Dear Authors 2007 Christmas Buying Guide for Ebook Readers:  The Dedicated Reader

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

I’ve used both dedicated eReading Devices and Multi-function devices and if I had a dedicated eReading device that had a backlight, I would use that one probably exclusively. Dedicated eReaders are those devices whose primary function is to serve as an ebook reader. Most dedicated devices also have an mp3 player, but for the most part, the dedicated device is meant for just one thing: reading.

There are dedicated e-readers in every price range with the least expensive being the eBookwise and the most expensive being the Iliad.

Ebookwise

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First up is the $100 device. The most cost effective ereading device on the market is the eBookwise. The eBookwise can be purchased via the eBookwise store (a division of Fictionwise) starting at $109.95. eBookwise also sells two bundled packages: an ereader with a 64 MB Smartmedia card and an ereader with a 128 MB Smartmedia card.

According to eBookwise, the typical number of ebooks per device is as follows:

Approximate number of typical eBooks that can be held on the eBookwise-1150 with various memory options:
No Card : (Internal 8MB only) 10 $109.95
64 MB Card: 100 $139.95
128 MB Card: 200 $179.95

The pros for the eBookwise are the cost, the size (slightly larger than a paperback), touchscreen, modem, and the integrated backlight. Samhain executive editor, Angela James, and blogger/reviewer, Holly, has an eBookwise. The modem allows you to hook up to a phone line and purchase books from the eBookwise store.

The cons are that to enjoy the use of the eBookwise, you really need a memory card and a conversion program that will allow you to convert html, Microsoft Word docs, plain text, and rich text format into the proprietary IMP format that the eBookwise recognizes. There are three conversion programs which work essentially the same: eBookwise Librarian $14.95), GEB eBook Librarian ($15), and eBook Publisher (free but requires technical knowledge). You can do one by one file conversion online for free as well.

Additional cons for the eBookwise is that the LCD screen is not easily readable out of doors; has one of the smallest screen sizes of a dedicated reader at 5.5" diagonal; does not read PDFs without conversion, limited options in terms of font and font size, and the Smartmedia card is expensive, low in memory, and is not easily available in local stores.

Sony Reader and Bookeen Cybook

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The next jump is to the $300-$400 range for the Bookeen’s Cybook and the Sony Reader. These are two e-ink readers. I have the first generation Sony Reader and so my comments for that device are based on personal knowledge. The comments/comparisons I’ve included for Bookeen’s Cybook are based on reviews at MobileRead. The Sony Reader and Bookeen’s Cybook share many of the same technological functions. The only major difference is the housing and the software.

Generally, both devices contain a 6" diagonal eink screen (SVGA 800×600 4 grey scales). Eink is a superior ereading experience because of its paperlike quality. In the outdoors and with bright light, the eink really shines. Particularly amazing is the length of battery life. Because these e-ink readers use battery power only when the page is turned, it can last for days. My Sony Reader lasted three weeks with me reading at least an hour each day with some days having two or three hour usage. I even went on vacation with my Sony Reader and left the charger at home due to the longevity of the battery.

Both devices have an SD memory slot. SD cards are widely available and come in a variety of memory capabilities. At pricegrabber.com, a 2GB SD card costs $19.99 from Circuit City. A 2GB SD card will fit over 2500 books.

The major differences between the Cybook and the Reader are in software and the formats each device will read.

Sony ($299) Bookeen ($350)
Text
Proprietary BBeB Mobipocket
Adobe Yes, but unencrypted only Yes, but unencrypted only
TXT Yes Yes
RTF, DOC Yes. RTF without conversion Doc with conversion done by included software No, but support coming
HTML No Yes (supports internal hyperlinks)
PalmDoc No Yes, but unencrypted only (no eReader books)
Images
JPG Yes Yes
GIF Yes Yes
PNG Yes Yes
Audio
MP3 Yes, but unencrypted only Yes, but unencrypted only
AAC (iTunes) Yes, but unencrypted only No
Memory Expansion
SD Yes Yes
Sony Memory Stick Yes No

I have no idea which device would be a better purchase. On the one hand, Sony’s device is sold in the US and easier to get serviced if something goes wrong (i.e., you don’t have to ship it overseas). On the other, Mobipocket is more widely used format but that can be circumvented by using a conversion program to convert books in the LIT format to html. I read one user’s opinion that the Sony Reader had a heftier feel to it. If the Bookeen device feels cheap that would make a difference to me. For Mac users, the Sony is recognized as a USB mass storage device meaning that if you plug it into your USB port, your MAC will think it is just another storage device and you would be able to drag and drop files onto the Reader. With the Reader being $50 cheaper, I would probably buy that over the Cybook Bookeen.

MobileRead has a specific review of the pros and cons of the Sony Reader and the NAEB has one of Bookeen’s Cybook.

Kindle

Kindle

It’s ugly and we don’t know much about it. Moving on . . .

iRex Iliad.

The iRex Iliad is a very expensive eink device at $699.00. The reason for the increased price is three fold. First, the screen size is bigger. It is 8.1" diagonal with 16 levels of grayscale (versus the 6" 4 levels of grayscale of the two previous eink devices). Second, the device has a touch screen that allows for editing of documents. Third, it has built-in wi fi and an optional Ethernet connection for direct access to the internet.

The device recognizes the following formats: Mobipocket, PDF (without encryption), HTML, TXT, JPG, BMP, and PNG. While it can connect to the internet via wi fi, it lacks an official browser. Email services like yahoo and gmail are not accessible and many sites do not render well.

Because it allows for editing and has wi fi accessibility, the battery lasts much less than that of the previous two devices. The iRex website suggests a 12 hour maximum. Using the touchpad for annotation, reading, and accessing the internet nets about 5 hours according to one MobileRead user.

MobileRead has a more fullsome review with several thumbnail images of the iRex Iliad in action.

The Recommendation

The Sony Reader for PC users and the Bookeen for Mac users but only because Bookeen supports the Mobipocket format. The problem with DRM is that it prevents consumers from actually buying the best device for their dollar. At $299, there doesn’t appear to be a sufficient reason to spend $50 more to buy a device from France that will have to be serviced in France if there are any problems. A PC user can avail herself of the Lit books (using a lit conversion program) that is available at nearly every ebook store but a MAC user cannot.