Books Designed for the Road-Tripper

If "information wants to be free," its freedom is surely hampered stuck inside of a big gray box. Information wants to be portable! Now, thanks to the eBookman from the Franklin Web site, you can take it with you wherever you go. Travelers, throw away those paper books (a.k.a. "p-books"), the e-book has arrived!

When released later this fall, the Franklin eBookman will cost between $129 and $229 (depending on the features you want). The eBookman is a small handheld computer that is optimized for reading electronic books, which can be downloaded from the Franklin Web site or from places like Project Gutenberg, where many of the classics are available for free. The eBookman is about the same size as a standard handheld organizer, but the screen is a little larger. While still monochrome, it has better resolution (200 by 240 pixels) than Palm organizers, and supports sixteen shades of gray, so it's easier on the eyes.

The eBookman will be available in several models. You'll be able to get 8-16 megabytes of RAM (enough to hold about 10-20 large novels), and the more expensive units will come with a backlight. All of the models will include a slot for a memory card, which will allow memory to be expanded up to 80MB. That's a lot of novels, if that's all you want to do with it, but that also makes room for MP3 music and audio books and other content from sources like Audible. With the memory expanded to the maximum, the eBookman will be capable of holding hours of music, audio books and downloaded news programming. The audio books can be listened to through the speaker, the stereo headphones, or the unit can be plugged into your car or home stereo. The audio feature also allows you to take voice memos.

The eBookman also includes regular PDA functions, such as a date book, contacts and to-do lists, all with backup "Desktop Sync" capability. With all these features, it's hard to think of this as just an e-book reader. But where it excels is the book and audio functions, and that makes this the perfect college or grade school accessory. Students of places like St. John's College, where they read only the classics, could load up on four years worth of reading material for the price of the eBookman itself...and since it weighs only 7 ounces, it would be a lot easier on students' backs.

-- Nate Heasley