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CNN Today

Books Get Virtual and Portable

Aired July 26, 2000 - 2:37 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we are starting a new feature here on CNN TODAY. Today and every Wednesday from now on forever, our old friend, Ed Curran, the technogadget guy, will be joining us to fill us in on the newest gizmos we need to keep pace in our new high-tech world.

I am still saving up for the last batch he showed us and now we has got some new stuff already.


Hi, Ed.


ALLEN: Normally we see him around Father's Day and Christmas but that wasn't enough for Lou and I to ooh and to ahh and to ask Ed those stupid questions like: How do you operate that thing there, Ed. So here he is, a regular feature, and we are glad to have you and today we are talking eBooks.

Take it away, Ed.

CURRAN: That's right, well, eBooks, you know, this week Stephen King came out with another eBook. Stephen King first came out with writing "The Bullet" as an eBook. And now he has one called "The Plant" which we downloaded to our computer here.

But you know, if you download it to your computer it's kind of tough to take with you. So today's eBooks, things like the Rocket eBook give you a convenient way to carry books with you. And this is a Rocket eBook right here. If you can see, it's about the size of a paperback book. And the print on it is very, very clear.

Now we are reading it in a horizontal format here and what you do is you go up on the Internet, like the Barnes & Noble. You buy your book on the Internet, download it to your computer and then transfer it to the eBook here.

And I'm going to show you what we can do. I'm going to turn it this way and I can actually change the orientation of how we look at the book. So I can read it in the way that's most comfortable to me. Now we can have about 30, 40, different, good-sized books inside our Rocket eBook here. But I'm going to share some of the power of what you can do here. Let's say I am reading and I find a word that I don't know what it is. I can pick up "look up" here. I'm going to touch on the word on the word "mundane," the Rocket eBook is going to go into its memory. It's going to go to its dictionary and its going give me the definition of the word. Isn't that great? So you come across a word you don't know, you can go in there. Again, you can put all kinds of books in here, you can carry about 40 different books in a little package like this. They sell for about $269, that's the Rocket eBook.

Now here we have another version.

ALLEN: Wouldn't know a thing about that.

CURRAN: No, not at all.

WATERS: Ed, don't you have to carry some changing equipment along with that?

CURRAN: Well, you know what, believe it or not, if you don't use the back light on here all the time. You can get about forty hours of usage out of here on one battery charge. So you should be OK. If not, you do have to have the charging equipment with you. But they use re-chargeable batteries. And by the way, the screen looks fantastic without the back light, if you have good light. If you're outdoors, brilliant screens, just gorgeous. If you're indoors, you are reading in bed at night, turn on the back light. You don't have to disturb anybody else and read that book at night.

Now this is something called the Softbook. And this is a little bit larger format, and the Softbook can hold a whole bunch of books in here. You can have about 85,000 pages put into one of these things. Here's another Stephen King book that we put in here, it's kind of Stephen King day, since he has been doing so many eBooks. And you just hit the toggle bar to go back and forth between the pages. You can highlight passages in here and then go back and you can bring up all the highlighted portions so you remember certain things.

You can even write little notes on the screen, and it will save your notes, if you are reading something you need to keep the notes. Isn't that amazing? The Softbook is an amazing product also because it has a modem in. You don't have to use your computer. Now we plugged it into a phone line yesterday. We went up on-line. We purchased a Stephen King book. The one that you are looking right here is this book. It took us eight minutes to download the same book from the Internet right into here without the use of a computer, just plugging in a phone line. And then take it with you wherever you go.

WATERS: How much for that, Ed?

CURRAN: You know what, these guys vary in price depending on how much memory they have. This one's about $600. The little Rocket eBook is under $300.

ALLEN: And is it as heavy as a Stephen King book? CURRAN: You know, it's not, and this is the thing. You could have dozens of books this size stored inside of here and look at how small it is. They only weigh a couple of pounds and the version of these that'll be out of both these units, which are owned by Gemstar Corporation, the versions of both of these units that will come out later in the year will be even thinner and lighter than they are today.

Now here is one that's very different and this is a prototype, a very early prototype of the EBJournal, the "everybook." And look, two pages at once, it's almost like having two computer screens in front of you. Bring your books up on there, take them wherever you go. This is especially good for textbooks and journals. This won't be out for about a year. This is a very early prototype. In fact, it's made out of wood, I'll tell you a secret. But it works, it actually works.

Now this is going to be out in a few months and this is from the people at Franklin. And this is the Franklin eBookman (ph). And it's a smaller format, carry it with you, download your books, purchase them, and put them on here. And this uses something brand new called Microsoft Reader. And Microsoft Reader is a fantastic way to read books because it uses a technology called "clear type." And clear type technology gives you real, real, clear graphics and real clear fonts that you're able to read with, and it's fantastic. In fact, we have a little tape, I think, of what one of these looks like in action when it comes to using one of these. The screen is just gorgeous. You are able to really see the type-face.

In fact, we have another version, see, that is what it looks like there. Now this will be out from Franklin. It will be out in the fall. This is Compaq's new Pocket PC, and this too has Microsoft's Reader in there, just like the Franklin book. And you can see not only do we see great print but we even get color graphics, look at these graphics in here in the book.

So a bunch of different ways to get your eBooks and to take them with you, both through downloading them on the computer, reading them off the computer, downloading on the computer and putting them into your little eBook, or, in the case of the Softbook, having the modem built right into the eBook. And I think we are going to see more of that, where you won't have to even use the computer. You just plug into a phone line or a fast DSL, or Internet line, and download the books that you purchased and take them with you where ever you go. But they are great if you travel. You don't have to lug all these books with you. They're all in one neat little package.

WATERS: How is this eBook idea going across with folks, Ed? how are they selling?

CURRAN: You know, it's been a little bit of a slow start. But there are more titles out there. The nice thing is prices are cheaper than a regular book. It's been a little bit of a slow start. A lot of people say they like the feel of a book in their hands. They can't get used to reading something electronic.

But once you put one of these in their hands, I think they get used to it. And they realize that it probably looks better than they thought. The Harold Washington Public Library, here in Chicago, in fact, has just started loaning out eBooks. They have about dozen of them in the library and have started loaning them out to people. So I think it's something whose time will come. People have to get more used to it. And now that Microsoft is doing the pocket reader, or the Microsoft Reader for these books, I think you'll see the popularity grow.

ALLEN: And you can't check to see how much book you have left when you're reading it, I guess, like you do in a paperback.

CURRAN: You can -- well, there's a different way to do it. You can look down and you can see what page you are on. I mean, here, we are on page number 660 or something. And you see what page you're on and you can quickly jump to different parts of the book. You can jump to the beginning, to the end, you can bookmark as go along. So if like something on page 129, bookmark it, and then easily, with the touch of a stylus, go back to that point and bring that part up again. You can also have graphics on here.

And not just books by the way. Some magazines are also available in this format, where you're able to download magazines, get a subscription to them, just like you normally would, and take your magazines with you on the road or wherever you go.

WATERS: The reason that I asked you about the charging question, Ed, was because I just got off vacation. I had a charger for my phone. I had a charger for the video camera. Somehow they could have one charger for all this stuff that you have to take along on vacation now.

ALLEN: Good point.

CURRAN: You are absolutely right. I mean, that is the worst thing. All the little boxes, the little wall warts, as we call them, that you got to put in there to power everything. And they're heavier than the devices are and bigger than some of the devices are. But for now it looks like that is what we have to live with. But at least the battery life on these seems to be pretty long.

WATER: All right, our technogadget guy, Ed Curran, we'll see you next week.

CURRAN: Absolutely, thanks.

ALLEN: Thank you, Ed, nice to see you.



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