Amazon and Sony opted to go the Neiman Marcus route with their e-book readers, dog-piling extra features, fat content catalogs and hefty price tags on top of gorgeous pieces of hardware. Upstart electronique de livre maker Cool-er, on the other paw, went in a decidedly Wal-Mart direction with a spartan, chintzy device that skates the line of functionality. It sure is cheap though!
Candy colors. Initial cost of admission cheaper than competitors. Support for open formats. Battery life is good for a fortnight.
Flimsy buttons. Plasticky-construction. Overpriced e-book store. Tacky user interfaced. No auto-sleep mode. No Wi-Fi. No access to newspapers, blogs or magazines.
For 250 bucks you get a slim, lightweight reader available in eight bright candy colors, that supports formats like ePub, Txt, JPEG and PDF. It also comes with a 6-inch E Ink display — the same size screen on both the Kindle 2 and the Sony PRS 505.
The Cool-er looks eerily similar to Sony's ubiquitous device, right down to the placement of the buttons for the page turn. It's also almost the same width, 4.6 inches to Sony's 4.8 inches, and just a smidge taller.
That's pretty much where the physical similarities end. Although Cool-er gets geek points for offering a Linux OS, 1 GB of storage, and the option to flip the screen to landscape and portrait modes, the hardware has an unrefined, shoddy feel. The hard-to-press buttons are enough to give you carpal tunnel-esque pains after just a few minutes of use. But that's not the most agonizing part of the Cool-er.
Navigating the menu is horrendously difficult. Say you're trudging through Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence and want to switch over to Twilight. It takes about four clicks to get back to the main index page. Adjusting the font size had us stumbling through the menu, even restarting the device twice because we couldn't figure out how to change the font or increase the size. And there's no search feature so if you have, say, a dozen books stowed, be prepared to go clickety-click chronologically to find the publication you want.
The Cool-er is actually lighter than its peers though. It weighs a mere 5.6 ounces compared to the 10-ounce heft of the Sony Reader and the downright portly 10.2 ounces of the Amazon Kindle 2.
Maybe the Cool-er's Kate Moss weight is due to the lack of Wi-Fi. Unlike the Kindle, there's no option for wirelessly downloading text. You have to connect a USB cable to your Mac or PC to get content. And the online store has only a fraction of the selection Amazon's does. While Jeff Bezos chocked his virtual marketplace with more than 300,000 titles, plus newspapers and magazines, Cool-er has roughly 5000 e-books but not a newspaper or magazine in sight. What's worse, everything is more expensive. Check it: The Kindle edition of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers sells for $10 on Amazon.com compared to nearly $17 on Cooler Books.
What? Seriously guys?
The difference between the Kindle 2 and the Cool-er is about $100. If you buy say, 15 books through Cooler Books, you've already blown through the savings on hardware. 30 books later, and the Kindle 2 is actually a better deal.
The upfront fee for the Kindle or Sony Reader is greater yes, but they more than make up for it in robust content, extra features, and superior hardware. For once, shopping at Neiman seems to be the more economic alternative.