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Dear Authors 2007 Christmas Buying Guide for Ebook Readers: The...

My first portable reading device was a multi function device and a multi function device is what I use now. I remember asking my neighbor (who is an eBookwise user) what she thought of my Sony Reader. She loved the display, but for the price, she thought it needed to do more. As a mom, she would have liked it to contain an agenda/planner, a notepad, and an address book. If Sony had those capabilities, it would have made sense for her.

Why Laptops Aren’t a Recommended EReader Device

One 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 available for any purchaser. But a laptop isn’t portable enough for me. I must be able to fit the device in a purse. As a mom, my purses have become larger to accommodate the wipes, snacks, crayons and occasional toys, but it’s not big enough, nor is is feasible for me to carry around a small laptop. It also becomes too heavy (think of carrying your kid, your purse, and a laptop – oy vey). It’s also not easy to lay in your bed and read a book on the laptop, no matter how cheap the laptop is. For that reason, I don’t view notebook computers as a viable e reading device.

My History with Multi Function Devices

I’ve always been an early adopter of technology, particularly handhelds. palm_pilot_335×450.jpgMy very first hand held/multi function device was the Palm Pilot. Let me tell you that when I first had one, it seemed revolutionary. I would take the device with me and was able to schedule meetings on the fly because my calendar was synched!! with the calendar on my computer. Wonder of wonders. The way you input text with the Palm Pilot, and all the early palm devices, was via the touchpad and you had to learn “Graffiti” which was a special way of entering letters. I don’t recall ever reading any books on it as my device only had a tiny bit of memory. I read on Wikipedia that the first Palm Pilots had 128 KB of memory and 512KB of memory. That wouldn’t even be enough to read one PDF.

prism1.jpgMy next device was the color Handspring Visor Prism. Handspring was a company that was formed by former Palm developers and was the first company to use “Treo” as a brand. The Handspring had removable Expansion Slot. It accepted a modem (which was revolutionary as well) and had a great color screen. (I thought it was great at the time). I started viewing PDFs on this device, but they weren’t very lengthy. No ebook reading for me yet.

The first device I used for reading ebooks was the Palm m505.palm-m505-p01.jpg It was slim and sexy and it had a color screen. I remember that I could read about one paragraph on the screen, maybe a paragraph and a half. It rendered slowly, i.e., I think I remember waiting seconds between paragraph advances but it allowed me to be free of the computer.

In 2004, I discovered the iPAQ 4700. It was a phenomenal device to me. It had a 4″ screen and the color was breathtaking. I could install every ebook reading device out there: eReader, Mobipocket, MS Lit, and Adobe. With the right settings, I could almost fit an entire page on the 4″ screen. My ebook reading really started taking off.

In the beginning, with the Sony Reader, I found myself setting the Reader aside more often that not for my old, familiar IPAQ 4700. However, the clarity of the eink device began to make an impression and I realized that I was experiencing much less eye strain using the Sony Reader. For a period of several months, the Sony Reader became my ereader device of choice because of the screen size and the clarity. It was my summer purchase of the iPhone that had me set the Sony Reader aside for good.

My dream device is an iPhone/iTouch like device that is about the size of the Sony Reader. I am convinced that if the Sony Reader has some integrated light source, I would still be using it, but because I read primarily at night, I need some type of light source. Ned is long suffering, but is immeasurably happier when the light is off and we are both reading with our iPhones. I’ve read some rumors that there might be such a device coming from Apple in 2008. I’ll believe it when I see it, but if it is true, you can bet I’ll be in line to buy one.

So what are the multi-function devices on the market? There are three basic categories of multi-function devices: smartphones, personal digital assistants, and ultra mobile computers. The difference in pricing is often based on screen size.

The Smartphone.

A smartphone is a device that is a hybrid of phone and pda. There are several smartphone operating systems out there. If you are purchasing a smartphone with the intention of reading ebooks, you need to be careful because not all e-reading software can be used on all devices. Plus, some of the phones run Windows Mobile Smartphone instead of Windows Mobile Pocket PC. The Smartphone edition does not have the same capabilities of the Windows Mobile Pocket PC. For example, I had the Motorola Q and it ran the Smartphone edition so I could not read any of my MS Lit books on it. It seems absurd that Microsoft’s operating system wouldn’t run all of Microsoft’s products, but whatever.

DEVICE/Software eReader MobiPocket MS Lit Adobe
Palm Yes Yes No Yes
Windows Mobile Smartphone Yes Yes No No*
Windows Mobile Pocket PC Yes Yes No to any device running Windows Mobile 6.** Yes to any device running Pocket PC 2003, Pocket PC 2003 SE and Windows Mobile 5.0. Yes
Symbian Yes Yes No Yes
Blackberry No Yes No No

*There are PDF viewers for Windows Mobile Smartphones, but none that allow you to read the DRM’ed ebooks.

**There are conflicting reports on whether MS Lit runs on Windows Mobile 6 but from what I have seen, more people have had problems than not.

As you can see, if you buy mostly MS Lit files and don’t want to bother with converting them, you would have to purchase a Smartphone running Windows Mobile Pocket PC. htc-tytn-ll-smartphone.jpgIf you have a Blackberry, you can only read Mobipocket books. This bit of frustration is brought to you by the publishers who require DRM and a dozen different formats. As I said last week, you can’t buy the best device for your money if you are an ebook reader; you have to make decisions based on what platforms run what software on what device.

Your best bet if you want to buy a Smartphone AND use it as an ereading device is to buy your ebooks in the Mobipocket platform. That way your decision making process can depend on what Smartphone makes the most sense given what you are going to be using it for. Of course, your DRM problems will melt away if you choose to engage in converting the MS lit files to some other format but some people don’t a) have the technical know how to do this and/or b) don’t want to break the law. Currently, converting MS Lit files for your own use is prohibited by the DMCA. Currently, I think more people speed on the highway than are violating the DMCA, but technically it is not legal.

Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

PDAs are devices that generally have functions such as calendaring, audio/video capabilities, editing and viewing of documents, tracking contacts, and so forth. In some sense, they are mini, stripped down computers. 4272.jpgThere is one attorney I know who takes his PDA and a portable keyboard on the road instead of a computer. He can check his emails via wi fi and take his deposition notes via the portable keyboard. Its lightweight and functional. Most of the devices run the same OS (operating system) as the smartphones, although some run what is called “Linux”. Linux is an open source operating system which makes it the golden child of software developers. Open source means that the software code is open to anyone who wants to see it rather than requiring developers to pay for the software development kit (SDK).

The Sharp Zaurus is probably the best known Linux PDA. It is not currently available in the US. Another popular Linux device is the Nokia internet tablet series. The Nokia 770 is a device that can be purchased on the secondary market for around $250.00. It’s current iteration is the N810 and has a 4.13″ WVGA display, up to 2GB internal memory and expansion slots for miniSD and microSD cards. The estimated price tag for the N810 is $400+.

The problem with the Linux is that none of the major commercial ereading software programs run on the Linux OS. In order to use the Linux devices as an ereading program, you would need ereading software and a) read only books without DRM or b) choose to convert the MS Lit books into html files.

The Nokia 770 at $250.00 with a 4″ color screen is hard to beat; however, this is a device that has to be purchased on the secondary market and has no warranty.

Two popular brands of PDAs are HP and Palm. Palm devices are compatible with MACs and thus the Palm is often the choice for MAC users. PC users have a wider variety, but I think HP has some great devices. Many people think that the market for PDAs have dried up because of the Smartphone market. Dell used to sell the Dell Axim which was a good competitor to the HPs and Sony used to manufacture the Clie. These devices can be had on the secondary market but like the Nokia 770, these are without warranty and manufacturer repair. (There are secondary repair sites like PocketPC Tech which I’ve used for my IPAQ 4700).

Device Screen Size Formats Price
Nokia 770 4.3″ html, txt, chm, plucker, palmdoc, OEB, RTF, OpenReader, non DRM’ed mobipocket $250
Nokia 810 4.3″ html, txt, chm, plucker, palmdoc, OEB, RTF, OpenReader, non DRM’ed mobipocket $400+
Palm TX 3.8″ eReader, Mobipocket, Adobe (and many others with conversion programs) $299
IPAQ 111 3.5″ eReader, Mobipocket, Adobe (and many others with conversion programs) $299
IPAQ 211 4″ eReader, Mobipocket, Adobe (and many others with conversion programs) $450

The benefit of buying a PDA over a Smartphone is that you usually get a bigger screen and there is only the one cost instead of the device cost plus an ongoing month to month contract.

Ultra Portables

When I first started ebook Sunday, I interviewed Jenn from Pocketables.Net. Her reader of choice was an ultra-mobile computer, the Sony Vaio UX180P. These ultra-mobile computers are essentially a tiny laptop, but you pay a big price for miniaturization. Ultra mobiles run in the four figures and generally the largest screen size is 7″. One great advantage of the ultra mobile is that it runs nearly any ereading program out there and has a big harddrive (20, 40GB harddrives) so that you never run out of ebook storage space. The disadvantage, of course, is the price. I don’t think that an ultra mobile is a good device to buy just for ereading.

The Recommendation

I use a hacked iPhone, convert all my MS Lit files to htmls, and use the free books.app program. But this all requires some technical know how and disregard of the DMCA. If you don’t want to go that route, then a PDA makes the most sense. Which one to buy depends on your budget, the screen size, and your desktop operating system. For Mac users, the Palm T/X has a nice color screen and at 3.8″ is large enough to read about 2/3 of a paperback page comfortably. For PC users, the IPAQ 111 is a comparable device.

I hope this series helped. The recommendations are based on my use and my personal preferences. Obviously, each person’s needs are different. If you have questions, clarifications or suggestions, please drop a comment in the comment box.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

29 Comments

  1. Brenna
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 04:18:13

    Jane – I am thinking of buying a Palm T/X as a Christmas present for myself. I love my Sony PRS 505 and it will be my main ebook reader device. But I am also a Mac user so I think having another device like the Palm T/X will be ideal as a backup. You mentioned that the rendering for your old Palm 505 is so slow. Do you have any idea what the rendering is on the T/X? Has it improved that much?

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  2. Sandra Schwab
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 07:10:18

    Jane, thanks again for doing this series. I’m definitely going to buy a Cybook as a Christmas present for myself. Okay. An early Christmas present for myself. More like a Nikolaus present, really (St. Nikolaus Day is on 5 Dec *g*). What sold me on the device was the “Over 1000 Titles” classics collection I found in the Mobipocket store. And the annotated edition of Thackeray’s The Newcomes available from Fictionwise. And all these old short stories by Mercedes Lackey, which were originally published in the Marion Zimmer Bradley Fantasy Magazine. And all those free e-books from Baen Books. And the Dollar prices. Ooooh, the Dollar prices! And last but not least the fact that I can’t possibly squeeze another bookshelf into my flat.

    As you can probably tell, I’m extremely excited about entering the world of e-readers and e-books soon!

    Btw, the Cybook Deluxe package is now also available from an US seller at 375 $ (instead of 450 $). And there’s a link to Dear Author on the Bookeen blog. :)

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  3. Devon
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 09:17:52

    Thanks so much for doing this series. I understand what’s what a lot better. Now I just have to decide between dedicated and multi-function. I think I’m leaning towards the IPAQ 111, though.

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  4. Maddie
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 09:45:58

    I hsve sa PalmOne – Tungsten E2 with a 1.0 gb card. I have about 274 ebooks on my PalmOne scandisk cards says that i have used 150.mb, so that means I have 810.2mb free of 968.2mb, the software that came with it, comverts some of the ebooks I use to PDF. Which comes in handy when I byy from WhiskeyCreek and others EBook Publoshers.

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  5. Jane
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 10:07:28

    Brenna – I am sure that the new Palm’s render much faster than my old Palm M505. I think part of the problem were the fact that the books were adobe and they are bigger and render more slow (in the past) than Mobipocket.

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  6. Tilly Greene
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 10:25:44

    What interesting timing – yesterday at a booksigning I wrote your website addy on a slip of paper for a reader as the best information out there on ebook readers. She doesn’t want to sit at her comptuer to read and isn’t computer savvy, but I think she’ll be able to read your various articles and come away feeling more confident about how they work and how to choose one that suits her best.

    Thank you!

    Oh yes, I’ve been happily reading ebooks on my Toshiba pocket pc for over 5 years and it still runs perfectly, but am tempted by both the new iPod and Sony. It just may be this Christmas I make the change…I’ll be rereading your notes on both before deciding.

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  7. LinM
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 10:55:19

    I’ve followed this series with interest but I’m still undecided. I need a 2nd ebook reader for my daughter (Mom, do you have any books I can read). But I want a device that I can try in the store – not one I have to order online. Reviews give me some idea but I want to know if the device fits comfortably in my hand, if control buttons are positioned where my fingers want to rest, if the weight is acceptable for me, if the screen works for my vision.
    I bought my first ereader (a palm TX) because I could walk into my local electronics store and try it (after fending off the sales staff who wanted me to listen to the sales pitch instead of using the device). I love the TX – it goes in my pocket or purse; it works with my desktop OS; I use it everywhere – in the hammock on summer nights, bright sunlight (in my shadow) and the tub; I can store a book database on the same device. But it is not for everyone – my sister needs her reading glasses to see the text and prefers her laptop.
    So Jane’s articles make me drool – the iliad (but my only experience with eInk convinced me that I can’t take the refresh blink) – the iphone (but I seldom read a book sequentially and need a bookmark function) – the Asus EEE (not mentioned but it is 20% of the price of a Sony UX). However, I’m likely to chose my second ereader from the list of devices that I can try in the store. So visions of ereaders may dance in my head but the list of devices that I can see and touch before buying is very limited.

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  8. Ann Bruce
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 11:32:38

    Thanks for the series, Jane.

    I got to test out my buddies iTouch and as slick as it is, I think I prefer the Sony PRS-505 because of bigger screen size and less eyestrain.

    For those who still love their physical books:

    I was reading Diana Gabaldon’s BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE in bed when the book slipped from my hands and fell on my head. That book is one heavy sucker and it hurt! While I was rubbing my forehead where a sharp corner struck, I realized none of it would’ve happened had I been reading it on an ebook reader.

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  9. Julie
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 11:48:59

    Microsoft Reader will work with some Windows Mobile 6 devices.

    Use this version. So far it works fine with my HTC Mogul.

    I’ve been hearing tales that MS is working on a new reader, but at this point I’m not holding my breath.

    Another excellent reader for the Windows Mobile/Pocket PC platform is Haali Reader. Sadly, it does not support .lit files, but is otherwise my favorite ebook reader.

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  10. TeddyPig
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 13:00:28

    I just blogged my freebie way to read Mobipocket on a Mac.

    Oh and for those willing to spend the money check out the Sony UX280P

    This is kicking the whole full functioning computer market into hyper drive.
    We are talking major changes are coming.

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  11. Danielle
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 13:35:47

    Teddy, thank you….now I want a Sony UX280P!!!!!!!!!!!

    Do you think I can get Santa to get me one for Christmas?

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  12. TeddyPig
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 13:50:47

    That’s just the cheapest Sony UX Danielle.

    I want the 490N/C myself with a dock so I can hook it into a monitor and a keyboard at home. The thing is full of awesome and can run XP. Just so drool worthy.

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  13. Danielle
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 14:01:54

    Be still my heaart…hopefully one day my ship will come in and I can afford the Sony UX.

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  14. TeddyPig
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 14:53:01

    Oh believe me, the prices will drop and the ship will come in.

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  15. Jan
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 15:48:04

    Great article!

    I however use my laptop for almost all my ebook reading. I don’t use ebooks for portability, but because I don’t have to store them on a shelf. I also do most of my reading lying on my bed on my side, the laptop next to me. It doesn’t have to sit on a lap. ;P

    For portable reading I still prefer sticking a book in my purse.

    I also love my laptop because its connected to my wireless network, so I can have big storage devices elsewhere that hold all my ebooks etc and never have to copy them around.

    So it really depends on the reason you use ebooks I think. If you want to carry them to the park, yeah, a dedicated reader would be best. But if you’re just using them to remove clutter at home, I think laptops are viable alternatives that mean no additional cost.

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  16. Keishon
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 17:44:57

    Great article! I’m happy with my Loox 720 Pocket PC :-)

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  17. DS
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 22:36:38

    I was just about to buy a Sony reader when I happened to find my Sony Clie. Sony had really ticked me off when they stopped supporting the Clie. And I received the Clie because I had to send my Vaio in for service within a month of purchase because they had put in two small a power source. Then after the warranty ran out the hard drive died because the power source they had replaced the first one with was also defective. Then there was the Sony BMG rootkit issue. I don’t think I’m going to give Sony any business right now.

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  18. Devon
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 23:02:58

    Okay, I had an epiphany a few hours ago. About a month ago my ancient ipod mini had a meltdown, and my huband surprised my with a 16GB Ipod Touch. Jane, can I do the Iphone hack thing on it? I have gotten as far as doing the jailbreak, but am at a loss with where to go from there.

    Also there is a webapp at the apple website called Readdle (www.readdle.com). It’s supposed to be an easy way to access books on your Iphone/Ipod touch. I was able to upload a file to it, but I can’t appear to login from my Ipod. Anyone tried this out?

    Okay, back to your other post. I must figure this out.

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  19. Jane
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 23:09:13

    Devon – Go here. It’s really simple. Just enter the website address in Safari on the iPhone and it hacks it open.

    After that, you need to install the SSH program from the list of applications under “Installer” on the iphone and the “Ebooks” application.

    Once that is done, you need some kind of ftp program. I use winscp.

    There are instructions at Hack the iPhone on how to use the WinSCP program.

    If you run into troubles, just IM me.

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  20. Devon
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 23:46:45

    Thanks so much Jane. Right now I’ve gotten the “Installer” installed, the Open SSH, the BSD subsystem, and the Books app installed.

    I’m having trouble with the WinSCP. I keep getting a “Network Connection failed” message. I’ll keep plugging away, but I may bother you via email.

    Thanks again. I hope I can get this to work :)

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  21. TeddyPig
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 00:23:28

    Devon – Go here. It's really simple. Just enter the website address in Safari on the iPhone and it hacks it open.

    Wow that was really simple. They are getting better at that jail break stuff.

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  22. Shannon Stacey
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 09:33:44

    So the Palm TX and the iPaq 111 are pretty well matched, then? I have an iPaq now—the rz1715 which is so obsolete I could probably sync with a TRS-80—and I like it. But for some reason the only handheld I’ve seen locally in brick & mortar stores is the Palm, and my husband’s an old-fashioned cash & carry kinda guy. I’m SOL if I ask for something he has to get online.

    So I guess I’ll leave the TX on my Christmas list. :)

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  23. Bev(QB)
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 18:45:38

    One HUGE caveat if you are thinking of buying an HP ipaq PDA– a couple of months ago, I bought the ipaq rx5900. It comes with an XP compatible start-up CD, but I assumed it was just a matter of downloading some software to get it to work with my laptop’s Vista x64. Nuh-uh, no Vista drivers. So, after about an hour of live tech chat with HP during which they informed me that they had yet to succesfully make the ipaqs fully compatible with Vista and offering some solutions that MIGHT do SOME of what I needed it to do, I gave up and synched with my old XP Pro desktop.

    Now I’m having synch problems with that lately (I won’t even go into ALL the synch frustrations with PDAs). And when you consider that I had to ditch my old beloved Dell Axim X3 (I LOVED my X3) because it just couldn’t synch after IE7 was released, let me assure you that I am eagerly anticipating the day when UMPC’s are affordable enough that I can ditch the PDAs and never have to deal with synching again.

    Even if UMPC prices fell dramatically now, I’m not sure I’d buy one with XP, though. It just doesn’t seem to make sense to buy an operating system that is already obsolete. So it’s not just price, but OS that is holding me back from UMPCs.

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  24. TeddyPig
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 22:10:14

    Bev,

    Xp is not obsolete in fact people are demanding it be put on their new equipment constantly. Vista is turning out to be, not an outright bomb, but an annoyance most technical people are not willing to put up with yet.

    Maybe around service pack 2 they might start seeing more switch. Until then my very large company is not supporting it and not many others are either.

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  25. Bev(QB)
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 21:15:57

    Oh, I agree about the Vista problems, Teddy. Although from my POV, most of the problems I’ve encountered have been compatibility issues, or should I say the LACK of compatible apps, with Vista x64 (x32 has less problems). But, regardless of whether Vista turns out to be another Windows ME SNAFU, the fact is that XP has been replaced and will eventually no longer be supported. It is just difficult for me to justify an expensive purchase that is already a generation old.

    I also agree that, unless you absolutely MUST buy a new system, I would recommend hanging on to your old XP systems for right now until we see how (if?) Vista issues shake themselves out.

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  26. AlanW
    Nov 15, 2007 @ 13:41:32

    It is now possible to run Palm applications on the Nokia 770 and N8X0. The Garnet VM software is free and easy to use. I tried the Palm MobiPocket Reader software, and it seems to work well. The Palm applications run in a 320×480 subset of the 800×480 screen, but this is no worse than a dedicated Palm PDA except the “screen” is smaller. For screenshots, see http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showpost.php?p=115545&postcount=14. Note that the screenshots will be probably appear bigger on your computer monitor than on the 770.

    Others have reported that eReader and eReader PRO software also work under Garnet VM on the Nokia’s.

    If Garnet is ever upgraded to 640×480 or 800×480 it will make the Nokia’s killer e-book readers. They are already very good if most of your e-books are DRM-free.

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  27. cin
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 12:56:33

    Thank you for your ebook series. I stumbled on this story today via links from the WSJ and O’Reilly Radar. iPhones, Teenagers, and The Future of Reading at Booksquare.com.

    Due to the small amount of calls I make, I still use a pay as you go cell phone so I’m crossing my fingers that the iPod touch will have an ebook feature.

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  28. De
    Nov 20, 2007 @ 15:10:45

    This is a great set of articles. Thank you.

    I’m still doing my ebook reading on an eBookwise reader, but I convert everything from html so that I can change the font and the size. Losing the ablity to change font settings was a huge backstep from the 1100 to the 1150. Plus, I’m flexible with my interpretation of copyright. (I buy it in one format, I can read it in whatever format I want.)

    I spend enough time at desktop computers that I don’t want to do my pleasure reading there. I love my laptop, but it’s just too big and awkward to read comfortably in bed. I’m thinking about getting an eee PC. $400 for a UMPC is an incredible price. At this point the only thing holding me back is that I can’t find one in a b&m store and I’d really like to see one in person first. (I think the solution to that is going to be order from Costco.com where there’s a wonderfully generous 90 return policy on any electronic. If I don’t like it I can just return it and at most, I might be out $10 for the shipping charges.)

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  29. Ryan Collins
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 08:32:19

    Another device to check out is the Nokia N800, which you can currently find online for under $250. I use FBreader on it. It has an SD slot in which I have a 2gb card. With a card reader (or the built-in wifi) I can load all sorts of good stuff on it.

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