The Ultimate Guide to Electronic Book Readers (E-Readers)

Introduction

Electronic book readers (eBook readers, e-book readers, e-readers, eReaders)[1] haven’t been around that long but are quickly gathering market momentum[2] and are quite naturally a great fit for the extended traveler. Spend a bit of time searching the Web for reviews and you will rarely come across a less-than-glowing opinion, and most of the negative writing you will encounter comes from book “purists” who have yet to actually try one of these devices or from tablet owners who think it silly to have a dedicated device for just reading (though they themselves are probably using something like the Kindle app).

I have enviously desired one of these devices, specifically the Amazon Kindle, for a long time. I recently bought one and have now joined the devoted throngs. Below I will try to provide as much useful advice as I can to help you decide which e-reader might be right for you and how you can get the most out of whichever one you end up with.

The Players

Amazon Kindle is the 300-pound gorilla in the market today, though there are other well-respected devices, notably the Nook from Barnes and Noble, Sony’s e-Reader and Kobo. Similarly, the iPad (and iPhone and iPod touch) can also serve the cause with or without the iBooks application. Further, there are applications for various smartphones and personal computers.

Reading on Your Smartphone, Computer and/or Tablet

Pretty much all of the independent e-reader devices also offer free downloadable apps for smartphones, PCs, Macs, and tablet computers. In particular you can download free apps from Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, Google eBooks and Apple’s iBooks. In addition to all of these, there are a number of independent programs available for various devices.[3]

Personal Computer e-Readers

One personal computer option is GooReader, which provides a really nice interface (with page turns rather than scrolling) to read Google Books online and offline. You can also zoom pages, search, make annotations, add bookmarks, create a local library and save to PDF. Unfortunately, it is only available for Windows machines at the moment. Three alternatives, also only available for Windows are URead, KooBits and Blio. Yet another alternative, for both Windows and Linux, is FBReader. Finally, supporting all platforms and probably the two most useful programs, is Calibre, which is not just a multi-feature reader but also an e-book library manager and format converter (it also offers a portable version for Windows, which can be helpful for travelers).

Those of you traveling with a netbook might also find Lifehacker’s Turn Your Netbook into a Feature-Rich E-Book Reader to be a worthwhile read. The key takeaways of that article are:

  • Use the EeeRotate application to rotate your screen and touchpad at the same time using a single shortcut (pressing CTRL+ALT+Right Arrow rotates the screen and touchpad 270 degrees and CTRL+ALT+Up Arrow returns it to normal).
  • Adjust the screen brightness to a comfortable level.
  • Configure a special power saving mode.
  • Set up e-book software, notably Kindle App or Calibre.

Online and Browser e-Readers

Regardless of device or operating system, those using the Firefox browser might consider the highly rated EPUB Reader Firefox Extension which, although browser-based, does not require an Internet connection once you have downloaded a book. Other addons do exist but from my research this one is far and away the best. I am not aware of a similar addon for Chrome.

There are also two good online only e-reader options which could be useful for travelers: Bookworm and Ibis Online Reader. Both allow readers to add EPUB books to their online library and read them when connected from any device/browser. Bookworm is specially optimized for use with the iPhone and can export directly to Stanza. Ibis, in contrast, supports multiple smartphones as well as the iPad. Furthermore, according to one online commenter, Ibis offers better text display while also remembering the last page read (a feature apparently Bookworm does not yet have). It also syncs across devices.

Finally, for Kindle users (device or application), Amazon offers Cloud Reader, which lets you read anything in your Kindle collection in a browser with full sync functionality (as well as bookmarks, font size, and other expected features) so you can continue reading on another device if you wish. Apparently, Cloud Reader also offers excellent offline reading support. Of course, one thing to consider is that your Kindle books are limited to a set number of devices. So if you are using Cloud Reader with multiple other devices you may be over the limit and will not be able to read them in the cloud.

Smartphone e-Readers

If you are planning to read on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, the hugely popular Stanza app has sadly passed away. Alternatives to consider are Bluefire Reader and, of course, iBooks.

A concern for any mobile device is reading large PDF files. For those with Apple products a recommended option is GoodReader. Apparently there was a free version, but I could only find the US$4.99 full version listed on the official site (I did find download links to older Lite versions around the Web). For Android users, check out Alternative PDF Viewer. I don’t know if anything similar exists for other mobile platforms.

For the Android following out there, besides the e-Reader device apps and PDF viewer mentioned already, check out AReader (Android Reader), Aldiko or FBReaderJ.

Finally, for those still rocking the Palm device, check out Plucker.

Reading Experience on Non-Dedicated e-Reader Devices

So, now that you are familiar with numerous e-reader software applications, what of the actual reading experience? I have read mixed reviews about using a smartphone, but my general impression is that the experience is better than most originally had expected. The experience on tablets and the iPad in particular, is often considered quite good, but suffers two major disadvantages: screen glare and eye fatigue. For anyone who uses a computer screen outdoors or for extended periods of time these concerns are not hard to imagine.

Listening Instead of Reading

For those who prefer to listen rather than read, check out Talking Clipboard, which can read selected text from any application by converting it to an audio file with just one click. Talking Clipboard has an intuitive media player interface, so you can Play/Pause/Stop, jump to next or previous paragraph or line using a multi media remote or keyboard. It highlights the currently spoken word so you can follow the text while listening. You can precisely define how a word will be spoken using aliases and pronunciation for enhanced listening experience. Other features include: plugins for popular applications (Firefox, Thunderbird, MS Word, Pidgin), bookmarks to traverse through large documents, auto spell correction, RSS reader, inbuilt dictionary, the ability to insert multiple voices in a single document, full screen mode e-book reader, and a vocabulary builder.

Nook Simple Touch and Nook Color

I can’t give any kind of personal review of the Nook, though I feel fairly confident in saying it is the primary competitor to the Kindle. There are two completely different models: a basic eInk reader similar to the Kindle (but with a virtual keyboard and touchscreen) and a color, stripped-down Android-based version. Both have gotten some excellent reviews, some of which you can read below:

Kobo

Again, I don’t have any personal insight into the Kobo e-reader, but here are some reviews to read if you are interested in considering this device:

Again, the official Wikipedia Kobo page might prove useful.

Sony Reader Touch

As above, I have no personal comments to add about this device, but these reviews might help:

And here is the relevant official Wikipedia Sony Reader page.

iriver Story

The iriver Story HD is the newest entry in the field and one that seems promising, especially for two reasons: its ready availability for purchase at Target stores across the U.S. and its partnership with Google and integration with Google Books. This device also has higher screen resolution than current competitors.

Kindle

Kindle Reviews and News

I have had my Kindle 3G since May 2010 and, like everyone else I know who has one, I love it. I could write a detailed review of my personal experience but others have done so already so I will link to them instead. Suffice it to say that I did a lot of research and while I believe there are numerous devices available that I would be pleased to own and use, the Kindle was the best choice for me and my lengthy travel circumstances.

If you decide to buy a Kindle, I would recommend that you spend the extra $50 and get the 3G version. Why? Because the 3G coverage is provided in 100 countries and is FREE. Check the global coverage map and see if you have 3G coverage where you live or where you plan to travel.

For those still trying to make an informed purchase decision, read any or all of the following useful reviews:

For those of you who already have a Kindle, the following sources of news and information might be of interest:

  • The Kindle Chronicles is a Friday podcast all about your Kindle, by Len Edgerly.
  • Blog Kindle offers daily news about Kindle, e-books, eInk, and other related topics
  • Kindle Nation Daily, by Stephen Windwalker, brings you all things Kindle, every day.
  • A Kindle World is Andrys Basten’s blog which explores the capabilities of the Kindle with ongoing tutorials, guides, and tips for little-known features. Also covered are the latest Kindle news and information on competing readers.
  • The Kindle Reader is not a book review site. It is designed to be a time-saving menu of reading choices. As in a library setting, I suggest books that might interest you and you decide whether you will enjoy reading them.

Sharing Books with Kindle

You can share your purchases from the Kindle store, though with some pretty significant caveats. First, and this is not specific to Kindle, some book publishers simply won’t allow certain titles to be shared electronically. Second, even if something you buy can be shared legally, you can only do so once. Third, the period of the loan is 14 days, after which the book is automatically returned to your account (note also that you have seven days from when you first received your e-mail about the book load to accept the loan). Fourth, currently lending can only be initiated by customers residing in the United States. If a loan is initiated to a customer outside the United States, the borrower may not be able to accept the loan if the title is not available in their country due to publisher geographical rights. Finally, as with loaning a physical book, you cannot access any book you lend until it is returned or the 14 day loan period expires.

You can initiate a loan from the Manage Your Kindle area or the book’s product detail page on Amazon.com. You’ll enter the borrower’s name and e-mail address and an optional notification message. Note that lending is not restricted to Kindle devices but can be accomplished across PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices using the free Kindle reading application.

For free or non-DRM books, lending can be accomplished by USB connection or by email. Of course, to use email, remember that the Kindle device owner must approve the email address of the person who wants to send the book.

Another option, most useful for couples and families, is to share an Amazon account and authorize all devices to download e-books purchased from that account. The downside to this approach is that each Kindle is tied to one account so you can’t share an account and use your own at the same time.

Finally, sometime in 2011 Kindle customers will be able to borrow Kindle books from libraries.

For more lending details, see Amazon’s page on Kindle lending.

Reading Articles, Blogs and Other Web Content on Your Kindle

There is so much more to be read online than just books. In a later section I will describe where to find some of this useful content and techniques for managing it, but assuming you already have something from the Web that you want to read on your Kindle, there are three basic ways of doing so.

Method 1: Use the Kindle Browser

The latest version of the Kindle web browser is apparently a huge improvement over the prior version and good enough to read many blogs and other content sites on the Internet. If the site is a bit difficult to read, use the article mode feature. Alternatively, if the site in question has a mobile version using that would be the ideal choice. Finally, you might consider using Kinstant which lists Kindle friendly sites in various categories and also filters regular sites. It claims its filtering is better than article mode because it works on any website and gives you access to the site’s menu, not just the article. Kinstant also allows you to add your own favorite sites, thus making it a good basic start page. Especially useful for travelers, there’s a version of Google maps and even a calculator.

Method 2: Use Save-for-Later Tools

Instapaper is a great service that lets you save anything on the Web to read later. Along the way it strips out all but the text of the page, thus enhancing readability. Instapaper has a Kindle feature to send content to your device but two primary drawbacks exist. First, the only option is to send up to 20 unread Instapaper items to your device automatically, either daily or weekly. This doesn’t give you much control over which content to send to your Kindle and could be too limiting for the heaviest users. Another potential drawback, again probably only a concern for heavy users is what Tangled Helix calls Instapaper’s fatal Kindle flaw, namely the inability to assign a specific Instapaper folder to send to a Kindle.

If you regularly connect your Kindle to your computer, there are solutions to these two issues. Free apps Ephemera (Mac) and Wordcycler (Windows) will download your Instapaper articles to the desktop and copy them over to your device whenever it is connected. If you are already using Calibre it can do the job nicely under the “Fetch News” option. Just type “Instapaper” in the search box. Click the “Scheduled for Downloads” to set the frequency that you want to have it fetched. Calibre will now fetch and assemble all of your “Unread” items into a document and also tell Instapaper to move those articles into the “Read” category so you don’t repeatedly fetch them.

For those that don’t care to use Instapaper or prefer to be able to send individual pages there are some very useful browser bookmarklets, including Send to Kindle (also available as a browser extension), SENDtoREADER, Readability and my favorite, Push to Kindle. These basically do a similar content cleaning job as Instapaper but send the results instantly to your Kindle. For Chrome users there is a Push to Kindle extension as well as one called Later on Kindle.

While I have used Send to Kindle with some success, I have found that there are some pages, especially multi-page articles, that it can’t handle well. I also read one review that said it sometimes drops hyperlinked text whereas Later on Kindle does not.

Another option, my current preference, is using any of the above with the useful Readable bookmarklet which lets you reformat text according your personal specifications. After using Readable you could then use one of the other tools or RekindleIT (which doesn’t do any text cleanup) to actually send the page.

Finally, Kindlefeeder offers an interesting service that lets you aggregate your favorite feeds and have them delivered to your Kindle in a convenient, easy-to-navigate format. Kindlefeeder also lets you save individual webpages and have them delivered to your Kindle along with your feeds. There is a free basic service which allows up to 12 feed subscriptions and a paid unlimited service, though I couldn’t find the pricing for the paid service on their site (apparently you have to sign up first).

Method 3: Use Email

Much like the services above, which are probably preferable, you can copy some content, including downloadable PDF files, and send it to your Kindle via email.

Other Useful Kindle Tools, Tips and Tricks

I am sure each e-reader device has its own quirks and helpful usage tips. Since I have a Kindle I will share some of those for this device.

  • Perhaps the most important thing to know is that you can manage your Kindle online at Amazon’s website. You can also learn how to use it there.
  • An interesting aspect of owning a Kindle is that you are assigned an email address which will allow new reading content to be sent to your Kindle. Actually, with the latest versions you are assigned two addresses: [email protected] and [email protected] (apparently Kindle 2 owners didn’t receive a free.kindle.com address). You can find your username on your device or on your management page, but generally it will be the username of the email address you use to access the Amazon website. It is important to know that nobody can spam your kindle via these emails because you have to authorize every user who you would like to be able to send a document to your Kindle.If you want to read personal documents on your Kindle, send them as email attachments to your Kindle’s e-mail address. If you send them to your free address the files will only be synced with your device when you are connected via WiFi. With a Kindle 3G, sending to the regular email address will involve a small charge (15 cents per megabyte).
  • You can easily convert your PDF documents to Kindle format so you can take advantage of functionality such as variable font size, annotation, Text-to-Speech, etc. Just type “Convert” in the subject of the e-mail when you submit your personal document to your Kindle email address.
  • You can also transfer personal documents to your Kindle at no charge using your USB connection (content resides in the “documents” folder). I like to keep things tidy by using sub-folders and have found that it doesn’t matter how much you move around files, Kindle doesn’t get confused.
  • In addition to physically organizing files on the device, you can (and will almost certainly want to) create “Collections” to organize them on the Kindle home screen as well. From your home screen, click the “Menu” button and choose “Create New Collection.” Once you’ve created it, you can add/remove items and change how you sort through them. You can do the adding and removing from within a collection or on a per-file basis. I use collections for active reading, already read, articles vs. books, Spanish vs. English, etc.
  • There seems to be no way to change the default language of your Kindle, though you can change the default dictionary (Kindle ships with a default English dictionary so you will have to purchase any other language dictionary you might like).
  • I haven’t used the “experimental” browser much yet, but I have read that its biggest problem is following links that are programmed to open a new window since the web browser doesn’t support multiple windows. It warns you that your browser doesn’t support multiple windows but it does not allow you click through to the link in the current window.
  • Speaking of the browser, it comes with a feature called “Article Mode” which is similar to Instapaper, the Readability or Readable bookmarklets, and the “Reader” button in Safari. To use it from a regular (non-mobile optimized) web page just click the “Menu” button and then “Article Mode.” Instantly the web page will be laid out in an easy-to-read text column.
  • Using the WiFi and, especially the 3G, can drain the battery quickly so remember to (1) fully charge before hitting a bus, plane or train; (2) bring the charger; and (3) turn wireless off when you’re not using it.
  • You can take advantage of Google Voice and 3G or WiFi to send free text messages where available (Google Voice is still limited internationally).
  • Use your Kindle to help learn a foreign language by taking advantage of the default dictionary feature. While the Kindle ships with a default English language dictionary, you can easily and inexpensively purchase and install a dictionary for your target language. Then set it as your default dictionary by pressing the “Home” key, then the “Menu” key, then select the “Settings” option and from the settings screen press the “Menu” key again and select the “Change Primary Dictionary” option. One drawback of your newly purchased foreign language dictionary is that it will be uni-directional, translating only from Spanish to English for example. Usually for an extra fee you can buy the file to translate in the other direction but you can’t very well set two default dictionaries. And, as you have just seen switching them isn’t a simple toggle option. For those who want to read in Spanish but don’t want to pay for a dictionary (I personally use Barron’s and am happy with it) Dave Slush at Evil Genius Chronicles has created a free and open Kindle formatted Spanish to English Dictionary.
  • For you comics lovers, Mangle is a free tool to help format for easy reading on a Kindle. Why is this necessary? Well, I am not a manga fan, but apparently when viewing images, Kindle is very picky about file formats and numbering and the majority of scanned comics images result in poor sequencing on the Kindle. Also, the Kindle doesn’t support image rotating or sorting. So, Mangle can correct these problems by renaming the files, rotating large images, modifying the images to appear better in grayscale, and changing metadata for better sequencing.
  • Twitter users can take advantage of KindleTwit as a Kindle-friendly Twitter interface to read your stream and make posts. It lacks some features but for the twitter addict it might do in a pinch.
  • For those truly geeky among you, on the MobileRead Forums there is a guide for hacking fonts and screensavers.
  • As mentioned in the Web content section the Kinstant website is a good option for a Kindle browser start page and to track your favorite Kindle-friendly sites.
  • Lifehacker has a useful tip sent in by a reader about running Kindle for PC in Linux with WINE. As they write, “the Kindle for PC app runs almost seamlessly in Linux with one WINE tweak, making Kindle a great little laptop or netbook reading option.” Read the article for further instructions if this interests you.
  • Instapaper’s Marco Arment offers a clever and very cheap kindle protection option: “A standard 6×10 bubble envelope—the size you’d use for shipping a DVD in a case—actually makes a decent low-budget Kindle 3 slipcase. And if your goal is to just throw it in a bag and have basic scratch protection until you remove it for use, it’s a pretty good solution.”
  • If you would like to sort your Kindle content and use collections, Amazon has a useful page of explanations. You will also find it a useful introduction to how different types of content are displayed, for example explaining that books are shown by title and author and that below the title is a series of dots which give you an approximation of how long the book is (bold dots within the series indicate how far along you are in the book based on the last page you viewed).

Other e-Reader Devices

I have highlighted the major players in the e-Reader device world, but it is rapidly changing and currently there are a lot of options. If you are obsessive-compulsive with your selection process or just want something different, you can take a look at Biblio Leaf: from Japan’s KDDI or devices from Bookeen, Elonex, Condor Technology Associates, JinKe, PocketBook, or Samsung.

Weakness of e-Reader Devices

Current generation eInk devices are all grayscale, which is wonderful for reading text, but not so great for displaying graphics or photos. Likewise, this technology doesn’t support video. In fact, the display is relatively slow and thus even page turns can have a noticeable (though not generally annoying) lag.

One strength of these devices—namely the screen size—is also a weakness. While the size is great for traveling and is quite adequate to enjoy a good reading experience, it can prove bothersome for PDF documents and images such as maps found in guidebooks. Devices that support landscape mode do help but only so much. Also, I have read that PDF files with more complicated formatting are not always rendered properly.

Also on the PDF topic, depending on the processor being used, large files may not display especially quickly. That lack of raw processing power can also diminish your web browsing experience on devices that offer such an option, though this can be helped by visiting mostly mobile versions of sites.

Most of the eInk devices are not backlit so if you are trying to read in a dark place a reading lamp will be necessary.

One small issue to consider is that for the airlines these e-readers are still treated as electronic devices that need to be turned off during takeoff and landing.

E-Reader Features to Consider and a Comparison Chart

Below I will list the most relevant e-book reader features to consider. I also have created a comparison chart of the main devices with respect to some of these features.

  • Price.
    Enough said.
  • Number of Available Books
    I consider this a feature not worth any time to investigate. Why? Because most sources are disingenuous, including things like multiple copies of one book as separate books. Also, with programs like Calibre, it is easy to find a book on any number of sites and convert it to your particular reader’s format.
  • Loading Options
    Related to the number of books is the question of how you can load a book from whatever source you use to your device. This won’t be an issue when purchasing directly from your e-reader company’s book store. Other options include accessing e-book sites with the device’s browser and selecting the download option; “sideloading” which just means connecting the device to your computer and manually moving downloaded material; and sending materials via email. Kindle definitely offers the email option, even allowing for automatic document conversion, but I have no idea about similar support on other devices.
  • Document Formats
    Later I offer a more detailed discussion of e-book formats, but one thing to consider is whether your particular e-reader will support PDF and other common files such as MS Word, rich text format (RTF), HTML, etc. Again, software like Calibre can be used to convert these documents to another format if necessary, but it might be nice not to have to bother.
  • Battery Life
    When the new touchscreen Nook was released the company made bold claims that the battery lasts two months, twice that of the Kindle and Kobo. Later, it came to light that while the latter two measured battery life with a base assumption of one hour of usage each day, Nook was assuming 30 minutes. Do the math and you quickly realize all three are roughly the same.
  • Internet Access
    Some e-readers include a browser and have WiFi and/or 3G capability. Others don’t. As a traveler, I would highly recommend one that does offer some way to access the Internet.
  • Screen Type
    The basic options here are eInk, eInk Pearl (the latest version, slightly improved with faster response times), and LCD. LCD screens will have the same basic limitations you can imagine from using a computer screen but do offer full color and (theoretically) multimedia support. At the moment eInk is grayscale and slower but provides an experience close to that of reading paper books, and as it is not backlit doesn’t suffer glare issues the way LCDs do.
  • Input Type
    The basic options here are a keyboard or a touchscreen. There really is no superior choice but rather it is a matter of personal preference.
  • Memory
    For most of you memory won’t be much of a concern as e-books are fairly small and your device will almost certainly support thousands. For those who wish to use something like a built-in music player memory might be more important. Some devices offer external memory cards which obviously expands your memory options greatly.
  • Ability to highlight and/or write notes
    As a Kindle owner I am very happy to have the ability to highlight passages and write notes. I do not know which, if any, of the other devices can claim this feature, though I suspect most do. I have no personal basis for an opinion, but I did read online that taking notes on a Kindle is easier and more reliable than on a Nook.
  • Syncing
    Can your reading app sync your personal e-book library across various devices you may own? How about your notes, highlighted passages and bookmarks?
  • Dictionary automatic lookup
    As a language learner, I enjoy reading books in my target language to build vocabulary and thus I appreciate Kindle’s ability to automatically lookup unknown words with an installed dictionary. I do not know which, if any, of the other devices can claim this feature.
  • Lending Ability
    Currently Nook can borrow books from libraries and Kindle has announced that this feature is coming soon. I am not sure about the other competitors. You might wish to check with your local library, though I believe most libraries lend in EPUB format so any device that supports EPUB should probably be fine.
  • Ability to purchase material while traveling
    Certain e-reader companies limit purchase options based on geography. Kindle has some limitations but most of them can be overcome. Apparently no one outside the U.S. can buy a Barnes & Noble book for the Nook, not even a traveling U.S. resident. I don’t know about the Kobo (Borders), Sony or iBooks.
  • Landscape mode
    Kindle has it, Nook Touch doesn’t. Not sure about the rest. This can be important when trying to read PDF files.
  • Ability to resize fonts
    I believe this feature is common to most or maybe all of the devices though it is definitely a nice feature to have and you should verify that the device you decide to purchase does have this feature. I have read, but have not confirmed, that the Kindle has the most fonts and ways to adjust spacing.
  • Music Player
    Perhaps this isn’t such an important feature as most of you will no doubt have a dedicated MP3 player and/or a telephone which can play music, but having the option on your e-reader is a nice plus.
  • Games
    If you are interested in playing games instead of reading, shame on you but, if you have no shame, this might be a feature to consider 😉
  • Text-to-Speech
    Some devices do offer a text-to-speech option and those that do apparently differ in the quality and naturalness of the voice. Keep in mind that even if your device does support this feature, the book publisher may legally prevent the e-reader from employing it.
  • External Lighting
    If you like book lights, the Kindle can power one directly, so cases can have small ones built in, I don’t think the Nook offers this option, though I would think any device with a USB port would work.

Here is a basic matrix showing what I consider to be the most useful features to consider across the most popular device options. For a more detailed matrix which includes far more e-readers and more nuanced features, check out the Wikipedia Comparison of e-book readers. You can also see CNET’s e-book reader reviews or their comparison of the main e-reader devices.

FeatureKindle 3Nook Simple TouchNook ColorKobo TouchSony Reader TouchiPad 2
Price$114-$189$139.00$249.00$129.99$230.00$499-699
Weight241-247 g212 g450 g200 g215 g613 g
Screen6 inch

eInk Pearl
600×800

6 inch

eInk Pearl
600×800

7 inch
LCD (IPS)
600×1024
6 inch

eInk
600×800

6 inch

eInk
600×800

9.7 inch
LCD (IPS) 1024×768
BatteryFixed
28 hrs read
Replaceable
28 hrs read
Fixed
8 hrs read
Fixed
10,000 page turns
Fixed
7,500 page turns
Fixed
10 hrs read
Storage4 GB (3 GB)2 GB512 MB1 GB2 GB (1.4 GB)16-64 GB
Ext. StorageNomicroSDHCmicroSDSDSDHC, MS Pro DUONo
Op SystemLinuxAndroidAndroidLinuxLinuxiOS
InputKeyboardTouchTouchTouchTouchTouch
ConnectivityWiFi, 3GWiFiWiFiWiFiNoneWiFi, 3G
BrowserYesNo*YesNoNoYes
FormatsAzw, doc, html, mobi, pdf, tr3, txtepub, html, pdb, pdf, imagedoc, epub, html, pdb, pdf, txtepub, html, pdf, txt, cbr, cbz, imageepub, pdf, txt, rtfdepends on app used
Text-to-SpeechYesNoYesNoNoYes
MusicYesNoYesNoYesYes

* No browser but can navigate to sites with a “hidden browser” by typing URL in search field

Understanding E-Reader Formats

For the technophobe and tech savvy alike, talk about digital rights management (DRM) and e-book formats can be daunting. Fear not. At the end of the day, detailed knowledge is really not necessary. Many sources of e-books will offer various format options for download. And, the great Calibre software will allow you to easily convert between the formats. Still, for those who care, the two major formats are EPUB and Kindle (which are actually two formats, AZW used only on the Amazon store and .MOBI used on most other sites—these two are basically identical but the AZW has DRM protection). For much more detail on all the possible formats, read E-Book Horn’s 101 E-book Format.

Converting Formats for e-Books and Other Documents

Most likely when downloading free and purchased e-books you won’t have to worry about any conversion as your device’s format will be available as a direct download. However, for other documents, especially those from word processing programs, or those in PDF or HTML format, you may wish to convert to your device’s native format. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Calibre is a free and open source e-book library management application developed by users of e-books for users of e-books. It has a ton of features including: library management, e-book conversion, syncing to e-book reader devices, downloading news from the web and converting it into e-book form, a comprehensive e-book viewer, and a content server for online access to your book collection. For conversion work, in addition to supporting many formats, it can rescale all font sizes, ensuring the output e-book is readable no matter what font sizes the input document uses. It can automatically detect/create book structure, like chapters and tables of contents. It can also insert the book metadata into a “Book Jacket” at the start of the book.
  • Hamster Free eBook Converter is a simple (drag and drop, select final device or file format and click convert) converter that uses the conversion technology developed by Calibre. For fans of fairness and legal compliance, note that as of mid-July 2011, Hamster is violating the GPL terms of the Calibre software they are using.
  • Sigil is a free, open source, cross-platform WYSIWYG EPUB editor. After converting your e-book with Calibre or Mobipocket, load it up in Sigil and clean up the table of contents, remove any unwanted images, etc. It also supports regular expressions which is very helpful if your source had page headers or footers that you’d like to remove en masse.
  • RetroRead is a free service that converts EPUB e-books to Kindle and iOS-friendly formats. If someone has already requested a particular e-book be converted, it will be listed on the site as downloadable. Note that the service only converts public-domain books (searchable on the site) from Google Books so it is not useful for converting personal documents.
  • While you can use Calibre or Mobipocket (or even Amazon’s convert by email feature) to convert PDF files, sometimes they are too heavily formatted with headers, footers, columns, etc. to convert into well-flowing e-reader documents. A good option is to optimize such files for a better e-reading experience. A few tools in particular can help with this.Briss is an open-source tool that offers several ways to trim PDFs to look better on your e-reader. It scans a PDF document and groups pages with the same basic structure into different groups (often even- and odd-numbered pages due to their margins). Briss then lets you trim every page in a group to the same dimensions. Briss is especially useful for trimming space around the original text to make the document more readable on a small screen. It is also useful for converting two-page “spread” landscape to single-page portrait. Thanks to the trimming feature it is also quite easy to remove headers and footers.Pdfmasher helps you tidy up a PDF and convert it to readable HTML. It does so by identifying blocks of text and asking you what to do with each. Thus you can ignore irrelevant pages and remove headers and footers. You can even group all footnotes and move them to the end of the document while also adding hyperlinks to relevant references.A different approach is SoPDF, which takes a PDF, crops out the margins, then chops the portrait page into two landscape pages, leaving edge to edge text. All images will be kept, even if cut in half. It won’t always look pretty since each page is chopped differently, but reports are that it generally works well. A similar program is Papercrop.

[1] I have no idea if any specific terminology is grammatically preferable but I have seen most of these variants used with great frequency across the Web.
[2] eMarketer estimates more than 20 million e-readers will be in consumer hands by the end of 2011, reaching 8.7% of the US adult population. By 2012, 12% of U.S. adults will have a Kindle, Sony Reader, NOOK or similar device. Codex estimates 21% of book shoppers now own a dedicated e-reader or tablet.
[3] For a few other options, graded and summarized, see Aaron DeMott’s article .epub Reader Software post.

Like this content? Why not share it?
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterGoogle+Share on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on PinterestShare on Redditshare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

4 Comments

  1. Magnificent site. A lot of helpful info here. I’m sending it to a few buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks on your effort!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.