Review: Bookeen Cybook Gen3

One of the first applications I’ve installed after buying my iPod touch last year was Stanza, one of the few dedicated ebook reading tools for the platform.

The idea of electronic reading appeals to me. I’ve tried my luck several times over the last few years, on different devices, with varying success. (Anyone remember Palm? Haha, yeah… me neither.)

First of all, I like a good novel. Being able to carry a number of them around with me, wherever I go, is a good thing. Back then I was spending almost two hours each day in public transit, and imagine that: reading beats staring at subway tunnel walls the whole time.

My second argument is a bit more elaborate. You see, I’ve read a lot of books in my life, most of them just once. Not everything written by man is a gem begging to be re-read time and time again. And while this is okay –not everyone can be Shakespeare, and most of these books I’ve enjoyed at least a bit, after all– it raises the question of what to do with them after reading. There are so many “one-off” books in my basement, it’s not really funny anymore. Some of them I gave away, some I’ve sold, some I’ve fed to a recycling bin. But the others are sitting there, silently, and everytime I look at them I wonder a) what to do with them and b) how much wood was used up to make them. (Yes, I’ve actually had a point to make here.) Thus, I’d feel less bad about getting said one-time-read-through novels in electronic form.

Bookeen Cybook Gen3

Anyways: After a few months with Stanza I’ve decided electronic reading works well enough for me to warrant a dedicated device for home use – a real ebook reader. After some shopping around, comparing prices and reading up on different offerings I went with the Bookeen Cybook gen3.

After a few weeks of using it a lot I now feel comfortable enough to share my findings. I know at least a few people are curious about it – hi Mookie & Bernhard. ;)

Quick Facts

  • 6” e-ink screen
  • 600x800 pixels, 166 dpi
  • B&W, 4 grayscale
  • No backlight, naturally
  • Multi format: reads Mobipocket (DRM and non-DRM), HTML, PDF, TXT, PalmDoc, image formats etc.1 Both EPUB and better PDF support are promised for the upcoming firmware update. (Hopefully this’ll include reflowing text in PDFs.)
  • Has an SD slot – in case the 512MB onboard storage isn’t enough.

The Good

  • Rather affordable: I’ve ordered mine in the UK, and paid €225 incl. shipping to Germany. The box contained the Cybook, a short pamphlet, and an USB cable. Not more, not less.
  • It’s a light device: Only ~170g, battery included.
  • The screen is great, the time it takes to turn a page is surprisingly short and not noticeable anymore after reading a few pages.
  • There’s no proprietary software to be installed. Connect it to your Mac/PC, and it’ll show up as mass USB storage device in your Finder/Explorer. This is also how you put new content on the device. I like that.
  • Truetype support: Don’t like the built-in fonts? Just copy TTF files to the device and use them instead. I really like that.
  • Rather simple and logic menu layout. The menus mostly make sense.
  • Handy display controls: Font family, font size, layout (justification etc.).
  • Impromptu bookmarks: Turning off the device or going back to the “library” (i.e. the main list of stored texts) during reading will make a note of your progress. Going back to the text later on will bring back to you where you’ve stopped reading.

The Bad

  • Doesn’t support EPUB yet, but apparently this will be “fixed” within the month.
  • The PDF support is… well, let’s just say that yes, it displays most PDF files. But it either tries to cram one document page into the space of the 6” screen or flips the display 90° and shows either the upper or lower half of the document page. It works, but it ain’t fun, yo.
  • No page numbers: There is an (optional) horizontal bar at the bottom of the screen to display how far you’ve progressed through the book. It’s a neat idea, and a good alternative to page numbers. Well, in theory. It’s an idea that wasn’t fully thought through, as you can also jump to any page using its page number through the menu. Which is somewhat useless, as the current page number isn’t indicated number anywhere. It’s just not displayed. I know that on a device that supports different font families and sizes, calculating page numbers can be a drag, but come on: the navigation currently in place is only 4 parts working – and 1 part barely sufficient.
  • Stability:

    • It locks up every now and then, which puts me in the strange situation that I had to reboot my book. (There’s a tiny reset button on the back of the device.)
    • Since the reading progress is only stored during shutdown or upon return to the library but naturally not during a lockup, the device will not remember where I was when the crash happened. So after a reset the last automatically saved bookmark will be used – my progress made between opening the text and the lockup will be lost. This is unfortunate, as there is no “forward ten pages” menu option, so I usually end up flipping through dozens of pages after a crash, looking for the right page.
    • Update: The crashes are apparently directly related to the font used – using DejaVu Serif Condensed instead of Liberation Serif helped the stability quite a bit. YMMV.
  • Not all books come with a TOC, and it’d be nice if the Cybook would autogenerate one. Alas, it doesn’t.

  • I’m having problems opening the PDFs from the Suvudu Free Library, which makes me a sad panda. I hope this will change with the aforementioned firmware update.

  • I don’t like the available three library views all that much. They’re a wee bit uninspired.

The Useless

  • Plays MP3.
  • On the left side of the device there are four buttons. Only three of them have a function.

DIY Improvements

DIY: Finished.

  • I wanted a cover to protect the screen, but didn’t want to spend money on them “official” leather covers. So I’ve …molested a Moleskine (ahem2). Which actually worked out pretty nicely after all. Because I am a man of many talents! Oh yeah.
  • Liberation Serif. ‘nuff said.
  • Impress the ladies: MobiPerl and hpricot make for a good team.

The Verdict

It’s no Kindle 2. It’s a neat device without frills. It’s not perfect. But it’s affordable and works, and I don’t regret the purchase.


  1. A full list can be found at Bookeen.com [return]
  2. I apologize, but this is a pun I wanted to make for years. [return]