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100 Classic Book Collection (DS)

Features: This cartridge contains a virtual bookshelf of one hundred complete classic novels and plays. Featured authors include: Austin, Dickens, Carroll, Bunyan, Hardy, Wilde, Shakespeare, Bronte (x3), Wilde, Stevenson and Verne. The DS is held sideways (like in Brain Training) and the stylus is used to 'flick' to the next page, to make the experience more like leafing through a hardback. You can even play background noise to mimic sitting in locations like a forest or a coffee shop.

The cartridge has room for around another ten books which can be downloaded via a wi-fi connection. Once read, these can be deleted to make room for more but currently there are only ten to choose from anyway.

Comments: This is almost brilliant. Portable devices for reading e-books are still relatively expensive and unusual but there are millions of DSs in the UK. People of all ages have them and are used to carrying them around and taking them on holiday. Why hasn't anyone thought of combining the technologies before? Why are we only now receiving the benefits of the first DS book experiment?

The reason e-book readers haven't caught on is that they're too expensive for people to risk taking to the beach or using in the bath. There's also the suspicion that e-books will be almost as expensive as physical books and come with the joys of DRM. Suddenly, for only £20, all of us with a DS can carry around a library in our pocket containing a vast swathe of books we meant to read at some point but haven't quite got round to: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Kidnapped, Alice in Wonderland, the list goes on... Brilliant!

Well, as I said, almost...

This is still very much an experiment. The designer seemed to think the reason that e-readers haven't caught on is that we like the physical feel of books - the shape, the page turning, the ability to sit them on a shelf - and every effort has been made to duplicate the book experience. In pretty much every instance, this has made the DS experience worse.

For instance, even with the smallest font size, The Three Musketeers has 5000 pages, so turning each one with the stylus would be immensely irritating. Happily, though, this particular problem can be avoided by using buttons.

Surely having to read the titles of books sideways on a bookshelf is a matter of necessity rather than design? Why simulate it? A virtual stack of books doesn't topple over if you remove the bottom one. Once again, the problem can be overcome (by turning the DS round) but it's another bizarre experimental choice.

Also, does anyone really want to have their DS play background noises to simulate an airport lounge (complete with bing-bongs)... or a moving train... or being slowly baked alive...? The last one is supposed to be a 'hot summer day' but you could have fooled me. Thankfully, these ambient sounds don't need to be switched on, nonetheless their inclusion at all is something of a mystery.

The major issue, however, can't be avoided. By forcing users to hold the DS like a book with the two screens showing different pages of text, 100 CBC ensures that each line of text is very short. This takes a lot of getting used to. It's not so bad with some books - Around the World in 80 Days and Huckleberry Finn are fine to read - but books with long words and rambling sentences (try some Poe) are hard work when there are only two and a half words per line. It's like trying to read table tennis.

This is a shame, since there is a lot to be said for the reading experience otherwise. The contrast level with a DS Lite on its lowest brightness setting doesn't cause eye-strain. It's also possible to read in the dark. Why there isn't an option to hold the DS the normal way up and have slightly longer lines of text is yet another mystery.

The only real use of the DS's abilities to enhance the package is the option to download fresh books. It's fantastic that extra titles are available but there are no promises that the selection will increase. Also, the feature seems rather tacked on. Although the books all come with introductions and author biographies, these aren't available before download - there's just a list of titles and file sizes. Since the downloads are free, this isn't a disaster, but it's not hugely informative.

If you're thinking of buying a DS to get an e-book reader on the cheap, then you'll be disappointed. The 100 Classic Book Collection isn't brilliant. It is, nevertheless, almost brilliant. If you have a DS already, this is a great way to sneak a stack of books around with you wherever you go - a stack of books with very small pages but that take up almost none of your baggage allowance and that you can read in the dark. If you want to catch up on your classics, it's definitely worth checking out.

Conclusion: Despite the curious presentation, this is still a library in your pocket.

Rating: 4/5.

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