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eBook readers – More than a gimmick

Once considered the latest gimmick, eBook Readers have come of age. Terry Lindsay explains all there is to know about this popular tech tool.

Electronic book readers are devices that display electronic books, also known as eBooks. Files called eBooks have been around for decades, though they were little more than books stored as text files on disks, which were read on your computer. The first electronic book readers were released in 1998 and today, eBooks are proving to be more than a gimmick or gadget.

How Do Electronic Book Readers Work?

Modern “dedicated eBook readers” (also called eReaders) like Amazon’s Kindle are far more complicated than the rudimentary versions of eBook readers in the past. Using an electronic book reader is as easy as downloading a file from the internet – buy a book, download it to your device (either wirelessly or by connecting your device to a computer), then select the file and start reading.

The eBook reader display is a bit more complicated. Modern eBook readers use a technology called E-Ink. The biggest difference between E-Ink and other display methods is that E-Ink only uses energy once when displaying text. Once text is displayed, the text stays on the monitor but doesn’t drain the battery power. E-Ink means you can read your eBook longer and save the planet at the same time. Unfortunately, E-Ink is fairly monotone, displaying 16 different shades of grey.

The latest eBook reader technology attempts to incorporate colour into the display. Other additions to eBook readers include Bluetooth capability, high speed internet access, touchscreens, text size adjustment and many other features.

How Do Electronic Book Readers Work?

Modern “dedicated eBook readers” (also called eReaders) like Amazon’s Kindle are far more complicated than the rudimentary versions of eBook readers in the past. Using an electronic book reader is as easy as downloading a file from the internet – buy a book, download it to your device (either wirelessly or by connecting your device to a computer), then select the file and start reading.

The eBook reader display is a bit more complicated. Modern eBook readers use a technology called E-Ink. The biggest difference between E-Ink and other display methods is that E-Ink only uses energy once when displaying text. Once text is displayed, the text stays on the monitor but doesn’t drain the battery power. E-Ink means you can read your eBook longer and save the planet at the same time. Unfortunately, E-Ink is fairly monotone, displaying 16 different shades of grey.

The latest eBook reader technology attempts to incorporate colour into the display. Other additions to eBook readers include Bluetooth capability, high speed internet access, touchscreens, text size adjustment and many other features.

How to choose an eReader

With all sorts of considerations such as display type and file compatibility, choosing an eReader can sound complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some of the features you should consider.

Interface

Controls for eReading devices are typically based on buttons, touchscreens, or a combination of both. Button-based controls require less power and more accurate but can be cumbersome to use. Touchscreens are more intuitive but can lag, are smudge-prone and typically drain more power from your battery. Despite this, the latter appears to be gaining popularity as the interface of choice. Button-based devices include Amazon’s Kindle 1, 2, 3 and DX models, plus Sony’s Reader Pocket and the original Kobo eReader. The iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tablet, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet all use LCD touchscreens. Sony’s Reader Touch and Reader Daily, and Spring Design’s Alex use both touchand button-based controls.

Battery life

Depending on whether you plan to read primarily at home or on the road, battery life is an important consideration. Basic eReaders without fancy bells and whistles typically have longer battery life that’s measured in ‘page turns.’

Sony’s Reader Pocket sports 7,500 page turns while the Kobo boasts up to 8,000 page turns. Devices with Wi-Fi and Web browsing on the other hand, tend to have shorter battery life

Features

Do you want an eReader just for reading eBooks or do you want to your device to do much more? Some devices — such as the Reader Pocket and Kobo Reader — are designed purely for reading and skip on extra features, including music playback. The Nook, on the other hand, plays tunes, has Web browsing, and also throws in a touchscreen interface. The Alex also has those features plus video playback and the ability to download Android apps. At the higher end of the features spectrum is the iPad, Android Tablets and Microsoft Surface which is almost like a mini-computer.

Screen type

In the past an eBook reader display pretty much meant E-Ink. Well, the arrival of the Apple iPad, Android and other tablets as a viable eReading device has since changed that. When picking an eReader, ask yourself if you don’t mind reading books on an LCD screen or prefer the more paper-like look of something like E-Ink. Each has advantages and disadvantages. E-Ink tends to reduce eye strain and greatly improve battery life. An LCD screen can display colour and typically comes with touchscreen capabilities as well. Then, you have hybrid readers such as the Barnes & Noble Nook and Spring Design Alex, which feature both an electronic paper display and LCD touchscreen at the same time. For electronic paper displays, make sure you compare screens because some have better contrast than others. Some have great white levels and tack-sharp text whereas others have greyer screens.

Formats

You will want to check the formats that a device is capable of handling. Popular file formats include EPUB, PDF, TXT and HTML among other things. The more formats a device can play the better. Other formats include AZW, DOC, DOCX, LIT, MOBI, HTML, PDB, FB2, CHM, DJVU, OEB & RTF.

Check if an eReader is more open or uses a proprietary format. A more open format such as EPUB, for example, means you can move your eBooks easily from one device to another. In contrast, Amazon’s proprietary AZW format can only be played by Kindle devices.

Capacity

This determines just how much media you can fit into your device at one time. The higher the memory, the more eBooks and files you can fit in. High capacity is especially important for multimedia eReaders that can also play music, video and apps. Besides internal memory, some devices also come with a slot for an SDcard, which allows you to typically bump up your capacity up to 32GB.

Store Access

Depending on the device, an eReader can have direct access to certain eBook stores, which means extra convenience, a wider selection and also the ability to easily get the latest bestsellers. The Kindle, for example, has direct access to Amazon’s online bookstore while the Nook and Kobo have access to Barnes & Noble and Borders respectively.

Devices that don’t have direct store access can still display compatible eBooks but you’ll have to download them from a PC first. The iPad connects to the Apple App store to download eBooks while Android tablets such as Samsung Galaxy Tab, Asus Transformer & The Medion Tab (distributed by Aldi) would connect to Google play store to download eBooks. Others such as Microsoft Surface Tablet would connect to the Windows Store. Other websites that offer free eBook downloads are freebookspot, Manybooks & Globusz.

Size and weight

Size matters – especially on just how portable you want your eReader to be. Fortunately, there are many options. Some will actually fit in your jeans pocket, but still be large enough for comfortable reading. In the middle of the pack, you have devices such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Spring Design Alex, and Sony Reader Touch and Reader Pocket. Then, you’ve got the huge devices, such as the Kindle DX ,Apple iPad, andGalaxy Tablet which sport screens that are about 10 inches in size. Unless you’re a kangaroo, you are not going to fitting these in your pocket anytime soon. But they will fit into a lady’s handbag.

Format Conversion

You are able to convert eBooks from one format to another by using software such as Calibre and Hampster. You can also covert your eBook formats online by visiting

ebook.online-convert.com/convert-to-epub

eBook readers - More than a gimmickCopyright

Digital rights management is a far-reaching term that refers to any scheme that controls access to copyrighted material using technological means. In essence, DRM removes usage control from the person in possession of digital content and puts it in the hands of a computer program.

An e-book server restricts access to, copying of and printing of material based on constraints set by the copyright holder of the content. Copyright dates are published in every book and many products carry the patent symbol somewhere on their packaging. You also hear about copyrights and patents when there are questions about who owns the rights to a certain work or product. The United States government maintains copyright and patent programs to ensure everybody is able to profit from their original creative works. Of course, financial profit isn’t the only reason to copyright or patent something: The programs are simply meant to give a creator legal control over when, where and how his or her creation is published or used.

Electronic book readers are becoming popular at a time when paper books, magazines, and newspapers are losing ground. You can understand this as the cost to produce a book is quite expensive, whereas an eBook is relatively in-expensive. With eBook readers you have the ability to store thousands of books and increase the size of the text to make it easier to read. The convergence between paper books & eBooks could end in two different ways –either eBooks will basically replace paper books, or paper books will make a resurgence and the two formats exist in some kind of book harmony. Whatever the case, eBooks have found their way into millions of homes and are second nature to many book lovers. Don’t expect the popularity or prevalence of eBooks and their readers to go away any time soon.

Reading eBooks on a tablet

Dedicated eBook readers such as the Kindle or Kobo come with inbuilt software to read eBooks. Tablets such as the iPad and Android require you to download an application from the app store in order to read eBooks. Some examples of eBook reader apps are:

iPad Tablet – Kindle, Book Reader, ePub Reader

Android Tablet – Aldiko, Kobo, Kindle, Google Books

Windows Tablet – Calibre, eReader Pro

Blackberry Tablet – Mobipocket, eReader Pro, Short Covers

Windows Tablets – Kindle, Nook, Kobo

eBooks can also be read on a smartphone using the same software as the tablet. So, if you have an iPhone you would use the same software as the iPad. The same applies for Android phones.

Where Do I Find eBooks?

The number and variety of books you have access to depends on which eBook reader you use. Not every eBook store is created equal – it is difficult to say outright which eBook reader device has access to the most titles, since some services count newspapers and magazines, games, and public domain (or free) books with their total and some don’t. Amazon’s Kindle store actually has the ‘best’ selection of books, meaning the most varied and the largest.

Barnes & Nobles also have a large selection for Nook devices (you can even buy books instantly while browsing in B&N bookstores). If you have an iPad you can find eBooks on the App store. For Android tablets users, go to Google play store. Windows 7 & 8 tablets users will find eBooks at the Windows Store.

Price

Ultimately, this can be the biggest factor when deciding to buy an eBook reader. After all, your wallet pretty much dictates what you can or cannot afford, but as a guide refer to below:

eBook Readers – $60 to $500
iPad – $369 to $869
Android Tablets –  $65 – $600
Microsoft Surface Tablet – $730 – $1,100

Terry Lindsay is the owner of Technology Training Group which provides one-on-one in-home tuition and practical guides for people wanting to overcome the technical divide. Find out more at www.technologytraining.net.au or call 1300 136 679.