Tuesday, January 22, 2008

E-Readers, Part Deux

So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and get some kind of e-Reader before going on vacation. I started scoping them out, and wasn't particularly impressed.

The Kindle ($400) - holds 40 books, but only in Amazon's Kindle format unless you hack it. Connects to some internet but not in remote areas. Black-and-white monitor. 10 ounces. About 1-3 gigs of storage.

The Sony E-Reader ($300) - holds 160 books. Reads more formats. No wireless. Black-and-white monitor. 9 ounces. Can hold up to 10 gigs of storage with extra devices.

iLiad ($700) - from iRex Technologies. Don't know about books but reads tons of forms and has unlimited memory, so I'm assuming, a lot. Wireless WiFi active. Black-and-white monitor (more shades than other two). 13 ounces. 158 MB memory, but has USB port, so unlimited memory with flash cards.

So I got to thinking - why the hell am I shelling out hundreds of dollars for a machine that can do less than my iPod? And I mean much less. The iPod has an LCD computer screen with full color, 20 gigs of hard drive space, and can play movies. The technology exists to create an e-Reader that can hold most of the world's literature and have a color screen the size of any of their screens, so why the hell isn't anyone making one?

I decided instead to buy a refurbished Fujitsu Tablet PC, which cost me $160 (after shipping). And it's a freakin' computer. It has a full-color screen the size of of any of the e-Reader screens, it has 6 gigs of memory and a USB flash drive (which means it has unlimited memory, especially when you buy one of those 16 gig flash drives). It runs Windows 2000. It plays movies and reads every type of file that a book would be in. It connects to the internet and you can even remove the wireless card and replace it with a better one. I installed Microsoft Office and a video player so I could watch movies stored on my flash drive and do some writing. The only downside is its weight (2.5 pounds), but I think it was worth it to go on vacation with 1653 books. Most were downloaded public domain freebies from Google Books or current books I got through file sharing.

And in the end? ...Uh, I didn't use it. Well I did, to be honest, but to watch episodes of Family Guy I'd downloaded. Nothing against the machine, but I brought along a few real books, and my hand just went straight for them instead. If I'd been there longer and run out of things to read, it would have been a different story, and on the machine would have went.

Also, it's good for referencing things. The end result is that I'm happy with it even if I rarely used it for book files because just carrying a library around is cool, but I would never buy a standard official "e-Reader" - not until they start being honest and sell the ones they produce now for what they're worth, which I'd say, technology-wise, is under $40.


Lisa Cohen said...

The difference with the e-readers (at least the Kindle and the sony) is that they use the digital ink technology which is much easier on the eyes and more power friendly than a computer screen.

I do agree with you that the price point on an e-reader needs to come *waaaay* down before I would consider it.

Anonymous said...

My understanding was that ebook readers are so expensive because the eink technology is expensive. Some people just can't read from a standard computer screen for any length of time without straining their eyes, and they need eink technology so the reader looks almost exactly like a real page from a real book.

So if you're happy with a "ebook reader" that just uses a conventional screen, the whole ebook reader issue is moot. Why pay for a fancy new technology if you're not one of those people who doesn't like reading from a standard computer screen?

The Rejecter said...

I admit I don't know a lot about e-ink technology, but I spend most of my day in front of the computer screen (as do most people who would want an e-reader), so I don't think twice about eye strain.

Shray7 said...

Ahh. you downloaded Family Guy. Awesome, I'm not really sure what the difference with the e-readers is, but I"m sure someone will find out eventually :P

Do you want to help me buy a cup of coffee?
(seriously... i'm not kidding)

JamesHutchinson said...

The e-ink technology is the big selling point. I was stunned when I saw it, and I think once you do see it, the whole thing will click into place.

They still need to come down to about $99 tops before anyone will buy one though, and I think e-ink screens will make their way on to the back of mobile phones (or somewhere) before that happens, again rendering a standalone machine pointless.

Anonymous said...

I know I should try a reader before declaring that I could never prefer it to a book but, well, I just can't picture curling up on my couch with my cats, music, a little tea, and an e-book reader. Maybe if they could make it smell like a book and make it immune to bathtub water...

Anonymous said...

This prompts the question, might there be anyone out there working on a hack for the iPod that would allow one to use it as an e-reader?

That sounds to me like something worth pursuing.

Anonymous said...

Some information about electronic paper:

+It only requires power when it changes what it is displaying, no power is consumed while reading a page, so you get a long battery life.
+It doesn't need to be back lit so you can read from it inside, or take it outside on a sunny day.
+It was first invented in the 70's (so it's hardly new) but development for commercial applications didn't occur until the mid 90's.
+It has been used in at least one cell phone that I'm aware of -- the Motorola F3.

Anonymous said...

For me, it's the size that's the killer. I use my Palm PDA for reading ebooks, and the big advantage is that I can carry loads of books around in my pocket - literally. PDAs are a few inches high and wide, and a fraction of an inch thick, and weigh ounces.

The sacrifice, of course, is the "book experience", and a PDA doesn't replace real books. But as a supplement to them, I find it wonderful.

pax et bonum

D. Robert Pease said...

I do have eye-strain issues reading on a back-lit computer screen, so the e-ink concept is very appealing to me. I've not seen one yet but from what I'm reading it is very similar to a printed book. But as with everyone else, I just can't see spending the money yet.

Anonymous said...

Long live the paper document!

Anonymous said...

"This prompts the question, might there be anyone out there working on a hack for the iPod that would allow one to use it as an e-reader?

That sounds to me like something worth pursuing.

It's coming. Annoyed by the lack of a PDF reader on my iPod Touch, I wrote an OS X workflow to convert PDFs to sequential jpgs, one for each page, numbered in a way that the Touch understands. I've converted several Project Gutenberg books (not to mention several of my own, of course). The resolution of the screen is excellent, making the result extremely readable.

But what's really needed is a proper ebook reader for this device, and we can probably expect that soon. Just today, Apple has announced that they're seeing the iPod Touch as the next big mobile development platform, which means applications will soon be on the way. Watch this space.

K J Gillenwater said...

I don't have problems with dumping paper format for electronic. I read in bed. To hold a book open, especially a hard cover, for an hour or more can put a lot of strain on my arm/shoulder. And when the print is too close to the binding...oy! Frustration!

I would love to have the ease of reading off of a screen that looks like paper and ink...and with no need for a little bitty book light when the spouse is sleeping. And since I don't like having bookshelves of books catching dust, electronic files would be great!

For people 40 and under, e-books are the future. The problem is creating a truly well-designed e-book reader that is inexpensive. It has to compete with other electronic devices out there...like the iPod...in order for it to sell well.

I'm still waiting for that day.

Kimber Chin said...

I'm for multi-functional devices also. And considering how good handhelds are getting...

About eye strain, well, I spend my day reading on the computer. I think my eyeballs are evolving.

none said...

I'm sure the people who make ebook readers would love them to be the future. Then they could treat them like games consoles and force you to upgrade every so often, if you want to read ebooks in the "new" format. It must be so frustrating to them that when someone buys a book, that's it. No batteries, no upgrades, no replacement storage, nuffin.

Anonymous said...

Living in Argentina where English-language books are not so easy to find has truly convinced me of the need for an e-book reader of some sort. I've not thought about a refurbished tablet PC. That's not a bad idea.

The Rejecter said...

The tablet PC doesn't have an eInk screen, which is softer on the eyes, but it's far cheaper and does more. You gamble when you buy electronics on eBay - look carefully at the seller's rating and only buy if they've sold a lot of the same product to satisfied customers.

Unknown said...

I use my Palm for my ebooks, and I probably have 20 books on it, and it's quite nice, because I can just stick it in my purse and be off, and when I'm sitting at work or at an appointment, the book is right there, waiting. At home, it's nice because I can turn off all the lights and still read, without disturbing the hubby.

The font is adjustable, so I can make it bigger if my eyes are bothering me too, which is nice. And a low end palm is only about $100 (unless the price has changed recently.)

Preston said...

A big benefit of a e-ink device over your iPOD is the battery life. You can go for close to a month on one battery charge of an e-ink device.

That being said, I'd love to get my hands on a $160 tablet. Is there any chance you'd share the link to that seller?

Anonymous said...

I have a sony eReader and after working with PCs all day the e ink doesn't bother my eyes at all.

It's a great invention!

Plus the battery life is several weeks, so there's now worry about running out of power in the middle of a book, which you would have with the tablet you bought.

I agree the memory is a little pathetic, although there is room for flash cards.

Lost Writer in Western Colorado said...

Can I ask were you got a refurbished Fujitsu Tablet for $160 ?

Cole Reising said...

I just went through weeks of trying to learn this whole 'ebook' stuff so I could buy an 'official ereader'. IN the end I bought a PDA. Wish I'd thought or had someone point me in the direction you went, though I am very pleased with the pda. I wouldn't mind having a bigger screen. That having been said, I never find myself actually thinking while reading on it, "I wish it were bigger." I only think that when I'm comparing it to the Kindle or something.

I don't understand though this whole thing on the ereaders... no wonder ebooks are supposedly having a hard time 'taking off'. Anything in this day and age with that many restrictions is going to turn many people off. After looking into things I began asking over and over(on my blog and to anyone who will listen) why aren't they just making the silly PDA bigger and calling it an ereader? Obviously the technology is there... and I personally don't like being limited on things. I want to be able to make purchase where I want, from whom I want, in the type of reader format I want(or from that which is offered).

*sigh* I suppose now that I've shelled out the bucks... in the next month someone WILL come out with that device exactly. =)


Scott Marlowe said...

it has 6 gigs of memory and a USB flash drive (which means it has unlimited memory, especially when you buy one of those 16 gig flash drives). It runs Windows 2000.

Unlimited memory??? Running Windows 2000??? That's a bit of an oxymoron given that the 32 bit Windows OS can only address 4GB of memory, at most.

I kind of see all those e-book readers as a waste of money. I work with computers all day, every day. It's nice to have something (a regular ol' book) that doesn't need to be debugged or rebooted or crash. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I read old books ! more than new, so I'm asking if you can change the fonts and alter the background tone to simulate a faded or yellowing page.