iRex Digital Reader DR1000S
Each button has an LED that lights when the sensor has detected a finger press, and dims to indicate that a ‘long’ press has been detected – useful as the screen can take half a second to respond. By default, the buttons also click but that's just irritating and was deactivated just as soon as we found our way to the appropriate option. A multi-coloured LED at the top is used to indicate charging, charged, booting and such like, but other than that all interaction is performed through the screen.
Novel design: intended for document reading and annotation
And what a screen it is. At 10.2in, 160dpi and 16 levels of grey, it excels at rendering an A4 page, ideally from a PDF file, in a clearly-readable style and becoming easier to read the better the light. If you're familiar with electronic ink, then you'll already know the joy of reading a computer screen in full daylight, if not then you'll be wondering what's the advantage over a laptop screen.
In short the screen is a joy, and the device is so slim and that one quickly starts carrying it around like a clipboard, and using it in much the same way. If you ever wanted one of those electronic pads they're always handing the captain on the Starship Enterprise then this is it. It may not have a colour screen, but everything else is here.
iRex would like you to use the DR1000S to make notes too, and provides templates for taking notes on meetings and the like. As a blank sheet of paper it works, but the slight lag on drawing makes it less comfortable than using OneNote on a tablet PC, even if the featherweight hardware is comfortable to carry. Still, if the company was serious about that level of functionality, it would surely have provided some enhanced features beyond a single-colour, single-width scribbling tool.
But perhaps not, because while the hardware is superb, the user interface is the kind of mess that can only result from engineers being let loose with icons. Luckily the functionality is limited to navigating directories and a few settings, but you wouldn't know that from the appallingly designed processes.
Slick presentation, but limited in function
Take this scenario: imagine one has finished reading a PDF document and wishes to close it and then delete it. Closing the document involves nine key presses, in the correct order switching between side and bottom buttons, deleting the same document takes another eight: get one wrong and you're back to the start. We've not seen interfacing this bad for a very long time, and with good reason. Navigation requires at least two hands, ideally three, and generates a frustration, which is only partially offset by the simplicity of the tasks one is attempting to complete.