I’ve been excited to get a look at Ray Kurzweil-supported blio since I saw a demonstration on the TED feed a few months ago. In fact, some of the things he demonstrated helped me get the initial version of what I wanted to do with Flying Island Press.
The actual software came out for Windows today, and I immediately downloaded and installed it on my system. There are a couple of features that I’ve been looking for in an e-reader software that initially got me really excited about this… but as I started using it, I realized that blio has a ways to go before it becomes my e-reader of choice on Windows, or any other system.
First, the good. The interface is pretty clean, there’s a bookshelf interface that’s easy to understand – particularly if you’ve used other e-readers, like iBooks on the iPad/iPhone/iPodTouch. It comes with text-to-speech built in, and the website claims that it works with ePub and XPS documents. So far so good, right?
Then I opened it, and tried reading on it. The demo books they included (two children’s books and a book about Woodstock – the children’s books were fine), read fine, but then I saw that it had the ability to connect to and download books from Google Books and Feedbooks. And I immediately started running into problems. First, I’m constantly getting a “cannot connect to search server” issue. It mysteriously cleared when I removed Feedbooks from the search settings (more on that in a minute), but is still happening when I’m trying it now as I write this.
Once I got in to the system, I decided to try downloading a classic – in this case, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, available for free at Google Books. The software kept throwing errors at me – not a valid zip file. Which was confusing, to say the least. Even trying to add a verified ePub -our second issue- to it was throwing the same error. Turns out the ePub support isn’t there yet – and from reading other reviews, even when you get an ePub into Blio, it has to convert it to XPS.
Reading around, it looks like the lack of ePub support isn’t the only problem. The Feedbooks integration was done without adhering to Feedbooks’ Terms of Service. I thought that might explain why Feedbooks wasn’t allowing a connection to the search database, but now I’m thinking it’s just blio – it’s not connecting to Google either.
There’s also DRM concerns (including a limit on text-to-speech), and the EULA that allows blio to collect data without an opt-out option and allows them to use your postings for promotional purposes.
There’s a lot of talk going around Twitter about this being a #fail. I’d like to think of it more as a swing and a miss. Real ePub support and a Feedbooks reconciliation would go a long way toward making me feel better about using blio. (the goodreads integration is a real plus for me). Multi-platform support is coming, and the ability to sync between my home computer and my portable reading device would be key. But as it stands today, it’s definitely not ready for prime time.