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Dear Authors 2007 Christmas Buying Guide for Ebook Readers, Part 1...

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. sony readerBecause 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.

Multifunction Devices

Multifunction Pros

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.

Multifunction Cons

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.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Jane A.
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 08:40:42

    Thank you so much for breaking this all out for us. And I look forward to your upcoming columns on the various devices. You’ve helped me immeasurably with my understanding of my ebookwise and how to use it. I am interested in exploring the multifunction devices, but the ebookwise was such a challenge for me that I’m not sure I can handle anything more! Yes, I’m an idiot… :)

  2. Charlene Teglia
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 09:50:07

    As always, excellent and helpful information to understand the ebook reading options. I’m still married to my Palm, but I’m keeping my eye on new dedicated readers.

  3. Teddypig
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 11:02:17

    I was about to write an article on all this…

    Further, the cost of the larger screened PDAs, Ultraportables, and Tablet PCs is at least 50% more than the highest ereading device.

    Untrue, let me show you how…

    iRex iLiad is $699.99

    Sony PRS-505 is $299.99

    Palm T/X is $299.00

    Now first I looked at what it was I really wanted. I wanted connectivity and the ability to connect to another computer or the internet.

    So bye bye Sony

    I wanted screen size to not strain my eyes.

    So bye bye Palm T/X.

    I wanted value against the current prices of regular computer hardware and basic functionality.

    So bye bye iLiiad.

    So what did I get? I went onto Craigs List and for $300.00 got an Apple iBook G3 800Mhz with the 12 inch screen, a 30 gig drive, 640 mb onboard memory, and a airport wi-fi card. $300.00 and it runs OSX 10 Tiger and the Adobe Reader 7.9 and has everyone of my eBooks and I am typing this on it right here to you from the comfort of my pillow.

    Now I know some people will say that is cheating but come on look at base functionality of these expensive gadgets and try to rationalize purchasing a dedicated eBook reader when you can basically get the best experience in an old Apple iBook and that Apple iBook is still supported years later by the same company and it costs you less to fix one up with more power than a brand new iRex iLiad.

    So sorry I am gonna wait till someone figures out it all out and starts selling a eReader for what it does functionally next to an old itty bitty 12 inch laptop and not get scammed.

    Teddypig, the cranky cost saving geek.

  4. Shanal
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 12:26:38

    I’ve read other articles about readers and I’m really intrigued by them. I love the idea but I’m baffled by the computer-speak. So here’s my question…Do you download the book to a flash drive and then install it in the reader? And are you saying that some readers don’t accept all the files that the books can be downloaded on?

    Thanks for any clarification. (Thanks for the web-site).

  5. Teddypig
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 12:34:36

    Oh lord all that work and I gotz the spam filter! *head hits monitor*

  6. Keishon
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 13:03:07

    I have a multifunctional device, a LOOX 720, Pocket PC that is going strong and has a pretty decent battery life and a decent screen size (3.6 inches). I don’t think I would want to convert to a dedicated reader no matter how tempting it is to do so since I use extensively a drug database as well for my day job. Plus, to upgrade is a scary thing because you get used to how you convert and read files on your reader already that to try something new is difficult for me unless the dedicated device comes with the capability of reading all files right out of the box, which is unlikely. I’m comfortable. And I have you to thank for getting me started, too.

  7. Shannon Stacey
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 13:56:06

    I’ll be anxiously awaiting Part 3. I’ve got the Palm T/X written on my Christmas list, and hopefully Santa won’t buy it for me before this series concludes. *g*

    I want to use Word as well as read ebooks, so the dedicated reader is out for me. I also use the calendar function, but I do it manually because I’ve never figured out how to set up Outlook, so it doesn’t sync that. (Yes, I’m that bad at this stuff.)

  8. Kent Larsen
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 18:20:41

    You might include in your analysis the Nokia N800 series, an ultraportable linux-based pc that can be had for less than $300 these days. Screen is about the same size as the ebookwise reader, but it is a fully functional computer, like the ones you mention that start at $1200.

  9. Teddypig
    Oct 28, 2007 @ 22:45:01

    The Nokia N800 series is an example of a great comparison to these eBook reader gadgets.

    Similar price but the functionality is excellent and the potential options of readers that run on linux is far more likely to attract people.

  10. DS
    Oct 29, 2007 @ 10:23:22

    Sigh, I have sooo many gadgets. The last time I was in the Federal Court House I had to be relieved of my phone and 3– yes, 3! ipods. I was lucky thins time and they let me keep my tablet pc because I needed it for notes.

  11. Noah
    Oct 29, 2007 @ 12:00:34

    I must say, I’m very intrigued by the XO laptop as yet another option for ebook reading. I’m not sure if all the pieces are in place software-wise yet, but a durable machine with a long lasting battery, sharp screen, either backlit or not, wifi, and a keyboard that goes away when you don’t need it — it sounds like a pretty much perfect piece of hardware. And you can get nearly two of them for the cost of this Cybook reader! (Granted, one of them you have to give away to a needy kid — but this sweetens the deal for me personally.)

    I think this should be on the radar for e book readers (and ebook software developers for sure!), and I think it may well be a really revolutionary step in hardware.

  12. Jane
    Oct 29, 2007 @ 22:35:04

    I don’t know whether a laptop, even the cute XO one, can be portable enough for an ereader. We like to take our books with us everywhere.

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  15. ann acai
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 18:04:19

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  16. Anthony Colon
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 17:37:16

    I usually don’t post in Blogs but your blog forced me to, great post

  17. Dear Authors 2007 Christmas Buying Guide for Ebook Readers: The MultiFunction Device | Dear Author
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 16:11:48

    […] of the comments, Teddy Pig, often refers to his cheap iBook as his perfect ebook reader. With Black Friday just around the corner, sub $300 laptops seem to be […]

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