Revisiting the ebook reader debate

Its been almost a year since I wrote the post Joining the ebook reader debate … or my 2 cents and I thought I’d revisit my experiences with them since there has been more inquiries on our state listserv about them.  Since writing the original post I have purchased a refurbished 2nd generation Kindle for $100 at the Amazon Warehouse Deals when they had a one day only special deal running.  So now I have two ereaders to compare first hand – but I’m still waiting on the 2nd generation iPad!  Also since the original post my public library has begun lending ebooks.

3309970958_f1cb34d54c_bKindle vs. Sony

Image: 2×2 Comparison Amazon Kindle & Sony by John Blyberg (edited to show my two models only)

There are advantages and disadvantages with both of these eReaders.  I sill prefer reading on my Sony.  It is smaller and slimmer than the Kindle and feels more substantial, less fragile than the Kindle yet not noticeably heavier than the Kindle.  It also has an awesome organizing and displaying/menu options over the Kindle.  With the Sony and your computer you can organize books into collections.  With the Kindle, your stuck with just author, title, or most recently downloaded.   And again, the Sony has the SD card slot allowing virtually unlimited memory capacity – you just have to keep buying the SD cards.

The advantages of the Kindle are instant download from the device – no computer required.  You can also download a preview of the books before you buy.   I previewed the Stephen King book Under the Dome and it was about three chapters free – enough to get me hooked so I bought it!  I can buy books before their publication date and they download as soon as I turn on the Kindle on the release date.  I can read the books on my iPhone with the Kindle app and/or on the computer and pick up right where I left off no matter which device I used last.   I also like that I see my reading progress – how far I’ve read (percent) and how much of the book is remaining.  One great advantage is that the cost of most of the ebooks are slightly lower than at the Sony Reader Store – which is STILL a pain to use/search as it is clunky and slow.  And of course the note-taking, dictionary, web browser, etc. features of the Kindle are things my Sony doesn’t have.

Disadvantages for the Kindle are that you have to go through a huge rigamarole to convert documents to read on the Kindle and for me keyboard is a pain – gets in the way.  You can reorient the screen to display “upside down” which helps – also helps when you are charging the device and reading at the same time.  Both the Kindle and the Sony have the a/c hookup right smack dab in the middle of the bottom of the device – making holding the devices while charging a bit cumbersome.  I also find the Kindle’s “joystick” device super sensitive - just the slightest knock to it will cause something to be selected or displayed.

Overall, the reading experience on both is the same – I don’t really see a difference in quality from one to the other.  Again, I think the Sony fits more comfortably in my hand for reading than the Kindle.  However, I purchased a case for the Kindle that allows it to stand on its own (even in my lap) and this helps the reading experience.  In fact, I like the case so well I’m ordering one for the Sony, too!

eBooks from the public library

Since my original post, my public library has begun lending ebooks for the Nook and Sony eReaders (or your computer/laptop/Adobe Digital Editions).  You can borrow up to 10 ebooks at a time for 7, 14 or 21 days.  If the ebook is already on loan to someone else, you can request a hold.  Once your hold is available you have a week to download it before it goes back in the que.  The problem (and discussion on the listserv) is that you cannot “return” the ebook when you’re through reading it.  You just have to wait for the loan period to expire.  There are two problems (in my opinion) with this method.

From the libraran standpoint, the first problem I see  with not being able to “return” the ebook is what if it is a popular title with a lot of other patrons waiting on the holds list.  If I’ve chosen the 21 day loan period – which lets be honest, most of us will – and I finish the book in three days then the ebook will sit in my Reader for over two more weeks.  Thats two weeks it could have gone on to the next person waiting.  If you’re a large public library and this is a very popular author then you’d better have more than one ebook to lend, just as you do physical books, otherwise people are going to get tired of waiting for the book.

Second, lets say as a patron I’ve already reached my 10 ebook limit.  I have three I’ve finished and seven still to read.  Then another ebook I’ve placed a hold becomes available; however, none of the three books I’ve finished nor any of the ones I haven’t read will “expire” in time for me to download the book on hold (remember holds are only held for a week before going back into “circulation.”)  I’m out of luck on the book I placed on hold and will end up having to put myself back on the holds list.

Now it was suggested on my state listserv that the reason you can’t “return” these ebooks is to prevent people from “abusing the system” by checking out their limit, copying those items to their computer/USB drive, returning the ebooks and checking out new ebooks and continuing the pirating/sharing of the ebooks.  This person goes on to say:

“If you know you are “stuck” with the book for x amount of days and you can’t get anymore [books] until that time expires, you may be more prone to go ahead and listen to/read the ones you have while waiting on the time to expire. Unfortunately, there are people who abuse any system AND there are also regulations and stipulations placed on the materials being converted to eBooks and audio files which require some sort of stated procurement and use guidelines.”

I totally disagree with this statement.  Ebooks and audiobook downloads (specifically from libraries) are DRM’d and you can’t do what is suggested above unless you have a program that can strip the DRM and then length of borrow time doesn’t mean a hill of beans.  The person who is going to pirate the materials will find a way.   The problem of not being able to “return” ebooks has nothing to do with abuse of the system, it has to do with the fact that the vendors haven’t built in (or haven’t thought of and/or figured out a way to add) a feature to allow the return of the book by the reader.  This is something that needs to be fixed.

Bluefire Reader App

Another new development in ebook arena is a new iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch app has come out that also allows me to read my Sony ebooks AND books I check out from the library on the iPhone.  The app is the Bluefire Reader and from within iTunes and the app screen you can select the Bluefire app, then select ebooks from your computer (Sony eReader library) to load to your iPhone.  For a more detailed description of how the app works, visit this Dear Author blog post.  The latest update from Bluefire allows for the transfer of library/OverDrive ebooks to work, too!  No eReader device?  No problem, it works just as well from the Adobe Digital Editions download on your computer.  It is freaking awesome!  While I still don’t prefer reading on the iPhone (too small, device gets hot, eyestrain, etc.) it is great for when I have the opportunity to get a quick few pages/chapters read when I don’t have the eReader or Kindle with me.

I hope some of you have found my ebook journey of interest and/or of use and I apologize for it being so long.  I should have slit this up into two posts, but its late and that was too much trouble.  Sorry!  I also realized after re-reading my original ebook post that I never did get around to writing up a post on Calibre.  Will have to get around to that one of these days!

:)

Joining the ebook reader debate … or my 2 cents.

WARNING: Extremely LONG post ahead.

There has been a lot of chatter from folks in my PLN over which ebook reader is the best option. Here is some of the most recent comments via Twitter:

twitter ebook discussion

twitter ebook discussion

Here’s a direct link to @technolibrary‘s (Carolyn Foote) Not So Distant Future blog post regarding ebook readers.  

I’ve been corresponding with @booklover472 (Fran Bullington) for quite some time now about ebook readers and just had an email chat with her and @cathyjo (Cathy Nelson) where I gave some of my opinions on the matter and they suggested I write up a post.  In @booklover472′s words:  “Many of us are considering purchasing an eBook reader at some point in the future and having the input of a knowledgeable colleague is priceless!”

Now I don’t know how “priceless” my insights might be, especially since I only have considerable working knowledge with one reader, but I said I’d give it a shot.

Background:

I purchased my Sony eReader PRS-505SC in late 2007 (November or December I think as it was a gift to myself!)  I had been wanting one FOREVER as I didn’t like reading ebooks on my desktop computer and my Gateway laptop had this funny quirk of only working when plugged in, but if you jiggled the cord even a LITTLE, it would freeze.  So frustrating when you’re in the middle of reading!  Anyway, the Kindle had just come out, but comparing it to Sony showed that Sony’s supported more formats.  This is from the PDF spec sheet for my model:

Media Formats Supported
Unsecured Text: BBeB Book, TXT, RTF, ePub, Adobe® PDF10 , Microsoft® Word (Conversion to the Reader-requires Word installed on your PC)
DRM Text: BBeB Book (Marlin) Unsecured Audio: MP3 and AAC7 Image: JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP

Of course, it doesn’t support audiobooks and the image files are all black and white because it IS an eInk reader, but it still was better than the Kindle according to the data I had at the time and I didn’t buy it as a digital picture album but to read books!

At the time I bought my Sony the only way to load books was to use a PC and download from the Sony Reader Store.  And all books purchased from the store were DRM BBeB format, meaning you can’t read them on another device except your Sony eReader or through the Sony Reader Library on your PC.  Having converted to a Mac about this same time (late January 2008) this meant I had to go to a PC to purchase my books from Sony OR use a different ebook retailer with ePub format ebooks and use a third party program to transfer the files to my Reader and/or an SD card.  Thankfully, the folks over at the Dear Author blog introduced me to Calibre an ebook management cataloging system that also manages transfers of files to/from your ebook reader.  (This is an AWESOME program and a post for another time!)

Of course there have been two major updates since I purchased my eReader: Sony created a Mac version of the Sony Reader Library and just recently converted their ebooks to ePub formats that will allow you to read them on other readers.  I think this last one was a major improvement for Sony as it potentially could bring in more buyers if their ebook prices are lower/comparable to other ebook retailers. Update 12/30/09: I contacted Sony’s customer service and was informed that even though they moved to ePub formats, the ebooks can still only be downloaded on Sony eReader devices.  So much for my theory that they were widening their ebook market.  Bummer! There are also new models that have touch screen navigation, allow for highlighting/notes, as well as wireless/3G purchasing of books.  These all seem to be the same selling points on the Kindle and the new B&N Nook.

What I like about my eReader:

My Sony eReader

My Sony eReader

eInk screen – The one thing I didn’t like about reading on my laptop/desktop was that if I stared at the screen too long (reading!) I would get eye strain. With the eInk screen, it truly is like reading on paper.

portable - The size of the reader is perfect – just slightly taller & wider than a normal mass market paperback, but a WHOLE lot slimmer!  It doesn’t weigh any more than a paperback, either.

ease of use – The ability to hold and read the reader in one hand.  The location of the page buttons also makes it easy to turn the page with the hand holding the device.  Great for multitasking, such as eating while reading <grin>  Also, you can lay the reader flat or prop it up against something and not have to worry about holding it open to read the pages, like you would in a book.

bookmarking - The ability to place multiple bookmarks in an ebook file.  Also, I can “continue reading” without having to even bookmark.

memory card slots - As I mentioned above, the reader has an SD card slot as well as a slot for a Memory Stick Duo.  I’ve only used the SD slot.

menu options – you can choose/view your ebook lists by author, title, date downloaded, or view collections.  You can also choose by bookmarks.

text size – you can choose small, medium, or large text sizes.  Sometimes the original text sizes (particularly in PDF files) are way too small.  The ability to enlarge the text is wonderful.

portrait or landscape mode – You can view your page in portrait or landscape mode.  This is also great for PDF files.  As mentioned before, sometimes the text on them is way too small even when you use the large text size setting.  If you turn the page to landscape, the text enlarges even more.

made of metal - the device is made of metal, unlike the Kindle which is plastic.  I made a comment to @booklover472 that I’ve dropped my eReader a time or two and it’s been none the worse for it.  I just don’t see the Kindle holding up to that without cracking it’s plastic case.  Granted, I’ve been lucky to have either not dropped it from too high a distance and/or dropping it on carpet.

download ebooks from your public library – If you’re lucky enough to live in a county that purchases ebooks for loaning, you can borrow books from them.  My public library hasn’t begun offering them as yet, but our upstate does (Spartanburg and Charlotte areas).

Holy V8 Moment Batman! I just read on the FAQ section of the Sony site that you can authorize up to 6 devices to your ebook account!!!!  I NEVER knew this.  If this means what I think it means, you can have up to 6 people reading the same book??!!!  I would love to test this out.  I knew I could authorize multiple computers, but I didn’t know I could authorize more than one device!  If I hadn’t been talking with @booklover472 about the Kindle allowing up to 6 devices, I never would have thought to go see if Sony had any written limitations or authorizations on how many devices you could load your ebooks to!

What I dislike about my eReader:

eInk screen - you have to have a light source since there is no backlight!  Of course, if I was reading an actual physical book, I’d need a light source, too, so this isn’t that big a deal.

slow to load – if you overfill the memory, regardless if it’s the SD card or internal, then it takes FOREVER for the eReader to turn on.  Sometimes I’ve even had to use the reset button multiple times to get the thing to turn on.  Solution, use multiple SD cards and/or only keep your current ebooks on it and switch them out as needed.  I do a little of both.  I have multiple SD cards with “collections” on them as well as keep a few favorites/currents on the eReader itself.  Since using this method, I’ve not had a problem getting the unit to turn on.

Update: forgot to mention here that “overfill” means I had more than 600 ebooks between the device’s memory and the SD card.  Removing the SD card helped, leading me to the conclusion that the device had problems loading that many books!  That’s when I split up the books over multiple SD cards.

Sony Reader Library Software – I HATE the Sony Reader Store/Software you have to download to your computer.  It is slow to load the store portion.  However, it isn’t any different than using iTunes (which the iTunes store is also SLOW)  I just don’t understand why I have to download software to purchase ebooks.  Why can’t they sell and download from the Internet (like Audible.com) and have just the library on your computer?  Browsing the ebook store online on the Sony site is FAST but you can’t purchase and/or download from it – only see what books they have for sale.  Browsing via the Reader Library software is SLOW and frequently times out.

No A/C power adapter included - You have to purchase an adapter as an accessory – another $30+ added to the eReader price.  Not nice Sony <frowning face here>  Also, the location of the adapter hookup on the eReader is smack dab in the middle of the bottom of the eReader.  That is a horrible location when you’re trying to read and charge the device at the same time.  Would have liked it to have been located on the side of the device or at least on one of the bottom corners instead.

Standard cover - the standard cover that comes with the eReader is horrible.  Thin with plastic tabs that hold the reader in place.  I don’t like to read with the cover on as it isn’t comfortable in my hand.  After taking the eReader out of the cover a few times I just knew one of the times I’d break the tab.  Then I found these covers.  Not only are there slots for SD cards, the “tabs” at the top are elastic so I don’t worry when I pull the reader out of the case.  It is also thicker (more padding) and has a flap to keep it closed.  You can find the cases at M-Edge.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

In case you haven’t guessed by now from my other posts, I have a tech gadget obsession and more recently an Apple obsession.  I recently purchased an iPhone – Verizon buying out Alltel pushed me over the edge and I HAD to switch carriers because of that, so why not get what I wanted!?  Anyway, I downloaded the Kindle iPhone app so I could take advantage of the free Kindle ebooks Amazon occasionally offers.  As much as I love my iPhone, I wont be using it as an ebook reader.  The screen is too small, meaning I have to “page” frequently as I’m a relatively fast reader.  Also, eye strain!  And last, the phone gets hot and the battery drains quickly if you read for long stretches at a time.

I’ve only seen/handled the Kindle for a short amount of time – and that was (I believe) one of the first generation Kindles, so I can’t knowledgeably provide a comparison, only to say it was only slightly less heavy than the Sony, but it “felt” “cheaper” – less substantial.  I was afraid I’d break it.  I also didn’t like the keyboard on the bottom.  It was clunky in my hand and I was definitely not impressed. The only thing that impressed me was the lady who had it was able to download books immediately.  We were at a conference and they were announcing this years SC Young Adult Book Award Nominees and she was able to download the ones that had Kindle editions right then and there.  That was impressive.

I also cannot comment upon the Nook.  I’ve not seen one or held one in person – only read about it online.  I would love to test drive one out, though!  What I’m REALLY waiting for is the rumored Apple Tablet as well as the Plastic Logic reader I read about ages ago and that never seems to actually be released.

PS: In case you were wondering, the other ebook retailers I use besides Sony are  Fictionwise and Books On Board. Also, here are two other posts over at Dear Author that have some interesting takes on eReader devices and comparisons:  To Buy or Not to Buy: The eReader Dilemma & Comparison Table of eReading Devices.