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, 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 hasĀ  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?

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