Tuesday, October 9, 2007

eBook Readers - eBook hardware overview

Since the demise of my Illiad, I have been reading on my Palm TX and mulling over the idea of buying a new eBook Reader. Last week was a bonanza week for eBook news:

  • Sony announced the PRS 505-SC; an upgraded version of the reader released earlier this year with more storage capacity and better speed.
  • Rumors of the Amazon Kindle imminent release are everywhere with much speculation on when and how it will be released. Last week “Kindle Edition” started showing up on random books
  • Bookeen delayed the release of their latest Cybook GEN3 offering until next month to add additional features.

Since I am an accountant at heart, I sat down and made a spreadsheet comparing these three eBooks. Decide to add my current Palm TX and a Treo (the Palm PDA smart phone) for kicks. After putting together a whole lot of info I realized that there are really only three things I truly care about (the rest are just fluff).

The Display – acuity and size

The Sony, Kindle and Cybook all have grey scale e-Ink screens which is notoriously fragile. The display is wonderful to read -- it really does look like paper and can be read even in the brightest sunlight. And yet, it is maddingly slow to refresh so that going from page to page requires a great deal of patience. And then there is the ongoing problem with ghosting (white shadow of the last page which lingers on). None of the e-Ink screens are backlit so you must always read in a relatively bright light.

The Palms use color TFT crystal displays and are backlit. Admittedly, they are a challenge to read in bright light, but you can take them to bed and read in the dark.

The e-Ink devices all have nice size screens more or less 5x7 which is the size of a regular book. The Palm TX screen is about 2 and by 3 which is adequate even if it is small. The Palm Smart Phone only has a 2x2 screen.

Available eBook formats and retailers

Sony is sticking to it’s proprietary format although it is still promising to add Adobe Digital Editions sometime “soon”. This means that you can only by new (as opposed to public domain) DRM protected books from the Sony Connect store. And no, publishers show no sign of letting go of DRM anytime soon. Which means that I wouldn’t even be able to read books from my own store.

The Kindle and Cybook both use the Mobipocket format. For the Kindle this makes sense, Amazon owns Mobipocket. Bookeen delayed the release of the Cybook specifically to add Adobe capability but no one knows if that is Digital Editions or the old fashion, basic PDF file. This gives me a wide range of retailer to pick from when I go to buy a book – I will of course be buying from eBooks About Everything.

The Palms read eReader and Mobipocket formats with ease, which also means I can buy books from a wide range of retailers including my own store.

Value for the Price

Value means the most bang for the buck, right? So if I spend money on a new reader, does the new device only read books or can I use it for something else? I want to be able to use any electronic device in a variety of ways – at the very least to read many types of documents.

All of these devices allow limited uses. You can read RTF and TXT documents on all of them. And they are all sorta useful in other ways. Being able to write is good; viewing pictures is highly desirable. Well, the e-Ink devices have a limited writing capacity but great screen clarity (and no color). The Palm has pretty good writing capabilities and let’s me see beautiful color photos. The Smart phone version even allows me to take them.

Finally, direct communication with the outside world is valuable. The Cybook, which only connects through a computer of some sort, gets and F in that regard. Purportedly the Kindle does allow you to connect to the internet in some fashion, but it is unclear if it is with the world at large or merely with the Amazon store. The Palms communicate freely; the cell phone model even lets you talk.

My conclusion – surprises even me!

Sony and Bookeen (Cybook) sure wants a lot of money for a pretty dumb machine. In the case of Sony the want $300 to read books that only they can provide. Bookeen wants the same or even more money but at least you get a choice about where to buy books.

The jury is out on the Kindle; much depends on the pricing. At a $100 price point it would be worth the investment just to be able to read anywhere, although I worry about the fragility of the screen.

The Palm Smart phones are probably the best value, but the small screen really does make them a “no go” for these old eyes.

Which leaves me with my Palm TX. I have already spent the $200, so I am not out another dime. And yes, the screen is a little small and hard to read in bright sunlight, but really, it works just fine. And I love reading in the dark! Better yet, I can use it to read and write email, browse the net and even create more spreadsheets. For the moment, I can’t come up with a compelling reason to change.

But what I find really fascinating is that I can’t come up with a compelling reason for anyone to buy one of new e-Ink readers. On every criterion except screen size a Palm wins hands down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The reason for buy e ink is battery life. I have had and still have lots of CE and palm handhelds using mobipocket.
I now have a Cybook, at £180 it is not bad value. Can be used in bright light, but also in very dim, even candle light.
It can read mobi, pdf txt html, and I think I couple of others. Really I only use mobi. The Cybook came with Dracula in pdf, but I downloaded the mobi version as it is easier to read. I could have converted the pdf to mobi, using the mobi desktop, which only takes a few seconds.


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