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iRex Iliad Review

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So, I've been using the iRex iLiad eReader for a few weeks now, long enough I think for any problems to surface, if they were going to. Some pictures feature 35mm film cases, Clipper lighters or my hands for scale. The bottom shot was taken with a 50mm prime lens, macro'd right up so film plane was roughly 150mm from screen - you can just see the pixels in the large version. So here we go:


Hard to fault. Impressive as anything. More dpi over it's current 166 would be nice, but I'm not losing sleep (or, more to the point, getting eyestrain) over that. That will come in later devices, as ePaper gets better. Screen size is perfectly acceptable, easily that of a nice-sized paperback. In fact, I don't think I'd want a bigger one even if one were available.

It's a reflective screen rather than a transmissive one, so it works using incident light instead of generating it's own. This is why I can take photos of the screen in direct sunlight and you can still read it. In some light, at some angles, there is a bit of reflection off the screen making it a bit hard to read - but that's easily solved by slightly moving the unit.

Battery life could be better, but there are still major improvements that can be squeezed out of the existing gear (see below).


Usable. Not great in terms of UI, but nothing dreadful either. I've heard that early versions of the firmware were awful, but that's certainly not the case now. Some things could be a bit less fiddly, but overall, there's very little actually wrong with the software. That's not to say some bits couldn't be improved though!

iRex really need to keep momentum on development - why is the iLiad still running a 2.4.x kernel, when 2.6.20+ has dynticks? Especially when you consider the possible power-savings of tickless kernel on a device that spends most of it's time doing nothing (and on a 2.4.x kernel, it's doing nothing several thousand times a second). Yes, they implemented frequency scaling (only very recently), but did they patch ondemand using the lesswatts patches? If they didn't, why not?

iRex have been good enough to Open Source most of their software, but are keeping some bits to themselves still, and aren't releasing specs for some other bits. This is non-ideal, but better than nothing. Community developed software - like ports of minimo, or the more-cleverer pdf reader - are available, and people are working on things. Full-blown iLiad OS replacements (including a very pretty one based on Qtopia) are being developed by the iLiad community, I shall be keeping tabs on that, but it's hard to say at this stage how far these will go.

Other goodies:

Web browser, terminal, whole load of other things I could install but just can't be bothered. It's a book, dammit. If I wanted a tablet PC, I'd have bought a tablet PC.

If I had to find things I don't like:

Power connection. It's a big, wide, thin ribbon-like thing located on the bottom of the unit. Any other edge than the bottom would have been preferable - resting the reader on one's leg while sitting is much trickier with a big, fragile-looking connection dangling off it. I'd have used a mini-jack on the top edge of the device.

DRM. This isn't an iLiad problem, it's a publisher one. I'm hoping it will gradually go away, like how DRM on commercial mp3s is.

Some ebooks cost as much as their hardcover print editions. This is taking the piss. I'm sure that'll die down though.


Do you want one? If you read a reasonable amount and especially if you travel while doing so - probably. If you read a lot of pdfs (iliad will let you scribble on pdfs and save notes) and other electronic docs - definitely.

Given how much I love reading, and how painful holding books open can be with my rsi, I wouldn't give this device up for anything. This sounds like such a cliche, but it is true - this device has changed my life. If you asked me to choose between my Nikon and my Iliad, I'd have to have a very, very hard think indeed. Then I'd probably run off and hide with both of them - you can have all my other Stuff instead.


See here for high-res versions of these and other iLiad shots.
15th Feb 2008, 15:08   | tags:,,,,,

OJ says:

Nice review mat and I think I even get the gist of what you're saying about the kernel. Can I ask a couple of questions?

How much did you pay for it?

How do you turn the pages, so to speak? Is there an icon you need to touch/click or is there a way of doing it without sticking a digit into your eyeline?

Can you use it to read in the bath?

15th Feb 2008, 15:19

mat says:

I paid around £450, 'cos I wanted a fancy case for it too. Buy them here, but don't - whatever you do - buy books from there.

You turn the pages with the flipbar, the long silver bar on the left hand side. The default is to flip left to turn a page, but it's configurable. Left feels correct anyway - think about the action of turning a page... There is about a 1.5s lag while you turn as the screen refreshes, but I'm so used to that now it doesn't bother me.

No reason you can't read in the bath. You'd have to be VERY sure you weren't going to drop it though. :)

15th Feb 2008, 15:21

OJ says:

Thanks mat - I see the bar you mean now.

£450 seems a little steep, I have to say. I see why you think that buying the books for the same price as paper books is taking the piss now.

And I was sort of joking about the bath. Sort of. Reading in the bath is a great pleasure but at that price I wouldn't risk it!

15th Feb 2008, 15:27

mat says:

It is pricey, but then that's what you expect with early technology - five years ago, this display tech didn't even exist! In a few years time, I fully expect to be able to buy a full-colour, high-dpi version of the iliad for half the price.

The Bookeen CyBook is a bit cheaper, has much better battery life, but it's much less clever (and it's smaller).

15th Feb 2008, 15:33

mat says:

oh, and 100 points for anyone who can name the book I'm reading in these photos. :)

15th Feb 2008, 15:37

OJ says:

Asimov? But I don't know which one without googling.

15th Feb 2008, 15:46

Electric Sheep says:

Will it run Doom?


15th Feb 2008, 15:46

jetblacknewmoblog says:

good review Mat - the last sentence almost made me giggle like a girl. almost
With regards to the book, is the fact Air is spelt with a capital 'A' any kind of clue, or a typo?

15th Feb 2008, 15:47

mat says:

Sorry, not Asimov. You're in the right genre, but out by quite a few years. I don't think this author is quite as famous either.

JBL - er, maybe. it'll probably help with googling, if nothing else.

15th Feb 2008, 15:47

OJ says:

Oh, okay I googled and I'm wrong.

15th Feb 2008, 15:48

mat says:

ES - Fucking doom. With a screen refresh rate of around 1Hz?

Yes, of course it'll run Doom. Duh. Everything with a screen will run doom. It's a linux device, and framebuffer is framebuffer. Might need a bit of hacking to compile right. I'll ask the porting guy. :)

15th Feb 2008, 15:50

seaneeboy says:

Great review, cheers mat.

How long has this version been on the market? in other words, how long is it likely to be before it comes down to iPod-type prices?

15th Feb 2008, 15:55

mat says:

Well, there's a question. This is v2, which will be superseded by v3 probably some time this year. V3 wil have more battery and a higher dpi screen. I have no idea if they are planning to keep v2 in production and drop it's price, but that kind of thing is often asked in the user's forums, so maybe. The iPod comparison is interesting, as the iLiad will actually play mp3s and has a headphone jack on the base. Seriously though, it's a BOOK.

See the link above to the CyBook, which is already cheaper than a top-end iPod (and it plays music too).

15th Feb 2008, 15:58

Salome says:

And they're not paying you (or at least giving you discounts) for these reviews?
Get me the PR department!

15th Feb 2008, 16:56

Rich says:

It's just a case of sitting back and letting Google do it's job. They'll know about it within six months, top.

Also within six months: Lots of unregistered comments "how i maek porn go on iLiead plaz halp"

15th Feb 2008, 17:11

Electric Sheep says:

Porn on the iRex iLiad eReader?

(for added google juice, hehehehe)

15th Feb 2008, 17:13

DefNull says:

amazing series, the first one of these I have seen up close.

15th Feb 2008, 21:21

Mandy. says:

the 1/2 second pause between pages really doesn't bother you?

15th Feb 2008, 21:23

mat says:

it really doesn't. half a second isn't all that long - only ever so slightly longer than the time it takes me to blink, then move my eyes back to the top left to start the next page. Also, think about how long it takes to turn the page on a print book - it takes me at least half a second until I'm reading again. :)

there's some rather poor video I shot of it in action here, but YouTube has plenty more.

15th Feb 2008, 22:23

Mandy. says:

actually, after I wrote that I thought about how long it takes to turn a page & realized it's probably just a bit shorter. Plus the handiness of just pushing a button sounds superb.

16th Feb 2008, 00:31

Mandy. says:

I think I like the looks of that better than Amazon's Kindle. But I like the 'whispernet' idea on Kindle. Being able to download wherever you are.

16th Feb 2008, 00:38

mat says:

the Kindle is rubbish, from all I've heard. Smaller, uglier, way worse screen - and Amazon want to lock you into their formats.

In theory, there's nothing stopping you putting a mobile modem card in the iLiad and downloading from anywhere (it has wifi anyway), but how often do you actually run out of book mid-anywhere? Not forgetting to allow for the fact that you can carry tens of thousands of pages at once? I currently have six unread books on my iLiad, plus the one I'm reading - that ought to see me through.. (if I wanted to carry more, I could take up to 4GB on memory cards/sticks too - 4GB is a LOT of text!)

16th Feb 2008, 09:40

ukmari says:

I wonder if it is scannable with my reading pen?! or it would be even better if dictionaries are built-in, so I can easily check meanings.

23rd Feb 2008, 16:13

mat says:

I think there is in-read dictionary support for certain ebook formats. Don't quote me on that though.

It sounds like the kind of feature that may come in a later firmware update, if not available right now.

24th Feb 2008, 15:29

andy (zbinden-ap-at-gmx-dot-net) says:

the book: diamond age by neal stephenson?

great review, thanks. actually I bought an iliad myself a couple of weeks ago, and I am very pleased with it. pretty much the same as you say, mat.

and I also would never want a kindle. same reasons as stated here, plus: I live in europe.

6th Jun 2008, 02:47

John Monniot says:

i@m partially-sighted but can read large print books. These are very restricted in the range available. I'd love to use an Iliad but what is the largest font size available?

10th Aug 2008, 16:27

mat says:

If you're making PDFs, there's nothing to stop you making the font as large as you like.

Mobipocket books - as far as I know - you can turn the font up as far as you like.

10th Aug 2008, 16:38

John Monniot says:

Thanks Mat

My wife has just pointed out that Borders are demonstrating Iliads at a branch not far away so I'll go and try one.

10th Aug 2008, 18:03

Peter K says:


Thanks for the review. As an avid reader, but with arms/ wrists developing arthritis, I'm sure that a lightweight eBook reader like this may help ease my reading enjoyment, and I'm thinking of treating myself to one for Xmas (not so far away now I'm afraid!!) One q at this stage:

- I use Mobipocket on my windows mobile ppc phone(Samsung i780). This allows page srolling, which I find useful (Samsung screen OK for reference stuff & rss summaries, but too small for sustained reading). You've mention page turning, do you know if the version of Mobipocket on the Iliad supports scrolling? (I'd like to be able to automate the reading experience as far as possible.)

NB The mobipocket version (6.2) I have on my Samsung does support dictionary look up(and seems to work OK)- but I don't know if the software version is the same on the Iliad



3rd Sep 2008, 22:04

mat says:

As far as I know, Peter, it doesn't allow scrolling in the sense I think you mean. The screen refresh wouldn't allow scrolling, as such, anyway. The pixels need 'flushing' (flash page all white, then black, then new text appears) between page turns to avoid ghosting, so continuous scrolling isn't really possible.

That said, if you have the technical ability (or know someone who does), you could create a modified version of FBReader (free mobipocket/epub/etc reader) which auto-page-turns after a specific period of time. That will mean you can't read DRM'd mobipocket books, but a quick google for should solve that annoying little problem. (please note, stripping mobipocket's DRM may be illegal in your country. it certainly is in mine, otherwise I'd be hosting a copy of mobidedrm).

I believe dictionaries (both in-book and offline) are available for the iLiad, I personally haven't installed one. The following link might be useful for you:

Andy - not the Diamond Age, no. Good guess though.

4th Sep 2008, 02:45

crickson says:

Mat> What do you think of the Sony equivalent?

4th Sep 2008, 04:50

mat says:

Never seen one, to be honest with you. But, I have heard a few things.

- it's an 800x600 display to the iLiad's 1024x768.

- Sony require you to use their "Store" to buy your books and put them onto your reader. Classic Sony lock-in tactics apply. There are workarounds, but they aren't too easy right now.

- Their preferred format, LRF, isn't very widely supported - lots of converting will be needed. Although I think it does support ePub, which is apparently the next big thing in eBook formats.

- I can't install 3rd party applications on a Sony Reader, I can on my iLiad.

If I were buying a new reader today, I'd still buy an iLiad, although I would probably take the Bookeen CyBook under consideration as the cheaper option. I wouldn't bother looking at the Sony.

4th Sep 2008, 13:06

seaneeboy says:

There was a lot of advertising for the sony one in metro today, which is sadly the way a lot of the time - the better product doesn't have the marketing power of the lesser, and loses out accordingly. Boo.

4th Sep 2008, 14:07

seaneeboy says:

Here's the sony link, for comparison:

4th Sep 2008, 14:15

Serge(sv_001-at-mail-dot-ru) says:

Fine review.Some comments about SONY.
Yes,it's screen only 6", and .pdf documents seems very unreadable.So Iliad seems very attractive.
Yes,SONY native format is .lrf and there is many free converters for this format.Google's it easy.So,it is no problem.

2nd May 2009, 13:54