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A Look at B&N’s first eReader

Do you recall the obituary I wrote for the Ebookwise-1150? The ereader  above next to the K3 is the Rocket eBook and it’s the grandaddy of the 1150. I thought it would be interesting to show you the oldest best ereader.


It was released in 1999 by a small company called Nuvomedia and sold through Barnes & Noble, and ebooks were only sold on the B&N website. It has a 5.4″ screen (320×240), which was huge for those days. You could load content over a serial (not USB) cable onto the 4MB or 16 MB of Flash storage. It did not have a card slot.

The Rocket eBook shipped in an odd shaped retail box, which I’m sure was a marketing decision (it appealed to my mother, an engineer/geek). The box came with a docking station, serial cable, power supply, stylus, screen cloth, and a very nice zipper case. it also had a driver CD and it referenced a support website (now defunct).

It read its own RB format, and in terms of features it was quite capable for the time. You could underline, bookmark, change font size, and add notes. A properly crafted TOC usually worked, too. The Rocket eBook could be oriented to all 4 directions and you could even calibrate the screen.

This ereader never amounted to much, but it did spawn the EBW-1150, which managed to hold on for 6 years.

P.S. Nuvomedia and another company called Softbook were bought in early 2000 by Gemstar. Gemstar used the design of the Rocket eBook to develop 2 of its ereaders, the GEB-1100 and the REB-1150 (later rebranded as the eBookwise 1150). The 1100 and 1150 look largely identical, and they bear a distinct family resemblance to the Rocket eBook. Softbook was acquired by Gemstar in 2000 so that its ereader, the SoftBook Reader, could be developed into a couple new ereader models.

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fjtorres April 15, 2011 um 7:56 am

The 1100 was sold under the RCA brand for a while and it had a very nice undersold feature; you could feed it custom fonts from its PC-based loading app. You just chose selected a truetype font and the size you wanted to download.
I ended up getting two of those for my mother so she could hot-swap and read on one while the other recharged. They still work.
She still would be reading on them if I hadn’t dragged her onto eink. 😉
Nowadays a single Kindle does the job.

Gemstar took two decent readers that could’ve launched the "Kindle revolution" 5 years earlier and neutered them with one simple, stupid, decision; they wanted *all* content to go through them. Pretty much ran the business into the ground with one decision.

When Fictionwise took over the remnant stock of 1150’s, first thing they did was offer up an app to simplify and manage file conversion and sideloading.

Mike Cane April 15, 2011 um 7:30 pm

I remember when those came out. I thought they were stupid: too big and too heavy. People could read on their PDAs, so why would they need a dedicated device? Um, oops. Still, those were also expensive. Hm, Kindle at $349. Um, oops. Let’s just forget I made this Comment.

ML April 15, 2011 um 9:42 pm

I loved my RCA rocketbook, which has now been passed down to my 2yr old, and still hold true to my Ebookwise ebook reader. I can convert any anything I want to read to *.imp and unless I want to look @ something more interactive, I’ll look @ it on my ipad. I’ve still found no reason to switch 🙂

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[…] ???? ???????? ??????????? ????? ?? Rocket eBook ?????? ?? B&N ??? 1999. ?????? ??????? ???? ??????? ?????? ?? […]

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Ellen Hage July 5, 2013 um 5:46 pm

So many memories. My Rocket Ebook was under the Franklin brand. I still use it from time to time. Also it is nice to hear someone still has their Hiebook. It was a nice little reader. I remember hoping for a color version. That never happened of course.

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