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Godspeed eBible Review

Tim Drenk
Posted 2/25/03

The Hardware | The Software | A Comparison and Final Thoughts

Godspeed Computing released the Godspeed eBible last year and claims that it "is changing the way Christians experience the Bible." I was most curious about this claim and was given the chance to try the device. While the eBible looks similar to Palm OS and Pocket PC devices, it's not so much a handheld computer or personal digital assistant, rather it's an ebook reader. Actually, the eBible is a hiebook hi210 by Korea ebook Inc. with Godspeed Computing's name on it. It seems Godspeed's target market is not someone who is looking for a device with a variety of applications. Instead, the eBible seems to be aimed at someone who wants to read the Bible and other books, maybe listen to some music, and occasionally schedule an event. In other words, someone who is looking for an electronic Bible, not a PDA.


What's in the Box:

  • The eBible
  • Power Adapter
  • USB Cable
  • Earphones (the demo unit I got didn't have these)
  • eBible Case
  • Windows Installation CD

The Hardware

Design

My first impression of the eBible was it reminded me a of a book. It's certainly larger than other handheld devices, but it's about the same thickness as an HP iPaq or Palm Tungsten T. It weighs about 9 oz. and, for comparison, the HP iPaq is about 7 oz. and the Palm Tungsten T is around 6 oz. Because of it's size, the best place to hold it is on the left side as opposed to other devices that can fit easily in my hand. The up and down scroll buttons on the left side, easily pressed by my thumb while holding it.

Starting the upper left and moving clockwise, the Palm Vx,
the Palm Tungsten T, the Godspeed eBible, the Compaq iPaq3835.
Starting at the top, the Palm Tungsten, the Palm Vx,
the Compaq iPaq 3835, and the Godspeed eBible.

For left handed users, the eBible is very uncomfortable to use. My wife, who is left handed, didn't like using the eBible since there isn't a good place for her to hold it. Plus when she did hold it in her right hand, she couldn't easily use the scroll buttons which is essential.

Buttons

There are five buttons. The two scroll buttons on the left side already mentioned. The power button is on the top as well as the Play and Stop buttons used for listening to music. The buttons point to the single purpose of the device, a ebook reader, not a multi-function device which would have buttons to launch various programs.

Processor and Memory

I couldn't find any specifications on the processor, although after using the device, it's fairly slow. It takes up to 8 seconds for the eBible to turn on after pressing the power button. Thinking the device should turn on quicker, I pressed the power buttons several more times thinking I hadn't pressed hard enough. That made the device turn on and off a couple of times which made me wait longer to use it. Because of the slow processor, there is a lag for programs to launched, moving and searching in the Bible program and ebook reader is slow, etc.

The eBible has 16MB of internal memory. Most programs use between 100KB and 500KB so the memory is sufficient for programs. However since Godspeed emphasizes the use of a variety of Bible translations and tools, ebooks, and MP3 music files, a memory card is essential. The memory card eBible uses is Smart Media cards. While Smart Media cards are limited to 128MB, they are relatively inexpensive, a 128MB card costs around $60-70.

Removing the card requires the device be powered off as it says on the back of the device. Not paying attention to that notice and being used to hotswapping cards, I did remove the card while the eBible was still on. The eBible didn't like that. It reset, requiring me to go through the calibration steps again, although there didn't seem to be any other effects.

Display

The eBible features a large 5.6" grayscale (black and white) screen with a resolution of 320 x 480. While that resolution makes for very fine text on Palm OS devices, with it's larger display, the text looks closer to text on low resolution (160 x 160) Palm OS devices. Individual pixels are easily picked out. This is not necessarily bad, just don't expect the crisp text displayed on other devices with the same resolution.

The backlight is very similar to the Palm V series greenish backlight. The eBible's backlight is certainly brighter than the Palm Vx's, but it is also more green. The backlight can be inverted, which is generally easier to read, but it's still hard to read unless I'm in a pretty dark room. In the Bible program, when a verse is highlighted (the background is grayish) it is very difficult to read which is ironic since that is the verse I was specifically trying to read. Fortunately, the highlight amount can be turned down in the Bible Toolbox preferences.

When the backlight is on, there is a audible hum coming from the device. With enough background noise, the hum is drowned out, but it a relatively quiet office, it's quite noticeable.

The eBible has the unique feature of being able to use any of the four edges as the top of the screen so I can view most programs in portrait or landscape view. In the menu bar, tapping on the two arrows brings up a box with 4 arrows in it. Tapping on one of the arrows result in that edge being used as the top of the screen. This selection is for the current program only, a different program may have a different orientation.

Battery

The battery life of eBible is very good. Under normal usage, the battery should last for a few weeks. Using the backlight and/or listening to music will shorten that, but it still has a respectable life. The battery is also removable which would allow me to carry a spare battery in case I needed it.

Connections

The eBible comes with a USB cable to connect to a Windows computer. The desktop software, Godspeed Sync, features all the basic PIM functions. It doesn't stand out from any other PIM program but I didn't have any problem syncing it with the eBible. The eBible can't sync with Macintosh computers unless the Mac is running Virtual PC to emulate the Windows environment.

Operating System

The eBible runs the emOS (Embedded Multimedia Operating System), Korea ebook's own operating system. While that does allow Korea ebook to control the entire ebook reading experience on the hiebook Hi210 and the Godspeed eBible, it adds a significant issue. Korea ebook and Godspeed Computing are the only developers for the emOS, there are no third party developers for it. There are ebooks for hiebook Reader, but the only programs available are what's on the device. Actually for the eBible, there is an exception. At eBibleCentral.com, three separate programs are available for purchase, Image Viewer, Othello, and Sokoban. They cost $4.95, $3.95, and $4.95 respectively. Oddly though, these three programs and two other games come on Korea ebook's hiebook and are available on their web site as updates for their device. I don't know why Godspeed Computing removed these programs from the device.

Audio

The eBible features a MP3 music player. It's a basic player, no play lists or equalizer, but it does play in the background. With background play, I can read the Bible or a book or use any other program and still listen to music. I can also turn off the display in the Application Launcher to save batteries while music is playing. Plus I can use the buttons on the top of the device to play and pause the music. If I want to change to a different song, I have to go back to the MP3 player to do it.

The speaker in the eBible only plays system beeps or game sounds so listening to music requires headphones (earbud headphones are included). At one point, I unplugged the headphones and closed the music player while the music was still playing. I didn't realize the music was still playing since there is no other feedback that music is playing other than hearing it through the headphones. This could create a problem since it drains the battery faster and prevents the device from shutting itself off. Of course the upside to the music only playing through headphones is I never have to worry about music accidently playing while I'm in a seminar or church service.

Voice recorder

The microphone, located in the upper left of the device, is good, easily picking up my voice at about 2'. When I held the eBible at an arms length, my voice was fainter, but still audible. The microphone also picks up any noise from touching or tapping the device itself. If I adjusted how I was holding the device while recording, the recording had a lot of static sounding noise which made listening to my voice more difficult.

I can save recordings to the internal memory or to the card. The recorder displays how many minutes can be recorded to where I've selected to save the recordings. With about 7MB free in the internal memory, I could save around 2.5 hours of recordings. Include the hours of recordings using one or more Smart Media cards, the eBible provides practically unlimited amount of time. One use that I did not originally think of was using the voice recorder to record seminars and lectures. With the ability to record to the Smart Media card, the eBible can easily record an full day of lectures on a 32MB Smart Media card with room left over. After listening to the recordings, I then could delete them and reuse the same card or save the current recordings and use a different card.

Like music, listening to any recordings requires headphones. If my main use for the voice recorder is voice memos (recordings less than 20 seconds long), having to use headphones almost defeats it's value for me. I usually don't carry headphones with me, so in order to hear any voice memos I recorded, I have to wait to get back to my office to listen to them. Even if I did carry headphones with me, it's a hassle to have to pull them out to listen to a 10 second voice memo. If I am recording lectures with the eBible, using headphones for playback is not an issue since it's actually preferable.


Input

There are a couple of options for entering information into the eBible. First there is character recognition. The strokes that are a cross between Palm Computing's Graffiti 1 and Jot's or Pocket PC's characters. The strokes can be recognized one stroke at a time, called 'Unistroke Mode' or several at once, called 'Sentence Mode'. Despite the name of the 'Sentence Mode', it's not handwriting recognition. Both modes use the same characters. The second method is the on screen keyboard. It's a standard qwerty layout so it's easy to use. An interesting feature is I can write characters on the keyboard. While it doesn't provide all the features of writing on the character recognition areas, it does provide a nice mix of using both input methods.

Cost

The eBible costs $300 directly from Godspeed Computing. I couldn't find anyone else selling it, although reportedly some Christian retailers are selling it for as little as $250. There are bundles that include the NAS or NLT Bible or a 32MB Smart Media card. Korea ebook's hiebook Hi210 (the same device minus Godspeed's software) costs $245 with a 16MB Smart Media card from eBookHome.com.


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