Monday, February 21, 2011

Say hello to my little friend ...

Velocity Micro Cruz Reader R101

I finally gave up on a $50 e-reader -- not because I don't think it's going to get here eventually (I've been seeing some that looked a lot like my "requirements doc" minimum machine in the $75 range lately), but because it's reached the point where $100 to $150 gets you a lot more than just a reader.

I've been saving my pennies, containing my enthusiasm and waiting, but last week I finally went ahead and popped for one of those $100-$150 machines. It arrived today.

Three machines were on my radar. I settled on the Velocity Micro Cruz Reader for a couple of reasons:

Price: I paid $120 for the Cruz Reader. That's a little more than I'd have paid for Augen's The Book, but $30 less than the best price I noticed on the Pandigital Novel. The Reader runs Android 2.0 ("Eclair"). Whether or not it can support later versions, I don't know yet. If not, I'm still okay with it.

Operating System: The Book is Linux-based. I love me some Linux, but I've been itching to try Android. So, it was the Cruz Reader versus the Pandigital Novel, and ... well, see "price" above.

Features: A lot of that comes back to the OS -- Cruz has its own "app store," and from there the user can download an app that runs the Android Marketplace. The potential isn't limitless (the Cruz Reader doesn't have a camera, GPS, microphone, etc.), but you can extend its capabilities. When I mentioned that The Book is Linux-based, I meant based -- it isn't running any kind of well-known, full-blown distribution, and apparently requires hacking/modding to turn it into anything but an e-reader with basic web browser.

The device arrived this afternoon and I spent about two hours playing with it before sitting down to review it. As new aspects reveal themselves, I'll update this review.

Short Summary: I pronounce myself quite satisfied with the device. It's not an Apple iPad or one of the new $600-$800 tablets. I didn't expect it to be. It's a $100-$150 device, and I believe I'm getting at least $100-$150 in value.

The Details:

The Reader arrived with about 50% battery power. Two hours of use, including power-consumptive activities like wifi-connected web surfing and video playback, ran it down to about 25%. One attractive stated feature of the device is that the battery is user-replaceable.

I've used the Reader as a reader with two different apps so far: The Borders app and the Amazon Kindle app (I don't do business with Amazon any more, but I still have access to digital content I bought back when).

The Borders app comes pre-installed. The Kindle app is available for free download in the Cruz Market. I understand that Barnes and Noble's Nook app will also run on the Reader, and intend to install it later.

The Reader ran both Borders and Kindle flawlessly. I easily downloaded books to my libraries, opened them and browsed them. With the Nook app and a standard non-DRM epub reader (I'll download that later, too), I'm satisfied that I have maximum variety and price competition within my reach.

Other applications I've tried so far:

The pre-installed web browser. It's a bit slow ... but as I've mentioned, we're talking about a low-end device here. I'd hate to have to work on the web with it, but it's fine for catching up with a favorite blog or reading the news headlines.

Facebook Mobile: Facebook on a tablet isn't as nice as from a desktop, but it works. I should probably mention here that the only keyboard available is a touchscreen keyboard. It's not meant for heavy typing. But a quick status update shouldn't be a problem. Came pre-installed.

Twidroyd: I was worried about this one, as Twitter suspended Twidroyd between the time I ordered the device and the time it arrived. But it works. You can tweet, and keep up with friends' tweets, on the Reader. Came pre-installed.

Dr. Eye: This is a dictionary that comes pre-installed. I haven't really put it through its paces, but I ran a few terms through it and got quick, decent definitions (it's apparently a product of Oxford University).

YouTube Viewer: This is a free app available for download from the Cruz Market. The video's a bit grainy on a 4:3, 800x600 display, but for the nth time, this is a cheap device. I watched a couple of Charlie the Unicorn videos. They played. The sound ran in sync with the video. It's all good.

Notes of interest to potential buyers:

* The Reader's touch screen is "resistive" rather than "capacitative." This means that you press on it (with a finger or, not included, a stylus) to get results, rather than it picking up your body heat. Having messed around with a friend's iPod Touch awhile back, I've found that I prefer the resistive screen (capacitative doesn't seem very responsive). The down side, probably, is that a resistive touch screen wears out more quickly since it has moving parts. Higher-end Velocity Cruz tablets do offer capacitative screens.

* The device operates on 256Mb of RAM and has an internal 4Gb SD card. An external slot supports additional SD storage.

* Included as accessories: An AC charger, a cable for syncing/moving stuff back and forth between the Reader and your computer (USB on one end, mini-USB for the single port on the Reader end), and a spiffy neoprene sleeve. Oh, and a nearly useless paper "quick start guide." If you can't intuit your way around the device, a more comprehensive guide is available for download [PDF].

Conclusion: I got at least as much as I expected for the price, and probably more. The Reader has me covered as a reader, with significant additional and useful features that I expect to use regularly. Only time will reveal its durability, but it and its accessories seem to be, upon slightly more than casual inspection, of quality manufacture. As of now, I'm extremely pleased with the Velocity Micro Cruz Reader, and recommend it to KN@PPSTER's readers.

Update, end of day 2: Despite some issues, I'm still happy with the Velocity Cruz Reader.

The Barnes and Noble Nook app doesn't seem to be available in the Cruz Market. I grabbed it from elsewhere, installed it ... and it shuts down every time I try to get a book. I'm going to keep messing with that because of the available ereader apps it's the one I expect I'd like best (among other things, it lets you "borrow/lend" ebooks for up to two weeks at a time). I've been reading Thomas Paine on the Borders app. It's quite nice.

After its first full charge, the Reader gave me several hours of use -- I didn't count them, but probably 4-5 -- even though I was constantly running Pandora, which presumably consumes quite a bit of power running sound out the speakers, streaming via wi-fi, etc.

In addition to Pandora, I installed an app called "Daily Paper" (I think I got that one from the Android Market) that pulls up the mobile sites of bazillions of papers from a convenient list. I read news for a living, but I enjoy it much more on a tablet while lounging than at my desk in "work mode."

Another presumably power-consuming app I've been using is the YouTube viewer. I'm auditing David Blight's "open course" on the Civil War and Reconstruction (courtesy of Yale). I had been watching the lectures on iTunes and Academic Earth, but they're available on YouTube and (see comment on lounging versus desk):

I also installed ZumoDrive (referral link!), an online storage app that lets me keep files on my desktop computer but use them from the tablet (including, allegedly, my iTunes library -- haven't tried that out yet).

Speaking of storage, that's one thing I haven't figured out yet -- I've run into "not much space left" warnings while installing, even though I show a LOT of space available when I look. Like I said, I'm still figuring this out.

I installed, then uninstalled, a browser called Skyfire. I wanted it because I'd heard that it could be used to watch shows on Hulu (because it runs the data through its own servers and doesn't identify itself to Hulu as a tablet), but apparently Hulu got onto that trick, and told me that it "doesn't support Skyfire."

In the near future, I expect to "root" the device so that I can get rid of some of the preinstalled apps that I'll never use. Eventually I'll have it ultra-personalized ... but I'm definitely enjoying it in its arrival state with some added apps. It's a keeper.

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