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Old 02-13-2010, 03:22 PM   #1
jswinden
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Netbook Tablet as a Viable eBook Reader Option

NETBOOK TABLET AS A VIABLE EBOOK READER OPTION

I have tried several dedicated eBook readers over the past couple of years, including the Kindle 2, Sony PRS-505, PRS-300, PRS-600, and PRS-900. Each has its pros and cons.

DEDICATED EBOOK READER OVERVIEWS

The kindle 2 has a nice e-Ink screen, but the hardware is cheap plastic and the hardware interface is terrible. Unfortunately, the two formats used for eBooks are both proprietary.

Of the Sonys, the best was the PRS-505 (wished I had kept it) and the PRS-300 (which I still own). Both have great screens and they are built solid. But the Reader Library software that runs on your computer is terrible. Thankfully Sony dropped their terrible proprietary format in favor of ePub.

The other two Sonys, the PRS-600 and PRS-900 have screens that are difficult to read unless you get the lighting really bright and from the correct position. They both have a great interface and are solidly built, but those screens are just too problematic, though usable.

MY EBOOK ROOTS

I've actually been reading eBooks for over a decade on various PDAs. Some people hate the idea of a backlit screen, but I'm used to it and quite comfortable with it. My latest PDA is the iPod touch 2G. The screen is a bit small for my taste, but it gets the job done as far as reading text based eBooks. However, the screen is way too small for reading large format PDFs or eBooks with pictures.

I've also tried reading eBooks and PDFs on notebook and netbook PCs. Although these platforms are very versatile, it is too cumbersome to hold even a small, clamshell design netbook in a comfortable position for reading--at least for reading hours on end.

WHAT ABOUT THE NEW IPAD

When the iPad was introduced I briefly considered that it might make a good eBook reading platform. But then logic and history took over and I ruled it out because Apple has an iBad habit of telling you what you can and cannot install on iPods and iPhones, and after all the iPad is basically a large iPod touch. Another limiting factor for the iPad is that, like its little brothers, it does not run a full operating system.

DECIDING WHAT WORKED BEST FOR ME

Let us pause here and look at the limitations of the dedicated eBook readers, the iPad, and small Internet tablets like the Archos 5.
  • No real operating system, so very limited functionality.
  • Devices use closed systems that require hacking to modify.
  • No multitasking or very limited multitasking.
  • Limited or no ability to install applications.
  • Limited or no ability to install and/or use hardware add-ons.
  • Limited ability to interface with computers and printers.
  • Limited or no ability to connect to the Internet (except for the iPad).
  • Extremely poor support for reading PDFs, especially large format PDFs.
  • Fair to okay support for eBook formats, but a limited number of formats.
  • Little or no support for multimedia.
  • Little or no color in display (except for the iPad).
  • No real keyboard for entering text.

Now we can compare how a computer running Windows addresses these limitations.
  • A true operating system with nearly unlimited functionality.
  • No hacking required as the system and device are opened.
  • Multitasking!
  • Can install any compatible applications.
  • Can modify and add on hardware and peripherals.
  • Can connect with other computers, networks, external devices, etc.
  • Full unimpeded access to the Internet.
  • Can read PDFs as they were intended to be read.
  • Can install readers for any eBook format.
  • Full unimpeded support for multimedia.
  • Color display with at least 24-bit support.
  • A real PC keyboard.

MAKING THE DECISION

When I did my comparisons, the PC won hands down. But there were caveats.
  • PCs, even netbooks, are heavy and power hungry.
  • Clamshell notebooks and netbooks are not ergonomic for reading eBooks.
  • Tablet PCs are typically very expensive.

THE SOLUTION WAS THE INTRODUCTION OF AFFORDABLE TABLET NETBOOKS

The solution that worked for me was the introduction of affordable tablet style netbooks with touch screen technology. A few have already made it to the market. Currently they are a bit pricey, but as more models reach the market the competition should not only lower the prices but increase their usability by providing more horsepower with longer battery time.

ASUS T91MT TABLET NETBOOK

After doing some Googling and research I found the Asus T91MT, a 2.1 lb netbook with a 8.9 inch display. But instead of the typical clamshell design, Asus made the LCD screen capable of being rotated and folded back onto the keyboard to form a tablet netbook. (See photos below.) They added a resistive touch screen that is very responsive to fingers or a stylus. The result is a device that makes a really great eBook reader and has full computer functionality. I'm not suggesting you buy this model, but I am suggesting that you buy into the form factor--a netbook tablet running Windows (or any appropriate OS for which eBook reading software is readily available).

I spent a little less than $500 for my Asus T91MT--about the price of the lowest end iPad.

As stated I bought the T91MT and then set out to turn it into my ultimate eBook reader.

STEP 1: The first thing I did was to increase the RAM to 2GB, the maximum allowed on this model. This was the only additional cost, and it was about $40.

STEP 2: I uninstalled a lot of the OEM software that I would never use but that runs in the background or starts up automatically when the computer is turned on. All PCs come with this extra baggage and it does little more than slow down the system.

STEP 3: I ran MSCONFIG and turned off any unnecessary services which only serve to slow down the system. I also unchecked several startup items that don't need to automatically start every time you turn on the computer. You can uncheck anything from Adobe or Apple. Anything else you can Google to see if it is needed or if it can safely be unchecked. You will be amazed at how much this will speed up a marginal system like a netbook.

STEP 4: I installed all the eBook related software. You be the judge here as everyone has their own preferences. But here are my preferences.

MobiPocket Reader. FREE. This is my favorite. It is highly customizable and works well with .mobi and other formats.

FBReader. FREE. This is one of the best ePub readers for the PC.

Kindle for PC. FREE. Not very customizable, but you can download and read Kindle eBooks.

eReader. FREE. This was originally written for Palm PDAs many years ago. The reader is pretty good on the PC and allows you to read .pdb and .prc eBooks. It is the program on which the Barnes and Noble Desktop eReader was based, but it is better than its successor both in functionality and in the interface.

Adobe Acrobat Reader. FREE. Highly recommend for PDFs. A bit bloated, but still a great PDF viewer. Far superior to Foxit Reader when rendering in portrait view, and about the same as Foxit when rendering in landscape view.

Foxit Reader. FREE. An alternative for PDFs. Though certainly less bloated than Adobe Acrobat Reader, it cannot compare with Acrobat's portrait view rendering. However, landscape view rendering is on par with Acrobat.

Calibre. FREE. The reader is not very good, and you probably won't need the sync function since you are using your PC for a reader. However, this is must have software for converting non-DRMed eBooks to other formats. It is also good for changing metadata and improving the formats on non-DRMed eBooks.

Sony Reader Library. FREE. This is terrible software, but you might need it if you have a Sony Reader. Otherwise I do not recommend it.

Barnes and Noble Desktop eReader. FREE. This is nearly as bad as the Sony Reader Library. I do not recommend it.

Stanza. FREE. This is the worst of the readers. It requires the Java Runtime Environment, which slows down a netbook to a crawl. The interface is elementary and not conducive to tablet mode. And rather than using pages it scrolls through a section like an HTML page in a browser. I do not recommend it.

I also highly recommend a good office suite such as Microsoft Office 2007 or Open Office. Your netbook probably comes with an office suite installed, at least a trial version. If not and you don't want to purchase MS Office 2007, you can always download the free readers.

PHOTOS OF MY ASUS T91MT TABLET NETBOOK AS AN EBOOK READER

The following photos show my ASUS T91MT along with a Sony PRS-300 for comparison. I'm running MobiPocket Reader in The photos.

NOTE: These photos really do not do justice to the Asus or sony screens. Both screens are much better looking in real life.
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Last edited by jswinden; 02-21-2010 at 03:58 PM.
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Old 02-13-2010, 04:08 PM   #2
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I'm so glad you posted this! I was looking at the Lenovo S10-3t netbook tablet which comes with Windows 7 starter and does not include a stylus, I guess because it's a capacitive touch screen. I prefer a resistive screen with a traditional stylus. This is quite a find.

Here's an online review for those interested:


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Old 02-13-2010, 05:21 PM   #3
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You put a lot of time and thought into this review, its evident.

Nicely done.
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Old 02-13-2010, 08:57 PM   #4
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B&N eReader and eReader are essentially the same software. It's interesting that you rated them so differently. Also, I'd suggest giving Alreader2 a try - it's even more customizable than FBreader, but it lacks the semi-decent library menu of FBreader.

edit: Anyone thinking about picking one up right now may want to consider buying from TigerDirect. With Bing Cashback the total comes to about $416 (go to bing.com, search netbook, click the tigerdirect bing cashback link at the top of the page, follow the directions). It's essentially a Microsoft paid rebate that only involves signing in to your window live id, searching on bing and then waiting sixty days (no paperwork, etc).

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Old 02-13-2010, 11:53 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Houndx View Post
B&N eReader and eReader are essentially the same software. It's interesting that you rated them so differently.
Actually, the interfaces are quite different even if the functionality is similar.
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Old 02-14-2010, 09:35 AM   #6
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I tried them both out again last night and I see that since B&N's epub update they've changed a number of things and removed several features - including tap to page turn. I understand the difference in the rating now.

I'd suggest keeping a backup copy of and the eReader installer. Up until the B&N epub update, these were essentially identical programs. If they get around to updating the eReader software....

I'd consider using the eReader software more but it and the updated B&N version suffer from the same problem. They have to paginate the book every time you open the book, twice since there isn't an option to start full screen. IIRC Stanza suffered from this problem as well the last time I tried it.

I'm gonna have to give Mobipocket a whirl today. It's been awhile since I've had it installed and I don't recall what I thought about it.
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Old 02-14-2010, 09:49 AM   #7
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Excellent work Jack. I have been considering a tablet of some kind for a while now. I have been attempting to use my 900 for some things as I us a large amount of PDF based book for the planes that I work on, the 900 is a great quick reference, but something like this would be better. good idea

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Old 02-14-2010, 10:38 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Houndx View Post
I tried them both out again last night and I see that since B&N's epub update they've changed a number of things and removed several features - including tap to page turn. I understand the difference in the rating now.

I'd suggest keeping a backup copy of and the eReader installer. Up until the B&N epub update, these were essentially identical programs. If they get around to updating the eReader software....

I'd consider using the eReader software more but it and the updated B&N version suffer from the same problem. They have to paginate the book every time you open the book, twice since there isn't an option to start full screen. IIRC Stanza suffered from this problem as well the last time I tried it.

I'm gonna have to give Mobipocket a whirl today. It's been awhile since I've had it installed and I don't recall what I thought about it.
I noticed last night that eReader seems to run more quickly and loads eBooks faster while B&N does take a long time to paginate a book. I realize they both go back to PDA roots when PDAs ran very slowly and had almost no memory, but both products should be better written for a PC! I'm going to try out Alreader2 today.

[EDIT] After checking out the Alreader website I decide against downloading it. I could find no screenshots of it running on a PC, nor does it seem to support ePub. It looks like it is written more for PDAs and smartphones. [/EDIT]

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Old 02-14-2010, 01:26 PM   #9
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Here are two actual screenshots of the same page of a book as viewed in eReader and in B&N Reader. I probably should have set them both to the same font and background, but nevertheless you can see how the interface is different.

For my tastes, the eReader interface is much more intuitive and easier to use, and it takes up more of the screen in Fullscreen mode than does the B&N Reader. It also seems a bit faster than the B&N Reader.

However, eReader only displays .pdb and .prc eBook formats while the B&N Reader displays .pdb and .prc and ePub formats. I would definately choose FBReader over the B&N Reader for ePub though.

Note: The screenshots are rendered poorly by the forum software. In reality they are both clear and crisp with the text. The screen resolution on the Asus T91MT is 1024 x 600.

[EDIT]
I found this section in the Barnes & Noble Desktop eReader User Guide:

RETIRED FEATURES

As part of 2.0, we retired some features. These may resurface in the future or we may have new features – stay tuned!

  • Bookshelves
  • Hot Keys
  • Two Page Reader View
  • Menus in Other Languages
  • Non-Contextual Notes
  • Auto-Scroll
  • Creating and Sharing Themes
  • RSVP Speed Reading
  • Customized Background Reading Textures
  • Exporting Annotations
Someone needs to tell B&N that you don't DOWNGRADE software! Either B&N is very stupid, are they don't want people to substitute the PC software for a Nook. Hopefully the Nook has many more features than this software!
[/EDIT]
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Old 02-14-2010, 01:51 PM   #10
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I'd suggest keeping a backup copy of and the eReader installer. Up until the B&N epub update, these were essentially identical programs. If they get around to updating the eReader software....
I'm actually surprised that eReader software is still available. I suspect at some point B&N will simply stop offering it for download.
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Old 02-14-2010, 01:52 PM   #11
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My confusion on the subject came from having used both about a month back before epub support was added to the B&N version. Up until then the only difference between the two versions was the store they supported.

For Alreader, the files you are going to want are this one then the English hyphenation file out of this one. You'll need to change the hyphenation under preferences->screen and I'd suggest going to preferences->taps and selecting tap to enable single tap navigation.

edit: You'll also need to convert to a format it supports, FB2 is the best.

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Old 02-14-2010, 06:39 PM   #12
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Very thoughtful. I agree in principle, but I'm holding out for one where you can detach the keyboard entirely. Something like a large Archos, with a USB HID port for a portable keyboard. I'd even accept WinCE, Maemo or Android as the operating system, rather than Windows proper. Some parts-bin engineer in Taiwan, Korea or China should be coming up with one any day.

I had hopes for the iPad, which seems to have a form-factor like this, but it seems aPple is being aNal, and won't allow a simple USB connection. It has to control the USB ... sPecial. gOd forbid you should attach a non-camera SD card. (gAsp!)

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Old 02-15-2010, 08:46 AM   #13
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Thank you for the review. I am in the exact same boat as you. I need a tablet with a full OS. I also looked at the ASUS and seriously considered it. I think I am going to hold out a bit longer and see what Win7 tablets are introduced in the next couple of months. It is a very exciting time for people who have been looking for a netbook in a tablet form factor!
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Old 02-15-2010, 09:58 AM   #14
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In fact, the ASUS T91MT specs are just exactly what I have been looking for, I just want it with no keyboard and with the screen mounted where the keyboard was. Overall specs on this device are great, it even has 2 SDHC card slots!
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:28 AM   #15
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haali reader

I would also add a Haali reader (win version) to the list.

It supports lots of types of files (pdb, txt..) it is very fast, through regedit you can setup the default directory for ebook files.

I also use a hot keyboard utility to remap keys (I set majority of keys on keyboard for next page, so I can use left/right hand for turning pages without need to check the right key)

Sorry for my bad english.
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