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Old 04-23-2010, 01:38 AM   #1
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Question Do you know what you REALLY need in an e-reader?

Hi all,


How did you decide what your priorities were? And, if you did buy a reader, did the experience then match with your expectations? Are you blissfully happy together, or are you already just a tad ‘over it’ and now scanning the field for more glamorous candidates?


Over the last few months I’ve been taking an active interest in e-reading devices. Over that time my ideas of what an ‘ideal’ reader might look like has changed considerably. Partly this is because, on close inspection, many of my initial assumptions turned out to be wrong.

As usual, I started with a jumble of preconceived ideas about what I wanted, all mixed up with a bunch of impressions gained from reviews and advertising blurbs. But as I worked through the available options and tried to match them to my needs I discovered that not only were my ideal requirements much broader than I’d first thought, but the possible solutions were far wider and more flexible as well.


If you’re looking to choose a reader, then perhaps the following posts might help you work through some of the issues. With a bit of luck they’ll also include some opinions from others who - for perfectly good reasons - completely disagree with my take on it.


Here’s a few of my starting points.:


Size:

My guess was that I’d be looking for a device with approximately the same dimensions as a medium sized paperback book.

Weight:

Similarly, the weight of a light paperback seemed a reasonable target.

Look and Feel:

Something that was close to the familiar experience of reading a printed book seemed desirable (after all, I’ve been reading and collecting them for well over 50 years).

Price:

I assumed that I would set a fairly low cost ceiling for a book reader.



Below, I’ll list how all of the above assumptions changed.

Please excuse the length but, hey, you can read whole books can't you?

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Old 04-23-2010, 01:38 AM   #2
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SIZE:

When I looked more closely at the various different things that I currently used for reading, the variety was enormous. In the print field it ranged from a tiny pocket dictionary through to large coffee table style books, and newspapers that were bigger than all of them. (see pic below) My on-screen reading already went from a 2” phone screen through to a 24” iMac.

None of these are hard for me to read - not even the phone screen (the quality seems more Important than its size). One of the big surprises of the exercise was discovering how comfortable it was to real entire books on the little iTouch that I’d bought for music.

My range of daily reading covers anything from text messages on the phone through to novels, instructions manuals, news sites, on-line magazines, forums, email, sheet music, etc and there really didn’t seem to be any particular reason why I should need to read any of it on something that is the size of the common e-readers. In fact, there were many compelling reason not to use devices with 5” or 6” screens as they mostly tend to do a fairly poor job of displaying the more complex formatting found in many magazines and manuals - if they do it at all.

For instance, the Story and Kindle may have roughly the same external dimensions as some (unopened) paperbacks but their screen area is much smaller than the average paperback (half or less than the ones I compared it to) - and that’s just looking at a single page. A real book shows you two big pages at a time. This may or may not matter depending on what you're viewing.

RE-ASSESSED CONCLUSION:

For my needs there really isn’t any reason to assume that the size of a closed paperback novel is some sort of ideal or limiting size. In reality:

a) I’m comfortable with a far wider range of sizes, and
b) There isn’t a close correlation between e-reader screens and ‘real’ book sizes anyway.




WEIGHT:

This turned out to be even more unexpected than the size issue. My first guess was that anything much heavier than a regular paperback might soon feel uncomfortably bulky. However, after weighing a few of my books, I realised that wasn’t such a issue either. Plenty of my hard-backed books weigh as much as a small netbook, with some weighing several times as much (up to 11lbs or more).

I also looked at how I hold books when reading. Basically there were three variations:

1. Sitting at a desk or table, typically with the end of the spine resting on the table.
2. Sitting in an armchair with the book resting on my lap
3. Lying on the couch or in bed with the book leaning against a convenient leg (often my own ).

None of these required the sort of light weight that I might prefer if I was, for instance, standing up and reading for any length of time (which I don’t do).

CONCLUSION:

Anything up to 5lbs would be fine for my needs. In fact anything up to the weight of a cat, small dog or baby sits fine with me. In practice, I don’t find holding even the heavier printed books a problem when sitting at a desk or in an armchair. But, if I did feel like a change of position when reading electronically, any of the e-reading devices could be propped up and read ‘hands free’. I frequently read lying on the couch with the reading device leaning against my leg, only needing to use a hand at all when it’s time to click something to turn the page.
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Old 04-23-2010, 01:39 AM   #3
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LOOK AND FEEL:

On close inspection, the claim that the dedicated e-reader experience was “like reading a real book” as some advertising blurb likes to suggest, seemed pretty flimsy too.

Sure, it’s more like holding a book than, say, a chainsaw - but the comparison isn’t particularly close. Even if the weight happens to be similar to some lighter books, the ‘heft’ in the hand is quite different. As mentioned, the viewable area isn’t similar either. One’s either a fairly scrawny plastic device with a smallish grey-on-grey display area (or some kind of shiny computer gizmo with it’s own range of pros and cons), and the other is....well... a book, which looks and works differently. It’s probably better to treat them as different reading experiences with their own individual characteristics.

I also found that I hold paper books quite differently.

With a paper book you need to hold in a way that stops it from closing. You also need to vary your grip depending on whether you're reading the left or right pages, and how far through the book you are. Getting each page to lie flat enough also needs to be addressed, and in reality you're generally reading on a partly curved surface. I didn’t realise how many hidden book taming skills I’d acquired over the years until I suddenly didn’t need them to read! The e-readers on the other hand all have a somewhat different range of controls to operate. The positioning of the controls may or may not suit a particular buyer and can take a little time to get used to on some machines.


CONCLUSION:

For my money, and own usage needs, there’s no point in get hung up on whether it’s “book-like” or not. All that matters is that I can enjoy the content in comfort without the device itself intruding.


OTHER:

A few additional considerations did also crop up. Light conditions, battery life, and accessibility to material being three that were worth thinking about. In my case, the ability to read in full sun is not required because in our climate I’ll always sit indoors, or at least in the shade, to read.

Longer battery life is always handy but, again, not crucial for me as I never actually need to read for hours at a stretch unplugged. Setting up charging routines hasn’t been hard. In addition, all of my favourite reading spots are within easy cable length from a power point so I can charge and read/work if necessary.

Accessibility hasn’t been a big problem either as all the devices I’ve used have reasonable on board storage and most can use the home wifi to connect to the internet. Of course the software on many e-readers limits the formats you can read (and therefore who you can buy books from) but the computers can run any software I choose. This can be a huge bonus if you need to deal with any complex or unusual formats.


PRICE:

I must admit that my inner Scrooge certainly came to the fore when I was asked to shell out several hundred dollars for a modest little device that doesn’t even display colour, and that’s been marked up a good chunk for the local market. Grumble grumble... But once I started looking at tablet PCs I couldn’t see any logic for being a tight-arse about it. If the machine will do pretty much everything that a desktop PC does, then why not apply a similar budget? Sure, the screen is smaller, but it makes up for that with being portable and handy to use anywhere round the house. Even I draw the line at lying on the couch clutching a full sized desktop computer....


FINAL CONCLUSION:

Reading means much more than just paperback novels to me. It covers everything from text and email messages to online magazines, news, reference, sheet music, material with heavy graphic content, etc. Currently, the clear winner for me is a tablet PC such as the 12” HP TM2. But who says you can only have one device anyway?

But the real bottom line is that you can make all the priority lists you like, and still end up buying something because it just clicks for you and you fall in love with it for no particularly logical reason (Just like choosing a partner really...).

Right now, I’m so starry-eyed about my HP tablet that I haven’t even bothered with a pre-nup agreement....


How about you?

Last edited by ChrisC333; 04-23-2010 at 01:49 AM.
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Old 04-23-2010, 02:28 AM   #4
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I wanted a way to read Project Gutenberg in bed, and my netbook didn't do the job very well. So, I started researching ebook devices.

Due to my usual reading position, weight was something of an issue; I don't read coffee-table books in bed. Mostly, I wanted something that felt good in my hand, instead of reminding me it was there all the time by making me uncomfortable and/or having to prop it on something, such as the person on the other side of the bed, who tends to object to being used as a book stand. I wanted a screen size reasonably close to a mass-market paperback, my usual reading format (the eyes aren't what they used to be). I wanted very long battery life; I have enough stuff sitting around charging at any given moment. And, as an additional consideration, I wanted to buy a device from an established company.

After some research, it came down to the Sony PRS-505 or the Kindle 1 (later versions of either did not yet exist). I tried out a 505 at Border's, and I liked it very much. The screen was easily readable, it felt good in the hand, it was heavy enough to feel solid but not so heavy as to be annoying, and it just plain worked for me. It took some time to get my hands on a Kindle, but I eventually, of all things, ran into a fellow in a park reading one, and he let me try it out. Its initial "curb appeal" was terrible. It felt like a cheap plastic toy. Valuable real estate was wasted by a keyboard I would have little or no use for. But the real killer was the fact that in order to get my own files, or non-Amazon ebooks, onto the Kindle, I'd have to email them off somewhere and pay a fee to have them sent out wirelessly, whereas with the Sony Reader, I could just plug in a USB cable. Since my purpose was to carry a library of books I was planning to read or re-read (I have over 2000 on the 505 right now), instant gratification in buying best-sellers was no part of my needs. I should mention I dislike Sony intensely -- the rootkit thing -- but at least they can't reach into my ebook reader and take my books away, as Amazon can and has done.

So, a year+ later, how do I like it?

I love it. We're inseparable. It does exactly what I wanted, and does it better than I dreamed it could. I love being able to pull it out wherever I am and read whatever strikes my fancy at the moment in my 2000+ book library. I have everything in there from Plato and Cicero to recent SF (I do buy a few ebooks), so there's always something that fits my mood.

I recently outfitted it with an M-Edge leather cover, which makes it feel like a real book (yeah, I'm one of those people!) and a booklight (which, I should warn any interested buyers, is an excellent booklight but much bigger than it looks in the picture), and evicted my netbook from its neoprene sleeve (hey, it has a padded case, too, so it's not like it's homeless!) to protect the case that protects the Reader. Yes, a case for the case; hopefully the recursion will end there.

The PRS-505 isn't cheap, though the prices of used ones on eBay have dropped since the iPad came out. Adding a wall-wart charger, case, and light (all optional but very useful) will increase the total outlay even further. In my opinion, though, it has been totally worth it. I can't say it's the best reading device out there, but it has certainly met my needs and exceeded them.

Don't worry about the software that comes with whatever device you choose, unless you're buying DRM'd ebooks from that company's store (and why would you want to do that?). Just get Calibre, which will save your time, your sanity, and your library.
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Old 04-23-2010, 02:46 AM   #5
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Thanks for a great reply.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Worldwalker View Post
I wanted a way to read Project Gutenberg in bed, and my netbook didn't do the job very well. So, I started researching ebook devices.

Due to my usual reading position, weight was something of an issue; I don't read coffee-table books in bed. Mostly, I wanted something that felt good in my hand, instead of reminding me it was there all the time by making me uncomfortable and/or having to prop it on something, such as the person on the other side of the bed, who tends to object to being used as a book stand.
That makes three of you against one of me now. I was discussing this with a friend who said pretty much what you said about reading in bed. He reads lying on his side, so the whole size weight thing is an issue. I read on my back so I can pull my knees up and lean a tablet against my legs, or just lie a laptop on my stomach and angle the screen to suit. My wife who uses our iRiver Story also likes that size of reader for the same reasons you do.


Quote:
But the real killer was the fact that in order to get my own files, or non-Amazon ebooks, onto the Kindle, I'd have to email them off somewhere and pay a fee to have them sent out wirelessly, whereas with the Sony Reader, I could just plug in a USB cable.
That bugged me about the iTouch too. It can be a real fiddle to get a non app book onto it.

Quote:
So, a year+ later, how do I like it?

I love it. We're inseparable. It does exactly what I wanted, and does it better than I dreamed it could. I love being able to pull it out wherever I am and read whatever strikes my fancy at the moment in my 2000+ book library. I have everything in there from Plato and Cicero to recent SF (I do buy a few ebooks), so there's always something that fits my mood.
Good to hear.
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Old 04-23-2010, 03:31 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Worldwalker View Post
But the real killer was the fact that in order to get my own files, or non-Amazon ebooks, onto the Kindle, I'd have to email them off somewhere and pay a fee to have them sent out wirelessly, whereas with the Sony Reader, I could just plug in a USB cable.
I'm afraid there's a bit of misinfomation here. You can put books in Kindle in the same way than Sony, with an USB cable. In Sony you put them in ePub or LRF, in Kindle in Mobipocket, but you can obtain all of them through calibre, if they're DRM free. In other case, yes, with Sony you have more selection if you go to ePub.

For me, size is a big matter, because I carry it to everywhere, library view is important for choosing books and format is important too (I like Mobipocket format better than ePub). So, I've got a Gen3 and an Opus, and I like more the Opus because I feel it easier to use. But I only read novels in it, of course, I want nothing else (and nothing less).
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Old 04-23-2010, 03:33 AM   #7
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Apple is out of the question for me just because of their obsession with platform lock-in. I don't have an iPod, I don't have an iPhone, and I'm not going to buy anything starting with i- from them. With Apple, you have to struggle (and/or pay) to get it onto the device, and good luck using it on any other device, and it's not worth it unless you're in love with sleek white cases and minimalist design. I just bought $20 worth of ebooks over at Baen, and they're on my PRS-500 now, but if I want, I can read them on this PC, or on my netbook, or on whatever else I might have lying around that can read whatever file type I choose (if Baen doesn't offer it, Calibre can convert it). You just can't do that with an iFeminineHygieneProduct (seriously, worst name since the Wii).
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Old 04-23-2010, 03:37 AM   #8
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My son saw someone's Sony 505 and after talking to her and playing with it, he bought one for me.

I had no idea what was available (besides a Kindle), what different formats were, or anything to do with problems purchasing books. I learned everything from this forum and realized how lucky I was that the 505 fit my needs so well.

When I read, I want to focus on reading. With my laptop, I seem to always have 4 or 5 tabs open and going. I'm very distracted with the internet available. I even dropped internet on my phone, as I realized that I was staring at the phone more than anything else.

My 505 is perfect for what I use it for, focusing on the books I want to read in bed, on the couch, waiting in line or on the patio in the summer sun. It fits in my purse and goes everywhere with me.
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Old 04-23-2010, 03:39 AM   #9
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I'm afraid there's a bit of misinfomation here. You can put books in Kindle in the same way than Sony, with an USB cable. In Sony you put them in ePub or LRF, in Kindle in Mobipocket, but you can obtain all of them through calibre, if they're DRM free. In other case, yes, with Sony you have more selection if you go to ePub.
Ah. Back a year ago, when I was researching them, I was told that you had to load your books (even if it was your own stuff, like my calendar, book list, etc., that I carry around on my 505) via Amazon and whispernet. Not that it would have made a difference -- the hands-on experience was what killed the Kindle for me. All that space wasted for a keyboard and the edge that could have been screen! And it really felt chintzy, like it would break if I pressed a button too hard.

I might have made a different decision today, now that there are a lot more ebook readers on the market, but as it stands, I'm happy with the Sony. Not so happy with Sony itself, which seems to be trying to pretend that the 505 never existed, but Sony sucks anyway. They just happen to have made, in my humble opinion, the perfect ebook reader.
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Old 04-23-2010, 04:15 AM   #10
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My original motivation for going to an e-reader was a bit different. Living in France, I was looking for a way to get access to English language novels and other books, published in the US and UK without adding to my already overburdened bookshelves.

I didn't want a Kindle, or any reader with wireless capabilities as I hardly need motivation for impulse book purchases, and I figure the wireless connection is just another impediment to buying US books from overseas. So ultimately I went with a Sony PRS 600. Registered it with the Sony store in the US and so far have used gift cards to purchase books with no problem. But I've also been able to buy books from other vendors, most notably Kobo. Have yet to try the UK e-book stores but I suspect I will be able to purchase from them with little or no difficulty (or will set up my laptop with just ADE if necessary).

Actually one of the big spurs to finally buy the thing was discovering Calibre and playing with that for a couple weeks on my PC. Having the ability to download the newspapers I was reading online and take them with me on the Reader was a huge plus - and I figure the daily (or almost) hook up to the computer keeps the charge topped up.

I also got an M-Edge cover with the light. Initially thought I'd want the sort of cover that opens out like a regular book, but finally got the one where the cover folds up and over the top, making a little stand for the reader. When I thought about it, I've always had problems reading while eating, for example, and this cover made the most sense for me and the way I tend to read.

A long time ago I was a book buyer for a big university library in the US, so I'm still interested in the book publishing business. Despite all the fuss and feathers about this new agency pricing thing, I'm finding that the price of e-book versions is fluctuating all over the place. Stuck a bunch of titles that interested me on my wish list in the Sony store, and one day just browsing found that the price on a recently published book had fallen to $9.99 from nearly $15. Another title has recently gone "not available for purchase" though it's still listed as available over on Kobo. So in any event, the new pricing arrangements seem not to be the huge disaster many were anticipating. At least I'm managing to find plenty of stuff to read for reasonable prices (defined as something less than paperback prices).

So, net net, I'm really thrilled with my little purchase.
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Old 04-23-2010, 04:20 AM   #11
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Quote:
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My 505 is perfect for what I use it for, focusing on the books I want to read in bed, on the couch, waiting in line or on the patio in the summer sun. It fits in my purse and goes everywhere with me.
Some very good points there. From what I've read, and observed among friends, women are significant drivers of many genres in the book world. Indeed in the book reading market overall, women not only buy for themselves but are often the ones buying the presents for friends, kids etc. I've even read an article that stated that the target buyer in the e-reader market was imagined as a middle aged woman.

The idea there being that women tend to carry purses, handbags etc that that can cope with a paperback or a gadget of that sort of size. I guess that those men who don't carry bags, purses or the equivalent, might prefer something they can just slip easily in a pocket. As I don't wear jackets, nothing bigger than an iTouch seems to fit comfortably in my trouser pockets.

My wife (She of The Many Bags) has tried to coach me in the art of selecting and using some sort of masculine bag, but nothing ever sticks....
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Old 04-23-2010, 09:07 AM   #12
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My main want from an ebook reader was a more comfortable reading experience than I got from reading on a phone while still being portable, my 505 is small enough that I can take it anywhere I go if I am taking a jacket so I have ended up reading a lot more than I did in the past because I would almost never think of putting a paperback in my pocket.

The main reasons I first started reading on my phone were due to the amount of space all my books take up and I was also travelling with work quite a lot so it reduced my need to pack or buy multiple books when i went away.
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Old 04-23-2010, 09:31 AM   #13
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When I bought my Kindle 1 used last spring my deciding factors were:

1. Selection of books and better prices in the Kindle store vs. sony store (didn't know about other stores, nor really care).

2. Wireless shopping/book downloads.

I only looked at the Sony and Kindle--Nook wasn't around yet and I wasn't interested in a no-name brand with no e-book store attached as convenience was my top concern, and I didn't (and still don't) care much about DRM since I don't re-read novels.
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Old 04-23-2010, 10:04 AM   #14
Hamlet53
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisC333 View Post
SIZE:
For instance, the Story and Kindle may have roughly the same external dimensions as some (unopened) paperbacks but their screen area is much smaller than the average paperback (half or less than the ones I compared it to) - and that’s just looking at a single page. A real book shows you two big pages at a time. This may or may not matter depending on what you're viewing.
This seemed so off to me I had to check myself. My Sony 900 external dimensions (including cover) 8-1/4” x 4-3/4”. Available reading area on screen accounting for margins 6” x 3-1/2”.

Pulling a paperback book of similar size off my bookshelf: Footprint 7- 5/8” x 5-1/4”. Print area on page accounting for margins 6-1/2” x 4-1/2”.

The Sony has about the same 'printed' area as the paperback not about one half. Not even close to that reduction.

Anyway I don't think I will ever go back to p-books again for these reasons:

Size and weight of the e-reader. I can actually lie in bed and read with one hand, including page turns. Granted that this is due to the touch screen capability of the Sony 900 where I can turn a page by dragging my thumb across the screen.

I generally find that I am reading several books simultaneously; usually some technical book, a couple of fiction books, and a couple of none fiction books. When I want all are available on my reader with the spot I left off bookmarked for me.

As far as everything else, I wasn't looking for a device that would be for anything beyond a reader. I have a computer, cell phone, and digital camera for all other applications.

I do wish the pricing had been lower, but now I seldom buy an e-book. There is so much that I want to read that can be found for free [as an e-book] here and at other sites that I figure I have saved quite a bit versus having to buy the same p-books.
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Old 04-23-2010, 10:23 AM   #15
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At first I bought the Sony because it was the only one available retail. Then I later upgraded to the Kindle because I wanted Text to Speech and multi-lingual dictionary support and it was the only reader which had both of those features.

Somebody like my mother, she is not entirely convinced she needs/wants one, but I have offered her one of my extra ones and her main concerns are that she can put things on it by herself without my help and that she can carry around about 10 books at a time with her. And really, any device out there now will meet those needs She later thought about this some more and clarified that 10 books will be here MINIMUM and that in an special situation like if she was going to Florida for a month, she might want to carry around 'more like 12 or maybe 15' books...
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