BeBook has produced some great e-book readers in its time. But, as we sit with the really quite nice BeBook Club ereader in our hands, we do wonder if the company, and others like it, can survive.
There's nothing much wrong with the BeBook Club in itself. The on-board memory, at 512MB, isn't generous: it will store up to 1,000 e-books, but we're used to seeing more internal storage. You can bump it up with SD cards, though, so that grumble has little traction. Another gripe is that the use of MiniUSB rather than MicroUSB for charging the battery seems old-fashioned. But none of this is enough to make us dismiss the BeBook Club out of hand.
And it does cover the main bases. It's a fairly standard size and has a good-quality 6in. E-Ink screen with a resolution of 600 by 800 pixels.
The button controls are reasonably neat and the quirkily designed navigation pad, a deconstructed cross, looks novel without compromising usability.
The range of supported etext formats is good, with PDF and EPUB (both DRM and non-DRM) in the mix alongside DOC, TXT, HTML, DJVU, CHM, FB2 and mobipocket. The BeBook Club also plays music files to headphones, and there is a 3.5mm connector on the bottom short edge.
You can even remove the back should you want to replace the provided battery which is good for 12,000 page views on a single charge — less, obviously, if you listen to music while reading. We had no complaints about the reading experience on the BeBook Club.
What really mitigates against the BeBook Club, though, is Amazon's Kindle.
The problem for BeBook (and every other e-book reader manufacturer) is not so much the Kindle itself but the vast array of etexts it provides access to over Wi-Fi and 3G for £149 (or Wi-Fi-only for £109).
Whatever your feelings about what Amazon may be doing to book publishing in the longer term, the market is fickle enough to concentrate on the bottom line — which in the case of the Kindle is an attractive unit price plus easy access to etexts, plus relatively low etext pricing.
With the BeBook Club costing £149 direct from BeBook, and no readily accessible over-the-air library, BeBook may face an uphill struggle regardless of the quality of its technology.