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Dear Author

2008 Holiday EBook Reading Buying Guide, Part I

Edited to Add: Below I recommend buying the Sony PRS700 with the built in light. According to the guys at Gizmodo and Sunita below, this light actually degrades the quality of the screen. You may, instead, want to go the PRS505 route from Wal-mart who is selling them (including the red one) for $269.99. I highly recommend getting a light and the Sony light is a really elegant addition.

Last year, I posted a buying guide for those who are looking for ebook readers and I thought it would be kind of fun to do that again, given that technology keeps changing.   I’ll give a list of pros and cons for each kind of device and my opinion as to why to buy a certain one.    I hope those who own these devices will jump in and give their own opinions as well.   Today’s article addresses dedicated ebook readers and next week’s article will address the multi-function devices.

Black Friday Tip:   

While ebook readers aren’t part of the Black Friday sales, often times memory cards are.   If you are out and about you might check to see what SD cards are going for. I’ve seen ads in Wal-mart and other stores that are selling 4 GB SD cards for $9-$15.   You could fit a lifetime of books (10,000) on a 4 GB SD card.   Most of the newer ebook e-ink devices (Cybook, Sony Reader, Kindle) will accommodate a SD card.   

Dedicated Reading Devices

All of the dedicated readers on the market, other than the eBookwise, are eink devices.   This section of the buying guide will first address eink devices and then the eBookwise because the pros and cons are different for both.   

Eink Reading Device Pros:

Eink readers  boast a screen that can’t be found on any other ebook reading device.   E Ink technology is like a sophisticated etch a sketch.   Negatively charged black and positively charged white pigmented microscopic capsules are encased in a clear fluid.   Negative and positive electric charges tell the machine which particles should be visible to the user.   Because the devices use power only when the page is changed, i.e., when the electric charge changes the image, eink devices have extremely long battery life.   I was able to read on my Sony PRS 500 for an entire week on vacation without a charge.  

While lcd screens constantly refresh, an eink device has a flat display.   The lack of refresh combined with the black/white pigmented capsules gives the eink device a near paper like look.   In bright sunlight, it’s hard to believe that you aren’t looking at a notepad instead of an electronic device.   

Individually, each eink device has its own pros.   An ebook reading matrix can be found here.   The Kindle is connected to the internet all the time via a cellular connection (Sprint).   This is free for now.   You can do limited browsing and sending of emails.   More importantly, however, you can buy a book with one click of the Kindle button anywhere you have that cellular connection.   You can also email files to yourself and Kindle’s back end software program magically converts those into readable files. The Kindle is the only device with an integrated physical keyboard.   

The Sony Readers are able to read more than one secure file. The Sony Readers accept Sony BBeB files but also Adobe Digital Editions.   The Sony PRS700 has an integrated front light and a touchscreen that allows you to take notes with its on screen keyboard.

Generally, though, the pros for the eink reading device:   Paperlike display in well lit areas and long battery life.

Eink Reading Device Cons:

Most e-ink devices have only one secure format it can view.  

  • Kindle = AZW or TPZ (both a form of Mobipocket)
  • Sony = Sony BBeB or Adobe DRM
  • Cybook = Mobipocket
  • Iliad = Mobipocket
  • BeBook = Mobipocket

Most eink readers will view a variety of non DRM’ed formats.   You can see the format matrix for eink readers here.   This can be circumvented by using DRM breaking software.   There is a DRM crack/hack for every format out there including the Kindle (except for one format of the Kindle called tpz and I don’t think a reader knows whether the format is a tpz until it is purchased).   You need to have some technological know how to get a book from a secure format to an unsecure one that can be used on more than one device (and this isn’t the post that will explain how to do it).   Because most readers are limited to only one proprietary format, it is harder to take advantage of sales and promotions at competing etailers.   An owner of the Sony Reader can’t take advantage of the ebook prices at the Kindle store and vice versa.

Another drawback for most eink devices is the lack of an integrated lighting source.   Because of the eink technology, a backlight is not possible which means that you will need to have a booklight available for use with your eink reader at all times, unless you purchase the Sony PRS700.   The Sony PRS700 comes with an integrated front light that runs off the battery power of the reader itself.   It’s a very elegant solution but one that draws down the battery faster.  

Cons: higher cost per function, Limited format options (unless you are willing and able to break the DRM), no backlight, harder to read in low lit areas.

Ebookwise:

The eBookwise (currently selling for $119.95 with free shipping) is grayscale LCD touchscreen device with backlight.   It reads only IMP formats, although eBookwise offers a free online conversion program  (for RTF, MS Word, Plain Text, Rocket eBook, or HTML files).   The PROS include the price – it is the lowest dedicated eReading device on the market; the touchscreen, and the ability to highlight and take notes.    The CONS is the grayscale LCD touchscreen.   I found, when I used the device, that in brightly lit areas, it was hard to read.   It has a bulky design and will accept only one format like the eink devices unless you know how to circumvent the DRM.    However, for the price, it is the best eBook reader on the market today.

Conclusion

What device you should buy depends on what is most important to you. If price is the most important feature to you, get the eBookwise.   It does the same thing as all of the other devices in this post, just a little less stylishly and with a little less clarity in the screen.   If having an integrated light with your eink device is important, you need to get the Sony PRS700 which runs $399.   While the Sony PRS505 is $100 less, the stylish booklight that serves the same function as the integrated front light on the PRS700 costs $69.99 so for a $30 price difference, you might as well get the one with the light built in.   If ease of use is the most important, then you want to get the Kindle at $349.00.   The ability to email yourself content is one of the favorite features of SB Sarah and the one touch buy can’t be beat by any device (even the multi function devices) on the market.   I don’t recommend the Iliad because the price, $699.00,   doesn’t make sense as a dedicated ebook reader.  

I don’t recommend buying the Sony PRS505, BeBook, Cybook at $299.99 subject to my note to MAC users.   I think that one is better off upgrading to the Kindle for $50.00 for the cellular connectivity which is currently free or all the way up to the PRS700 with its integrated frontlight, touchscreen, and notetaking abilities.   

Ending Note for Mac users:

One reader emailed me and requested some input for MAC users.   There is no dedicated desktop reading software that works with the MAC that also matches a format viewed by a dedicated ereading device.   There are a couple ways to get around this.

Kindle

The easiest way to avoid the desktop software problem is eliminate it altogether.   The Kindle books can only be read on a Kindle device and no other device (not even a computer).   Therefore, you can buy Kindle books via Safari (the web browswer) or you can buy via the Kindle.   You can send a number of different file formats to your Kindle via email.   The Kindle is not platform dependent.

Mobipocket + SD Card

The second easiest way to avoid the desktop software program is to buy Mobipocket files.   You can then put your Mobipocket files on an SD Card and pop the card into the ebook reading device.   To that end, MAC users may want to consider purchasing a BeBook, Cybook, or Iliad.   

Sony + Parallels

If you want to get the Sony PRS700, you must also purchase Parallels.   Parallels is a program that allows you to run Windows software on your Macintosh.   You must first install Adobe Digital Editions using Parallels and then Authorize it with your Adobe ID.   Attach you Sony Reading device to the computer and it should ask if you want to Authorize your Sony Reading device.    You then switch over to your regular MAC Operating System and install and authorize Adobe Digital Editions.   Any secure Adobe files you have purchased and downloaded should be viewable on your Sony Reader.   You can simply drag those eBook files to your Sony Reader which appears as a mass storage device (like a USB drive).

Dear Author

Four Reasons Why Ebooks Are My Preferred Reading Format

I mentioned recently how much I would love for publishers to move to e-arcs as it would be so much cheaper, allow for more copies to be distributed, and create a smaller ecological footprint. Another reviewer asked me the appeal of ebooks as she wasn’t quite there yet.

I think that becoming e- acclimated takes time and an open mind. If you aren’t prepared to allow yourself to take a chance with e-reading, I think that you’ll not ever like it. And I think that each reader has to be ready for the e-reading experience because it isn’t just for technogeeks like myself.

Each person’s entry into the e-market will be different. There will be some readers who will never go, tied too strongly to the paper and glue. Other readers will make the transition gradually due to various reasons, but I’ve seen, time and again, that those who do make the transition using a decent e-reading device often become e-vangelists.

Readers who read on the desktops/laptops alone will never be ebook aficionados. The constant flicker of a monitor screen tires ones’ eyes and it might seem to much like work with so many of us tied to our computers during the work day. Only those readers who can go untethered from the laptop/desktop will truly feel the joy of the ereading experience.

So what are those joys? I’ve talked about them before, but they bear repeating.

Convenience.

Possibly the number one reason that I love ebooks is the convenience of them. I think that is partly why the Kindle has been a success. It provides instantaneous access to your library and to a bookstore, no matter where you are located (provided you are within the coverage area). With an eBook reader and a digitized library, you are never more than a few clicks away from any book you care to read. Recently I went on a Susan Mallery glom. This was made possible by the fact that nearly every single title book by Susan Mallery is in eform from either Pocket (The Marcelli sisters) or Harlequin (Buchanan Brothers and the Bakery sisters).

I finished Irresistible last weekend sometime in the later evening hours and was able to hop online and download the other two Buchanan Brothers books. And later in the week, when I had gorged on nearly everything that Harlequin had to offer I moved onto the Pocket ebooks. I don’t know that would have been possible in a bookstore. First, it’s questionable whether the bookstore would have had the entire backlist available. The Marcelli sisters books were first released in 2003. Second, the bookstores weren’t open when I purchased the books either because it was late at night or early in the morning. Third, I was able to buy them without leaving my house, changing my clothes, or spending gas. A trip to the bookstore would have cost me at least a book.

Cost.

Which leads me to another reason I like ebooks. The price of ebooks, while higher than I like, are almost always discounted. Generally speaking, I don’t pay more than 75% off the cover price of an ebook (unless I am buying straight from an epublisher like Samhain or Loose ID). I know that for some readers this actually seems like a detraction because ebooks, overall, may cost more money given the lack of resale. However, two things come into play for me here. First, I only have the Half Price Bookstore to send my books to. I think that they give me 25 cents to a dollar for each book, depending on the format. My ebook discount makes up for that. Second, I tend to keep my books. I am always afraid that I might want to re-read them.

The non returnability of ebooks is frustrating for books that I am not happy with and I don’t like that there is no secondary market from which I can purchase. Lowering ebook prices could go along way in changing reading/buying habits. I noted, though, in more than one article about the Kindle that the $9.99 price point for hardcovers was a big plus.

Integrated Lighting Source.

A third reason I really love ebooks is the nighttime reading environment. Probably 75% of the reading I do is in bed. With a job, my family, and other obligations, I rarely have time to sit down during the day time hours to read. The lack of an integrated backlight is what prevents me from wholeheartedly embracing e ink technology. Booklights are just as intrusive, in my opinon, as a lamp. A backlit device such as the iPhone or eBookwise will not disturb your partner and it makes the eBook reading device available to you in all lighting situations such as subway tunnels, planes, and cars (or at the movie theatre as your daughter watches Happy Feet for the 5th time).

I asked Ned what he liked best about e-reading and he said that it was the convenience but also the nighttime reading environment. He falls asleep reading and his e-reading device goes to sleep with him after a period of inactivity.

Reducing Clutter.

The fourth reason I love ebooks is the declutterization (is that a word?) of my home. I’ve got hundreds of paperbacks vying for storage. I have books under my bed, in the basement, on a wall to wall bookshelf in a guest room. There was a time that it seemed like we couldn’t turn around without stumbling over a pile of books. With ebooks, I’ve managed to take a bit of control over the disarray and reinstitute some order.

There are more reasons that I love ebooks but these are four good ones. At some point, one of these will drive a commenter here to ebook reading and she may never go back to paper. What are some of the reasons that you like ebooks and what are some of things that hold you back?