The tech helper: Getting a grip on e-readers (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Jun 8, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - With the summer reading season fast approaching, is now the time to look into e-readers? Apple's iPad has certainly re-awakened people's interest in these electronic devices that can cram hundreds of books into a gadget small enough to slip into a purse or bag. But are e-readers good enough to justify their cost, or will they leave you longing for the look, feel, and smell of the good old paper book? Read on for some answers.
Q: Is the iPad the best e-reader on the market?
A: The iPad is a multi-function device, with e-reading being just one of the functions. Because the iPad is also designed to allow you to watch movies, surf the web, play games, and much more, it differs from traditional e-readers in some important ways, not the least of which is the technology used in its screen.
The iPad's screen is backlit, while most e-reader screens are not. Backlighting is considered a disadvantage on e-readers because the light shining up into the eye causes fatigue after extended periods. The best current-generation e-readers attempt to mimic the look of a book page as much as possible. That means no backlighting. A light source is required to view many e-readers, just as it is with a paper-based book. Taking the best e-readers outside in the bright sunlight, in fact, actually improves readability, just as it does with a book. The iPad has been criticised for being more difficult to view outdoors.
So while the iPad can certainly be used as an e-reader, it may not be your best option if you want to read it for hours at a time, as you would hope to read a good novel.
Q: What should I look for in an e-reader?
A: A great screen, availability of titles, long battery life, compatibility with multiple formats, and durability are a few of the most important features.
Most e-readers on the market today use screen technology from E-Ink Corporation, which prides itself on creating high-resolution screens that have an 'ink on paper' look. These screens are generally impressive and indeed easy to look at. However, some e-readers allow you to enhance readability by offering adjustable font sizes, while others do not. If you're older or prefer larger text sizes, consider this a vital feature.
Screen quality is just one factor, though. You need something to read as well. Availability of content varies from reader to reader. That's because most e-book manufacturers have their own e-book store that's tied to their devices. Amazon, with its Kindle e-reader, clearly has an advantage here. But Sony, which offers several e-readers, is not far behind with its Reader Store (http://ebookstore.sony.com).
Keep in mind, too, that there are many books - both classic and modern - that are in the public domain, available for free. Any e-reader you buy should give you access to such titles, either through a free section of its online store - as is the case with Sony - or by supporting multiple file formats. Your e-reader should be able to handle plain text files (txt), html, Open eBook (opf), PDF, and EPUB. The latter is being promoted by many manufacturers as the open standard for e-books. Sony, the iPad, the Barnes & Noble Nook all support EPUB.
Battery life is often rated in 'number of pages' rather than hours by e-book makers. It's not uncommon to see e-book readers rated for between 7500 and 9000 pages between charges. In terms of hours or days, it's not uncommon for e-readers to last from three to seven days between charges.
Durability is a real-world concern rarely discussed by the e-reader manufacturers - and with good reason. The fact is that e-readers compare poorly to books in this respect. One can throw down a bag of books on the floor and expect no irreparable damage to occur. The same cannot typically be said for e-readers, which contain LED screens and electronics that can be damaged by rough handling. Your best bet here, if you expect that an e-reader might be treated with disregard, is to look at extended warranties when purchasing.
Q: Where can I find free e-books?
A: The catalog of free e-books is growing by the day. Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org), Bookyards (http://www.bookyards.com), docstock (http://www.docstoc.com), Classic Authors (http://www.classicauthors.net), and Free e-books (http://www.e-book.com.au/freebooks.htm) are just a few of the sites from which you can download free books - from classic to contemporary.
Keep in mind, too, that your smartphone is an e-reader of sorts, and there are plenty of smartphone apps for iPhone, BlackBerry, and others that make e-book reading - and listening - both easy and free. Check your smartphone's app or download store for selections.
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