- Editor's Rating
I’m resisting the urge to call the Sharper Image Literati a poor man’s Kindle – in part because it’s not very cheap, but also because it’s not such a bad device that it warrants an insult. Sure, it’s got its issues and its limitations, but it does a decent job.
The only problem is, when The Sharper Image announced the Literati, they called it a device that would “strike a blow against the technology elite in favor of booklovers.” If you’re going to make a claim like that, you’d better make darn sure you put the proof in the pudding.
Out of the Box
You’ve got to wonder if maybe someone over at The Sharper Image believes that bigger is better – not only is the Literati itself larger than the Amazon Kindle, but its packaging is so enormous, I thought maybe there were a dozen eReaders hidden inside.
I’m still not sure if the exterior packaging of the Literati is intended to make it look like an extremely compact device in comparison (which it really isn’t), or just an eye catching marketing ploy for in-store visibility (it’s being marketed at places like Bed, Bath & Beyond; Best Buy; and JC Penney). In either case, actual liberating the Literati from its plastic case wrapping was a bit of a hassle, requiring the use of scissors and a not inconsiderable amount of strength.
Aside from the inclusion of a flimsy faux leather case that probably wouldn’t provide much impact protection if the Literati were inadvertently dropped, the eReader comes with a power supply cable and a USB cable that allows it to be synced up with your personal computer. Unlike the Kindle, which arrives already personalized and tied to the user’s name, the out-of-the-box Literati experience is a tad more DIY.
Build & Design
The Literati’s not exactly the hottest eReader in town. With its black glossy plastic finish and reflective chrome trim, it looks more like some 80s electronic toy than anything else. It also comes in an all-white option, which to me would only serve to accentuate that undeniable “80s-ness.”
Apart from its unattractive retro look, its overall functional design offers nothing that we haven’t already seen in other eReaders. The top edge of the Literati is home to the device’s power button, which I found to be appropriately placed – I’ve always thought the positioning of the Kindle’s slide power switch was extremely awkward, and in this respect the Literati offers an improvement that’s owed to simplicity. Also positioned on the Literati’s top edge is an SD card slot that allows you to expand the unit’s memory up to 8 GB. The direction buttons on the Literati’s keyboard are similar in operation to that of the Kindle, which just goes to show there’s not much you can do to improve on perfection.
Probably the most curious aspect of the Literati’s design are the button-less page forward/backward sensors on its face.
Positioned similarly to where they can be found on the Kindle and other eReaders, the paging buttons on the Literati operate simply by touch – a functionality that can be both satisfying and maddening. The fact there aren’t any buttons to press eliminates the possibility of annoying neighboring readers with the click-clack that’s sometimes associated with eReader paging, and in pure daylight they work great because you can see where they are. Reading in the dark is another story, however, because only the LED screen of the Literati is illuminated, making a simple page turn something of a cat-and-mouse game.
The Literati’s 7-inch full-color LCD display (actual measurements 3.5 x 6-inches) offers a more diverse reading experience than the Kindle, and eliminates the need for additional and cumbersome book lights, just like the NOOKcolor. It’s not as handsome as eInk, and the screen resolution is only 800 x 480, but it does offer a “night reading” mode that renders white lettering on black background and is far easier on the eyes.
There are five different print sizes ranging from smallest to large, and you can easily toggle between serif and sans serif fonts to adjust your reading experience by preference. The screen also has seven different levels of brightness that are just as easily adjusted. Under direct sunlight or lamplight, the glare on the Literati’s display is negligible.
There’s nothing about the Literati’s performance that’s worth writing home about, but there’s nothing about it that immediately pegs it as a terribly inferior electronic reading device. It’s got its quirks – for example, there’s nothing on the Literati that tells you when the battery is done charging. No flashing light, no beeping tone, nothing. And from time to time I experienced what could best be described as “bugging out” episodes, whereby for reasons that I couldn’t ascertain, the screen would inexplicably begin to page up and down on its own. This occurred after I had downloaded a required software update, and although I have no reason to suspect the update was the culprit, I couldn’t exactly rule it out either.
For the most part, however, these incidents were few and far between. When the Literati worked, it worked well. As I mentioned earlier, the responsiveness of the paging buttons is good as long as you don’t have any trouble finding them in the dark, and as long as they’re not mis-firing on their own. There’s also no dealing with the annoying white-on-black flash that’s inherent of the eInk technology of the Kindle. The pre-loaded dictionary is a bonus, but the reader’s inability to highlight words of text and automatically launch the dictionary also make using it a hassle.
With Wi-Fi enabled, users can download books directly from the Literati via the Kobo eBookstore, which has an adequate selection. Users can also side load ePUB books over the included USB cable, which as owners of non-connected eReaders will tell you, is a cumbersome process.
Over Wi-Fi, the book download and loading function of the Literati works much like that of the Kindle, and at about the same speed. I noticed no significant lags and had no trouble finding and downloading what I was looking for.
One major head scratcher about the Literati is its lack of any kind of web browser. I understand the rationale. This is an eReader made for downloading and reading books, not surfing the web. I got’cha on that. It just seems like an incredibly glaring omission, especially in light of the fact that the Literati was meant to compete with the Kindle – not pale in comparison.
Initially offered for around $160, thrifty shoppers can find the Literati for far less if they know how and where to look. A quick online search by yours truly uncovered after-purchase rebates that essentially cut that price by two thirds. But with prices for the market-leading Kindle continuing to drop, I can’t see The Sharper Image expecting people to pay more for what is essentially an inferior eReader. That is, unless they’re counting on the occasional impulse buyer at Bed, Bath & Beyond or some small segment of the eReader-buying public that doesn’t want to give its business to Amazon or Barnes and Noble for whatever reason. But if that’s their angle, The Sharper Image needs to fire its marketing department.
- Color LED screen with 7 different brightness settings
- White text on black background option
- Supports ePUB, PDF, TEXT and HTML documents
- Ships with 25 classics preloaded
- Some well-placed buttons
- No audio book support
- Short battery life
- Buggy at times
- Heavy, weighing 1.4 lbs
- No web browser