Talk ebook readers, and everyone thinks Kindle or NOOK. But there’s a whole subset of hardware out there for people who aren’t interested in connected readers, and just want a simple device that handles multiple formats. That’s where an ebook reader like the Aluratek Libre comes in handy.
The Libre is physically very similar to the Jetbook Lite we looked at last spring. It has the same slider along the left side for page turns, along with page turn buttons on the bottom. There’s a d-pad and navigation buttons along the right side, plus a T-9 keyboard along the right edge. Unlike the Jetbook Lite, the Libre uses a rechargeable battery. Because it doesn’t have to accommodate removable batteries, the back is much smoother and there is no battery “hump”. Finally, the Libre uses an LCD screen rather than eInk, so while it’s slightly less sharp it does have a faster page turn and refresh rate than eInk.
Overall it’s a solid unit. All the buttons have good tactile feedback, and the reader feels very good in your hands. It’s comfortable to hold whether it is in your right or left hand, though the page turn buttons are slightly more accessible in your left hand. As an added bonus Aluratek throws in a nice slipcover, which protects without adding much bulk. I personally think the overall style has some charm, but Sarah said it looked like a rejected original Kindle design. In any case, it’s small, light, and well-built, and that’s most important.
But the real reason you buy an ebook reader is to read books…so let’s take a closer look at buying, loading, and reading a book on the Libre. It connects with Borders desktop application, which in turn is a rebrand of the Kobo application. In fact, if you’ve already been using the Kobo application, or you have books you purchased through Kobo, you can use that application to load them onto the Libre. You can also use Adobe’s Digital Editions desktop software as well. It’s good to have choices, especially since for some reason the Borders branded version of the Kobo desktop gave me all sorts of issues, but more on that in a bit.
Once you have books loaded on the Libre, they can be accessed under the “ebooks” tab on the menu. Your books show up in a list, and you can select either by d-pad navigation or using the number keys along the right side. I tested several ePUB-formatted books from Kobo and Borders, and they all rendered nicely. The settings options are a bit thin, mainly zoom, bookmark, and auto-page turn. There’s no dictionary or word search option, which is disappointing but not a deal-breaker. The auto-page turn is a very nice feature; you can set it for various increments from 5 seconds to 60 seconds. It’s super smooth, and perfect for reading while on the treadmill. Because the Libre uses an LCD screen, there’s no “flash” between page turns, and that really shines when you use auto turn. My only quibble is that it’s difficult to get in and out of the settings, so turning it on and off is a multi-step process.
I tested the Libre with ePUB files and PDFs. ePUBs opened without a problem, as I said. The PDF I used opened as well, but I was unable to get the zoom and fit to width functions to work. I tried with three different files, and each one gave me a “feature disabled” message. None of them were protected PDFs, and they could have benefited from the ability to zoom. One of the files I tried was heavy on columns and tables, and without zoom it was basically impossible to read. I did try another that was more traditionally formatted, and it rendered fine without additional zooming needed. As it turns out, the answer is to turn off a setting called reflow, which then allowed me to zoom and fit to width as needed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to stick. Every time you open the PDF you need to turn off reflow to access the other settings, which is terribly frustrating.
As I mentioned before, I had some issues with the Borders Desktop application. It was mostly user error, in that I had the Kobo Desktop app opened at the same time I was downloading the Borders branded one. The installer threw up a slew of errors, but when I retried it after closing the Kobo app it worked fine. My other issue has more to do with the structure of the Borders/Kobo branding. I have books I bought through Kobo, and books I’ve downloaded through Borders. Unfortunately, despite the Borders app being powered by Kobo, my Kobo library is separate from my Borders one. I can sync to either program but I can’t bridge the two. It’s very frustrating that in an already fractured ebook landscape the same ebookstore is fractured!
This is a complaint that’s pretty common among the Gear Diary team. We’ve all purchased ebooks from multiple locations, and it’s a near-weekly lament among us that we need to keep 4 or 5 applications on our phones to cover our whole ebook libraries. To be fair, this is not a fault of the Libre. It actually works well as a device to converge those multiple libraries into one place. Since it works with Adobe Digital Editions ePUB, any Kobo, Borders, even public library titles can be loaded onto it easily. And it handles desktop-jumping without a hiccup. The fact that desktop-jumping is NECESSARY isn’t something that can be held against the poor Libre.
Overall, I like the Libre. It’s a cute device in it’s own way. And while it doesn’t wirelessly connect to Borders ebookstore, it does a nice job handling the sync without any issues. The bigger question, though, is whether it has a place in a world of Kindles, NOOKs, and Kobo Readers. I believe it does. It’s not as flashy as the more famous competition, but it’s cheaper, smaller, and straightforward. If you don’t live in an area where you’re covered by wireless, or you’re ok with being tethered to a computer, this isn’t a bad device. If you own an iPad or some other tablet/smartphone combination, this could fit as a “satellite” device; something you can on the beach, while travelling, at night. Its size alone means it can ride along in your gear bag like it’s not even there, but when you need it you have access to your whole library!
The Aluratek Libre can be purchased from Borders online or in your local store for $99.99.
What I Like: Compact design; compatible with Adobe Digital Editions ePUB; syncs were smooth and fast with both Kobo and Borders desktop applications; long battery life; LCD screen means no eInk “flash” between page turns; autoscroll mode!
What Needs Improvement: No wireless; Borders Desktop application setup can be difficult; PDF settings require resetting options each time you open the file.