Dear Authors 2007 Christmas Buying Guide for Ebook Readers:  The MultiFunction Device

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.