eBook Readers: Looking for Just RightJuly 23, 2007
The current crop of devices that are being used as readers seems to be split into three groups.
At the top end are tablet PCs like the . A full-up Windows-based machine, it’s a general purpose ultraportable laptop that can be converted into a stylus- or touch-driven tablet. While the good-sized color screens and form factor are nice, it’s not inexpensive at $1200+, batteries drain fairly quickly and it’s a bit chunky for a cozy read in bed. Worse, the full Windows functionality implies increased maintenance overhead. Clearly, if you need a tablet PC for other reasons, this type of machine makes sense but I certainly wouldn’t want to have to update virus definitions just to read a book.
At the bottom (in terms of ebook reader functionality) are small handhelds and phones adapted for the purpose, including the . While these are undeniably useful for on-the-go applications where you don’t want to lug around a bigger device, I personally don’t relish the idea of reading longer texts (especially for pleasure) in this way.
The category that holds the promise of being just right is the mid-size dedicated or multi-function device, like the Sony Reader or the iRex iLiad. Both are based on e-ink technology, which means very sharp and readable grayscale displays and much long battery life compared to LCD-based tablet PCs. Both weigh less than a pound, and critically, they can show a book-sized page without scrolling.
The iLiad is the more capable — and expensive — of the two. In addition to reader capabilities, it can surf the Web via wi-fi and it allows on-screen writing and notation using a Wacom pressure-sensitive pen. At $700, it’s a stretch unless its additional functionality can justify the cost. Yet, functionally, it’s actually quite close to my concept of an . For example, from an iLiad user shows that it is very capable of supporting books and graphic novels from WOWIO.
In both cases, the price vs. functionality equation is not necessarily compelling for most. But the prompted by a recent deal on the Sony Reader demonstrates the pent-up demand for a low-cost but capable device of this type. Similarly, the huge interest in an expensive but highly functional device like the iPhone indicates that given a powerful feature set and outstanding usability (mixed with a good dash of marketing élan), a high price tag would not necessarily be a deterrent for a device of this type.
I’ll be continuing to look at devices like these in more detail in the coming weeks, examining just how usable they are and — more importantly — whether they can be used to really enjoy a good read.