Blog Post

Why I'm Not Using an e-Book Reader

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 (s aapl), and an old Palm Treo 755p smartphone (s palm), 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 (s adbe) 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 (s sne). 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 (s amzn). 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 (s aapl). 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?

23 Responses to “Why I'm Not Using an e-Book Reader”

  1. BobSmith

    If 10 ounces is too heavy for you to hold in one hand, it’s time to do some weight training, as you are a pathetic weakling. Also, it’s less than most books weigh, so your comments on weight make make precious little sense. Typed, by the way, on a very slim and light kindle 2.

  2. I also have a Sony PRS-505 and have done for about 9 months and for me it’s brilliant. It doesn’t weigh that much and the battery life last a good few days on holidays (when I read constantly, and I’m a very fast reader), thanks to a mains adaptor I can charge it as I read. For normal usage (a book or 2 a day) my battery life is about a week and a half. The only grudge I have is with the Sony PC/Mac software – it’s dire! Thankfully Calibre works like a dream.

    As someone said below you can train yourself to press the next page button in advance so it changes the page as you get to the last word – I’ve been pretty successful at this.

    It is a shame to hear that the newer Sony readers don’t have controls for both right and left-handers – mine does and despite being right handed (though mostly ambidextrous to be fair) I tend to change pages with my left hand thanks to the second button set in the bottom left hand corner of the machine.

  3. Roland Dobbins

    I’ve read dozens of novels on my iPhone via th Kindle for iPhone app – something’s wrong with your iPhone, my battery life is great.

  4. “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.”

    Pragmatic Press, O’Reilly, Peachpit Press, they all offer DRM-free versions that work quite well and can be loaded on about all the readers you mentioned.

    I pre-ordered the new 37signals book REWORK, which came out yesterday. It’s been shipped, but still hasn’t arrived. Many of my friends have it, but they went out and purchased it at the store, or some had it downloaded as soon as it was available.

    I’m convinced that moving to an electronic reader is the way to go. Computer books are heavy, harder to hold than a reader, you can put multiple ones on a device, and they’re searchable.

    Like portable music players, in five to 10 years, we’ll look back and wonder how we ever lived without them.

  5. I never thought I’d enjoy an eReader but my infatuation with printed novels disappeared about 5 minutes after I got my Kindle 1. After all, for most novels – it is about the words, not the wrapping. Although it is true, flipping back and forth between pages (which I do a lot for non-fiction) is still easier with a printed book. I can’t speak for the other Kindles but I read mine one handed constantly – it’s small (fits in my purse), doesn’t weigh a thing and since the screen is not backlit like a PC, BlackBerry or Treo, etc. there is absolutely no eye strain. I can change the type size, turn the page using the left or right hand space bar (for lack of a better term) and it’s not slow at all, reading in bed is MUCH easier and I also read faster. And I simple freeware converter on my PC easily converts most other formats a .MOBI which is Kindle compatible. It won’t replace coffee table books, cookbooks or other graphically intense books but for most fiction/non-fiction reading it’s absolutely perfect. Now I trouble reading real books!

  6. I picked up a Kindle two weeks ago for a great deal. I love it.
    It’s nice to sit in a chair, put it against my leg and just have to click next.

    It’s as close to reading an actual book as you can get.

    Yesterday I wanted a copy of Tom Peter’s new book (which is huge) for $9.99 and 60 seconds later I had the book.

    I wanted to read Rework also released yesterday and for 9.99 I was able to get that instantly. No more weight or stuff around the house, read the books and that’s it. Rework was awesome.

    Everyone will have different opinions on an ebook reader. It’s really about deciding if you think you’ll use it and enjoy it. Many people want a book in their hands and that’s understandable. I just got fed up with more and more stuff around. Now I only have 1 “stuff”

    • Charles Hamilton

      I agree that being able to buy books immediately is a great feature. And the $9.99 price is nice too, although it will be interesting to see how that changes once the iPad arrives.

  7. 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.

    • BobSmith

      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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • Charles Hamilton

      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.

    • 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.