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January 8th, 2011


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09:54 am
I've had some experiences dealing with electronic reading devices over the years, and I felt like writing a bit about it.

I'm going to limit this to hand-held devices, rather than desktop or laptop computers. Certainly, you can use either for the job, but it's far, far different than the experience of holding a book.

I've worked with four different types of gear to use as readers. The first was a Sony DataDiscman, the second type was a Palm (though I've had two different types of Palms, I'm going to look at them as essentially one, because there was little difference between them aside from the first being a black & white screen, and the second being color), the third was a Sony PRS 700 digital book, and the latest is a generic E-Reader which has no identifying marks, and I haven't the slightest idea where it comes from.

The Datadiscman was an early attempt to produce an electronic book that was pretty much a failure. Here was an expensive piece of technology, and then to top it off, you had to buy discs to plug into it that had the "books" encoded into them. Very few books were ever put on these discs, aside from some reference materials. I had been given one as a gift, and picked up the handful of discs that seemed at least mildly interesting, but used it little because there was little to use. I think you can find them occasionally on Ebay, these days.

I can say that I've actually read a book on my Palm. The good thing about using PDAs to read is that you can download material freely from places like Project Gutenberg, and some of their files are Palm compatible. I also found software someplace that would take a text file, and make it into a .pdb for use on a Palm. The downside, though, was the screen was tiny, and I was paging like a madman trying to keep up with my reading speed. Not perfect, but vastly better than the Discman.

After the Kindle was released, Sony put out a couple of readers, and I was again gifted with the PRS 700. I liked the screen, both in size and in the ability to modify the font for legibility, though it was black & white only. I liked that you could purchase books online to add to it. I was amused that I could put music files on it, or possibly audiobooks, though I'd have to use an ear bud, since it had no speakers. I could even put on .txt files that I'd gotten from other sources, as well as .pdf files, to use on the item. However, it turns out that the item of technology was far more fragile than any of the previous readers I'd used. I had to send my PRS 700 back to Sony twice because of catastrophic failures. The good thing was that they were repairable; the first was under warranty, even. Still, I'm a bit gun-shy about carrying it with me.

Recently, my wife and I had noticed that we were seeing lots of electronic reader knock-offs for sale at all sorts of places, for example, Bed, Bath & Beyond! So when another person gifted me with a generic E-Reader from somewhere on the Western Shore of the Pacific Rim, I was skeptical about it. Still, it had speakers! And it was in COLOR! So I thought I'd give it a try. It was loaded with a movie, some music videos, some music files, and a couple of text files, some of which were in Korean, Chinese and Japanese. Seems like it works well, and it also appears to be more rugged than the Sony is. I've loaded it with a variety of material, and it's nice to see .pdf files that are in color showing their full regalia.

I suspect that there's going to be a lot of cheaper and cheaper ebook readers over the next decade, probably chock full of more bells and whistles than the early ones, and probably with more and more of the bugs worked out. NPR suggested this week that the future of electronic books is upon us already, and that their onset is starting to kill off some bookstore chains. Maybe. I know that I do love books, per se. But I also like the option to wander with an entire library in my pocket, as well.

(12 comments | Speak, or forever hold your peace)

Comments:


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From:droxy
Date:January 8th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
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Two words- Moore's Law.

I think the e-book will eventually become a more robust app on expanded "smart" phones or Light Laptops (e.g. ipad things) that function as a phone. The small screens kill me on most phone. Heck my blackberry is ancient junk by today's standard, but it works and I hate texting so no big deal.
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From:mycroftca
Date:January 9th, 2011 08:15 am (UTC)
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I'm not even carrying a smartphone, and by the time I got a Palm, it was already passe.

I agree with your two word assessment, by the way. However, you might notice that three of the above readers I got as gifts, because I was willing to wait while the market matured to see what technology shakes out. I didn't want to get stuck with a Betamax, don't you know (Datadiscman notwithstanding...).

[User Picture]
From:willowisp
Date:January 8th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
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E-readers are especially nice for plane rides -- no lugging around and/or fumbling with heavy books. I still prefer the dead tree form for reading at home, though.
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From:mycroftca
Date:January 9th, 2011 08:17 am (UTC)
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I'm very fond of the forest at my house; both the one in the front yard, and the one on the bookshelves. But the readers are very useful for traveling, and if I did it more often, I'd make more use of them.

From:cainle_bean
Date:January 8th, 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
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We have been toying around with the idea of getting an ebook reader. I LOVE books, and reading on the computer or screen is nowhere near as satisfying for me. Heck even most of the audio books I have are copies of paper books I own. Just hard to read while driving =p.

I hate the idea of paying for an ereader though and having my wonderful, yet clumsy, husband drop it once and it be another in a long line of failures.

I have just started the research on this though. He is doing a lot of waiting at this time (retirement for the army and job interviews and stuff) so it might be nice for him. I am very unsure about me. I love my books.
[User Picture]
From:mycroftca
Date:January 9th, 2011 08:19 am (UTC)
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I waited, but my benefactors insisted on me getting them. The Palm I use for work, because of the useful free software that keeps me current on medications, but I loaded the gadget with some books for just in case. As to the others, I probably would have waited much longer to see what the market did.

[User Picture]
From:crisavec
Date:January 8th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
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I have been reading books on a Dell Axim for close to 6 years now. It was one of the last of the original PDAs Dell made, and its been a solid reader the whole time. I started on an X50 Mid, and about a year later upgraded to an X51 high res and its been outstanding for reading on for me anyway. My wife still uses my old x50 mid, but not to the level I do.

I will grant you, both Axim's are carried around in magnesium cases to protect against damage, and none have ever suffered any as of yet.

I'd actually been looking to replace the Axim with a Dell Streak for the bigger screen, but Dell has so badly biffed the launch and upgrades to android 2.2 that I've decided I'm going to wait till summer and see if there is a Mark II in the wings, and if android 3.0 really does cope better with tablet style devices. It also will give time for ubook reader to finish being ported from windows mobile to android.
[User Picture]
From:mycroftca
Date:January 9th, 2011 08:21 am (UTC)
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I did read a novel on my Palm, but that screen is just too damn small. I haven't seen your Dell for comparison.

My Palm is also carried in a titanium case for exactly the same reason; I dropped one, once, and that was that.

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From:aeddie
Date:January 9th, 2011 06:36 am (UTC)
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Thanks to my Mom I have a shiny (except for the finger smudges) new Nook Color. It is based on Google's Android 2.1 OS though a 2.2 update is coming this year. It can be hacked to get the Android Market, which lets you read Kindle books. So far I have downloaded books from B&N, Baen's Free Library and Project Gutenberg.

It is solidly build has a functional web browser when you are hooked up to a wireless network. I think the 7" size is perfect for ebooks.

I looked at some of the cheaper color tablets, I'm glad I went the way I did.
[User Picture]
From:mycroftca
Date:January 9th, 2011 08:22 am (UTC)
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I'd like to take a look at it, sometime, if you don't mind.

As to your sources, I think that Gutenberg is terrific. Does Barnes & Noble offer much in the way of free books? I know the other two do.

[User Picture]
From:aeddie
Date:January 9th, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
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Not a problem. We are checking schedules to make sure we can do Road this year-Mary has a meeting on Sunday in Valencia. If all else I'll bring it to Carnivore's. (Speaking of Carnivore's can I donate some homemade sausage or possibly a pancetta?)

B&N currently has 50-60 free books online at any one time. However, many of their books you can get as a sample to see if you want to buy it. smashwords.com also has a bunch of free and inexpensive books by independent authors (one of my friend has a number of erotica pieces up there).
[User Picture]
From:mycroftca
Date:January 9th, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
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Good to know.

As to bringing food, we encourage people to bring things they made, especially if they are proud of them!
This ain't no party, this ain't no disco...

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