Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kindle: The Update

So yesterday I made a fool of myself, but so did most of the other people in the room, so I feel justified.

I attended an AAR panel, similar to the one in November, except this one was from non-traditional publishers and other technology companies. Google Books was there (not all of it, just a guy), playwright company was there, some people in audio books, and a representative of for the Kindle devision of Amazon.

Now keep in mind that most people have not seen the Kindle. It's only available online, and Amazon doesn't have stores to host demos. I had not seen it, nor had most of the agents in the room, so of course we all swarmed this guy with questions about it as we made an all-out mob trying to get a chance to hold it in our hands while the cash bar was still open.

The big seller of eBooks (versus my cheaper tablet PC) is their eInk technology. It uses a different screen than an LCD screen. It has no back light and it's much easier on the eyes. I asked the Amazon representative if eInk could be ported to a normal computer, and he said it was hardware, not software - hence, the pricetag, because you need to buy the device (or another e-Reader like the Sony or the iLiad) to have the technology.

I was wrong about a few things. Technically, you do have unlimited storage, if you buy memory cards. He gave the example of a customer who'd already bought 500 books on his Kindle. He did not address customer concerns (like out-of-range wireless issues, or the cost of Kindle books, though I admit I think their prices are not outrageous compared to what they could be). Nonetheless, like any piece of technology, we wanted to hold it, play with it, see how it worked. Our collective inner-geek emerged.

Five minutes later, I calmed down and my opinion on the advise is only slightly raised. It's still too expensive and too reliant on wireless. No, it will not replace books (he didn't think that, either). Does the eInk technology have potential? Yes. Could I see myself buying one if the price were much lower and the technology a bit more advanced? Yes. But for that moment, I wanted one.

This is why I don't go to tech demos very often.

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.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Blog Powers Activate!

The blog is comment-enabled again, as I am back. Comments about my dad being part of a corrupt system will be deleted. Turns out he had to go; he has to have 50 hours of meeting credits a year because the government feels that doctors need continuing education about new treatments. He paid for everything but his own flight. Oh, and this dinner, but it wasn't very good.

Comments on the e-Book experience later.