E-reader roundup: 8 devices compete for the crown

We look at the current state of the market and review 8 of the most popular e-readers

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Aluratek's Libre eBook Reader Pro

Although not the least expensive e-reader out there, the Libre eBook Reader Pro qualifies as the smallest and lightest of the devices we reviewed. Its black, high-impact-plastic exterior is virtually identical to that of the less expensive Ectaco jetBook Lite, except instead of a hump for replaceable AA batteries, there's a small, tapered rectangular mound on the back for housing the device's built-in rechargeable lithium battery.

Libre eBook Reader Pro

Libre eBook Reader Pro

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Along the right side are eight alphanumeric buttons that, depending upon the mode, either perform some function, skip to a particular page or chapter, or allow you to enter data. Typing out letters and words can be a slow, painful process requiring many button pushes.

On the other side is a 2.75-in.-long slide -- push it down to turn the page, up to return to the previous page. You can also turn pages by pressing the two square buttons on the lower-left front of the device, or the left/right arrows on the D-pad button on the right side. Surrounding the D-pad are four other buttons -- magnify (using six type sizes), function (dictionary, bookmark list, bookmark this page, find, jump to, settings), rotate text, and back.

The on/off button and MP3 audio jack (the Libre has no speakers) are on the bottom, and on top, underneath a pullout flap, are the Micro USB port and SD memory slot.

What's interesting: Aluratek's menu structure is simpler and easier to navigate than Ectaco's. Readers can choose either English or French for their displays, not the United Nations of languages available on the jetBook Lite. Although it's not linked to any particular e-bookstore, the Libre eBook Reader Pro's ability to read and display ePub, RTF, PDF, TXT, PRC, FB2, JPEG, BMP and GIF files assures compatibility with most online bookstores and public-domain libraries.

What's good: While the Libre eBook Reader Pro is a basic, no-frills device, it comes equipped with MP3 capability, a 2GB SD card, earphones, a pouch and even a hand strap. Aluratek also preloads 100 public-domain books (all in English) onto the SD card to get you started.

You can read comfortably using either your left or right hand only, plus you can instantly rotate the text by pushing a single button. The book title (or part of it, if it's in portrait mode), page number, total number of pages, percentage completed and battery status are all displayed as white characters against a black background in the header.

What's not: Loading your book can be slow, although page-turning is relatively quick. The display is dull, characters aren't very sharp or crisp, especially when magnified, and the wide spacing between lines (which can't be tightened up) can be visually distracting. And unlike with many other e-readers, you can't read anything while the device is charging.

Bottom line: Both the Kindle and the Nook completely outclass the Libre eBook Reader Pro in build quality, features, convenience, connectivity, ease of use and overall value -- all at a cost of only a few bucks more. The only way this e-reader can stay competitive is for Aluratek to immediately drop the price below $99. (Note: The Borders Web site recently dropped the price of the Libre to $100.)

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