This Week in Mobile Tech Manor #66: e-Book Readers Are Coming

Friday is here, time to take a step back from the hurried happenings in Mobile Tech Manor and look back at the week. Some gear went back where it came from and other gear arrived for play evaluation. I experimented with alternative e-book readers to get a feel for what I like best before all the “real” readers hit early next year. Step into the Manor and let’s shoot the breeze.

On the way out

I sent out (or am sending back today) a couple of gadgets that I’ve had fun working with. The Lenovo ThinkPad T400s played a useful role for me and the multitouch screen was a lot of fun. The T400s proved something to me that I’ve long believed, that using a multitouch screen on a standard laptop is uncomfortable and doesn’t provide much benefit.

Reaching to touch the screen on a laptop is unnatural. While Windows 7 has nice touch features incorporated into the OS, and I really like them, I didn’t like using them on a standard notebook. This is strictly a personal opinion, and as I often say mobile devices are intensely personal. I’m sure that many will find touch on a laptop to be a wonderful tool; I’m just not in that group.

I do find that Windows 7’s multitouch features are outstanding on a convertible notebook, but only when the notebook is in slate mode. It is so natural to work with touch on a slate, and I recommend that everyone try it out if possible. I can’t state strongly enough how much sense it makes to simply tap on the screen with the fingertip to make something happen.

I was sorry to see the ThinkPad go, as I found it to be a great laptop. That ThinkPad keyboard coupled with the large screen was a great way to work. It was very thin and light, which was icing on the cake.

Today the Motorola (s mot) Droid goes back to Verizon, and I will definitely miss it. It’s not without its quirks, but it’s a good smartphone with a lot going for it. It will be even better when Verizon (s vz) gets that odd time-stamp bug squashed so the auto-focus camera works as advertised.

While using the Droid I found myself depending quite heavily on Google Maps Navigation, it became my primary navigation tool. The ability to have the satellite view overlaid on the map was a powerful aid to turn-by-turn navigation. I was able to see major highway exchanges and overpasses before getting to that point in the route, and that was helpful. I can’t wait for Android 2.0 to get rolled out on other phones so this navigation is more widely available.

The giant arrives

The good folks at Acer were kind enough to let me take a look at the Aspire 8940G, and it arrived just a few days ago. The notebook is simply massive, with the 18.4-inch widescreen calling for a wide body. That big screen is simply gorgeous, bright and vivid as on any notebook.

I’ve made it clear in past columns how important keyboards are to my work, and the Acer keyboard is very good. Typing on the keyboard is comfortable and it is possible to type very fast. It’s also nice that the keyboard has the 10-key pad, something I didn’t realize I missed until I had one at my disposal again.

I will be continuing my evaluation of the 8940G and sharing that experience. My arms will get a good workout, if I carry it around much.

Getting ready for the onslaught of e-book readers

Whether you like dedicated e-book readers or not, a lot of them are about to hit the market. We’ve got the Kindle and multiple Sony Readers now, and by early next year we’ll have quite a few other readers on the market. These will have different size screens, so everyone should be able to find the right size for their needs.

I’m not a big fan of e-Ink screens, I have the original Kindle but I rarely use it. I don’t like the grayness of the page background, and the slow, flickering page turns detract from the joy of reading books. I find standard LCD screens give me a more pleasurable reading experience, as I can control the brightness, color of the page background and the font. I do a lot of reading in low lighting conditions, and LCDs do a better job.

I have been using different gadgets around the Manor for reading e-books, the primary difference being screen size. I wanted to get a feel for what size device yields the best reading experience for my tastes. I have used a couple of phones with their small screens: the Droid and the iPhone 3G. I used eReader Pro on both phones and found both of them to work as expected. I preferred the iPhone with eReader, mainly because the Android version on the Droid doesn’t display pages with full justification. I found uneven lines to be a bit distracting on the Droid.

I also tried reading with several UMPCs, and even a larger Tablet PC. The Viliv S5 was a good reader due to the 5-inch screen, and it was small and light enough to be comfortable to hold for extended periods. I tried two 7-inch devices, the Viliv X70 and the S7. These two UMPCs are the same size, although one has a keyboard and the other none. The 7-inch screen was just about the perfect size to duplicate the reading experience I would get from a paperback book.

I was a bit surprised to find that overall, I preferred the S7 over the X70. The X70 is a pure slate device, so I thought it would be more comfortable to hold for longer periods. What I found was that the S7 in slate mode, even though it is a full convertible UMPC, was more comfortable to hold. The plastic case of the S7 was lighter than that of the X70, and the edges smoother on the S7. The S7 became my favorite device to serve as an e-book reader.

I also tried the ThinkPad x200 Tablet PC in slate mode, and while the 12-inch screen approximated the page size of a hardcover book, I found it too heavy to use for long sessions. I did like the big screen and the touch controls, but not for those long reading periods.

e-Books of the week

One of the brightest moments for voracious readers is discovering a new author whose novels turn out to be a joy. I had one of those moments this week as I discovered a couple of novels by John Philpin. The Murder Channel and Dreams in the Key of Blue were mystery stories I really liked. They feature forensic psychologist Lucas Frank, a sharp guy who unsuccessfully retired from the Boston legal scene but keeps getting dragged back in. Both books were exciting and well told by Philpin, and I’m looking forward to picking up his other work.


That’s the week as it went down at Mobile Tech Manor. It was a fast moving week, and I hope you enjoyed sharing it with me. Until next week, take care.