e-readers compared

I have been testing out various e-readers over the summer and thought my experiences might help save other late-adopters some time.  I started looking into e-readers because I suffer from eye strain from staring at non-reflective screens (laptop, desktop, smartphone).  If I need to read more than one page of a pdf, I will print it.  Often I end up printing a 10-page paper and read 1.5 pages of it.  I was hoping to find something better.  I didn’t even think an e-reader could be used because I didn’t know how the technology worked.  The non-reflective screens really are like paper.  Very easy on the eyes.

My ideal e-reader would allow me to:

  1. Read pdfs of technical papers easily.  In some fields colour is important, but I’ve always printed in B&W, so colour was not a non-starter for me.
  2. Annotate pdfs to make notes on technical papers.
  3. Annotate pdfs to grade student homeworks.
  4. Read books that I have borrowed from my library, thebestlibrary.net, which has many, many books available for download for free!

The e-readers I tried were (in this order): the cheap, basic, entry-level Kobo e-reader from Chapters; the Sony Reader Touch Edition with stylus; the Sony Reader Pocket Edition (no stylus); and the Kindle from Amazon without 3G.

The Kobo was great for reading: like chocolate for the eyes.  It was terrible for transferring files and books to it.  Terrible.  It did not handle pdfs well at all.  Zooming was next to impossible.  Refreshing the screen was very slow.  It could not annotate anything. Returned.

The Sony Touch was better for file and book transfer.  Pdfs were better than the Kobo.  The stylus made annotations pretty easy.  But.  But it was terrible, horrendous, awful to read.  It is a non-reflective screen with a SHINY surface.  This means you need light to read the screen, but that same light causes reflections of yourself, the light, the world on the surface.  I really don’t understand how you are supposed to read it.  Returned.

Presuming that the shiny surface was required to make the stylus work, I tried the Sony Pocket.  Better, but the small screen made reading pdfs difficult.  The refresh time was too slow to make zooming and panning a reasonable solution.  Returned.

The Kindle handles pdfs very well.  The refresh rate is quick enough to handle panning down a small-font pdfs in landscape mode a reasonable method of reading.  I haven’t experimented too much with annotations, but the built-in keyboard works well.  Transferring files is as easy as printing.  You simply email the file to your special kindle email address.  I didn’t opt for the 3G because I don’t intend on buying $10 books that can only be read by me on my kindle when I can read books for free at the library (and support my library along the way).  The screen is as nice, if not better, than the Kobo.  I’m discovering new uses for my Kindle, such as emailing my lecture notes to it and teaching from it.  There is also a web-browser that I have yet to really experiment with.  I am hoping to be able to read my rss feed on it.

The biggest disappointment with the Kindle is that it does not handle the EPUB format that is used by libraries to lend e-books.  I could work around this, but it would require at least four steps (including one illegal step of stripping the copyright) to get the book from my library to my Kindle.  Not worth it.

I’m keeping the Kindle because it seems useful for work and that was the main motivation for purchasing it.  Hopefully Kindle will start supporting EPUB, but I won’t hold my breath.

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2 thoughts on “e-readers compared

  1. Jeremy Barbay

    I still use with great pleasure my compaq tc1100 Tablet PCs under windows using PDF Annotator (not free). I have two such machines, one at home and one at the office, automatically synch through the web. I bought them on Ebay 4 years ago, a pity that the line was stopped when HP bought compaq :(. I even recently taking one at the gym, reading (and annotating) while on the stationary bicycle.

    When travelling I read and annotate using my lenovo x61 under linux, using Xournal. The interface is nice, but somehow I prefer the compaq machines once you removed the (removable) keyboard: they really feel like an ebook should feel, with a joystick on the side to turn pages.

  2. Matt

    I bought a kindle as a birthday present to me. I was nervous about ordering it before I could try it in a store. Then a friend showed me theirs and I was completely convinced. The new design (and cheap price tag) are gorgeous.

    The ePub thing is unfortunate and I’m with you completely about never EVER buying evil DRM books. If I find some way to speed up the conversion workflow I’ll let you know. There are a couple of programs on the ubuntu repository list that look promising.

    Last I checked it’s hovering in Illinois. It’s been there for 2 weeks now so I’m getting irritable. I want my new toy NOW!

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