Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 31 October 2011

Beginner's Guide to E-Readers - Part 3

Choosing an e-reader is getting more complex by the day as we approach Christmas watching the major players jockey for market share.  Before I discuss specific devices, let's look at what we can expect.

Well, first of all the selling points of the various devices will include capacity (the number of books that it will hold), screen size, methods of connecting to the internet, other features.

So, let's take these points in turn.

Capacity - that is, the measure of how many ebooks it can hold, typically.  This, of course, will always be an estimate and as there isn't an industry standard way of measuring it so just assume they are quoting the highest possible figure.  There's nothing wrong with that, just don't get too hung up over it.  Typically lower end devices will quote 1000 books can be stored - I'm guessing they're quoting average sized books  - and slightly more money will promise around 3000 books.

Additionally, and increasingly, e-readers are allowing external storage such as micro SD cards to keep books on.  For example the Kobo Wireless and Touch can take up to 32GB in external storage and will consequently store an incredible number of ebooks no matter how you measure it.

I'm personally in two minds over this expansion.  On the one hand I think it's great to have as few limits on any device and external drives technically make the capacity unlimited.  However, on the other hand I'm not sure I'd expect my e-reader to still be operational after 3000 books.  OK, maybe I would expect it to be good to go, but even if I read a book a day every day it would still take me over eight years to get through that many.  Given how fast technology is moving, and considering we are in a throwaway world, I would expect to be on e-reader number three or four by then.  And I don't read a book a day, anyway (after all I do write novels, hold down a full time job and, you know, writing blogs takes up time too). 

So, capacity is one of the measures you will look at, but probably it isn't as big a deal as is made out unless there are other, capacity soaking, functions in addition to the ebooks featured on the device.  Some allow MP3s to be played while you read, a feature of the Kindle 3 I've not yet explored in my ten months of ownership, but one I guess some people have.

The screen size is important, obviously, but not necessarily for the reasons that spring to mind initially.  Obviously you want a screen that holds a reasonable sized page on, otherwise you'd be happy with reading books on your mobile phone.  But the critical thing about screens is that they have a defining impact on the overall size of the device.  They're not the only size defining component; navigation controls as found on the Kobo Wireless or the keyboard on the Kindle 3 also drive physical size.  To my way of thinking, the main thing to consider is how you intend to carry your device around (if at all - you may intend to leave it by your fireside chair to curl up with).  If you are a commuter and want something to read on the train, a compact device, which implies a compact screen, may well be the prime choice so that it will slip into a pocket when walking from the rail station to work.  Alternatively, you may want something you can get to grips with, so a bigger device may be desirable.

Methods of connecting to the Internet should be fairly straightforward. Generally it's through WiFi, which is great if you have ready access to that.  Amazingly, not everyone does have a WiFi router at home or lives close enough to a free WiFi spot to consider it a resource.  Some e-readers allow 3G access, at a price, which is useful for those who don't have WiFi or have a burning desire to buy books on the hoof.  As far as I know all devices will allow you to transfer books from a computer, so as long as you have access to the Internet you may not need to consider the additional costs of 3G.  Of course, if you have to buy books wherever, whenever then 3G is the only way to go.

Other features currently vary considerably from device to device.  Amazon, for example, provide text-to-speech, a feature that allows you to have your ebook read out to you by a synthesised voice.  I very much doubt anyone has made it through a book from e-cover to e-cover using this feature unless it's a very short book (and believe me, there are a lot of very short books out there - a subject for a differernt blog rant, I guess).  It is novel, I'll grant you, and after a few drinks it can be very amusing, especially as it struggles with certain non-American terms.  It's also very much a monotone, so it fails to convey emotion or action.  To be fair to Amazon, it's listed as experimental. 

I've also mentioned MP3 playback - I can't personally comment as I have access to other media for playing music and rarely feel the need to listen to Joe Bonamassa while reading about a murder in Yorkshire, but I'm sure others do.  Internet access is another feature that has left me pretty well cold on e-readers so far, partly because the screen refresh is slow in surfing terms and the monochrome screens are too basic for my taste. 

So, there's a number of features that we can look at in part four when I actually will discuss specific e-readers!

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