Why you may want to consider an ebook reader this holiday season

Earlier this year, I bought an iPad which I thought would be the end all, be all as far as portable computing/reading was concerned. One device to rule them all and all that.

Well, I was wrong.

Yup. You read correctly, the iPad isn’t the only device you need….if you want to read books that is.

It first dawned on me during the summer time when I actually made time to do something I hadn’t done in a long time, read a book. I’ve always been more of a magazine reader – short, quick articles that I can skim quickly. Never been much of a curl up in front of the fire with a good book kind of person…mostly because the books I typically read are computer or photography related…not fiction.

So when I finally sat down to read a book on my iPad, the experience left me a little cold. Simply getting comfortable holding the iPad for a few hours was a chore. Not to mention the reflection issues as I was on my balcony for most of the novel. The iPad works great for short sessions but I found it very distracting to use to read a novel.

Around the same time, a number of friends were talking about buying one or the other (iPad or eReader). Mark even has a great post on why you should buy both (which I fully agree with).

Pretty happy with my birthday Kindle for reading books

For my 40th birthday this year, I bought myself an Amazon Kindle that helps me to slow down and simply enjoy reading again. Amazon had just come out with a new model that was smaller, cheaper and better looking. Not to mention the *cough* Amazon credits *cough* I had from the ads on this site.

My reasons for buying it were pretty simple actually:

  • Comfort: eReaders are much smaller than an iPad and are infinitely more comfortable to hold for hours on end. Sure you can put the iPad in a stand, but that doesn’t work so well on the couch or a chair on my balcony
  • You can use an eReader outside: shortly after getting my iPad, I was using it in my car, in a somewhat shady spot and it still got really warm and eventually displayed this message and then shut down:
    Don't use an iPad in direct sunlight
  • You can take it to the beach: I’d never take my iPad to the beach, but the Kindle is small enough to simply slip into a ziplock bag (grab one of those ‘gel & liquids’ bags from the airport on your way out of town which fit perfectly) and it’s waterproof for beach/poolside reading.
  • Cost: I chose the 3G model of the Kindle for the simple reason that for $50 more than the wifi only model, you get free, unlimited wireless data usage in over 100 countries. The wifi only Kindle is still a great deal at only $139 but a one time ‘extra’ charge of $50 means I can have basic internet access (via the crudly implemented Kindle browser (which is based on WebKit though).

As I mentioned, the Kindle has built in wireless internet…even Google Maps works!
Google Maps works surprisingly well on the Kindle

While it’s not going to replace a laptop or smartphone, it’s a nice backup for at least checking your email in a foreign land if you don’t want to bother with unlocking your phone, paying roaming charges, etc…especially if you really do want to stay offline while on vacation.


So far I’ve mentioned the Kindle….it’s not the only eReader out there though. There is also the Kobo and the Nook among lots of others. I’ve been playing with a review unit of Sony’s Touch eBook Reader, which is very similar to the Kindle.

One of the biggest things I like about the Sony model is the touch screen. It was very hard not to touch my Kindle’s screen after getting so used to the iPad. Sony’s device works really well for this since you can simply touch the screen to navigate to your books, change settings and of course, flip pages.

Here’s a few comparisons between the Sony and Amazon devices since I’ve actually used them:

I liked:

  • the fonts and layout of the Sony interface – very clean & modern compared to the Kindle
  • the battery life on the Kindle is up to a month with the 3G/wifi turned off – I’ve found this to be accurate, if not actually better than that – Sony states up to two weeks on the Touch Reader
  • the Sony comes with SD and MS slots to hold your music or books
  • the 3G data on the Kindle works great and is fast
  • both devices have beautiful, high contrast and easy to read displays – you can easily read for hours without eyestrain
  • both devices work great with music playback…don’t have definitive numbers on battery usage with playback but it’s good enough to not really care
  • both devices use standardized USB plugs for power/syncing
  • your ebooks on the Kindle (assuming they are purchased) are auto synced across their many apps for the iPad/iPhone/etc so your books and bookmarks are available anywhere

I didn’t like:

  • the Kindle’s interface and menus seem clunky and not as clean as Sony’s
  • Sony’s metal casing – the Kindle’s plastic case was nicer to hold onto
  • Sony’s page flip buttons – while the touch screen works as well, it’s not as good as the Kindle’s dual side buttons for flipping the page
  • the Kindle’s keyboard is goofy and awkward but since it’s not a touch interface, they had to do something I guess
  • both devices aren’t backlit so you’ll need a well lit room or a clipon light to use them in the dark. I opted to buy the Kindle Lighted Leather Cover

The Kindle can be used completely without a computer. When you order it, it’s already been setup at the factory with your account info so you can literally order books from Amazon and send them wirelessly to the Kindle while it’s en route to you.

The Sony Reader requires a computer to populate (it has no wifi or 3G networking) and also wanted me to install their proprietary software upon first connection to my computer.

For both devices, I opted to use Calibre, which is a free, open source tool for managing your ebooks. There are TONS of free books available digitally out there online (even public libraries loan them out now for compatible readers) in lots of different formats (ePub, Lit, RTF, TXT, PDF, etc.) and Calibre can convert most to something that will be compatible with your reader. Another bonus with Calibre was that I could sync the same library to both my Kindle and the Reader effortlessly.

So far for the past couple of months, I’ve really been enjoying having an ereader and it’s been coexisting perfectly fine with my iPad.

UPDATE: This post spawned an interview with CBC News Vancouver and a segment about eReaders:

11 Comments

  1. Which size of Sony Reader are you trying out? I can’t quite make up my mind about whether the pocket size is too small or not.

  2. Did I read this correct – you get 3G access for a one-time cost of $50? That alone might be enough for me to consider picking up a Kindle, especially considering how I want to get back into reading.

  3. Klim says:

    Got a kindle recently and can’t recommend it enough (even with it’s downsides). Love it!

  4. Tyler says:

    My mum recently got the Sony one. It’s neat how it works, though I dislike the flicker refresh it has when you turn pages. It’s a bit annoying, wonder if I could ever get used to it.

    I do like you can draw on it though hehe.

  5. Jon says:

    Two things have held me back from the e-reader thing (and I read a lot of books)
    1. The fact you can’t share books with friends.
    2. The Kindle has the best selection and the wireless 3G looks great, but doesn’t deal with the files that come from my public library.

    John, would you say a Kindle Calibre may be the holy grail?

  6. John says:

    Jon: I seem to recall Amazon was working on something to allow book sharing…don’t have any details though.

    While I think it will only get better, the ebook selection that I saw at VPL was pretty weak and certainly wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me…there are so many other ways/places to get ebook content (for free – even Amazon has tons of free books), I’d suggest just getting the device you like best and not worry about library support. Just like the misconception about iPods only working with purchased iTunes music (I hear this practically daily from the misinformed), you can put your own content on the Kindle and it doesn’t require you to purchase books from Amazon exclusively for it to be used.

    In my observation, the Kindle seems to be the dominant player with the best support and largest library – Calibre only makes it that much better with it’s multiple format support although the Kindle is also the only device I’ve seen that can be used 100% without ever connecting/syncing to a computer.

    I’ve also had a few friends have issues with their kindles (self inflicted damage most of the time) and Amazon replaced them for free – that’s pretty compelling to me.

  7. Jon says:

    Quick question for you….how much did the Kindle end up costing you to ship to Canada? I’m only worried about import fees and duty piling up past the quoted $22.68 on amazon.com!

    Thanks.

    jon.

    • John says:

      I don’t remember the specifics but there wasn’t any additional charges than what Amazon included and they ended up refunding about $15 of the import fees a month after purchase…something to do with reduced import fees or something.

  8. VancityAllie says:

    Wohoooo! So happy you came over to the dark side! :) Well, not really, but at least got one!

    I LOVE my Kindle… it’s the gadget that has made the most impact on my life since the cellphone.

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