The Cybook Ocean eReader comes with a recommended price of €179. And right now that is what you will pay, because despite it being released on December 1 2014 we are yet to see the Ocean on sale anywhere outside of manufacturer Booken's own website (Bookeen tells us to expect to see it on sale in February). And in a disturbing portent of some issues we will address further down this page, once you have clicked through to purchase the Ocean the Bookeen website expects you to complete your business en Francais.
I did pass GCSE French in 1994, so I could just about work out what was going on, but I'm not keen on making purchases in foreign languages. Nor should you be. As a consequence I couldn't tell you exactly how that French price translates to pounds and pence. Expect to shell out around £150.
Hopefully a UK retailer will stock the Ocean soon, otherwise this review becomes something of a pointless exercise! See Best eReaders of 2014.
UPDATE: if you click a specific link you can find the Cybook Ocean for £149 inc VAT. And Bookeen tells us it expects it to be in retail by February.
To put that price into some sort of context, you can pick up a basic Amazon Kindle for just £59. The Ocean is not basic, however, offering a large backlit screen and wireless connectivity. So it is probably fairest to compare it to the Kindle Voyage, which will set you back £169. Even then it is a little difficult to quantify what equates to good value in this space. The cheapest Kindle offers access to Amazon's unrivalled book store, and a perfectly fine reading experience. The £99 Paperwhite does the same and adds a backlit screen. So I am not sure any eReader is worth £150 - but you may crave the additional screen space enough to pay the additional cash.
Cybook Ocean eReader: display
Let's deal first with the obvious physical aspect of the Cybook Ocean: it's big. And it is big because it has a big screen. An 8in, 1024 x 758-pixel e-ink Pearl HD capacitive touchscreen display, to be exact. Overall we find its clarity to be decent, without being exceptional. The anti-glare works as well as you would expect for an e-ink display - that is, very well.
The size is interesting. Bookeen says that this bigger-than-normal display is close to the size of a paperback book, which may well be the case. I'm just not sure how important that is. If you have ever found other eReaders to be too small for your tastes, this is definitely the device for you. But I can't honestly say that the additional reading space made much of a difference to me.
Bookeen claims that its backlit display is whiter and more homogenous than those of previous eReaders. Because of this FrontLight technology, you can read in the dark without switching on the lights. It works well: a subtle rather than over powering light that allows for comfortable, strain-free reading.
Cybook Ocean eReader: hardware and performance
Inside the Cybook Ocean is a Cortex A8 TI OMAP3611 processor running at 800MHz. This is paired with 128MB RAM. We mention this principally because in use we often found the Cybook Ocean to be frustratingly slow and laggy. It's not like you need an eReader to be a power device, but it is annoying to have to wait when navigating from book to book, or book to story to book.
Battery life is rated at one month. We've had the Ocean for only a few weeks so that is impossible to prove. But after using it for a few days we still have seven eights of battery charge, so I don't see any problems there.
Cybook Ocean eReader: design and build
At 7mm the Cybook Ocean is certainly thin for an 8in device (the full dimensions are 196x150x7mm). And at around 300g it is as light as you would need a eReader to be. We had no problem holding it when reading lying flat in bed. The screen sits flush to the reasonably thin bezels, which is important as it makes for a better reading and navigating experience.
The design itself is as interesting as can be an eReader. The Ocean is black, and smooth. It has squared off edges and curvy sides. On the bottom bezel we find back-, forward- and home buttons. On the bottom is the microUSB connector, and a hardware on/off switch.
One thing we really didn't like is that there is no SD port. You can install an SD card, but to do so you have to peel off a rear panel, exposing portions of the motherboard. It's a long way from a slick consumer experience.
We were also a little disturbed to see a couple of little bubble-like blemishes on the bottom bezel after a couple of days of use. Nothing terminal, of course, but an eReader should be able to stand up to being carried in a bag without getting marked. At this price it should.
Cybook Ocean eReader: set up, and purchasing books
This is where we really fall out with the Cybook Ocean. I've asked CyBook if any of this is likely to change, and it is possible this is merely early teething troubles. So take this as my experience, and lets hope I can update this piece soon with better news.
For one thing, I needed to understand French in order to set up account. And to use the Ocean I had to set up account. I also had to have an AdobeID account - as someone who works in publishing I had an existing AdobeID: your experience may differ.
And now when we go to purchase books, we need to use French language to browse through the store... in order to buy French-language books. Now I achieved a B in French GCSE in 1994, so this is no problem at all to me: again, your experience may differ. (Clearly, it is a huge problem to me.)
Bookeen says that you can purchase books by browsing to other online web stores, and then downloading books either direct to the Ocean or to your PC and then side-loading them. This is all true. You could also read eBooks online, I suppose. And the compmany does intend to translate the store at some stage. But this is hardly the seemless consumer experience of a Kindle, or even any modern smartphone or tablet.
It would put me off buying the Ocean for myself, let alone someone who is less tech savvy.
Cybook Ocean eReader: reading experience
Which is a shame. Because the reading experience on the Cybook Ocean is actually pretty good. I found it easier to use the buttons rather than the touchscreen to go back and forth, but the larger display does make for fewer page turns, the font is nice to read, and the smart backlight is a joy to use. See also: Amazon Kindle Voyage vs Kindle Paperwhite comparison.
It is impossible to recommend the Bookeen Cybook Ocean in its current form. Although it has a good, and large, screen in a well-built and lightweight frame, it is a little underpowered. More importantly it connects you to a French-language book store, which is useless for UK consumers. And at �150 it is just too expensive for a device with these bugs. We'll look to revisit this review again when and if the Cybook Ocean goes on more general sale.