Provided by Digital Trends
So you’re sick of paper. Sick of trips to the bookstore. Sick of the weight of a fist-thick textbook in a backpack. Sick of working your laser printer to death for a stack of papers you’ll read once and trash (and sick of the guilty feeling you get when you do it).
It’s time for an eReader. The once unheard-of category has been exploding recently, thanks to the introduction of hot models like Amazon®’s Kindle, which turned the market upside down. It whet consumer appetites for a device most of them didn’t even know existed. But what can you expect from an eBook reader; what should you look for in one? Here’s a primer on the advantages of eReaders, how to buy one and a few specific models you’ll want to check out.
What Is Electronic Ink?
Prior to ink, there were no books. And prior to electronic ink, there were no eBooks. It’s the vital display technology that makes reading off of an eReader different – and better – than simply firing up your laptop.
Here’s the critical difference that sets off an eReader from an LCD screen: electronic ink holds an image without electricity. So while an LCD screen drains away juice every second it’s on during your 12-hour plane ride, an e-reader only requires a tiny dose of electricity when you flip the page, giving it an exponentially longer battery life and taking the sense of urgency out of reading. EReaders even display attractive screensaver images when they’re off since they require zero energy to maintain.
Almost as importantly, electronic ink looks smoother and strains the eyes less than an LCD screen. The smooth edges of type actually look like printed paper, and since the screen doesn’t refresh 60 times a second as most LCDs do, there’s no imperceptible flicker that gives many people headaches after prolonged reading on an LCD.
Unfortunately, at the moment, almost all electronic ink is monochrome. For instance, the Kindle delivers 16 shades of gray. Color-electronic paper is on the way, and Fujitsu already makes a Japanese eReader that will do 260,000 colors, but its extremely slow refresh times present their own problems at the moment. Even monochrome eReaders can’t play video and animations the way an LCD can.
Where Do I Buy eBooks for my eReader?
Once you have an eReader, you’ll need to score some eBooks to fill it up. And depending on which reader you have, the options may look totally different.
Amazon®’s Kindle became the most popular eReader on the market today, largely because of its exceptionally cozy connection with Amazon®’s own library of digital books, which currently hosts 385,000 titles. Because the Kindle comes with a built-in wireless modem and a limited-access plan known as Whispernet, owners can download books anywhere they get cell phone coverage: on the bus, at the airport or just lounging around at home. Unfortunately, Amazon® only sells files in its own proprietary AZW format, which only work with the Kindle series of eReaders.
Sony® offers its own library known as the eBook Store. While the number of for-sale books hovers somewhere above 100,000, Sony® has recently supplemented the store with free public-domain books supplied by Google, to the tune of more than 1 million titles. Unlike Amazon®, Sony® offers all of its titles in the open EPUB format, which will work on multiple devices.
Barnes & Noble’s eBook store is a latecomer to the market, but it boasts the most impressive selection: more than 1 million titles in the catalog, plus all of the same public-domain titles from Google that Sony®’s store offers. It caters primarily to the Barnes & Noble nook eReader, but others, like the iRex® DR800S, also tap into it.
Of course, you don’t need to visit the goliaths to buy eBooks. Sites like eBooks.com, Fictionwise (partnered with Barnes & Noble) and Mobipocket all offer books for sale as well. And sometimes you don’t even need to spend. Project Gutenberg offers more than 30,000 free books in the public domain.
The Other Side of eBooks: DRM
Once you own a paper book, it’s yours to do with as you want. You can read it, sell it and if have it locked up in your house. No one can take it away from you.
The same is not true for eBooks. Although eBook stores may give the impression you’ve paid for an electronic copy of a book, you’ve really only paid for the right to read it. As many folks have found out, those rights aren’t transferable. They’re protected with digital rights management (DRM). So after you’ve paid $10 for a DRM-protected book – the same price you might have dropped at a bookstore or even Amazon® itself – there’s no way to recoup it later by selling it. And if you wanted to lend it to your friend, you had better hand over the whole reader.
Digital books aren’t as permanent as their paper predecessors either. Only back in July, Amazon® accidentally sold electronic copies of George Orwell’s “1984,” which it didn’t technically have the rights to distribute. To remedy the error, Amazon® deleted the books from users’ devices and refunded them the money, leaving many to return to their Kindle and find one of their books missing. Unless you’re the frequent victim of literary cat burglars, that seldom happens with the paper copy of “1984” on the bookshelf over your bed.
Top eBook Readers
Got the details cleared away? Great. Now check out some of the hottest eReaders on the market today.
- Amazon® Kindle 2, $259: After taking the world by storm with the original Kindle, Amazon® returned to the drawing board for the Kindle 2, a slimmer, sexier version of the original. It offers a 6-inch screen, 2GB of internal memory (to hold about 1,500 non-illustrated books) and, most importantly, Whispernet access to pull down books from the sky when you’re out and about. Text-to-speech capabilities even allow it to read books, too, if you don’t mind a little robotic intonation. Sadly, it’s missing a touch screen, and many users bemoan the lack of a backlight for evening reading. It also only handles Amazon®’s DRM-protected AZW books, free Mobipocket titles, and plain-text files, leaving out the popular EPUB format.
- Amazon® Kindle DX, $489: The best just got bigger, or so Amazon® would have you believe. In an effort to promote the Kindle as a potential replacement for newspapers and textbooks, Amazon® bumped the screen size up to 9.7 inches for the DX. It also gets a hefty 4GB of internal memory and a price tag as gigantic as its screen.
- Sony® Reader Pocket Edition, $200: As the name would imply, the 5-inch screen on Sony®’s Pocket Edition reader makes it one of the smallest readers you can buy. Sony® also pared memory down to just 512MB (although 350 books should be enough for all but the most voracious readers) and stripped off the keyboard to shrink it down. Unlike the original Kindle, it will handle EPUB, Microsoft® Word and PDF files natively, but it lacks the dedicated modem and wireless access that allows the Kindle to download books from anywhere. You’ll need to connect it to a PC to load up on fresh titles.
- Sony® Reader Touch Edition, $300: Sony®’s largest reader matches the Kindle 2 with its 6-inch screen size, but it throws in an extra twist: a touch screen. Rather than controlling it with a variety of side buttons, you can simply swipe your finger across the screen to turn a page or highlight text with the included stylus. It will also play MP3 and AAC files in addition to all of the open-standard text formats the smaller Pocket Edition reads.
- iRex® DR800S, $400: Somewhere between the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX lies the iRex® DR800S, an eReader with an 8.1-inch screen and a price tag to match. It outdoes both Amazon® devices with a touch screen, and it matches Amazon®’s killer Whispernet feature with its own built-in wireless modem that rides on Verizon’s network. It has access to Barnes & Noble’s eBook store, which is currently stocked with 700,000 titles. It will launch at Best Buy® retail locations by the end of October.
- Foxit eSlick, $260: The makers of the popular Foxit Reader PDF software dipped a toe into hardware with the eSlick reader, which served as a cheaper Kindle when Amazon® still hawked the Kindle 2 for $300. However, it has become less competitive with Amazon®’s latest price drop. It matches the Kindle 2 in many respects, including 6-inch screen size, but lacks that unit’s built-in keyboard and, more importantly, its built-in modem. It also compares unfavorably in the memory department, with only 512MB of storage onboard compared to the Kindle’s 2GB. Only native support for PDF files and MP3s really redeem it.
- Barnes & Noble nook, $259: With the same white plastic rim and screen size as the Kindle 2, you could be forgiven for mistaking the nook for Amazon®’s child, but look closely. The bottom sports a small multi-touch–enabled color screen for navigating, rather than the Kindle’s hard keyboard. Also like the Kindle 2, it uses a cellular data network to allow users to download books from the Barnes & Noble eBook store anywhere they get cellular connectivity – but the Barnes & Noble version rides on AT&T rather than Sprint®, and it includes Wi-Fi for faster downloads when you’re at home.
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