eBook Readers: Looking for Just Right

July 23, 2007

tablets, dedicated devices and handhelds

In my last post, I talked about a workaround for adapting a laptop for better ebook reading. But surely there are better options?

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 Lenovo X60t. 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 iPhone. 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 ideal reader. For example, this video from an iLiad user shows that it is very capable of supporting books and graphic novels from WOWIO.

The Sony Reader is a much more specialized device, supporting reading only, with no wi-fi, Internet or writing capabilities. But at $300, the price is certainly much better.

In both cases, the price vs. functionality equation is not necessarily compelling for most. But the buying rush 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.

Related Posts

Lenovo X61T Hands-On: A Bookworm’s First Ride
iPhone and eBooks: The Video
Sony Reader: Mammal or Dinosaur?

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  1. […] Reader about books, today and tomorow « Ebook Readers: Looking for Just Right On Order: the Lenovo X61T July 25th, 2007 Yesterday, I talked a little about the various […]

  2. Great post! Have you considered the new Cybook coming in September? I donm’t know that it will have the WiFi capabilities, however it will have some of the functionality of Irex’s Iliad with a price tag of $350, which is only a bit higher than the Sony Reader.

  3. I do like the industrial design of the Cybook’s hardware. And that’s a pretty decent price given the competition. But ultimately, they’re going to have to cost reduce the price even more (or increase the functionality drastically) to make it take off. That being said, I’m looking forward to trying out the Cybook when it comes out in September.

  4. I’m pretty interested in the Cybook. I wouldn’t throw out my Sony Reader, but it’s always a good thing when a relatively cheap ebook reader comes out. Let’s hope that the variety of choices helps to ramp up interest in ebooks in general.

  5. […] laptop with a 12.1” screen that converts into a stylus- and touch-driven tablet — represents one evolutionary path that may eventually breed the long-awaited killer ebook reader. Such a device would finally enable […]

  6. […] course you could argue that emerging technology such as the Sony Reader will change the way we think about reading books, but for now such technology is fairly limited in its availability, and still relatively expensive. […]

  7. I know it’s been quite awhile since there’s been a post here but I have to add my two cents anyway. I think Amazon’s Kindle is the best ebook reader out there now. It’s got a middle of the road price but in my opinion, top of the line features. I own a couple of ebook readers other than the Kindle but now I’m a diehard.

  8. how much is it?

    Are they in stock in Fashion Island, Newport Beach, CA?

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