—certainly nothing to set it apart from the freebies on offer from any of the other competitors. And it has the same annoying features people complain about with the other devices—it takes a while to change the page and the black 'anti-flash' is disruptive and unpleasant. Not what you want from a so-called immersive experience.

I thought, despite my reservations, my head would be turned by the gadgety-gizmo-wonderousness of the device, but I'm left feeling a bit uninspired.

To be fair to BeBook, this is the first model: there is expected to be at least another one out before the end of the year, with a third following in 2010. But if the manufacturer is going to have any chance of shifting units through the academic retailer Blackwell, socks are going to be have to pulled up. After all, we're constantly being told how digitally advanced the academic world is. If a techno-cretin like me finds it something of a let down, it will have no chance with a more selective audience.