A Library in Your Hand: A Review of the Book Port and the BookCourier
This article reviews two small, handheld e-book readers with speech output, the Book Port, from American Printing House for the Blind (APH), and the BookCourier, from Springer Design. The main function of these readers is to read articles, books, and other files aloud. They can also play MP3 files in stereo.
Although both devices are stand-alone products, they require that files be loaded from a computer and cannot play CDs. Both devices can accommodate flash memory cards, tiny digital cards that can store billions of bytes of information, so the amount of files you can carry with you is virtually unlimited. Both devices use the Double Talk synthesizer. In fact, both devices are descendants of the Road Runner, a text-file reader.
The Book Port measures 4 inches by 2.25 inches by 1 inch and weighs 6 ounces with batteries. On its front surface is an 18-key keypad. The top 12 keys are a standard telephone keypad with a nib on the 5 key. Below these keys are two more rows of 3 keys each. From left to right, these rows consist of keys A, B, and C and D, E, and F. All keys are round, and the rows and columns are spaced equally. The Book Port's case is black, and the keys are labeled in yellow for high contrast.
Caption: The Book Port e-book reader from APH.
On the Book Port's top surface are the headphone jack and the USB (universal serial bus) port. On the right side of the unit is the slot for a flash memory card. On the back, you will find the battery compartment and a belt clip. The Book Port takes two AA batteries.
There is no On-Off switch. You press the 2 key to start reading and press the 2 key again to stop. The Book Port then switches itself off after an amount of time that is adjustable by the user. There is no internal speaker, so you must use headphones or an external speaker.
The Book Port's manual and a Quick Start guide are available on audiocassette, on CD (to be read on your computer), on APH's web site, and as a file on the Book Port itself. When you take the Book Port out of the box, plug in the headphones, and press the 2 key, Book Port begins reading its manual. The manual does a thorough job of explaining how to use the device but, at times, it is repetitive.
Ease of Use
The Book Port is easy to use. It plays a wide variety of types of files—text, HTML, BRF, MP3, WAV, DAISY 2 and 3, Microsoft Word 97 or later, and RTF.
The part of using the Book Port that requires the most knowledge is how to load files into it. Loading files involves installing the Book Port Transfer software on your computer from the CD and connecting the Book Port to your computer's USB port using the supplied cable. Once you do so, the computer displays the Book Port as a new drive in Windows Explorer. An effort has been made to make the transfer of files easy—tones are sounded as the files are loaded into the Book Port from your computer, and the software walks you through the transfer process. Your computer must have Windows Millennium, Windows 2000, or Windows XP to run the transfer software.
The Book Port's top 12 keys have multiple functions. For example, the 2 key is the Read/Pause key. If you hold down the 2 key until you hear a beep, the time will be announced when you release it. The 7 and 9 keys move backward and forward by page, respectively, when the Book Port is reading a file. When the unit is idle, these keys move backward and forward by letter, to allow you to set bookmarks and spell words. The A through F keys do not have multiple functions. They control the reading speed and volume, as well as the recording of memos.
The Book Port remembers your location in a file. When you resume reading or return to a file you started to read previously, the Book Port starts reading where you left off.
While reading a text file, you can navigate by line, sentence, paragraph, or page. In audio files, you can navigate by sentence, paragraph, or a fixed amount of time. Digital Talking Books allow even more choices for navigation, depending on how they were created.
The 1 and 3 keys move backward and forward by sentence. When you hold the 1 or 3 key down until you hear a beep, you move to the beginning or end of the current file, respectively. The 4 and 6 keys move backward and forward by paragraph. You spell a word by pressing the 5 key until you hear a beep. When reading, the 7 and 9 keys move you one page backward or forward, respectively. When idle, the 7 and 9 keys navigate by letter.
The 8 key announces statistics about the file you are reading. It says the file name, size, and what percentage of the file has been read. When a file is not being read, the 8 key announces the current letter.
The Star and Pound keys navigate backward and forward through the list of files, respectively. When you hear the name of the file you wish to read, you press the 2 key to begin reading. If you have read part of the chosen file before, Book Port resumes reading where you left off.
The Zero key toggles between the reading keypad and the settings keypad. In the settings keypad, you can adjust various parameters of Book Port. In this regard, the 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys act as arrow keys. The 2 and 8 keys move from setting to setting. The 4 and 6 keys are used to change each setting. The settings include volume, pitch and speed of speech, choice of voice, amount of punctuation read, and setting of date and time. The Book Port has a sleep timer that is set in this keypad as well. The sleep timer sets an amount of time after which the unit will stop reading.
The Book Port has no search command. You can use a several-step procedure to mark a block of text and search for the next occurrence of that specific text. To delete a file from Book Port, you press the B and E keys together. You are then asked to confirm the deletion.
Holding the B key down until a beep is heard moves you to the Memos folder. Repeating this procedure returns you to your previous position. Pressing the E key automatically starts recording a memo. You can use this function to record telephone numbers, reminders, and the like. You then press E to pause and press E again to resume recording. Pressing B stops the recording. Memos are saved in a special Memo folder and are named by the day and time they were recorded. They are saved as .PCM files and can be played and edited on your computer. I did not like the fact that pressing one key automatically starts recording a memo. It is too easy to accumulate a collection of accidental memos. This problem could be fixed by requiring that two keys be pressed together to start recording.
Pressing keys 1 and 3 together locks the keypad, so you can carry Book Port safely or listen to a file without interruption. Pressing the 2 and B keys together resets Book Port, the equivalent of rebooting your computer. (The Reset is always a handy command to know for any computer device.)
The Bottom Line
The Book Port is a powerful reading tool in a small package. It allows you to read books in many formats and listen to music in stereo wherever you are. Its drawbacks are its lack of an internal speaker and the fact that the files must be loaded from a computer.
The BookCourier measures 5 inches by 2.5 inches by 1 inch and weighs 6 ounces with batteries. On its front surface is a 15-key keypad. The top 12 keys are a standard telephone keypad. The 5 key, the Play-Pause key, is larger than the other keys and is concave. The 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys are rounded on the top. These four rows of keys are evenly spaced. A fifth row of keys consists of the Diamond, Plus, and Question Mark keys. This row is set farther apart than the other four rows of keys. There is no external speaker; you must use headphones or attach a speaker. The BookCourier is black. A faceplate under the buttons is yellow and blue.
Caption: The BookCourier e-book reader from Springer Design.
On the BookCourier's top surface are the headphone jack and USB port. On the right side of the unit is the slot for a flash memory card. On the back are the battery compartment and a belt clip. The BookCourier runs on two AA batteries.
The BookCourier comes with online documentation. When you plug in headphones and press any key, the unit begins reading its Quick Start guide. The User Guide for the Transfer Tool, used for transferring files from your computer to the BookCourier, is also online. By pressing the Question Mark key until you hear a beep, you go to the Talking User Guide, or manual, which provides a complete overview of the BookCourier's functions. However, this document incorrectly describes the method for deleting a file. It tells you to locate the file to be deleted in the library and press Shift-0 and then incorrectly says to press Shift-Diamond to confirm. The correct command is to press Shift-0 again to confirm the deletion.
The BookCourier also has a key-describer mode. If you press the Question Mark key and then another key, you hear a description of the functions that key performs.
Ease of Use
It is easy to play files on the BookCourier. The most complicated part of using the device is loading files from your computer to the BookCourier. You must install the transfer tool onto your computer from a CD and connect the BookCourier to your computer's USB port. Once you do so, the computer displays the BookCourier as a new drive in Windows Explorer. You are walked through the process of transferring files. Your computer must have Windows Millennium, Windows 2000, or Windows XP to run the software.
The BookCourier's keys have multiple functions. As was mentioned earlier, the 5 key is the Play/Pause key. However, if you hold the 5 key down until you hear a beep, the BookCourier then announces your location in the file that is currently being read, your location in the file library, and so forth.
The 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys are used to navigate through files. You can move forward or backward through text files by word; sentence; paragraph; and, with some files, page. You can fast-forward through a file by pressing the Shift and 6 keys simultaneously and rewind by pressing Shift-4. It is possible to spell individual words.
You can use BookCourier's Fast Forward and Fast Reverse functions while listening to MP3 files. You cannot use text-navigation keys or adjust the speed of MP3 files. The BookCourier also plays files that are downloaded from Audible.com, an online audio-file subscription service. These files can be books, newspapers, or radio shows; they do not use the BookCourier's built-in speech synthesizer. Unlike MP3 files, you can use text-navigation keys with files from Audible.com, but the navigation is by time—one minute, five minutes, and so forth. You can also read files from Bookshare.org, which are supplied in DAISY or formatted braille, but these files must be converted to plain text files before BookCourier will read them. Both Audible.com and Bookshare.org require membership to gain access to most of their content.
The BookCourier has no On-Off switch. It shuts itself off after 10 seconds of inactivity. Pressing any key turns the unit on again. You can lock the unit by pressing the 1 and 3 keys together; to unlock it, press the 1 and 3 keys again. You may want to lock the unit when you are carrying it in your pocket or backpack or when you want to listen to a long file without accidentally pressing keys.
You access the BookCourier's file list by pressing the Star key. The unit announces "Library." You can then navigate through stored folders and files as you would in Windows Explorer.
The Diamond key accesses the settings list. Here, you can set the time and date, change Double Talk synthesizer voices, adjust the amount of punctuation spoken, and so on. This is also where you set the sleep timer, which can be set from 5 to 60 minutes in 5-minute increments.
To record messages with the BookCourier, you press Shift-Pound to begin recording and hold down the Pound key until you hear a beep to stop recording. Recordings are saved as .WAV files that are named using the day and time at which they were recorded. This is a handy way to record a telephone number or other information.
The Bottom Line
The BookCourier provides a way to read text files and listen to MP3s in a handheld device. Its navigation is intuitive. Its drawbacks are the need to download files from a computer and the limited range of file formats that it reads.
"By summer of 2004, BookCourier will support DAISY files as well as text, MP3, Audible, and BRF files. Along with the DAISY file support, you'll find additional navigation features to allow you to jump though a document by chapter, section, or any other increment defined in your DAISY file. In the current release, BookCourier has a Check for Updates feature that allows you automatically to download newer versions of the software from our web site. For example, we've corrected the error in the User Guide instructions mentioned in this review. So, you can easily download the corrected version of the User Guide directly into your BookCourier using the Check for Updates feature. This update feature also gives you access to new features as soon as they become available."
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Product: Book Port
Manufacturer: American Printing House for the Blind, P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, KY 40206-0085; phone: 800-223-1839 (toll free) or 502-895-2405; web site: <http://www.aph.org>.
Manufacturer: Springer Design, 375 Diablo Road, Suite 105, Danville, CA 94526; phone: 925-838-1885; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.bookcourier.com>.
Price: $379 (discounts are available for Bookshare.org subscribers and users of
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