Monday, April 21, 2008

eBooks on the Small Screen

Last Wednesday morning, while eating breakfast and scanning the Wall Street Journal, I stumbled across an article by Lee Gomes.  He wrote a long piece about reading Ian McEwan’s novel “Amsterdam” on his Blackberry:

“Contrary to all of my previous expectations, not only was I reading the novel on my cellphone, I was enjoying it, too.

Until a few weeks ago, my assumption had been that a useable electronic book would need to resemble a Gutenberg book as much as possible, with, for example, pages of screen text about the same size as pages of print. I had heard reports that Japanese commuters were using cellphones to read books. But I figured that was sort of the thing only Japanese commuters would ever see fit to do."

I burst out laughing and handed the article to my husband.  Henri has long maintained that reading an eBook on a small device is a terrible idea.  He's not even interested in trying to read a book on a handheld device.  I have an ongoing (and so far unsuccessful) campaign to convince him to be more open minded.

He scanned the article and then grudgingly conceded that Lee might have a point.  He was quick to add, however, that he remained unconvinced.  And then he couldn't help himself.  He pointed out that I was possibly a hypocrite --  since I got my Cybook last November I haven't really used anything else for leisure reading.   

big palmThat evening as I was in the middle of reading Marisa de los Santos'  Belong to Me, my Cybook froze.  That is a story for another day (and it ended up to be no big deal).  The point of this story is that for the first time in six months I had use another device to finish the book.  

I had almost forgotten the reasons to read on a handheld device, but as I started to use the Palm they came back to me:

  • Backlit - I can read in the dark
  • Portable - I can have all my important info with me and still read anywhere
  • Touch Screen - easy to scroll and move around
  • Vivid Color - I really like color
  • Wireless - instant connectivity to the rest of the world

The bonus discovery:  the thumb button in the middle of the device is much easier to use and more intuitive than the button on the right side of the Cybook.  I also found that the ergonomics of holding and balancing the device were really comfortable.

There are really only two advantages to reading on the Cybook -- a bigger reading surface and the ability to read in bright and direct sunlight. 

I am not sure that those advantages really outweigh the advantages of reading on the PDA. specifically the touch screen and the wireless access. 

Just to check myself, I pulled out a very old Windows PC based PDA and charged it up.  All of the advantages of the Palm PLUS I was not so confined by the DRM.  Suddenly I could read protected PDF, Palm and MS Lit files. 

For the price of a Cybook or Sony Reader you can buy a Pocket PC that runs windows, has a touch screen, adds a keyboard and includes a cellphone. 

Friday morning I got the Cybook functioning again, but I'm still reading on the Palm. 

Of course, I am now actively considering upgrading my Verizon phone to an XV6800.

Turns out, that small screen isn't so bad after all!

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