The Bookeen Cybook Orizon joins a growing group of ebook readers with built-in Wi-Fi, which allows you to download material without having to hook the device up to a PC. The Orizon also has a 6 inch touchscreen electronic paper display, which makes for easy and intuitive menu navigation, text selections and page turns using your fingertip.
Wi-Fi and touchscreen are great technologies, but on the Orizon they don't always work well in tandem, which I discovered when I tried to shop for books using the Orizon's built-in browser. Because pages loaded slowly on the Wi-Fi connection, tapping a book from a search results list (for example) often produced unintended selections, making the whole experience painfully time consuming and frustrating.
In most other respects, the Orizon was much more satisfactory. Like its pocket size sibling, the Orizon is thin for its 6 inch screen size and 7.5-by-4.9-inch footprint, not quite three-tenths of an inch thick. That's about the same thickness as the current 3G/Wi-Fi Amazon Kindle, but the Kindle doesn't have a touchscreen. The Orizon weighs about the same as that third generation Kindle.
While most of the dedicated e-readers we've seen use E Ink's electrophoretic displays, the Orizon uses a touchscreen from E Ink competitor Sipix. Like the E Ink Pearl panel on the Kindle and other competitors, it boasts 16 shades of gray and a screen resolution of 800 by 600 pixels (167 dpi). The display supports multitouch, so you can make fonts larger or smaller and zoom in on websites by pinching and zooming with your fingertips.
In my tests, I found the screen quite responsive to page turns, accomplished with fingertip swipes from right to left or left to right. But pinching and zooming sometimes required two or three attempts.
Tapping on the lower left of the screen (most of the time the corner is marked with several translucent concentric quarter circles) produces context sensitive popup menus that you can also summon and navigate using a hardware button embedded in the bezel. When you're reading, for example, the menu allows you to choose from among seven font families and 12 gradually increasing font sizes, and you may also customise the page layout via options for justifying text, toggling the boldface version of your font, and hiding or showing the header and the so-called pageometer (which shows how many pages you've read out of the total number in the book).
A responsive built-in accelerometer lets you switch orientation from portrait to landscape format in an instant, and the touch-based page turns adjust accordingly. In short, Bookeen gives you far more appearance options than you typically get from an ebook reader.
Other options while reading include the ability to create bookmarks, highlight passages and insert notes by typing on a software keyboard. Although the keyboard is responsive, it isn't user-friendly. Text appears in a small field directly on top of the keyboard, as opposed to the field you're trying to fill in, and you must tap a checkmark on the keyboard to transfer what you've typed from the text entry field to the document or window. The Orizon also lacks social networking hooks, such as those found on the Kobo eReader Touch Edition, Barnes & Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle.
When you first power on the Orizon, you see a home screen divided by horizontal bars into several sections. The Library area displays thumbnails for covers of some pre-installed books (the Orizon comes with 150 pre-installed public domain titles in several languages). Under the Internet heading, you get thumbnails of bookmarked websites, including a couple of bookstores, Google and Wikipedia. The Settings heading links to a menu for setting up the 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, language preference and slideshow options (for browsing images in the Orizon's supported .jpg, .gif or .png file formats).
Once you select and start reading a book, the home screen adds a Currently Reading header at the top of the page along with the thumbnail for the title's cover. You can always return to the home screen from any popup menu (while reading, for example).
Pop-up menu options in the Library view allow you to vary the number of books shown on a page (5, 10 or 20), show or hide their file formats and change the way they are sorted (by title, author or file size, for example).
Tapping the Internet heading on the home screen launches the built-in browser, which can navigate to any site you choose (the context sensitive menu includes a 'Go to' option, which brings up the software keyboard for typing in URLs). You can use it to read headlines, but it's not a full-blown desktop browser, it doesn't support Flash, for example. Plus, it's really, really slow.
The first bookmark in the row of Internet thumbnails is marked simply Ebook Store. When I tapped on it, I realised that it was a French bookstore with French-only titles and prices in euros. The Orizon lacks integration with a bookstore, though Bookeen is hoping to add one. For now, you have to browse to a bookstore that supports Adobe ePub with CS4 DRM for paid content.
Orizon does include the mobile version of one English language bookstore, Feedbooks, in its bookmarks, and that store has an assortment of paid, public-domain and original books, but it's no Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And as mentioned earlier, trying to shop via the browser was extremely frustrating due to the slow page loads. If you were to buy an Orizon, you'd do better sideloading books.
Ultimately the lack of a good integrated bookstore and a reasonably speedy browser made the Bookeen Cybook Orizon a non-starter for me. If you're going to invest in a Wi-Fi-equipped e-reader, the shopping procedure shouldn't send you scurrying for a USB cable to acquire paid content through Adobe Digital Editions desktop software. As good as the touchscreen technology and layout options are, the Orizon needs a great wireless book acquisition experience to justify its price premium over capable competitors from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.