Friday, 6 July 2012

Who needs an e-reader ?

As part of my background reading about Myanmar I've found myself relaying on Project Gutenberg and a few other sources for nineteenth and early twentieth century accounts of Burma.

The books themselves are mostly out of print, and while you do happen across reprints now and again, often from Thalland or India, or companies offering print on demand versions, I tend to go for the electronic versions.

The Gutenberg versions have the advantage of being free, and of course you get immediate gratification - you can download them immediately and start reading.

While I'm not averse to buying digital versions of more recent books a lot of them fall into the trap of not being recent enough o be available in a digital format or old enough to be out of copyright.

These more recent books usually end up being bought second hand as paperbacks through AbeBooks from the US or the UK - Australian second hand book sellers don't on the whole seem to have cottoned on to the fact that the second hand book trade is no longer a business where gentlemen can work gentlemen's hours and charge gentlemen's prices.

The e-books are in the main available in epub format on the whole and can be readily read with just about any e-reader, and that's exactly what I do, using my Cool-er and where appropriate I make notes on post-its or in a notebook which I transcribe into evernote. What I will end up doing with this material is anyone's guess - anything from a travel book to a Victorian murder mystery, but that's by the by.

But yesterday I had a thought. As I've said before no name 7 inch android tablets are incredibly cheap and getting cheaper - under a $100 on ebay for a no name generic device. And while rude things have been said about the seven inch form factor it's almost ideal for reproducing the size of the older, smaller penguin paperback.

While Google have announced the Nexus with a price tag of around $200-250 and Apple are rumoured to be producing a small form factor iPad, it remains the case that generic devices are considerably cheaper.

However, they are not directly equivalent. For $100 while you'll almost certainly get a capacitive screen, you will usually get 4GB rather than 8Gb storage, and probably a slower processor than in brand name devices. This doesn't actually matter that much as you will not be driving the device particularly hard and ebooks don't take up a vast amount of storage. The other thing you won't get is a warranty. As always your mileage may vary.

However, don't assume that they are junk. My experience with the zPad has convinced me that there is a lot of good low value hardware out there. Certainly the Thai government has thought so, buying 900,000 low cost devices to use in schools, primarily as a way of getting textbooks to students in poor areass

Using a free epub reader application you've turned your device into an e reader, but one on which you can make notes, and because they have wi-fi and support the android dropbox client (and the evernote client) one on which you can save and sync your notes elsewhere.

Sure the battery life is probably not wonderful, but you get something that you can use comfortably for three or four hours, good enough and cheap enough to use on the bus, and one which coupled with a keyboard you can type seriously on if required.

As a recreational reader, the standard e-reader is great - long battery life, easily good enough for a long flight to Singapore or Bangkok, and lightweight. But constrained, it does one thing well and only one thing. And if you are buying books from Amazon you do need a Kindle to read Amazon's drm protected books in Amazon's special format

But if you're not travelling, and you read generic format books in the main, you don't need a kindle. You don't need fantastic battery life. All you need is something that lets you read the files. My now slightly elderly Cool-er does this wonderfully well. But if it was to break, or if I was to get suddenly serious about this background reading I wouldn't replace it - I'd buy a no name tablet as a reader/note taker for the simple reason I could do it all on one device ...

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