Cybook Gen 3 Review

How to the Bookeen Cybook Gen 3 stack up in today's (2011) ebook reader market? Find out with our Cybook Gen 3 Review.

Note that the Cybook Gen 3 is a bit of a legacy device now (it was released almost 4 years ago) so compared to the current crop of ebook readers (Nook Simple Touch, Kobo Touch, Sony PRS 650) of comparable size, it's blown out of the water in terms of the features offered and screen quality.

bookeen cybook gen 3

Technical Specifications

  • Screen 6" E Ink Vizplex screen with B&W 8 shade grey scale – This means that the user can read from the reader in the day without worrying about glare due to the lack of backlighting.
  • Battery Life Rechargeable built-in Li-Polymer battery lasting for 8000 screen refreshes – This means that the user has a good idea of battery life, screen refreshes refers to the turning of a page or viewing a new page, therefore in theory the user could read 8 1000 page books on the battery life.
  • Weight, 174grams – This is the actual weight of the reader (including the weight of the battery); this is very light, meaning that the device is easily transportable.
  • Processor - Samsung S3C2440 ARM920T 400MHz
  • Memory 1GB – The in-built memory on the Cybook Gen3 is 1GB however the device does have an SD memory card slot meaning that this can be expanded in order to hold more files.

What's In The Box?

The Cybook Gen3 is packaged in a cardboard box bearing an image of the reader and some basic information on the device included. As this is opened the reader is laid out for the user to see with other accessories and manuals being stored underneath. The reader also comes with; a USB cable, allowing the device to be connected to a PC or Mac to be updated and have files transferred. A Quick start guide, allowing for an easy set up and the device to be functional very quickly, A USB power adaptor, allowing the device to be connected to the mains for a more rapid and easy charge, a black jacket, to protect the reader, and also stereo earphones (headphones) allowing the user to listen to music on the device. The Cybook Gen3 is one of the few readers to come with a lot of accessories; some readers such as the Samsung PRS650 don't even come with a power adaptor.

About the PC software

The Cybook Gen 3 has software that is constantly changing, as it was actually still in beta when released, however many changes have been made to the software since. The reader genuinely works as a USB when plugged into the computer if it is installed, therefore transferring files on to the device is simply a drag and drop process. Nice and easy, which is all that is required for the device, one advantage with this is due to the lack of order on the device when searching for books, when transferring files in this method it is fairly easy to make files for different authors etc. However it is still time consuming, and can be a nuisance for the user. No software has been developed for the computer yet, however the actual device software has been altered a fair bit over the time since the release of the Cybook Gen3.

Supported File Formats

The Cybook Gen3 lists Adobe PDF/ePUB, FB2, Multi format eBooks (MobiPocket included) HTML, TXT, JPG, GIF, PNG and MP3 files as the supported formats. This is a good range and in fairness to eBook is supporting a good range of files, particularly to support Adobe would have taken a lot of work due to the fact that the device operates on Linux OS, therefore they may have had a lot of trouble getting an agreement out of Adobe. However they have realized the importance of PDF files within the world of eReaders now as the devices are started to be used for students and also within education, meaning PDF support does come in very handy, and will be one of the features that buyers are looking for. Although Bookeen list this as a supported file, it is still not fully accessible on the reader due to the software that the device currently has.

One major problem for Bookeen and there users as they have promised new software releases which never seem to actually materialise. This same thing is a problem with mP3 files on the Cybook Gen3, as although they can be stored and supported, there is not yet an mP3 player integrated on to the device, meaning they cannot be played yet, another thing that Bookeen have promised will be sorted by the next software update. The strongest argument for buying the Cybook Gen 3 has been that it supports MobiPocket, meaning that all formats of eBooks can be read on the device with no need to convert them first, a process which can be very time consuming and annoying for users, therefore it does save users the hassle and makes the general use of the reader run much more smoother and efficiently.

Memory

The in-built memory on the Cybook Gen 3 accessible to users is 512mb, this is enough to store around 1000 books (quoted by Bookeen) this is a fair amount of books, not much storage if you are planning on putting PDF and MP3 files, you may find yourself running out of space very soon. This isn't particularly a problem though as the Cybook Gen 3 has an in-built SD memory card slot, meaning the user can but cards in a range of sizes to store more data on. Another advantage of this is it can really help with sorting the books as the Cybook cannot do that for you. Say having a different genre on different memory cards that is of course if you have that many books! Bookeen have done well to include this feature, as I find devices without it now are fairly limited, at least in this way, you could have thousands of books, all the user needs to do if they run out of space is to buy a new memory card.

Battery Life

Bookeen is similar to Sony, in the fact that it quotes battery life in page turns. I find this a benefit with readers, as when it comes to it, the main usage of the reader is going to be reading, therefore, when it comes down to it you want to know how much you can read on the battery, regardless of the other gimmicks on the reader. In all honesty, if you were that bothered about listening to music on the device, it would be an iPod, not an eReader, simple. The battery can easily be accessed and removed by users, a benefit for the Cybook Gen 3 as the battery is the hardware that will deteriorate the quickest on any reader, this way it is not too hard for the user to remove the battery if it fails and just buy a new one, much cheaper than buying a new reader, and by the time this happens, the device is probably fairly personalized. The device can be charged from any USB port, and this can also be used alongside an adaptor for use with the mains, all fairly easy methods of charging as USB is a very common feature in modern life, seen on TV's car stereos and of course computers. Once you have started the Cybook Gen 3 it will never fully power down, if it starts to get extremely low on battery life then it will enter sleep mode. This tends to be that the response speed is slightly slower however it does increase battery life significantly, quoted at about a week of battery life within sleep mode. This is plenty of time to find a charger!

The Screen

The Cybook Gen 3 boasts a 6" EInk Vizplex display. The purpose of an EInk screen means that the screen has no backlight as the surface is fully reflective; as a result an eInk screen comes with many benefits for the reader, such as being able to read in daylight without a glare on the screen, and in general, looks just like paper.

cybook gen 3 screen

In terms of competitors, the eInk display matches most other readers, one alternative though is the eInk Pearl, rather than the Vizplex which is slightly newer and devices such as the Sony PRS 650 are using this. I find there are arguments for and against one. Seen alongside the eInk pearl is a 16 shade grey scale rather than the 8 shade grey scale used in conjunction with the Vizplex display. On one hand, the more shades used, the better images will look on the reader as they will seem much more crisp and clear, however it has been complained that because of this, some of the font is not actually clear to read, particularly when the font being used is relatively small, a massive problem for an eReader, as if you can't read books on it, then it is not fulfilling its purpose. I can see why the newer models such as the Kindle 3 are using 16 shade, as with Wi-Fi connectivity included in the machines, people are going to be using web browsers and viewing web pages, therefore it is a major advantage for the images to be clear, and people may not mind sacrificing reading a smaller font in favour for the inclusion of the possibility to use the internet.

Remember, the Cybook Gen 3 is almost 4 years old, so it's a bit unfair to compare it to the newest readers -- it's going to lose the technology war.

However, I feel for the Cybook Gen 3, the 8 shade grey scale works fine, as the only imagery likely to be seen is book covers; it's not so detrimental to the device that images aren't perfect. Furthermore the screen also has a portrait and landscape orientation so that the user can determine just how they want to read their books, always a nice touch to any reader. The screen for the Cybook Gen 3 really has been aimed at the purpose for being a good screen to read from, and Bookeen shouldn't be slated for this as that is what the device is for. The Cybook Gen 3 is not a touch screen as has been seen in some more recent designs coming from Sony and The Nook, I don't see this as a problem, although it does not have a QWERTY keyboard like the Kindle, making it slightly awkward to operate, manageable, just possibly something that Bookeen should have considered. Lastly, the 6" screen size is the same as most readers with the Kindle 2 and 3 and also the Sony PRS range hosting this screen size, which seems to work well, could possibly be a tad too small for PDF files however.

Build Quality and Design

cybook gen 3 body

The Cybook Gen 3 weighs only 174 grams; this includes the weight of the battery, and as a result is one of the lightest readers on the market with this same sized screen. This is always an advantage as it means the device is much more easily transported and also means that the reader can hold it at ease for long periods of time whilst reading. The Cybook Gen 3 has a body made from plastic, which is black on all variations of the device. Overall the design is very minimalistic with a silver colored strip along the bottom emblazoned with the Bookeen logo on the left and on the right is the four way navigation controller. There are also four small buttons that are alongside the left hand side of the device, these are for accessing the menu, deleting files and so on. Lastly on the bottom are the USB port and headphone jack. They are not actually visible to the eye as they have a plastic panel covering them which is removed when in use. I find this a good idea for the USB port however for the headphone jack I find it annoying that the panel has to be removed every time headphones need to be plugged in, and I feel eventually this will get lost, which will annoy anyone who this happens too, as it's a part of the reader which is gone.

Overall I feel that Bookeen have done very well with the Build of the Cybook, although it may not be as fancy as other readers such as Sony and the Kobo, who promote a range of colors and patterns, it isn't a problem as the Cybook Gen 3 looks sleek and professional and has a much wider audience than say a pink Sony PRS. This is a good thing as it does not really exclude anyone and in those terms is very unisex and a good solid reader. Another feature of the Cybook Gen 3 is the quality of the screen; a few other readers seem to have a very plastic feeling screen that does not feel very solid at all whereas the Cybook Gen 3 screen does feel very firm and solid, a massive benefit. I'm not too keen on the fact that the device is plastic, however it feels well-built rather than tacky and means that the device is a lot lighter which is definitely a benefit.

Cybook Gen 3 Versus...

Cybook Gen 3 vs. Kindle 2

Firstly, the Kindle 2, released around the same time as the Cybook Gen3 has been the most compared to this reader. The speed of the Kindle2 has been seen as much more rapid than the Cybook Gen 3. Start up speed on the Cybook Gen3 takes around 20-30 seconds to start up, whereas the Kindle 2 tends to launch in around 5 seconds. A fraction of the time taken for the Cybook, which has been a big let – down for Cybook fans as it really does point out one of the differences between a reader and a book, which is not what users want, for instance you can't just read two or three pages, it seems a bit pointless for the 30 seconds of starting the reader up. Another difference in the speed of the machine is the speed of page turns, and the Kindle2 has the advantage here as it is slightly faster than the page turns on the Cybook reader.

One of the areas that the Cybook Gen 3 trumps the Kindle 2 is within the reading and display of text. The Kindle2 only offers one font in a variation of 6 sizes, not totally rigid, but not as much choice as the Cybook Gen3, in addition to this the font is not as easy to read as on the Cybook due to the fact that there is less variance in grey scale shades, meaning the font looks much clearer. Another problem with the Kindle2 is that it 'ghosts' this is where the device goes into standby and a very faint image of a dead author is shown on the device, I personally find this slightly creepy, and can be very off putting for the user, particularly if it's unexpected! One of the things that the Cybook Gen3 is without is a text to speech function; this can be handy at times particularly for visually impaired users.

Cybook Gen 3 vs. Kindle 3

The Kindle 3 (read our Kindle 3 Review) has actually been compared to the Bookeen Cyboen 3ok G a fair bit, however I feel this is quite unfair, solely due to the fact that the readers are designed for completely different functionalities, depending on the model.

If we look at the 3G model, then even from the name alone we can see that the Amazon 3G comes with wireless connectivity, a feature that the Cybook Gen 3 does not encompass. This is clearly an advantage, as it means that the internet can be used on the device, therefore it open up a completely new concept, for the reader, for instance it starts to turn into more of a tablet, rather than a simple reader, whether or not this is a good thing tends to be up to the user and what they plan to do with device. Another advantage of the 3G connectivity is the ability to download books at any time; arguments have been made both for and against the importance of this. Some people saying, when will you realistically be out in public and suddenly think 'oh I have to download that book', it's fairly unlikely. Could be useful for avid readers who may attend book reader groups and so on, as they could discuss books together, and then download them there and then. One thing that does interest me with the inclusion of the 3G connectivity on the Kindle is how Amazon are affording to foot the massive bill for free connectivity for all its users, making me think that these may be hidden charges within the device, the accessories and the actual eBooks, bumping all their prices up slightly to try and cover the extra service they are providing, therefore be wary of this if you are buying the Kindle just for reading purpose, as in that case, you would do much better with the Cybook. Particularly as the 3G connectivity means that the battery life on the Kindle 3G the Cybook Gen 3 is much more reliable, and therefore better as a reader, specifically if you need to take it away on a long journey or a holiday.

Now, if we look at the functionality of the Kindle 3 as a whole and ignore the 3G/Wi-Fi benefits that the Kindle 3's have and the Cybook Gen 3 does not, there are some positives in favor of the Gen 3. In terms of supported content, the Cybook Gen 3 is much better than the Kindle 3G as it supports a wider range of formats , the only lack of support is within audio files, no so important as it still supports mp3, which is the most common audio file anyway. This isn't a particularly important factor however as the main reason for buying an e reader is too read on, and I feel this can be fairly difficult to do when you are listening to music at the same time, not only that, but most people have an mp3 player or a phone that can playback music, and therefore it is not so detrimental to have the feature on the reader too, just nice.

Based on the comparison, the Kindle 3 models win in almost every department (connectivity, memory, screen quality, features, etc) EXCEPT format support, which the Gen 3 completely dominates.

Cybook Gen3 vs. Sony PRS-505

Another reader that has been compared to the Cybook Gen3 is the Sony PRS-505. There are a lot of things that the Cybook has over the PRS 505, firstly the page navigation is much faster and effective than that seen on the Sony PRS 505. The biggest advantage of the Cybook Gen3 is the fact that it supports MobiPocket format, this means that books can be downloaded anywhere and converted with no worries on the implication of display of the text. Screen wise the performance of both the readers is exactly the same, so in concept they are very similar and it is only the small details which make the choice of which reader is right for you. The design features of the Cybook are very sleek, they have added in a range of very small features, but ones that make the difference, for example, there are thumbnails of the books that are stored on the device. This is nice as it adds a little visual for the reader which is always nice.

One of the main advantages of the Cybook Gen3 is that you can download and add other fonts to the reader, for me, this is one of the reasons I would take the Cybook Gen3 over another reader, as I am very fussy with fonts and how they look to the eye. Yet another advantage of the Cybook over the Sony PRS505 is the fact that it is much lighter, making it more portable and a lot easier to be held when reading for a long period of time, a fact that is actually fairly important, as who wants to spend a fortune on a reader which feels like a brick in comparison to an actual book, defeats the point really. There are however where the Sony 505 does better the Cybook, one of the main areas the Sony is better than the Cybook are the design, as the Sony PRS 505 is made from an aluminium body it feels much more solidly built and sleek, whereas the Cybook Gen 3 is made out of plastic, making it feel slightly flimsy and not very well built. Particularly in comparison with the Sony PRS 505. Although the Cybook Gen 3 has a very rapid page turn, the actual function button for page turns is very poor, it can be hard to actually press the button and sometimes it takes more than one attempt to achieve the desired action.

One of the biggest problems that I have found with the Cybook Gen3 is the fact that you cannot arrange/filter out the books and files stored on the device, say by author or date published for example. Many people report that there is a way around this, which involves placing books in specifically named files as you can search book depending on their location within the device, however, this is a very big issue, and would have been easy for Bookeen to overcome, and would have saved their consumers a vast amount of trouble and time. However one of the biggest flaws of the Bookeen Cybook Gen 3 is the fact that the device cannot be charge whilst in use, therefore you cannot read, whilst charging, meaning if the battery drains whilst you are reading a book, you must wait for the device to be charged until you can continue reading.

The Good

The Cybook Gen 3 has a range of very strong advantages that are going for it. Firstly, I feel that the hardware design is a benefit for the Cybook. Bookeen have done an amazing job of keeping the device light, but well-built and sturdy. Further to this it is ergonomically sound and has been designed with ease of use in mind, yet it still looks good, a brilliant achievement making the reader very desirable. Second to this the eInk screen is the top of its game with no other screen really being used on eReaders anymore due to the glare that an actual screen carries with it, for example if you've ever tried to use your phone in direct sunlight, it's practically impossible. The whole genius of eInk is that it reads like paper, so does not get obscured by direct light. The fact that the device works alongside a computer is also an advantage in my view as it is easy to operate and everyone can do it quickly and easily.

The Bad

The major let down for the Cybook Gen 3 is the fact that the customer service is extremely poor. A fair amount of freezing when the devices were first turned on has been reported however, this goes alongside with the worrying fact that Bookeen have been practically impossible to reach, tending to just ignore their customers and leave them to try and solve the problems. This has really let Bookeen down, particularly when their competitors, for example Sony, work extremely hard to keep up a good customer service, as this is one of the few things that can be outstandingly different from competitors in such a close market. Not only this, but Bookeen have been faffing around with the software for a long time, changing the release dates around all the time until the point where the software just hasn't been released. A big shame as it is letting down their customers and it also means that some of the supported files are not particularly functional on the device.

There's a big argument that you may be better of going with one of the "big brands" devices like the Amazon Kindle, the Barns and Noble Nook, the Sony eReader, or the Kobo Reader because these companies are delivering consistent firmware upgrades (especially Barns and Noble who seems particularly keen on doing software upgrades to improve their device).

Final Word

The bottom line is that if you are just looking at buying a reader for the sole purpose of reading books then the Cybook would be fine. However the price is extremely high for this, particularly in comparison to other readers on the market. At $249 there are many other readers around, that for around half the price do exactly the same thing, on top of this you can get a higher quality screen with the newer Pearl e-ink technology and even a touch screen (Kobo Touch and Nook Simple Touch) and the reassurance that all the software actually works, and even if it fails you can ring up customer services and easily get a quick solution to the problems you are encountering.

The Cybook is arguably, an okay eBook reader with a beautiful design and great support for open format ebooks (including the MOBI format which most of the other ebook readers do not support), yet it's price does make the user expect much more from it than I think they will receive, in my opinion the Kindle and the Sony readers would win every time.

Because of the price, we have to say you are better off buying the Nook Simple Touch (or even the older Nook) or the Kobo Touch devices. For about the same price, you could even buy the Sony eReader 650 which gives you more features and a better screen, with the exception of MOBI file support. Let's hope Cybook does an update to the Gen 3 (and reduced the price by at least $50 dollars) to make it competitive against the current crop of other ebook readers.

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Bookeen Cybook Gen 3

Price: $249