Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Christmas Kindle

The idea of reading eBooks appeals to me because I am out of library space in my home. I could buy another bookshelf but there is really no place to put it. Earlier this month my older brother received a Kindle for his birthday. I haven't seen it yet, but he described its utility to me a some length on a phone call. My wife had already asked whether I might want a Kindle for Christmas -- she's tired of finding books I am reading laying around; I might have a different book for most rooms in the house. I have no problem following three or four books at one time so I just leave one in the den, another in the living room, one in my home office and one ... well, somewhere else.

So eBooking has a certain attraction. I can have many different books on the electronic reader with the Kindle keeping track of which page I am on in each. But would the Kindle be right for me? I scoped the reviews of the three main readers and pretty quickly rejected the Sony eReader. Reviews said it wasn't near up to the Kindle's snuff.

But Barnes & Noble has a new e-reader called the Nook that reviewers say is kicking the Kindle's pedestal and maybe knocking it over. I'm not getting a Nook, either, but I think its feature set is superior to the Kindle's.

Kindle and Nook both have a free reader for both PCs and Macs. I installed both vendors' downloads and the readers are very good. Although a notebook computer's screen is not the e-ink used by the two e-readers, the typeface and clarity of the PC readers' display was superior to that of most web pages.

Both Amazon and B&N also offer a free e-reader download for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I downloaded B&N's reader onto my son's Touch (with permission), downloaded a free book and was very impressed again with the clarity of the display the readability. Obviously, not as much text per screen, but a flick of the finger from right to left turns the page with the silky smoothness Apple has perfected for its handhelds.

But wait, there's more! B&N also has a free e-reader for Blackberry. (Amazon's is "coming soon.") So I installed it onto my Tour. I was surprised again at how well the text displayed. A press of the trackball turns the page instantly. Because the Tour's screen is so small (but thankfully hi-res) I pressed the trackball a lot to get through the first chapter of Dracula -- it was 96 screens long!

Once a book is added to your accounts library at either vendor, you can download it to any device registered on the account with no additional charge. So I can read Dracula on either my computer or my Blackberry. The Kindle even lets you sync between the Kindle and your computer so that if you stop reading a book on page 75 on the Kindle, you can pick it up right there on the computer. I didn't see this feature on B&N's site for the Nook.

However, neither a Nook nor a Kindle will be under the tree for me this month. Their drawback is that they are single-purpose devices. Reading books or mags is all you can do with either of them. (They also will play sound files of various sorts.) Frankly, at $259 and $249 respectively, they are just too limited in capability for the price.

For $10 more than the Nook I can get a 32gb iPod Touch from Amazon, download both the Kindle and Nook's readers to it free, and read away with great ease. I can buy books from both vendors rather than be limited to the vertical-only vending for either device. And the Touch will do a lot more than serve as an e-reader. (I'd get an iPhone but am slaved to Verizon, besides, AT&T's 3G coverage ends 40 miles from my home.) The Touch's wi-fi works for full web browsing. The Kindle does not have wi-fi. The Nook does, but only for downloading eBooks, not for browsing. (Both the Kindle and the Nook download materials over a built-in cell phone connection no extra charge.)

The Touch will store and play music, of course, as do the e-readers, and also movies. There is a ginormous library of apps, including Documents to Go for word processing and office software functions. And I can watch TV on it with my Slingbox. In short, the Touch is not as good a reader than either the Kindle or the Nook, mainly because of screen size, but has so much more total capability for basically the same money that I can't make sense of getting either the Kindle or the Nook.

Endnotes: Here's a hands-on review of the Nook that generally agrees with my impressions, although I have never touched one. One thing the review points out is that despite the overall size of both Kindle and Nook, the reading area of their screens is only about the size of a 3 by 5 index card, which is not very much larger than the screen of a Touch or iPhone.

Of course, a book is a single-purpose device, too. Except there is no book on my shelf that I paid $249 for. I don't dispute that the Kindle and Nook are e-reader hedgehogs ("the hedgehog knows how to do only one thing, but it does it extremely well"). For me that is simply too much money to spend to read eBooks when there is a multi-purpose alternative that e-reads almost as well.

As for the optical advantages of e-ink, I'll not dispute it but OTOH, reading several chapters on my Blackberry didn't bother my eyes. Haven't tried it on the PC reader. Maybe the Blackberry's display, though backlit, is closer to e-ink than to my notebook PC's display, I dunno.

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