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Thinking about Ebooks Readers

As more and more of my clients are finally getting into ebook readers, I decided to clarify the critical variables. I bought my first ebook reader 12 years ago (1999), and ever since then have found it a better way to read.

Size Matters

I'm not going to consider phones at all. People who believe they will read significant numbers of books on their phones are delusional. So we have two basic form factors that are sometimes calling themselves Ebook Readers.
  • Tablet Size
  • Book Size

Tablet size readers, are normally 8-10" tablet computers with color. They have normal computer screens, so those of you who don't like to read on computer screens, may not like to read on these either. They are great ways to read newspapers and magazines. They are also good ways to read textbooks or books with lots of graphs or art books with color pictures. They are good for graphic novels. They are good for pdf files which require a larger form factor to be viewed properly. They are not good for reading normal novels or non-fiction that is written without lots of charts or graphs or pictures. They weigh too much, are too big and have too short a battery life to compete with the paperback form for books which would naturally find themselves available in that format.

Book size Ebook readers are 5-7" diagonal and weigh 8-10 ounces. They use E Ink technology and do not have normal computer screens. Reading on them is not like reading on a computer screen. It is more like reading a newspaper. The background is very light grey, the letters very dark grey. The light is reflected and is nothing at all like the experience of reading a computer screen. They have a battery life of 1 to 2 weeks and are as convenient to carry and easier to read and handle than a mass market paperback. They have built-in dictionaries making it easy to lookup words and will hold a whole library of books. They are good for reading magazines that are redesigned for this form size, and hundreds of magazines and newspapers offer specific digital editions. They don't do color, can't handle PDF files which have large charts in columns well, and would be horrible for graphic novels. An art, architecture  or other photograph  intensive magazine would be terrible.

However, for reading normal paperback type books they are great. You can quickly look up words, you can search back in the text to find out who a character is or what an abbreviation means. You can change the font size to make it very easy to read. My eyes are old and haven't been fixed yet, so I appreciate making the fonts larger. You can pack months worth of reading in a package a little lighter than a normal paperback. The new Pearl E Ink (second generation) is very nice and very readable. If you have a wifi connection, you can even look up something not just in your dictionary, but even in Wikipedia, seamlessly as you read. I much prefer the ereader to a normal paperback.

Do think about the size of your reader, especially if you are older and use larger fonts. Smaller screens, particularly when the book has wider margins, combined with larger fonts, makes for few words on a page. I prefer my 7" diagonal Sony PRS 950 Daily Edition to my previous 6" reader because just the extra inch gives me more words per page. A 5" diagonal reader would be too small for me because I want to make the fonts larger. A young person with good eyesight might prefer the smaller size.

DRM: Digital Rights Management

Normally, when you buy an ebook, you don't own it. Generally, you are only buying a license granting you permission to use it on devices and under conditions specified by the seller. This is normally controlled by the publisher, not the retail store. So, there is no reason to believe that if you buy a book for your brand A ebook reader, that later, you'll be able to transfer it to your new brand B ebook reader. So, for example, if I were to buy an Kindle, I wouldn't be able to read any of my books from my Sony reader on it. While if I had purchased a Kindle before, and got a new Nook or Sony Reader, I wouldn't be able to transfer my Kindle books to it without finding a way to violate the DRM protection. If I did find such a way to break the DRM protection, I still wouldn't give the product to others or do anything with it I couldn't do with a normal book.

Library Management

When you buy your ebook, you'll get library management software for viewing, managing your library and copying books to your device. They will try and lock you into their store. See the next article for alternatives. I recommend switching to Calibre which is a great open source ebook management program. In addition to managing all your books, it will convert between formats for non-DRM books. It also allows you to download from a selection of nearly a thousand newspapers and magazines and will output them formatted specifically for your device. Calibre currently has over 2.5 million users.

Two final considerations

  • Which Format? Essentially your choices are Epub or Kindle (Mobi). We have a fight between Amazon with its mobi format and the entire rest of the world. The American Library system has decided they want the open Epub format, so they have joined Sony and Barnes and Noble, and Kobi and all the small players against Amazon. If you choose a tablet PC instead of a real ebook reader, then you can run an application that will do whatever you like. But if you download Kindle books you can't legally read them on any other ebook reader without finding the free open source software that removes their DRM.  If you get DRM Protected EPUB books, you can't legally read them on the Kindle. So, my entire library cannot be read on a Kindle, but could be transferred to the Nook, or Kobi or another Sony Reader. Amazon is refusing to support the open format the rest of the world has agreed to.
  • Touch Screen? The Sony has a touch screen. I don't mean a little touch area like the Nook, but the entire screen is touch sensitive. This makes it more expensive, but also makes it much more convenient to touch a word to look it up in the dictionary or search for a previous occurrence. Without a touch screen, you have to cursor around to get to the word to look up, or access the keyboard and type it in. It may or may not be worth the extra cost to you, but it is something to consider.


Wikipedia has a very good article and comparison guide: http:⁄⁄en.wikipedia.org⁄wiki⁄Comparison_of_e-book_readers

The Best place I've found for news and reviews is: http:⁄⁄www.the-ebook-reader.com⁄

Date: April 2011

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