Cruz Box ShotSince the Cruz Reader is still relatively new and I struggled to find more than a couple of reviews that weren’t embedded deep in Android tech-head fora, I thought I’d put out a rough and ready overview of my own. I’ll do a proper review when I’ve owned the reader for more than a day and I’ve had a chance to update the firmware and make a comparison. I will post a detailed app-installation how-to, including of a certain popular eReader app, very soon (a brief description of how to install that app is below).

This review is very much for the Android-newbie who wants to know what the Cruz Reader is like out of the box, who would be using it as an eReader first and foremost, and who wants to see some pictures of it in action, without having to sit through a video to get to them.

If you are reading this as you consider whether to buy one as an eReader, these are the three main reasons I was looking for an eReader like this, instead of a kindle or Sony etc.…:

1) the reverse contrast flash, which is part of the e-ink tech, gives me headaches and motion sickness – instantly. The faster the speeds get, the worse the effect. No e-ink for me!

2) I’m simply not going to pay money for any hardware device which restricts my available file formats, and/or choice of retailers;

3) As fantastic an eReader as my tablet PC is, it’s too large and heavy to throw in my bag or sit in a comfy chair and hold for hours.

If you’ve come here wondering whether this will be a cheap iPad replacement, the answer is: No, it doesn’t have anywhere near that power.  If you’re wondering if it will be a cheap replacement for a tablet PC the answer is, again: No –an iPad doesn’t come close to the power and functionality of a tablet PC (and I know, I’m writing this blog post on one and have been using tablet PCs since 2003.)

If you’re wondering about buying it as an Android tablet for dev.-play well, it’s only 2.0 and, if you have that kind of knowledge and passion, then obviously the WITS A81E is the way to go for you at the moment, and they cost around the same as these. (I came this close to getting one but decided that I don’t have time to get sucked into that world – and I would be so easily!)

After playing with it for a couple of days, my basic impression is that it does all that I expected and need of it, plus a little more but it is a SLOW machine – tech-rumour suggests it will be much faster, once I do the firmware update, though.

On to the overview!

eReader Questions:

Lets start with the most asked question on Amazon (whence I purchased mine), first:

Cruz Kindle App StartingQ. Can the Kindle for Android App be installed on the Cruz Reader?

A. Yes.  See photo!

Q. Do I need to have the knowledge of a fully-paid member of the Android Developers Club to install it?

A. No. I know I’m a tech-head in comparison to many but this was my first exposure to Android and I can assure you that it’s easy.

Q. Is it illegal to install the Kindle eReader on the Cruz?

A. No. Kindle for Android is freeware and accessing it via the official Android Market is purely a convenience measure. There is nothing illegal about installing anything you like on your hardware device, as long as you have paid the appropriate fee to the appropriate people which, in Kindle’s case, is nothing. Just make sure you trust the download site you choose. 

Cruz Browser FreewareloversQ. How do I install the Kindle App on the Cruz Reader?

A. The easiest way is to connect the Reader to the Wi-Fi, start up the browser and download the .apk (the android app file format) file directly from this page: www.freewarelovers.com/android/app/kindle   I won’t detail exactly how in this quick review but, for those who want a blow-by-blow, it will be coming in the next few days. If you’re totally new to android, or consider yourself particularly un-technical, I do suggest you first try installing an app via the “Cruz Market” app which comes installed. The process is fairly obvious and, after you click ‘download’, is exactly the same as it is when you download from the browser.

Freewarelovers.com is, I’m sure,  just one of several sites which allow direct download of Android software, rather than just giving you links to the Android Market site, which is not accessible on the Cruz, it is even blocked through the browser. I used it because it was oft-mentioned as safe on the Android fora I was hunting through for reviews on the Cruz and Android in general. If you don’t use this site, do use a site recommended by someone because there are wicked people out there who might disguise something nasty as a genuine app file.

Size and Weight

Weight: Though advertised as “under a pound” the actual weight turns out to be just under 1lb 2 ounces, or 508gms. It’s not light, but it’s light enough for me, considering the trade offs.

Size Comparisons:

Below you will find three comparison shots with the Cruz reader sandwiched between the following:

From below:

A4 size Notebook (mmmm, Clairefontaine);

A5 size (#16) Rhodia Bloc Notepad;

Cruz Reader;

Standard size novel (Thief of Time, Terry Pratchett);

Blackberry Bold 9700

Cruz Size Comparison AboveCruz Size Comparison Side

Cruz Size Comparison Bottom

The black thing at the head of them all, in the first photo, is the stand which comes with the reader (but won’t come with Cruz Tablet), which has a nifty hole into which the power cable slots when plugged in. It’s as stable as it is clever (very) and well balanced, too. 

Cruz Home Page closeupWi-Fi

Wi-Fi on the Reader is b/g only, the upcoming Cruz Tablet will apparently be n. I had no trouble connecting, I simply pressed “Wi-Fi Settings” on the Home menu (see pic) and our network was there to be logged on to. It has also happily reconnected every time I’ve booted up. The only time it has lost connection in the past two days has been when our Wi-Fi network has wavered and my Blackberry has also lost connection. Obviously, two days is not much of a sample, so that will be revisited when I do a full review in several weeks.

Cruz TweetCasterOther Apps

The biggest consideration for most is going to be: what else can I do with this thing? Well, this is the OS for Android phones, so you can do anything on it that you can do on a Droid phone, that doesn’t require phone, camera or 3G functionality.

The email program setup is easy as pie, especially if you have a basic account like Gmail, but my POP accounts were no issue, either.

Of the social media apps I’ve tried, so far, I like Tweetcaster (see pic) it handles multiple accounts simply and effectively, switching between with just  two “clicks” and notifications from all accounts, rather than just the last one that was active in the app.

I found an RSS app called NewsRob which I’m finding I LOVE. It syncs with Google Reader and is an all round nicer experience than reading directly on GR. It does, however, only give you your new items so it really is just for keeping up to date (as I did before I even got out of bed this morning – bliss!) You can star and share items, so you can get back to them later, but commenting required JavaScript to be on and I kept getting a message that it was off (whether it can be enabled at all on the Cruz, I am yet to discover.)

Of course, whether you will enjoy doing those things depends on how you feel about the speed of the processor – but, again, I’ll say more about that in my later review, when I’ve updated the firmware. For eReading of novels, newspaper and RSS feeds, mail and checking on Twitter and FB I find the speed is plenty (and the colour is lovely to have). The actual booting of each app may take a few seconds but, once started page turns in the readers are instant.

One thing the Cruz Reader definitely is not, though, is a web-browser. Sure, it can do it but it is achingly slow, a smidge slower than my Blackberry on Wi-Fi – again, it’s a phone OS, not a full OS.

Cruz Google Search KeyboardThe Keyboard

The keyboard is, of course, the other main factor in whether you will enjoy using this tablet for anything other than eReading. The picture shows the keyboard in portrait mode and this is the only mode I have a hope of using it with the two-handed thumb method I’m used to on the Blackberry  but that is because my hands are small. Were my hands larger, I’d have no trouble in either orientation because I find the screen to be the perfect sensitivity. Any issue with keyboard or ‘clicking’ in any way is more likely to be a failure to click than clicking the wrong thing, which was my main problem on the hugely sensitive iPads that I’ve tried, and on my freshly upgraded to Win7 tablet PC (and wow, has MS finally got their tablet OS right!) The resistive versus capacitive screen issue (the Cruz Tablet will be capacitive) is not one that bothers me, having had a capacitive, multi-touch screen for a year on my tablet PC and I find the only thing I use it for is the occasional zooming – and the browser zoom on the android works just as well and I can set my reader apps to maintain the font size that I want.

Mind you, I’m especially happy to have to be more deliberate in my presses on a machine which does not appear to have any cursor-movement arrows anywhere – this is something I find particularly annoying and, frankly, makes any long-form document writing on it impossible, in my view. If any Droid-heads are reading this and can tell me how to find the arrow keys, I’d be hugely grateful.

Conclusion:

For me, this is the perfect eReader, however, if you don’t get sick from e-ink, and you’re happy to purchase your eBooks from only one site then I wouldn’t recommend it – for now. We need to remember that it’s, basically, first generation hardware and they will get lighter and faster and that’s when I’ll start recommending them to all and sundry. For now, this is exactly what I need and I’m happy to buy it and do what techie stuff I need to do to keep it running because a) I like that stuff and b) that evolution won’t occur if there aren’t enough early adopters.