With all the buzz about Amazon's new Kindle 2, you'd think this revamped e-book reader was the most advanced piece of technology this side of designer babies. After all, for $359, you get a color screen, Wi-Fi and full-function Web browsing, video playback, 60GB of storage, and a reasonably usable keyboard.
Oh wait, you don't get any of that stuff. No, that's what $350 can get you if invested in even a low-end Netbook, such as the new 10-inch Acer Aspire One. Not only is there a wide range of PC software available for buying and displaying e-books (and tons of free content as well), when you're done with all that highbrow readin', pop open a Web browser and rot your brain with some Hulu videos.
Unlike the closed-loop system on the Kindle (it generally only works with e-books from Amazon, and Amazon e-books only work on the Kindle and the related iPhone app -- although there are some Kindle conversion tools out there, and Amazon will convert your personal docs for Kindle use at 10-cents a pop), at least you have a variety of different software and content provider options with my proposed $350 Kindle alternative.
We'll be the first to admit, none of these options are as seamless or easy to use as the Kindle (especially with its always-on wireless digital download store), and companies like Microsoft and Adobe aren't exactly known for building great software user experiences.
We tried installing and using a couple of e-book reading software packages on our Acer Aspire One, with mixed, but not wholly unsatisfactory results. First up was Microsoft Reader, which uses .lit files, available from several online e-book retailers (although not Amazon). Originally released in 2000, the software has a dated, inelegant interface, but displayed our e-book files cleanly. Like the Kindle, Microsoft Reader also has a built-in text-to-speech feature, although the results are just as robotic. … Read more