- Wi-Fi enabled
- Screen auto rotates
- Built-in audio media player
- microSD card slot for expandable memory
- Screen hard to read without direct light
- Same price range at launch as superior Kindle and NOOK
- Multi-tap numeric keypad makes text input a hassle
With a launch price close to the NOOK and Kindle, the Libre Air is a skipper, not a keeper.
If giving something a so-so review because it costs money is unfair, then maybe I’m guilty of having unrealistic expectations in my assessment of the Aluratek Libre Air eBook reader. The thing is, eBook readers these days have become nothing more than platforms to get people to buy eBooks. So in some ways, I think that charging for an eBook reader is a little like charging admission at a mega bookstore.
You could certainly justify doing so, especially with the abundance of couches on which the occasional pushy patrons overstays their welcome by drinking half a dozen Caramel Macchiatos and reading an entire book without paying for it. But if your point is to get people inside to spend their money, asking them to fork over more than a c-note is no way of encouraging that. With a $129 launch price, the Libre Air doesn’t exactly represent a small fortune, but it’s not exactly chump change either. The question is: is it worth the cost? I’ll let you know shortly. But first, a little bit about the Libre Air’s design.
BUILD & DESIGN
The first thing that strikes you about the Libre Air is its physical resemblance to a remote control. Not the classic kind, but one of those big, flat, rectangular universal remotes that look extremely complicated to use. Part of the reason for this could be the row of numerical keys that runs vertically down its right front side, or the fact that at 4 x 7 inches, it’s significantly smaller than some eBook readers on the market. It’s not what anyone would call beautiful, not by a longshot, but it’s not exactly ugly, either. Let’s put it this way: nobody will ever accuse the Libre Air’s designers of being particularly gifted or of giving the world a sleek eBook reader – but then, not everyone is good enough to work at Amazon, so might as well put them to work at Aluratek.
The Libre Air’s got an unremarkable plastic casing that doesn’t look like it would fare well if it were dropped from even a height of a few inches, but fortunately, its rubber mat backing does a good job of providing firm hand grip and tabletop immobility – an insurance policy for the accident prone.
The page forward and backward buttons are logically placed and responsive, which is to be expected. Alas, variety is the spice of life and so the aforementioned designers have made it so that if for some reason you tire of using these, you can always do the same by clicking up, down, left, or right on the 4-way directional controller that lives just below the display screen. There’s also a navigation sensor in the middle of the 4-way controller that doubles as an “Enter” button for the execution of selected commands (which I guess technically makes it a 5-way controller). To use the navigation sensor, you simply rest your finger on it and slide in the direction you want to move.
Just below the directional controller, you’ll find three buttons with functions similar to those on the face of your average smartphone: an “Options” button, a “Home” button, and a “Back” button. Once you get the hang of what each of these do, they’re extremely convenient for navigating around.
Here’s where I started to develop a slight beef with the Libre Air. According to the Aluratek website, the Libre Air has “a large 5-inch screen” but if you ask me, that’s not what I’d qualify as large – unless you’re upgrading your reading experience from bubble gum wrappers or maybe your smart phone. In either case, the Libre Air’s colorless LCD screen resolution looks great just so long as you hold it under a direct source of light. It’s not exactly eInk, and resembles the display technology of the original Nintendo Game Boy. It does a good job under the right circumstances.
Similar to Amazon’s Kindle, the screen isn’t backlit so it’s supposed to be easier on the eyes. But I found that by testing it out in different environments, the screen resolution went from extremely readable under direct light to almost impossible to see in slightly dimmer environments, causing the kind of eyestrain you just don’t get with eInk. Of course, the fact that the screen eliminates that incredibly annoying flash you have to deal with whenever you page forward or backward on an eInk device is definitely a positive. But for all the repositioning I had to do in order to get a clear view of what I was reading on the Libre Air, I’d much rather deal with eInk, warts and all.