eBooks: The Reader’s Experience, Part 1.5

July 20, 2007

Reading an Ebook Vertically

As I continue my experiment in actually reading ebooks, I’ve been experimenting with ways to make the experience work better for me. The photo illustrates one of my current methods of viewing an ebook on a laptop, which I use when the content isn’t better viewed as a two-page spread and I’m settling down for an extended read. It optimizes the display by filling up most of the screen with a single page, providing text that is actually a bit larger than a typical print book. At the same time, the distractions of the OS are completely hidden behind Acrobat Reader’s full-screen mode.

Obviously, the ergonomics are a compromise. Given the standard laptop configuration, the weight distribution is all wrong since the bulk of the machine is concentrated in the keyboard/cpu portion. My wife’s smaller and lighter MacBook with its stubbier aspect ratio is much better suited. Even so, I very much wish I could lop off that whole half — which would pretty much leave a thin and light tablet computer. As long as we’re at it, let’s throw in a higher-res display, an iPhone style interface and some Flash storage and we would already have my ideal ebook reader.

It’s so close. Apple? Will you help?


  1. You’ve seen the Nintendo DS, I presume? It’s usually played horizontally, with one screen over the other, but some games require you to hold it vertically, like a book, with the screens making two “pages”. The game I’m thinking of primarily here is Hotel Dusk: Room 215, an “interactive mystery novel”. I haven’t played it, but it’s designed to be like a book. The DS’s dual-screen design, and growing popularity, makes it seem like a likely candidate for more straightforward ebooks too. Check out the site here for more on Hotel Dusk, see what you think.

  2. The larger than normal text is precisely what I love about this position. It almost makes up for all the awkwardness.

    I rotate the display the other way, so that the keyboard is on my right side(I’m right-handed). That allows me to click the trackpad button with my thumb to turn pages (I’m not sure if Acrobat Reader allows page turning via mouseclicks, this is how I use FFView for comics).

  3. Calum, it never occurred to me to adapt the DS for this purpose! I suppose in a similar vein, the PSP might be a candidate, too. The only issue I see is the relatively closed nature of those platforms — I imagine (though never having tried it, I’m just speculating) that moving files on and off would be tedious and that development of an actual reader with file management would be a fairly serious undertaking. I’m still hoping for a general purpose device that would remove those kinds of artificial limits.

    Shajith, it’s funny that I never considered rotating it the other way. It must be some kind of bias in my brain that always assumes the first page of a book should be on the right hand side of a two-page spread (which is what the form factor of a vertical laptop feels like to me). It makes sense, though — in addition to the positioning of the controls, the heavier portion of the laptop would be balanced on my dominant right arm. I’ll have to try that!

  4. As well as the hardware, I think there’s a software improvement that could be made. The majority of ebooks are black on white. While that’s excellent on paper, the white of a screen glares a bit after a while. Perhaps a neutral parchment colour. I’ve also noticed white on black writing is a lot easier on the eye – I wouldn’t have expected it to be, but it is.

  5. I think you’re right about straight black-on-white text on a typical LCD or CRT screen. I prefer a dark gray on white, as evidenced by the body text on this blog. But e-ink and similar technologies have a distinctly different quality. Because the display is not backlit and has a higher resolution, it doesn’t have the potentially eyestrain-inducing qualities of a standard display, and their inherently lower contrast almost demands black text on white for optimal readability. I’m basing this statement on a pretty small sample, admittedly, only having seen the Sony Reader, but I presume that the technology will be similar on other devices.

  6. […] Reader about books, today and tomorow « Ebooks: The Reader’s Experience, Part 1.5 Ebook Readers: Looking for Just Right July 23rd, […]

  7. As far as I know, any device you can save and view JPEG files with, you can turn into an ebook reader. The only catch is that you have to have a good bit of memory or a memory card to do this. All you have to do is download Paperless Printer, which is a free program that doesn’t have any spyware or adware. It will convert a document or pdf into jpeg files. Depending on what device you use, you’ll have to experiment with margins and text size until you get it right. It’s best to create a new folder to save the files to as there will be one jpeg for each page, and that’s a lot of “pictures”! It’s easier because you can just save the whole folder to your memory card. I use this process to read ebooks on my PSP (which doesn’t support .doc, .rtf, or .pdf) and I love it. I haven’t tried it on a digital camera yet but it should work just fine.

  8. Someone should make a pdf reader that allows full screen display of exactly half a page. You could flip full a book with big size font easily that way.

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