2008 Holiday EBook Reading Buying Guide, Part I
Edited to Add: Below I recommend buying the Sony PRS700 with the built in light. According to the guys at Gizmodo and Sunita below, this light actually degrades the quality of the screen. You may, instead, want to go the PRS505 route from Wal-mart who is selling them (including the red one) for $269.99. I highly recommend getting a light and the Sony light is a really elegant addition.
Last year, I posted a buying guide for those who are looking for ebook readers and I thought it would be kind of fun to do that again, given that technology keeps changing. I’ll give a list of pros and cons for each kind of device and my opinion as to why to buy a certain one. I hope those who own these devices will jump in and give their own opinions as well. Today’s article addresses dedicated ebook readers and next week’s article will address the multi-function devices.
Black Friday Tip:
While ebook readers aren’t part of the Black Friday sales, often times memory cards are. If you are out and about you might check to see what SD cards are going for. I’ve seen ads in Wal-mart and other stores that are selling 4 GB SD cards for $9-$15. You could fit a lifetime of books (10,000) on a 4 GB SD card. Most of the newer ebook e-ink devices (Cybook, Sony Reader, Kindle) will accommodate a SD card.
Dedicated Reading Devices
All of the dedicated readers on the market, other than the eBookwise, are eink devices. This section of the buying guide will first address eink devices and then the eBookwise because the pros and cons are different for both.
Eink Reading Device Pros:
Eink readers boast a screen that can’t be found on any other ebook reading device. E Ink technology is like a sophisticated etch a sketch. Negatively charged black and positively charged white pigmented microscopic capsules are encased in a clear fluid. Negative and positive electric charges tell the machine which particles should be visible to the user. Because the devices use power only when the page is changed, i.e., when the electric charge changes the image, eink devices have extremely long battery life. I was able to read on my Sony PRS 500 for an entire week on vacation without a charge.
While lcd screens constantly refresh, an eink device has a flat display. The lack of refresh combined with the black/white pigmented capsules gives the eink device a near paper like look. In bright sunlight, it’s hard to believe that you aren’t looking at a notepad instead of an electronic device.
Individually, each eink device has its own pros. An ebook reading matrix can be found here. The Kindle is connected to the internet all the time via a cellular connection (Sprint). This is free for now. You can do limited browsing and sending of emails. More importantly, however, you can buy a book with one click of the Kindle button anywhere you have that cellular connection. You can also email files to yourself and Kindle’s back end software program magically converts those into readable files. The Kindle is the only device with an integrated physical keyboard.
The Sony Readers are able to read more than one secure file. The Sony Readers accept Sony BBeB files but also Adobe Digital Editions. The Sony PRS700 has an integrated front light and a touchscreen that allows you to take notes with its on screen keyboard.
Generally, though, the pros for the eink reading device: Paperlike display in well lit areas and long battery life.
Eink Reading Device Cons:
Most e-ink devices have only one secure format it can view.
- Kindle = AZW or TPZ (both a form of Mobipocket)
- Sony = Sony BBeB or Adobe DRM
- Cybook = Mobipocket
- Iliad = Mobipocket
- BeBook = Mobipocket
Most eink readers will view a variety of non DRM’ed formats. You can see the format matrix for eink readers here. This can be circumvented by using DRM breaking software. There is a DRM crack/hack for every format out there including the Kindle (except for one format of the Kindle called tpz and I don’t think a reader knows whether the format is a tpz until it is purchased). You need to have some technological know how to get a book from a secure format to an unsecure one that can be used on more than one device (and this isn’t the post that will explain how to do it). Because most readers are limited to only one proprietary format, it is harder to take advantage of sales and promotions at competing etailers. An owner of the Sony Reader can’t take advantage of the ebook prices at the Kindle store and vice versa.
Another drawback for most eink devices is the lack of an integrated lighting source. Because of the eink technology, a backlight is not possible which means that you will need to have a booklight available for use with your eink reader at all times, unless you purchase the Sony PRS700. The Sony PRS700 comes with an integrated front light that runs off the battery power of the reader itself. It’s a very elegant solution but one that draws down the battery faster.
Cons: higher cost per function, Limited format options (unless you are willing and able to break the DRM), no backlight, harder to read in low lit areas.
The eBookwise (currently selling for $119.95 with free shipping) is grayscale LCD touchscreen device with backlight. It reads only IMP formats, although eBookwise offers a free online conversion program (for RTF, MS Word, Plain Text, Rocket eBook, or HTML files). The PROS include the price – it is the lowest dedicated eReading device on the market; the touchscreen, and the ability to highlight and take notes. The CONS is the grayscale LCD touchscreen. I found, when I used the device, that in brightly lit areas, it was hard to read. It has a bulky design and will accept only one format like the eink devices unless you know how to circumvent the DRM. However, for the price, it is the best eBook reader on the market today.
What device you should buy depends on what is most important to you. If price is the most important feature to you, get the eBookwise. It does the same thing as all of the other devices in this post, just a little less stylishly and with a little less clarity in the screen. If having an integrated light with your eink device is important, you need to get the Sony PRS700 which runs $399. While the Sony PRS505 is $100 less, the stylish booklight that serves the same function as the integrated front light on the PRS700 costs $69.99 so for a $30 price difference, you might as well get the one with the light built in. If ease of use is the most important, then you want to get the Kindle at $349.00. The ability to email yourself content is one of the favorite features of SB Sarah and the one touch buy can’t be beat by any device (even the multi function devices) on the market. I don’t recommend the Iliad because the price, $699.00, doesn’t make sense as a dedicated ebook reader.
I don’t recommend buying the Sony PRS505, BeBook, Cybook at $299.99 subject to my note to MAC users. I think that one is better off upgrading to the Kindle for $50.00 for the cellular connectivity which is currently free or all the way up to the PRS700 with its integrated frontlight, touchscreen, and notetaking abilities.
Ending Note for Mac users:
One reader emailed me and requested some input for MAC users. There is no dedicated desktop reading software that works with the MAC that also matches a format viewed by a dedicated ereading device. There are a couple ways to get around this.
The easiest way to avoid the desktop software problem is eliminate it altogether. The Kindle books can only be read on a Kindle device and no other device (not even a computer). Therefore, you can buy Kindle books via Safari (the web browswer) or you can buy via the Kindle. You can send a number of different file formats to your Kindle via email. The Kindle is not platform dependent.
Mobipocket + SD Card
The second easiest way to avoid the desktop software program is to buy Mobipocket files. You can then put your Mobipocket files on an SD Card and pop the card into the ebook reading device. To that end, MAC users may want to consider purchasing a BeBook, Cybook, or Iliad.
Sony + Parallels
If you want to get the Sony PRS700, you must also purchase Parallels. Parallels is a program that allows you to run Windows software on your Macintosh. You must first install Adobe Digital Editions using Parallels and then Authorize it with your Adobe ID. Attach you Sony Reading device to the computer and it should ask if you want to Authorize your Sony Reading device. You then switch over to your regular MAC Operating System and install and authorize Adobe Digital Editions. Any secure Adobe files you have purchased and downloaded should be viewable on your Sony Reader. You can simply drag those eBook files to your Sony Reader which appears as a mass storage device (like a USB drive).