Hands on with ARINC's iLiad-based eFlyBook

We had a chance to spend some quality time this week with ARINC's eFlyBook, essentially an iRex iLiad all gussied up in aviation trim. True, we know the subject matter may not interest the lion's share of our readers, but finding appropriate vertical markets may prove crucial to the short-term success of the iLiad and products like it -- besides, the eFlyBook is a dead ringer for its unbranded sibling, so if you're in the eBook market, do read on.

Speaking from a pilot's perspective, the $899 eFlyBook gives major bang for the buck for one simple reason: it eliminates reams of books and binders that all but the most casual flyboys need to have at the ready. Reams, people. To make matters worse, the documentation is subject to fairly frequent updates. The eFlyBook rocks a subscription model that automatically updates loaded charts via a link to a PC -- you get six months for free, then $249/year thereafter. ARINC's loaded a custom app onto the iLiad to manage their charts in an intelligent way, though the software was a bit flaky (read: sluggish, partially non-functional) at the time of our encounter and an update is promised in the next couple weeks.

For those of you doing some very early comparison shipping between the iLiad and Sony's oft-delayed PRS-500, ARINC has already done some of that footwork for you. In talking with their development lead, it sounds like they went with the iLiad as their OEM device primarily for two reasons: sixteen native shades of gray (versus the PRS-500's four) and built-in WiFi. Whether those factors are important to you is another matter entirely, but they're interesting points to consider nonetheless.

Now that we're finally on the cusp of widespread consumer availability, what did we think of the iLiad as a consumer device? First and foremost, enough cannot be said about the sheer beauty of the display. We would swear up and down that we were looking at a sheet of laser-printed paper behind a sheet of matte glass -- yes, it's that good. In fact, you can use a sheet of paper right now to get a very good idea of the kinds of pros and cons you'll run into. Legibility increases with good lighting and decreases (rapidly) in poor lighting. Viewing angle is virtually 180 degrees; the background is very white and the text is very black.

Working against the iLiad, however, is a laughably poor refresh rate -- yes, we know it comes with the territory for this display technology, but there are several screens in the device (when searching text, for example) where interactivity is a must. Refresh rate aside, ARINC's software was pokey at best, though that can hopefully be attributed at least in part to its beta status. We also weren't too happy with the cheesy dark grey casing, which made the $900 device look $150 at best and detracted from its stunning centerpiece. Overall, we'd say the tech shows promise, but the public at large is best off waiting for the next generation. Color e-ink isn't terribly far off, DRM wars are yet to be resolved, and we just know some of y'all are holding up for Apple to get into the game, anyway.