Christmas shopping is right around the corner and I’ve noticed a number of commenters indicate that they are getting something for ebook reading for Christmas. Because of the hated Digital Rights Management and nearly 10 different software platforms for ebooks, deciding which device to buy can be more traumatizing than braving the 5 am Walmart Black Friday crowd.
I’ve rounded up a list of ebook reading devices and some pros and cons and recommendations. There are two basic options for the reader who is looking to buy an ebook device. 1) dedicated reader and 2) multi-function device.
Dedicated Reading Devices
Dedicated Reader Pros:
Most dedicated readers have a larger screen size for less money than multi function devices. For example, the eBookwise has a screen size "about the size of a paperback" and costs $109.95. The Sony Reader has a 6" inch screen and runs $300.00. A comparable screen size in a multi function device would be found in an ultra portable and those devices run from $1200-$2500.00. Larger screen sizes can be had at similar price points like the Motion Computer slate tablet PC starting at $1699, but then you start sacrificing portability.
Another big plus for the Dedicated Reader is the battery life. Because battery power is used only when the page is turned for the e ink devices and only a minimal amount of battery is used from the backlight and page turning on the eBookwise, the time you can read between charges is quite long. With the Sony, I have been able to go three weeks without charging the battery.
The Sony device and the eBookwise are both sized to fit into any regular sized handbag and thus can go anywhere you go. So for a reasonable cost, a dedicated ereading device will deliver long battery times, a paperback sized screen, and easy portability.
Dedicated Reader Cons:
The obvious con is that each dedicated ereading devices uses proprietary software meaning that you have to engage in circumventing the DRM, down converting the encrypted book file to an html, and then converting the downconverted contents to the proprietary software that the dedicated reader uses. Confusing, isn’t it.
Essentially the path is this:
Encrypted MS Lit file —-> ConverLit GUI —-> Contents including HTML file and graphis —-> eBookwise Librarian —-> IMP
For a non technologically inclined readers and those who don’t want the DRM police after them, this presents a large barrier to reading ebooks. If the books you want aren’t in the format you need (i.e. Sony’s BBeB or eBookwise’s IMP), then you are out of luck as a reader even if the book is available digitally in other formats.
Worse, sometimes you can’t take advantage of sales or promotional campagains that are available on other sites in other formats. For example, Harlequin and Simon & Schuster sell ebooks early, before the paper counterparts are released, but only at their sites. These two webstores sell only Adobe PDF, Microsoft LIT and Mobipocket PRC formats. So Sony and eBookwise readers cannot avail themselves of the benefits of digital reading that HQE and S&S offer unless they engage in the aforementioned machinations of downconversion and reconversion.
The other main con would be that some believe a device like the Sony Reader is too costly for a dedicated reading device.
A multifunction device is one that can be used for more than one purpose. For example, a PDA or Smartphone can run an ebook reading program; maintain a calendar, an address book; and a to do list; play music and videos; connect wirelessly either via wi fi or bluetooth to the internet to allow the surfing of the internet and exchanging of emails and instant messages.
If you go one step up to the ultraportable, you are essentially getting a miniature laptop. These devices have, approximately, a 7" screen and an attached keyboard. They run a slimmed down version of the Microsoft operating system and start around $1200.00. I don’t know of a comparable MAC/Apple device. With an ultraportable device, you can do almost everything that you could do with a regular computer from read ebooks on all ten different software platforms to editing documents. All those nasty encryption issues are no barrier with these mini-computers.
The cost v. screen size is the biggest con. The largest screen size for a PDA is the IPAQ 211 which has a 4" diagonal screen but runs $449.99. This is the same size screen as my former favorite reading device: IPAQ 4700 and is only slightly smaller than my iPhone which has a 3.5" screen. The popular MAC compatible Palm T/X has a 3.8" diagonal screen and runs $299.99.
Ultraportables or Tablet PCs have a larger screen from 7" to 10"+ but you exchange portability for some of the devices in order to have a larger screen size. Another issue is eye fatique from the flickering of the lcd (the refreshing of the screen). Further, the cost of the larger screened PDAs, Ultraportables, and Tablet PCs is at least 50% more than the highest ereading device.
To a large extent, the multifunction devices makes sense in this world with the 10+ ebook file formats and the lack of a front lit e-ink reader. If there were one universal format, such as an mp3 for books, then the dedicated reading device would be the reader of choice.
For me, I use the multi-function device the most (my iPhone) but if the Sony Reader had a front light, that would be my device of choice. For the rest of you, the best device might be determined by the specific features of each device and how that fits in your life and your handbag.
Next week we’ll take a look at the dedicated readers and the week after, we’ll explore the multi-function devices from personal digital assistants that fit in the palm of your hand to the ultra portable and tablet pcs.