Rocket eBook holds lots of material for research on the move

John McCormick

I've been using the latest version of the Rocket eBook [GCN, Aug. 23, 1999, Page 31] in the office and on the road, but not for buying books online. I carry it around to look up large amounts of custom reference data, especially downloaded Web sites.

The reading appliance from NuvoMedia Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., has come down drastically in price since last summer, from $349 to $199. The original's 4,000-page capacity was too small. I prefer the $269 Pro model that weighs 22 ounces and stores nearly 50 novels or 19,000 pages of text and simple images.

Users who bought the original can get a 32M memory upgrade for $149, which is pretty high considering that the cost of a new unit complete with charger and docking station is only $120 more.

I easily installed the eBook's PC publishing software and immediately went to one of my favorite Web pages, plato.stanford.edu, to link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which has a good section on Turing machines. It took quite a while to download the hundreds of linked Hypertext Markup Language pages over a real-world 26-Kbps connection.

Once they arrived, I published the entire 6M file to the eBook within a few minutes.

ABCD easy

No user effort is necessary to convert the text from a Web page to an eBook file. Just enter the uniform resource locator, specify whether to include linked pages and name the new book. The converted file looks and navigates just like the Web site with its original navigation buttons intact.

Publishing local text files is just as easy. Once you have downloaded text or books into a PC or Mac, you can always delete them from the eBook to free up space, then reload them as needed.

I can't read comfortably from a notebook PC for long periods, despite the larger screen, and I dislike lugging a notebook's weight around.

The eBook resembles a fat paperback so much that I find it very natural to carry for long periods. At the moment, my eBook holds a couple of dozen white papers, documentation about Microsoft Windows 2000, hundreds of Web pages, a dozen or so GCN articles, and lots of lists of frequently asked questions downloaded from the Internet.

I have little use for most of the contact management features in a personal digital assistant, and I never connect to the Internet on the road. Most of my work requires reading, so the eBook is perfect. But I do question the economics of buying an eBook when a full PDA such as the inexpensive Handspring Visor from Handspring Inc.
of Mountain View, Calif., costs about the same for equal text and Web page storage capacity.

The Rocket eBook has no functions besides those dealing with text. You can annotate text, but only from a tiny onscreen keyboard that requires a stylus because of the small key size. I find the eBook's backlighting adjustments excellent. I like its ability to switch between small and large fonts and to reorient text from portrait to landscape in a second.

The reading experience is every bit as satisfying as it is for novels. Navigating through text is much easier. I do miss the ability to download tables, style sheets and forms to the eBook, however.

NuvoMedia, at www.rocket-ebook.com, also supplies downloadable subscriptions to several periodicals, including the Federal Register.

If you already have a PDA and want to download a few books on a road trip, check out www.tucows.com, one of the premier Web sites for downloading shareware and freeware programs. Tucows.com Inc. of Toronto posts several dozen e-texts for PDAs on the site.

Agencies whose maintenance manuals and other documents change frequently should investigate the eBook technology. Unlike text stored in a PDA, users can't alter eBook information other than by annotating it, unless they have the docking port and software. They can, however, completely erase things. The potential savings in paper and CD-ROM publishing could be substantial, and best of all, the eBook users don't need even basic computer training.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant in Punxsutawney, Pa.


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