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Summary:

Like a lot of web workers, I spend a fair amount of time traveling. I like to read books and catch up on the news while I’m away, so it seemed like a good idea to try reading electronically.

Like a lot of web workers, I spend a fair amount of time traveling. I like to read books and catch up on the news while I’m away, so it seemed like a good idea to try reading electronically — especially as this week is “Read an E-Book Week.”

Since I’ve already got a couple of laptops, an iPod touch, and an old Palm Treo 755p smartphone, I decided to try reading books using these first before spending money on yet another gadget.

  • The free eReader software for the Treo 755p seems to work fine, but for someone with middle-aged nearsightedness, the 755p’s screen is just too small.
  • On a laptop, the Adobe Digital Editions and Calibre programs are also good. Even with a big screen and an ergonomic setup, though, I’m not excited about reading on a computer. I stare at a computer screen all day as it is. I want to get out of an office environment after hours. I can’t see myself using a laptop in bed.
  • For the iPhone/iPod touch, the free Stanza software is very impressive. It displays well, has all the features one could want. But reading a novel on the iPod’s screeen won’t work very well, as I found that my battery started to go dead in about an hour.

So, I thought, maybe a dedicated e-book reader does make sense. I took a look at a few. The following observations are certainly not comprehensive. But they list a few of the reasons why I liked, and didn’t like, the ones I tried.

  • Barnes & Noble Nook. I spent about an hour at my local B&N store looking at the Nook. It has lots of nice features, but even with the latest firmware update, it’s very slow. I’m a pretty fast reader, so waiting a few seconds each time I want to turn a page would drive me crazy. It’s also heavy; not something that I could hold in one hand.
  • Sony Readers. After looking at the Nook, I went down the street to Borders and checked out the Sony Reader Touch Edition and the Sony Reader Pocket Edition. The Pocket is small and light, and lots of people enjoy it, but for us left-handers, it’s impossible to use with one hand, since the controls are laid out for righties. Surprisingly, the larger Touch has a more ambidextrous interface, but its touch screen is fuzzier, less bright, and prone to glare and fingerprints.
  • Amazon Kindle. Since the Kindle is sold only online, there’s no place to check one out before ordering. Darrell likes it, though, and I looked at one belonging to a friend. It’s not as heavy as the Nook, but like the Nook, it still feels too heavy for one-handed reading. It also uses a proprietary format for its books, which my local public library does not offer.
  • Bookeen Opus. My local Fry’s computer store was selling this lesser-known e-book reader on sale for $149, which was $60 to $100 or more cheaper than any of the other readers I looked at. (Unfortunately, that special price is no longer available.) The Opus is small, light, and has a simple interface. It doesn’t have wireless connectivity, it doesn’t play music, and it doesn’t have many of the bells and whistles that some of the other readers have. But as I said, I already have lots of other gadgets, so I don’t really need these features.

The Opus came closest to what I want, so I did decide to buy it. But the usefulness of the Opus — like that of all of its e-reader cousins — is totally hobbled by books that come with digital rights management. Illustrator Brad Colbow has  a great, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, observation on why DRM doesn’t work — just substitute e-books for audio books.

A lot of the tech bloggers, of course, are salivating about the upcoming Apple iPad. Darrell has some great observations on what will be needed to make it relevant for web workers. So far, I’m not seeing anything that makes me want to spend that kind of money. And there are several other e-readers arriving, too.

On the whole, I was disappointed by the whole e-reader experience. I can see how an e-reader would be useful if you mostly want to read free e-books, like the ones Celine suggests. But until the prices of the hardware come down, the technical issues are resolved, and the obnoxious DRM is dealt with, I’ll probably still read most of my books in print, obtained from the library or one of the independent bookstores.

Do you use an e-reader?

Cybook Opus image from Wikimedia Commons.

Related GigaOM pro content (sub req.): Irrational Exuberance Over E-Books?

  1. I have a Sony PRS-505 for about one year now. The only thing I regret is not buying it earlier. Like any new technology, you have to accept it’s not perfect, not full-featured, not cheap.

    As for the slowness problem while turning pages: When I’m reading the last line, I press the button. Train this until you get a new page displayed exactly when you finish reading. Works for me.

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  2. I’ve had a Kindle since Christmas, and I’m really very happy with it. If you have DRM-free e-books that you already own, it’s quite easy to load them onto it (though you may have to convert the file first). I disagree with you about it being too heavy for one-handed reading. Even with a case on it, I can read one-handed with little problem. It’s certainly no heavier than most books. I read for over a year on my iPhone using Stanza and was happy with that arrangement, but I was surprised at how much easier on the eyes the e-ink was.

    It does have its faults… it could really use folder management, and a way to search the table of contents, and I really wish you could sync personal files between the Kindle and Kindle on iPhone, but overall I’m happy with my decision.

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  3. Do you use an e-reader?

    No. I work with PC’s and communication devices a lot, but for reading I just love books.

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  4. I can’t see the fascination of reading a book on my computer for fun. I do this when I buy ebooks to help with my blogging, but when it comes to books that I read for enjoyment, I want to be able to feel the book and turn the pages.

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  5. I love the feel and even smell of books. The slowness you mention in “turning” a page is a huge hindrance, and I also like to flip back and forth to reference — that doesn’t seem user-friendly in an e-reader. Also, I’m concerned about glare and eye strain, especially since, like you, I’m in front of a computer all day anyway.

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    1. Charles Hamilton Tuesday, March 9, 2010

      The e-ink screens are pretty eye-friendly, if you don’t pick one with a touch screen. The touch screens seem to have less clarity and more glare. But flipping back and forth is not easy, at least on the readers I tried.

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    2. AS Charles mentioned e-ink is eye-friendly. I’m an Apple Geek and will buy an iPad but not to read on.

      The Kindle I can read all day on and forget it’s electronic. One day I caught myself motioning to flip the page.

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  7. Instead of buying a gadget, I downloaded the Kindle App for my Blackberry. I can buy the Kindle book on amazon and download it …i’ve really enjoyed it.

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  8. I love, love, love electronics EXCEPT for books. I like my books in print, mainly because I need to be able to easily read them and that I cannot do on any sort of electronic device. I love holding my books and owning my books and rereading my books over and over and over.

    So no electronic books for me.

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    1. I find it significantly easier to read on a kindle. I never lose my place, or have the book close on my hand when I’m changing position, and my bookmarks never fall out. I can take a library with me in ten ounces. Also, I can read my books over and over again, just like you. And unlike you, I can get any book I like in about a minute no matter where I am, and cheaper, too.

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