With the popularity of electronic reading devices on the rise, and a handful of colleges set to pilot Amazon.com’s Kindle DX this fall, a new eBook reading device from New York-based Interead, called the COOL-ER, offers a less expensive alternative that its creator, Neil Jones, says educators could find appealing.

"I thought about what readers need from an eBook. The COOL-ER is 45 to 50 percent lighter than our closest competitors. So it’s light in [students’] hands," said Jones, founder and chief executive officer of Interead.

The COOL-ER weighs 6.3 ounces, is 8.6 millimeters thick, and comes in eight colors, such as sky blue, vivid violet, and cool pink. Jones said the freedom to choose the COOL-ER’s color could make the device more appealing to a child. He said school leaders could choose to provide COOL-ERs to their students in the school’s colors.

"The use of technology is a great stimulus to children, and it especially seems to have a big impact on boys. … Many 14-year-old boys think reading is uncool, and they start losing interest," he said.

The COOL-ER costs $249–that’s $240 less than the Kindle DX, $110 less than the Kindle 2, and $50 less than the Sony Reader, according to Interead. It uses e-Ink display technology, which replicates the experience of reading a book more faithfully than an LCD screen, although–as with the Kindle–its images cannot display in color.

Liz Pape, president and chief executive officer of Virtual High School (VHS), said her company recently began using an Advanced Placement biology textbook in eBook format and plans to expand the use of eBooks next school year.

Pape said she had no data on how VHS students were accessing their electronic texts, but having an affordable eBook reader could be helpful for students.

"Any time we can digitize resources for our students and make [them available] 24-7, it has a place in education," she said.

The COOL-ER can read any JPEG, PDF, or TXT document or any ePub-formatted eBook. It also supports eight languages, which could enable the device to aid in learning new languages.

"The operating system runs in eight languages, so this is the first time an eReader can be used in education in another language," Jones said. "So, for example, in the Hispanic community, a user can improve [his or her] English by using the operating system in Spanish and reading a book in both English and Spanish at the same time to help with learning."

Christopher Dawson, technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in Massachusetts, said many of the complaints he’s heard about the COOL-ER center on the fact that it doesn’t have built-in wireless capability.

"In educational settings, though, the wireless piece actually isn’t an asset," Dawson wrote in a review of the COOL-ER for the technology web site ZDNet. "Since it supports PDF and the e-Pub standards, … getting content to kids actually becomes fairly easy. The anti-Kindle-ness of the whole thing, as well as the $249 price tag, suddenly starts making the COOL-ER a very tempting option."

Still, the emergence of netbooks, or low-cost laptops, is the "elephant in the room" for eBook reader devices, according to Dawson. For nearly the same price, "you can get a fully functioning computer that can also display eBooks in color," he explained.
 
Jones said Interead is in contact with schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain to see if they would like to test the COOL-ER as a study aid this fall.

The COOL-ER can store up to 700 books. A few classic texts, such as Pride and Prejudice and Don Quixote, come with the device.

Books can be purchased for the COOL-ER from any web site that offers eBooks, Jones said, and Interead also operates an eBook store of its own.

Links:

COOL-ER readers

COOL-ER books