Name: Bookeen Cybook Odyssey HD FrontLight
Type: Touchscreen E-Ink eReader with backlight
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price as reviewed: 166.66CHF (£115.96) direct from Bookeen
The Cybook Odyssey HD FrontLight sees Bookeen add a backlight and an improved screen resolution to the Cybook Odyssey eReader. But has the company fixed the issues that dragged down the last model, and can the HD FrontLight prove itself to be anything more than a knee-jerk reaction to Amazon's Paperwhite? Read on to find out.
We reviewed Bookeen's Cybook Odyssey last winter, and while we praised its design and touchscreen, we also felt some of its software features were a little bit lacking. The Cybook Odyssey HD FrontLight smartly keeps much of their previous eReader model's design sensibilities, but adds a backlight for reading in darker settings, pitching itself as a rival to Amazon's superb Kindle Paperwhite.
Again with a black casing, Bookeen have managed to shave a few grams off the weight of last year's model, with the HD FrontLight weighing just 180g, thanks to less metals used in its construction. Despite that, the HD FrontLight still feels solid in the hand.Measuring 160x120x9.4mm, the HD FrontLight pops in a 6-inch E-Ink touchscreen up front. At a 1024x758 resolution, it's considerably sharper than last year's Odyssey, putting it just a fraction behind the Kindle Paperwhite's resolution (though any difference would be invisible to the naked eye). As a result, the HD FrontLight's screen is incredibly readable, with an anti-glare treatment making it comfortable to read even in direct lighting.However, even if you're not in a well-lit room, a backlighting system built into the edge of the eReader means you can carry on reading through the night. Accessed from a menu option available throughout the eReader's interface, it offers 20 degrees of backlight intensity. And it can be quite intense at the highest levels; the lighting system in the HD FrontLight feels a lot harsher than the glow given off from the Paperwhite, though reining the intensity in a bit makes it useful for low-light reading. Unlike the Paperwhite however, you probably won't feel comfortable with it on constantly unless low ambient lighting really necessitates it. Thankfully, battery life remains superb; excessive use of the backlight will drain it within a few days, but it's easy to squeeze near to a fortnight out of a full charge.As well as offering touchscreen swipe, tap and pinch-to-zoom controls (of the capacitive rather than infra-red kind, meaning gloves will have to be off), the HD FrontLight also has page turn buttons on either side of its casing, with a "back-page" on the left and "next-page" on the right. The lack of additional "back" and "forward" page turn buttons on either side means wont be able to use these physical buttons to navigate a book in one hand as you would with a keyboard Kindle, as you'll have to reach to the other side of the device to go either back a page or forward one depending on your stronger hand. But with a simple tap on either edge of the screen doing the same job, that's not too big a deal. Below the screen is a single physical button that's used to enter menus (the same can be done by tapping in the centre of the screen) and a power button sits on the lower edge, alongside a microUSB port, charging indicator and microSD slot. 2GB of storage is built in, and that'll give you enough room for over 600 eBooks on the device at once.
There are a few omissions though now. Firstly, and most importantly, there's no longer a 3.5mm headphone jack. This was a real boon for those who like listening to audiobooks along with their texts, and was a key advantage over later-day Kindles which have also removed the port. It seems tablets and smartphones are now the primary home for audiobooks. Also gone is the accelerometer which allowed you to easily switch between landscape and portrait orientations. Though some found its activation erratic, we found it worked fine before, and miss it here.Packing in an 800Mhz Cortex A8 Texas Instruments OMAP processor, the device is zippy to use, registering touchscreen keyboard presses at speed and, if you're willing to forego a full screen refresh and put up with some "last page ghosting", can turn pages at an incredible rate. Any lag suffered when using the device here seems to be a limitation of the E Ink screen technology, not the processor.But where the HD FrontLight falls over is with its software, which shares identical problems to its Odyssey predecessor. There's still a nice selection of font size and style options, responsive pinch-to-zoom text resizing and handy note and annotation options. BUT STILL NO ENGLISH DICTIONARY?! It's a basic standard of eReaders, and though Bookeen are a French company if you're going to market to an English speaking audience it's a much-needed feature. When compared to the Kindle's X-Ray feature, which also scans books for themes and characters as well as pulling in data from Wikipedia alongside dictionary definitions, the device seems sorely lacking.The 100 pre-installed books are also mostly in French, as is much of the content on the Bookeen eBook store, with prices listed in Euros. Not only is this an alienating experience for UK users, the catalogue pales in comparison to what's on offer from Amazon's built in store. You'll also need to sign up for Adobe's Digital Editions DRM service before grabbing any purchases, another barrier, but at least the Wi-Fi connectivity remained consistently strong. In order to get books onto the HD FrontLight your best bet then is to check out online stores such WH Smith or Waterstones. A simple drag-and-drop interface makes transferring eBooks easy, though we'd recommend a management client like the superb (and free) Calibre. With support for a reasonable amount of file formats, including EPUB, PDF, Adobe DRM, HTML, TXT, FB2, and picture files including JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, ICO, TIF, PSD, you shouldn't have any compatibility problems when using thrid-party stores.Verdict:
The Bookeen Cybook Odyssey HD FrontLight was a great opportunity for Bookeen to right the mistakes made with preceding eReader, the Cybook Odyssey. However, it's sadly pretty much the same eReader as last time with a light built-in instead. Like the earlier model, it's still a worthy device thanks to its great screen and attractive design, but be aware that you're still lacking standard features such as an English dictionary or a store well-stocked with English language books, while the removal of the headphone jack hurts too. Priced a few quid more expensively than the Kindle Paperwhite, we can't recommend the Cybook Odyssey HD FrontLight over its Amazon rival.