In Search of an e-Reader

Sun Jan 27 12:15:00 2013

MDK in SteamPunk visage

I have made my dislike of e-Books and e-Readers well known for a number of years.[1] It is based on a number of factors, for instance I agree with the character Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that they have 'no smell'. There is the tactile nature of a book, the fact that it suffers from the passage of time, the change as it ages. Then there is the notion of libraries, of displays of books, the ownership of a physical item that can be transferred to another and all of this before we get to the ethical nature of the organisations who are currently predominant in the e-reading space.

The final point is the strongest for me. As an advocate of Open Source and the free exchange of ideas and information, the authoritarian control of some companies on the e-reading experience which has already shown abuses discouraged me most of all. The use of restricted formats, DRM, the licences to view as opposed to own, the inability to transfer ownership that some organisations wish led me to be a little more vehement in my opposition.

However, there are a number of great advantages to having books in an electronic form, and the inner technophile that I have inside me also loves the idea of a library that fits into my pocket. Most certainly the idea of carrying heavy textbooks in an electronic form, to annotate, link, share and note are quite compelling.

Then there is the many ethical arguments in favour of electronic material, the environmental implications, the notion of open communities sharing in electronic transfer beyond physical location that add to the weight of need to indulge in this medium. Though some companies have already used the technology to restrict users and their rights in quite well publicised fashion. The number of books only available as DRM locked ePub files (which is in itself quite offensive) is high, though some publisher like Tor have moved against that in recent years.

The final turning point was that I also wanted to share my own writing in an electronic form, that is when I knew that I had changed and would need to buy an e-Reader.

Though I would of course have some rather specific conditions for the type of device I wanted to buy.

I did not want a device that was linked to a specific vendor or store, there could be a store but the actual machine could not be tied to it. This was accompanied by the need to have a device that accepted a number of formats for its books not held to just one type with pdf. It also must include the open ePub format that is rejected by some devices.

I want to have the ability to load books onto my device from the store of material I already had and it would also be nice to use a device that had a community element but wasn't held to a single walled garden.

This meant, naturally, that the most popular, or omnipresent, devices were tossed out of consideration at high speed. My actual end decision was between just two machines, both of which had a number of technological similarities but one of them had a closer link to an online store. Strangely I chose that one, not because of the store, but in spite of it. The final deal-clincher was the availability of the hardware and support for it in my own country. So for that reason I went for the Kobo.

           The Kobo Glo with an early purchase
The Kobo Glo with an early purchase, The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

The device allows the free upload of items not linked to its own store on to the system and it allows you to share those between the different readers you may own. It also has applications that work on both iPad/iPhone and Android devices that share books, works, settings, notes and community elements, which is a nice bonus.

Now the difficult choice of which Kobo to get, well in the end it was easy. The mini was nice but just a tad too small on the screen, the Arc is a waste for me I don't want a handicapped Android install as I primarily use JellyBean on a Toshiba tablet or my iPad, so the Glo with its pearl screen seemed ideal.

With the addition of a £10, 16gb, micro-SD card, I can fit upto 15,000 books. The Kobo allows the adding of personal books/files and products from other stores by simply dropping them onto the device in a file manager and it adds them to the library.

Upto now I am quite satisfied.

[1] Yep, another post in which I get to be a steaming hypocrite as I change my mind on something.