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October 18, 2008


My first article in the realm of digital technology was about eBooks. It was full of enthusiasm and optimism. A lot has happened in the fledgling eBook industry over the past few years with major players in and out. While eBooks did not take off in the revolutionary explosion many predicted, there has been a steady evolution. Just as TV never replaced radio, it is not likely that eBooks will completely replace treeBooks, but eBooks are now and forever firmly entrenched in our digital culture.

Another, related consideration is that the use of computers for doing research and accessing information has caused less interest in libraries and treeBooks as a resource for information. Consequently, libraries have been busy reinventing themselves to remain relevant in a digital world.

A couple of years ago I attended a conference composed mostly of librarians on the subject of the digital native. A digital native is a person who has grown up in the digital age and takes the associated technology for granted. A digital native normally has little use for a library, has no idea what a card catalog is, and would probably rather play a video game than read a treebook for entertainment. The concern of the workshop was how can libraries reach out to the digital native and remain relevant in the community.

One of the ways libraries have retooled their relevancy is by offering digital products. But it’s not enough to offer CDs with music, books, and movies. Once the copy is checked out, it is no longer available. And, just like treeBooks, they can also become lost and damaged

A much better solution is one offered by services such as NetLibrary that libraries can subscribe to that allows patrons to download eBooks and eAudiobooks. This means that if you have a library card and a NetLibrary account, you can download thousands of titles on your computer from any remote location without even having to go into the library. Suddenly, even the smallest library can offer thousands of electronic titles to its patrons. However, the NetLibrary system is flawed in only allowing one person to view a book at a time, which misses the whole point of electronic technology.

Check out time is 21 days after which the license expires and you can no longer access it. You don’t have to worry about returning it or paying past due fines. If you want to renew it, you simply get a new license for another 21 days. Pretty slick, eh?

If your library uses WorldCat for its electronic catalog, both eBooks and eAudiobooks are integrated and clearly indicated as electronic media available for download directly from the catalog listing.

I like to take road trips, and one of my greatest delights is listening to a good audiobook to make the time pass pleasantly. I used to stock up on books on tape, then CD’s. But when I finished them, I usually had to package them up and return them to my library, which was a costly bother. Now, when I am finished listening to an audiobook, I merely delete it and download another one no matter where I am at the time.

To take advantage of this program, you should check to see if your library subscribes to NetLibrary. With a NetLibrary account, you can use your library Website as a portal into the NetLibrary site. Then it is simply a matter of navigating to the download page and choosing whether you want to acquire eBooks or eAudiobooks. You can search for specific titles, authors, subject, or genres. The categories available include

Arts & Entertainment
Biography & Memoir
Children's Classics
Children's Fiction
Children's Nonfiction
Christian Fiction
Fiction & Literature
Government & Politics
Health & Medicine
Historical Fiction
Language Studies
Mystery & Suspense
Popular Fiction
Popular Nonfiction
Reference Works
Religion & Spirituality
Science & Nature
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Self Help
Sports & Recreation
Study Aids
Young Adult Classics
Young Adult Fiction
Young Adult Nonfiction

The number of titles available depends on the package that your library subscribes to, but I believe the starter package includes about 2700 eAudiobooks and 170,000 eBooks.

I don’t know if you’ve priced an eBook lately, but they remain relatively expensive, at least as much as a paperback and can be as much as half the price of a hardback. I was always disappointed at the greed of the publishing industry for making popular title eBooks so expensive.

The eAudiobooks are almost always unabridged--no Reader’s Digest condensed versions allowed. Have you priced an unabridged eAudiobook lately? They can run $80 each or more.

When you consider the fact that these materials are a free service from you public library and the convenience of the service—virtually available from anywhere you have an Internet connection--I think you should give your librarian a big hug next time you are there physically.


NetLibrary, unfortunately, has not helped to further the cause of eBooks in my opinion. Your library must have acquired an Adobe Content Server Gateway License in order to download eBooks in PDF format. Many libraries do not have this option available, in which case you may only read the works online in your computer. You could laboriously copy each page and transfer it to a handheld device, but that is hardly worth the effort.

Alternatively, you can go to www.etext.lib.virginia.edu to download free eBooks in Palm and Microsoft Reader format. You visit Project Gutenberg at www.gutenberg.org for free eBooks in text, .html, and Plucker formats. Of course you can read Palm, text, and .html files if MobiReader, which I highly recommend. There is even a limited number of eAudiobooks available from Gutenberg.

Of course, if you want to pay for your eBooks and get more current releases, there are many sites available. My favorite is www.mobireader.com and www.ebooks.com.

NetLibrary’s choice of PDF format for eBooks is a poor one, for reading an eBook in this format is the worst possible experience. It would have been much better to select a reader such as MobiPocket that allows bookmarking, annotating, drawing, highlighting, searching, altering type size/style, color, and backgrounds plus popup dictionary definitions by merely tapping a word. This is what makes reading an eBook so worthwhile on a handheld device compared to a treeBook. PDF formatted eBooks are little better than a treeBook without most of the aforementioned features.

If there’s a book that you really would enjoy reading, it might be worth downloading it, converting it to text and then putting it into a MobiPocket reader so that you will have all the enhancements to make it an enjoying reading experience.

If your library doesn’t have the deluxe eBook package you are likely to find a collection of musty, old copyright expired works that haven’t been on a best seller list for at least a hundred years.

But, if your library can afford it, you will find many best sellers and popular titles and authors offered.


The eAudiobooks may be listened to on any device that is compatible with the WMA format. That means that you cannot listen to them on iPhone, iPod, or Zune devices because of DRM issues. But you can listen to them on any Windows Mobile device and most MP3 players.

You can choose whether you want CD or radio quality sound. You must choose CD quality for use on handheld devices. Hit the download button, and when the file has finished you can listen to it on your computer. If you wish to transfer it to your Windows Mobile device or to an MP3 player, follow the transfer instructions for your specific machine. You must also acquire a license for the remote device, which is a bothersome extra step. Why not download it in a single operation? You can use Windows Media Player for file transfer if you wish by invoking the sync function.

You can listen to eAudiobooks on your Windows Mobile device using Windows Media Player. However, you cannot bookmark where you left off in Media Player, which is a nuisance. There are, however, several audio players available that do allow bookmarking. Some of my favorites include Pocket Tunes Deluxe by NormSoft, Pocket Player by Conduits Technologies, and AudioPlayer by Vito Technologies. These players will allow you to add bookmarks for listening convenience.

Other devices

NetLibrary lists several tested devices that work with the system:

Archos Gmini 4021 Camcorder, Archos 104, Creative Zen 2/4/8/16/32 GN, Creative Zen V, Creastive Zen V Plus, Creative Zen Vision W, Creastive Zen Vision M 60 GB, Samsung YP-T7JZ, Samsung YP –Z5, Samsung YP-S5, Samsung YP-K#A, Toshiba Gigabeat S30.

I have personally tested two Sandisk Sansa devices, the Clip and the Fuze MP3 players. Both of these slim and diminutive players perform perfectly and allow bookmarking, which makes them ideal for audiobook listening and I recommend them highly.


While I appreciate NetLibrary making its services available to public libraries so that patrons can enjoy free and remote access to a wide array of eBook and eAudiobooks, its choice of formats is not the best, for it precludes some of the most popular devices such as iPods and the best eBook reader programs such as MobiPocket and eReader. Using .pdf format for eBook downloads is most unfortunate. Using only WMA format for eAudiobooks is equally unfortunate.

Consequently, NetLibrary has ultimately done a disservice to the evolution and acceptance of eBooks. It has perpetuated the myth that eBooks can only be read on computer terminals. By selecting .pdf format, readers are offered the least desirable reading experience with few of the features available that make reading eBooks so desirable in the first place. NetLibrary has made it difficult and expensive for libraries to offer eBook downloads.

These are the kind of bumps in the evolutionary pathway to the acceptance of digital media that just slows down the progress and will take longer for the public to embrace it. NetLibrary should go back to the drawing board and reinvent itself for it is poised to make a great contribution because of its distribution network, but it needs to update its formats and streamline its processes.

I do applaud the efforts of so many local libraries in their efforts to become more relevant in a digital world. It’s just too bad that they are limited in their choices. NetLibrary needs some competition. The digital literati would benefit and rejoice with many new converts along the way.

Posted by conradb212 at 07:18 PM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2008

Zinc II -- A deluxe smartphone worthy of your consideration

Zinc II is the latest MWg device to be released in the U.S. market following the Atom Life earlier this year. With is flush face touch screen, black rubberized finish, and an economy of buttons on the front, it is a pleasure to hold and to behold.

Its major features include a horizontal slide-out keyboard, build-in GPS, a 2.0 Mpx camera, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth 2.0 with unlocked UMTS Tri-band, and GSM Quad-band phone functionality. It measures 109.5 x 59 x 18 mm weighs 159g, and has a 250 x 320 resolution 2.8 inch QVGA touch screen. Sporting a 500 Mhz Samsung processor, it only has 64 MB RAM and 256 MB ROM with a Micro SD memory slot. The battery size is respectable at 1530 mAh

Loaded with software, it allows productivity right out of the box. Pre-installed software includes Microsoft Outlook, Windows Live, Internet Explorer, Media Player 10, ActiveSync, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, GPS Viewer, MMS client, Wireless Manager, Photo Editor, Streaming Player, Voice Recorder, MWg Quick Menu, and AutoConfig.

The box it comes in should win a design award for its quality that hints of the product it contains. Besides the Zinc II, you will discover a battery, AC adapter, stereo headset, mini USB cable, stylus, getting started CD, and printed manual, but, unfortunately, no cradle and no case. Have cradles suddenly gone out of style?

On the front of the device there is a five way navigation button ring flanked only by start and stop phone buttons. On the left side is a lanyard opening, two volume control buttons and a button for launching the MWG Quick Menu application. Hold it in, and it invokes the recorder function. This button is programmable.

On the right side is the power button, a reset hole, and the camera button. At the bottom right, the telescoping stylus silo resides. A mini USB port is located on the bottom along with a mic hole.

There is a removable battery cover on the back, a camera lens with self-portrait mirror and speaker grill.

Feature commentary

While the 500 Mhz engine is not the brawniest processor out there, it is certainly respectable. However, I was surprised at the paucity of RAM and would have expected twice as much on such a deluxe device. I must say that it showed too when I loaded up with a ton of applications for the 2008 software judging.

How I appreciate the built-in GPS. It works great with Google Maps and Windows Live Search. I was amused at the MWg supplied GPS viewer with its non-U.S. standard units and no way to change them. It also vetted well with CoPilot Live.

Another great feature is the Quick Menu invoked by a button on the left side that instantly displays a matrix with Window Media, Pictures & Videos, Camera, and Games. I’m not certain why MWg selected these four menus, and it is strange that you cannot change them to your own preferences. However, if you swipe the finger-friendly screen from left to right, it will pull up another set of applications including Messaging, Internet Explorer, Connectivity, Calendar, File Manager, Notes, Calendar, and Settings. Again, you are stuck with these and cannot change them. Swipe from right to left again, and you are rewarded with a blank matrix of 15 cells that your are free to fill with your favorite applications. It would be nice if it were possible to configure folders here containing a set of favorites, but alas, no can do.

If you swipe from left to right, you are presented with a blank matrix of 15 cells for filling with your favorite contacts. At the top are three icons for family, friends, and business contacts. Tap any one to bring up another blank screen with 15 empty cells to fill as you please.

Even though it is not as customizable as one may wish, Quick Menu is a nice feature that somewhat rivals applications such as Mobile Shell. In any case it is a graphically-pleasing, finger-friendly approach to accessing your favorites conveniently.

To my dismay, I discovered that the earphones, while convenient for talking on the phone hands free and listening to recordings, plug into the mini USB port. This is a major concern because you cannot charge the device and listen at the same time or navigate with GPS or connect to external speakers. What possesses manufacturers to present consumers with such a lame configuration? Please give us a standard 3.5 mm jack in the next iteration.

The keyboard slides out smoothly, and the screen instantly switches from portrait to landscape orientation. The keyboard smoothly snaps into position securely and doesn’t wobble around, which I appreciate. The QWERTY layout keyboard is flat and quite attractive in its presentation with backlit squares around each key when you depress them. There are two softkeys at the top, a Fn key as well as Start, OK, backspace, Shift/Caps, and Enter buttons. Two lights indicate caps and Fn operations.

As attractive as it may be, I found the keyboard difficult because of the lack of key definition and tactile feedback. Having to use the function key for so many characters and punctuation marks is annoying and the combination of keys to produce characters slows down inputting. I suppose that like learning to play any new instrument it takes practice. But, when I pick up a guitar, I expect the strings to be in the normal place to produce chords.

You will pay more for this keyboard feature, so be certain that you like it before you buy it. Personally, I think it could be improved with more key definition and a more user friendly layout.

I was also surprised at the camera being downgraded from 3.0 Mpx to 2.0 Mpx and there not being a flash compared to the WMg Atom Life release earlier this year. To me, this is a step backward for which I see no reason.


MWg seems to be struggling to institute support for the U.S. market, but it is still in its infancy and needs improvement. There is no phone number to call for technical support, and I had a difficult time getting an email response. The MWg Auto Configuration application does not even have a setup for the U.S., but I understand that one will soon be available. The GPS utility lacks proper U.S. units. I am under the impression that MWg has not quite got all its ducks in line for entering the U.S. market, but these are all easily remedied, and management is keenly aware of solving the problems as soon as possible.


The Zinc II is indeed a deluxe instrument worthy of your consideration, for it has a robust set of desirable features that integrate to make this a powerful and productive machine. In today’s market, the price of $599 seems reasonable considering its attributes.

On the needs for improvement side, I think it could use more RAM, a better keyboard, and a more powerful camera with flash. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief at the choice of audio output jacks. Oh well, it’s a good thing it has Bluetooth.

Please visit the WMg Website at www.mwg.com to see the complete line of products. You can purchase the Zinc II from www.expansys.com.

Posted by conradb212 at 03:53 PM | Comments (0)