Hands On Preview of Toshiba's eBook Store for Laptops

Paul Lilly

Think eBooks are just for dedicated readers like the Kindle and handheld tablets? Think again. Everyone seems to want to get into the eBook software game, including Toshiba, which just introduced its Book Place platform designed specifically with laptops in mind.

"Toshiba Book Place is the type of entertainment option that out customers are looking for from their laptops," said Terry Cronin , vice president of Business Development and Channel Marketing, Toshiba. "What sets Toshiba Book Place apart is that it takes advantage of the PC experience and offer an immersive reading environment for the consumer."

Toshiba said it's partnered with some of the world's largest publishers to deliver more than a million free public domain titles and thousands of non-free eBooks. More than just an ordinary reader app, however, Book Place comes with a few notable extras, including a read-aloud feature for fans of audio books. And for those with small children, synchronized word highlighting will follow along as the book is read.

Books are preserved in their original layout, including fonts and images in full color. Integrated Web search is part of the package, and publishers can even embed author commentary and background music.

We spent a few minutes playing around with the Book Place software. Comparisons to the iPad are inevitable, given that books are presented in full color and page turns act almost exactly the same. You can punch the right or left arrow to flip the page, or click and drag in either direction. Whichever one you choose, page turns appear to fold over, just like a real book, and just like the iPad.

The lower left corner gives you quick access to the Table of Contents -- just highlight where you want to go, give it a single click, and you're whisked away. This is also where you'll find the "Play" button, though text-to-speech only works if the publisher has given his/her stamp of approval. Compared to true audio books, however, we found the text-to-speech to be of dubious value. It might suffice in a pinch, but we can't imagine sitting through an entire tome listening to a synthesized reading as it stumbles over nuances and botches the general tone.

Navigating the actual eBook store is mostly easy and mom friendly, especially if your mother wants nothing to do with small text and icons. Power users, on the other hand, will find the interface lacking a touch. Despite the browser-like GUI, for example, your mouse's back and forward buttons do nothing at all, and mouse gestures aren't included either.

The interface is short on sorting options, too. You can hone in on specific categories, like Humor or Fiction, but you can't sort the titles by price or popularity. To purchase a book, you have to put a credit card on file.

Sorting through your library is a lot easier. Toshiba gives you the option of arranging books by title, author, or most recently read. You can also choose between a thumbnail or list view.

If you want to give it a spin yourself, you can grab the free download here . And if you do so by October 12, 2010, Toshiba tosses in four free titles to get you started.

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