Are Ebooks finally ready for Prime Time?
I hated it when, about ten years ago, my local library went to the online digital version of the reference book, Books in Print. I tried to look up something about quilts. There were about 5-600 entries beginning with Quilt in the title, and in the paper version, I’d just flip a couple pages and Voila! 2 seconds to find what I needed. In the online version, I had to go through about 30-40 screens before I came to the end of the Quilt titles. Wasted time. Are digital versions or ebooks still a waste of time? Maybe.
Are Ebooks Viable? Yes.
When are ebooks used the most? When traveling.
Friends report that they love to load up several ebooks and keep the weight down in their luggage. Ebooks are used in schools, when textbooks are changed often, as a way to reduce costs to the student. Ebooks are here to stay and will probably co-exist with paper versions for a long time.
We’re going to read ebooks, that battle has been won. The next question is this: are dedicated ebook readers the best option for reading ebooks? Should you buy a Kindle or Sony ebook reader (or some other brand) as a Christmas gift?
Dedicated Readers, iPods and Screens. The biggest problem with reading ebooks has traditionally been the inferior quality of screens and the eye-strain of reading from a screen. In some ways, this is a McGuffin, because, well, we all read online right now, and many of us read many hours a day from a computer screen.
Enter e-ink. It is supposed to be a higher quality, less eye-strain and should be available in color in another year or so. So, let’s agree that the screen-quality problem is about to be solved, or else call it a moot point.
What Happened While You Were So Self-Absorbed. But there’s a complication when deciding on how to read ebooks: technology hasn’t stood still while e-ink has been developing. We now have the iPhone and other smart phones. Here’s where I think the current discussion of ebooks goes wrong. I mean, how many pieces of technology do I want to carry around? The answer for most of us is, not many. Which is why the Apps market for smart phones is so dynamic right now. If I’m carrying around this smart phone, which is always hooked up to the net, then why not do everything on this one piece of equipment.
Optimal Screen Size for Multiple Tasks. Which changes the problem from screen quality to screen size. What is the optimal size screen for multiple tasks? For me, most smart phones fail this test. I want huge, 18″ or bigger, flat-screen, best-quality-I-can-afford monitors. But you can’t carry THAT around with you. And now, we’re down to this question: what size screen is the best compromise for portability, flexibility and easy viewing? What’s the best compromise of features and quality?
Do you see what has changed? My requirements for an ebook reader has been changed by the advent of smart phones. I now want one piece of electronics that has instant, almost-everywhere access to the internet; the screen must be large enough to read comfortably (very important), so I have flexibility in choosing what tasks I’ll do on this device; it wouldn’t hurt either, if it also included a keyboard in a usable size, instead of the teensy-tiny Blackberry and other smart phone keyboards.
Netbooks. For me, the answer is a NetBook.
Can you read ebooks on a netbook? Yes.
Is the netbook dedicated to one and only one task of reading an ebook? No. It’s versatile.
What about travel, is a netbook just as easy as, say, a Kindle? No. But it’s close. The weight is close to that of a hardcover book, making a netbook a good compromise because I gain the flexibility of tasks.
What about letting me choose my brand/style of equipment, instead of a proprietary device like Kindle? Yep, I can choose from a very wide assortment of netbooks, with all sorts of options.
With any dedicated reader except Kindle, I also gain that wi-fi access. (That will likely change in the next few years, with more ebook readers adding internet access.)
So, what’s the best way to read on a Netbook? For those companies using e-pub standards, there are several “desk-top” applications that make ebooks easy to read. The Mobipocket reader is the one I currently use.
Bottom line: I won’t buy a dedicated ebook reader any time soon. Instead, at about the same price, I have a netbook.
Why I Choose a Netbook over a Dedicated Ebook Reader
- Small, weighs about the same as a hardcover book.
- Wi-fi enabled
- Flexible computing for multiple tasks
- Good compromise for screen size and keyboard size
- I can’t download from Amazon, because their Kindle format is proprietary and doesn’t fit with ePub standards. However, Mobipocket, Smashwords, Fictionwise and similar sites all have formats that I can read on my netbook.
- So far, netbooks can’t double as a phone. But neither do I have to get the smartest phone I can find, either, because the netbook can take over some of those tasks.