BUILD & DESIGN
Other than the Kindle, with its 40-plus button keyboard and control knob, the Libre has more buttons than other eReaders. There are ten numerical buttons sitting to the right of the five-inch monochrome LCD and a “Page Turning Slider” to the left.
Underneath the screen are two rectangular page-turn buttons as well as a direction pad and “OK button” surrounded by four function buttons to adjust font size, switch page orientation, return to previous menu, and access the main menu. A small power button is tucked on the bottom of the Libre, right next to a 3.5mm headphone jack. On top of the device sits an LED indicator light and a covered compartment housing the SD card slot and USB slot. A tiny factory reset button hides on the back.
Taken as a whole, the Libre looks dated. The device is a hard rectangle with conspicuous buttons in odd places, particularly the vertical number pad. It reminds me of a late 90s PDA, complete with monochrome LCD display.
That said, it’s well constructed and feels solid. The buttons provide a hearty click when pressed and even the page turn slider is tight and secure. The Libre is slightly thicker than other eReaders and seems a tad heavy for its size – not heavy enough that you can’t hold the Libre in one hand, but firm and able to handle the rigors of daily use.
As to button layout, the only test that really matters is whether you can browse a book with one hand, which is an awkward endeavor on the Kindle and Nook. It’s not so awkward on the Libre. Perhaps owing to its smaller size, but mainly due to the slider/button combo, users can easily navigate forward and backward through the pages, whether they hold the Libre in their right hand or left hand as well as view the pages in either orientation.
Just because Aluratek labels the Libre an eReader does not mean they gave it an eInk screen. Though the Libre display’s output resembles eInk, it’s actually monochrome LCD, similar to the old Nintendo Game Boy, just with a much higher resolution.
Unlike the iPad and other eReaders sporting LCD screens, the Libre is not backlit, making it much easier on the eyes. Unfortunately, that also means you can’t read the Libre in the dark without a light. However, thanks to a matte finish, you can easily read words on the display in direct sunlight – a quality not shared by the reflective iPad.
At five inches, the size is comparable to small paperback. It’s just big enough for a comfortable reading experience. You can zoom in on the page size from 100%, which is about the size of a deceitful contract’s fine print, to 400%, which barely fits a dozen words on the screen. Most readers will probably find a happy medium somewhere in the middle.
I thought I’d have issues reading for long stretches on the Libre’s monochrome screen, but it was surprisingly pleasant at a 250% zoom rate. I would have liked a bit more contrast with the text, but I’ve lobbed that complaint at every eInk eReader. Still, eInk remains the preferred display technology to my eyes, which speaks more to the strength of eInk technology than it does the weakness of the Libre alternative.
The Libre ships with everything necessary for full operation. That includes a USB cable, AC adapter, hand strap, earphones and carrying pouch. It also comes with a 2GB SD card preloaded with 100 classic books in TXT form.
I like that Aluratek went with standard SD card and not microSD, which I find to be too small and easy to lose. Also, the 100 preloaded classics is a comprehensive collection of required high school reading. I suspect a student could get at least four years of use out of the Libre library.
The pouch is a nice extra and it seems like it will protect the Libre well, complete with stiff back and moderate padding. The earphones are also a welcome addition, but their quality reminds me of the earphones airlines give away to enjoy the in-flight entertainment. I suspect anyone with a half-decent set will consign the Libre phones to the junk drawer.