Of particular interest are the BeBook Neo's two marquee features: a Wacom touchscreen and Wi-Fi support. Before we get to those. Let's look at some of the basics. The BeBook Neo has 512MB of built-in memory and offers support for the following formats: EPUB, PDF, TXT, HTML, RTF, MOBI, CHM, PDB, JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP, and TIFF.
It weighs 298g and is slightly smaller than the iRiver Story reader, measuring 196x121x10.6mm. Like other electronic book readers on the market the BeBook Neo sports a 6in E-INK screen. At the bottom of the BeBook Neo device is an SD card slot (up to 16GB cards are supported), a 3.5mm mini-jack earphone connection; power supply; mini USB connection and volume controls. A slider switch on the left of the BeBook Neo enables you to switch Wi-Fi on or off. With Wi-Fi on you can connect to a network, surf the web and download books from online stores or free sites such as Project Gutenberg.
You can also access Wikipedia and Google directly from the device, and it does a remarkably good job of rendering websites (considering the limitations of the black and white electronic ink screen). For all that, we doubt you'll be using the BeBook Neo to browse the web in a hurry.
There are a few oddities. For some reason the BeBook Neo has no recollection of which wireless network you've used, so every time you want to use an online service you have to select the network. It then hangs on the network select screen and you have to press the Back button to access the website. Still, when you get the BeBook Neo's Wi-Fi to work there's a MyBeBook Service that provides access to several online services depending on your location. We got Foyles, Waterstone's, WHSmith and Blackwell Online. However, we found the process of buying books challenging, mostly due to the slow performance of the device.
Getting free books is also tricky, requiring you to go through Google to find a site that does free books (like Gutenberg). Unlike the Kindle the BeBook Neo doesn't offer any kind of subscription services, or a built-in RSS reader. Instead, the intention seems to be to get you to look at websites and shop online. In both instances we found it much easier - and faster - to fire up a laptop and use that instead.
You need to be careful with Wi-Fi because it can drain the battery. We often found the BeBook Neo device running low on battery even when we had hardly used the Wi-Fi. We found the device displaying the Shutting Down screen and requiring a recharge more times than we'd have liked.
Music on the BeBook Neo is even more limited than it is on other ebook readers. The BeBook Neo doesn't appear to support any audio formats at the moment. We found no mention of it in the supplied literature, or BeBook Neo website, and we couldn't get any audio files to play. So why does it have earphone sockets and volume controls? We guess support is planned down the line (the website makes note of the open architecture) but it does outline some of the slapdash nature of ebook readers at the moment.
The BeBook Neo's touchscreen is an interesting addition. When we tried the Sony PRS-600 Reader we found its glossy screen rendered it unusable. Such a feature seemed redundant on a device with an E-INK-based display.
Touch isn't handled much better here. The BeBook Neo has a stylus that's used to interact with the screen (it doesn't respond to finger touches). You can swipe left and right to flick through pages, and dragging the scroll bar at the bottom enables swift book navigation. There is also a Notes feature, using which you can scribble on the screen with the pen. You can create a note from a blank screen, or from a few templates; or you can add annotations to your books.
In practice, we found ourselves using the BeBook Neo device's buttons to navigate - it's far more straightforward. These are laid out in two concentric circles, the inner circle controlling the cursor, the outer circle comprising Menu, Next, Prev and Back controls. In the middle is an 'ok' button. These buttons aren't positioned quite as handily as those on the the iRiver Story or Amazon Kindle, but it's still easy enough to navigate.
We liked the BeBook Neo, but it seemed to be despite most of its features, rather than because of them. It's an attractive looking, easy to use, and functional book reader with a nicely textured rubberised back. It displays books and PDF files quickly and navigation of menus is swift and on-the-whole, the reading experience is pleasant.
Using the web on this kind of screen is generally a horrible experience, and we found it easier to buy books on a laptop and transfer with the USB lead than shop on the BeBook Neo device itself. In fact, we quickly forgot the BeBook Neo had Wi-Fi and a touchscreen and used USB to transfer electronic books and the on-device buttons to navigate. Which might lead you to wonder why you'd bought a touchscreen WiFi enabled device in the first place.
At £279 the BeBook Neo is one of the more expensive models on the market, and we’d probably shy towards a cheaper book reader considering we didn’t really find ourselves using the key features it offered. Although it’s a good device, we’d probably go for something slightly cheaper that focused purely on displaying electronic books with simple controls.