back to article eBooks: What to read on which reader

eBook readers will be everywhere this Christmas, in the shops if not under the trees, but even publishers don't seem to know what books one can read on the things. Amazon's Kindle makes things simple: one store with 296,947 books available, and if it's not there then you can't have it. But competitive hardware can get content …


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  1. moylan

    reading etexts

    i have a small list of needs when i look for an ereader

    1) how well it handles pdfs. text only pdfs are simple but some of the rpg manuals that i have are just jpegs inside a pdf file. how the ereader handles these 70mb+ files is paramount as to wether it is useable to me. the limited processor and memory means that none of the ereaders i have tried does these satisfactorily. to date i have tried nokia 770, nokia 810. sony 500, 505, 705. cooler and an olpc. the olpc is closest but the speed and controls are just not there. will probably need a faster processor and a touchscreen to be useable.

    2) battery life and charging. the longer the battery life the more likely i am to carry it. also i don't want to have to carry another power brick so the ability to charge of a _standard_ usb cable is important.

    3) screen. bw screens are great. please don't feel that you have to include a colour screen just to compete with a competitor. i want battery life and to be able to read outdoors in sunlight. colour screens that i have used to date impact greatly on these 2 abilities.

    4) search. i'm constantly astonished by how many of the current ereaders don't have a search facility or a good search facility. it's all well and good to read a book from start to finish but i like to have a stack of books on my ereaders and be able to search for a phrase or a piece of info in the reference books i carry.

  2. Jacqui

    banks books

    It is odd that bank's books are almost all available as audio but almost no e-books exist.

    Until they do, I will stick to both paperback and audio books - the fullcast audio versions being quite brilliant and well worth the money!


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Useful review

    Very useful, sat here provaricating what to buy for my winter holiday I've just booked - I'd normally spend 50-60quid on books for the 2 weeks and my shelves are creaking - It's one hell of a confused mess at the moment, had been tempted by the kindle, but like the sony 600. As usual the yanks get all the good toys!

    Paris .. to describe the state of the industry

  4. Tony Paulazzo


    I can understand (not like, will not support), the DRM model - more lovely cash for the company and death to the pirate scum, but surely it is in the companies best interest to have the largest collection for their customers, so cooperation rather than competition amongst the publishers would surely be best. If I bought a Kindle, knew of the existence of an ebook I wanted to read but couldn't buy it from Amazon, well, my next ebook purchase is not going to include Amazon: Result, lost future customer and bad word of mouth spreading across the interweb about the entire company, not just one product line.

  5. Arthur McGiven

    I'll wait thanks

    I wouldn't mind a usable e-reader, but I'm going to wait for a couple of years and leave it to the Gotta Have the Latest Fashion brigade to go through the Betamaxing process first. Once there's a standard then get back to me.

  6. Dave Bell

    And then there are the publishers selling direct...

    You're right about the confusion. And then there are publishers selling direct, and scared of competing with themselves. So an eBook might be selling for the same price as the hardback (which at least means that the writer gets paid the same per copy sold).

    And then there are publishers doing very nicely out of low-cost and free ebooks, claiming they get more sales of the paper books. See for one of the leaders in this approach. Since they're often printing a series of related books, an obvious advantage is that they can give away the first of a series.

    And, while bad things can happen to printed paper, I can sell my old books (or give them away through Oxfam), my eyes have lasted far longer than has any computer I've owned. DRM is almost a protection racket. "Nice library you have here, Shame if anything happened to it."

  7. Nomen Publicus

    Dead technology walking?

    This really feels like a discussion of which slide rule is best. Five years ago, the idea of a stand alone ebook reader might have made sense. Today it doesn't.

    Whether or not Apple ever releases a tablet computer, someone will and to all the commentators surprise it will be a success (just like they all got it wrong about netbooks.)

    Right now, the only problem is the display but OLED technology is developing fast and low power colour displays will be available soon.

    If I'm going to carry something the size of a paperback book, it better do a lot more than just act as an ebook reader.

  8. Graham Marsden

    One might imagine that books would either be available electronically or not

    One might only imagine that if one was extremely naiive given the way that other media have been sold (or not sold) by greedy publishers who are only interested in jacking up their profits by trying to restrict availability (eg regional codes on DVDs), using DRM or assuming that there's an exchange rate of £1 = $1

  9. The Envoy


    Nomen Publicus: +1

  10. Snowy Silver badge

    Why not just buy a real book

    A real book no compatability, or battery issues and you can sell or give it away. Even buy them second hand if you want it cheaper.

    Considering what you get when you buy a eBook they are so overpriced, your not able to give it away or sell it. Until the price comes down alot it is not worth thinking about.

  11. Karnka

    Kindle 'International'

    I was tempted by a Kindle recently. I buy quite a lot of paperbacks and looking at the prices (in dollars) of all of the kindle editions it didn't look like that much more than I normally pay for a book.

    I don't even mind paying ~£200 for the reader itself (although I'd rather have one without the keyboard at the bottom).

    What stopped me in my tracks was that although you're buying an 'international' kindle from the US, you can't buy the same books as in the US. There's a special section of the kindle store for books that you can download in the UK.

    I looked up a few things I was considering reading. Half of them weren't available in the UK store and the other half were more expensive that the US store.

    That was the end of it. I'll consider it again in a couple of years. Thanks Amazon (!)

  12. Craig 28

    Re:Dead technology walking

    You sort of missed the point here. What device you use is only relevant if the ebook format is tied to that device only as Amazon are doing, with all other devices it is the format that will matter more. Even if stand alone ebook readers won't last (dead before they got going even) then other devices that provide ebook functionality will still be using the same file formats.

    Its all about the format, screw the devices.

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  14. Leo Maxwell

    Its the message stupid

    Thing is I like ebooks.

    I have an iRex iLiad, which is excellent for machine manuals and properly formatted PDFs.

    Then I look online, and I can buy an ebook for a dollar more than the paperback.

    Sorry, but WTF?

    Even without DRM, the ebook should be cheaper.

    Why would I want a book that I cannot resell once read, at a higher price than the hard copy?

    When I was (very)young, I used to read books 2 or 3 times, I used to watch Videos 2 or 3 times.

    Not any more- I don't have time or inclination to revisit ephemeral media (especially as most of the plotlines are the same).

    Once I have read, listened to or watched it, then it is history.

    Wake up media city, or move into history.

    kindles and similar DRM locked devices have a limited future

  15. Big-nosed Pengie

    What a bloody schemozzle!

    It makes me long for the simpler days when all I had to choose between was Beta/VHS or Blu-Ray/Whateverthatotherthingwas. This idiotic plethora of incompatible formats - brought about entirely by the equally idiotic plethora of DRM systems - will kill any e-book reader that won't read any format that's thrown at it. The sooner the better.

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  17. Adam Williamson 1


    That should be :Iain M. Banks': , not "Ian M. Bank's". Also note that The Bridge is not by Iain M. Banks but by Iain Banks. Though it's one of the most M-y of the non-M books, arguably....

  18. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Crappy customer service from Waterstones - beware!

    Beware of duff eBooks even from legitimate sellers. Waterstones offer China Mieville's 'Perdido Street Station' for the Sony eBook Reader, but the book has been completely ruined by the morons who did the conversion - there are whole sections of the book in the wrong order, typos and weird characters aplenty and whole blocks of text have been repeated throughout the document.

    I alerted Waterstones to the fact they're selling a version of the book the author couldn't possibly want people to see. What does Britain's leading bookseller have to say on the issue? Well let's have a look at their mission statement:

    'Waterstone's mission is to be the leading Bookseller on the High Street and online providing customers the widest choice, great value and expert advice from a team passionate about Bookselling. Waterstone's aims to interest and excite its customers and continually inspire people to read and engage in books.'

    So you'd expect an 'oh dear, we're really sorry, here's a corrected version of the book. Thanks for letting us know.' (You know, like they would if you found a paper book which had been incorrectly printed or was barely legible). Well to spare you the illiterate emails I got from customer services; they couldn't care less. They've got your money and they're not going to give it back without a fight.

    Don't expect to get a quick refund on duff eBook purchases. Retailers assume you're a pirate from the start and you have to fight to get your money back, Amazon even considers eBook purchases to be final.

    Instead, if an eBook is shite or if you can't get one thanks to DRM or stupid policies about only selling books in certain countries; write to the author and let them know their work is being ruined by their publishers or that their income is suffering.

    You might not get a refund, but you'd be surprised how sympathetic writers are about customers getting what they want and what they paid for. You might even make a new friend.

  19. Eak

    RE: Dead technology walking?

    "Five years ago, the idea of a stand alone ebook reader might have made sense. Today it doesn't."

    Right... and the idea of a stand-alone mp3 player or digital camera no longer makes sense either with cell phones letting me listen to music and take pictures.

    Yet iPods and Nikons still sell.

    Why? Because while Digital Audio or Photography on cell phones may make sense for a lot of people, but having individual devices that SPECIALIZE and offer a better experience at that one speciality make quite a lot of sense for a lot of other people.

    Yes, I listen to music on my cell phone on my way to and from work (and classical music on my Sony Reader--yes, it plays audio--when I'm reading)... but when I go running, camping, etc. my old (pre-video) iPod Nano is a lot more convenient and durable. When I'm out I'll take a quick pic with my phone because it's convenient, but if I know I'm going to want to take pictures, I bring my Nikon because it takes better pictures, it can use optical lenses, etc.

    The specialization of the stand-alone eBook reader is the display. Yes, being able to read a chapter or two on my phone, computer or a mythical iTablet would be nice, but for any real reading (ie more than a few minutes at a stretch)... a stand-alone reader is best. You see, it's all about the screen (and no, a hideously expensive OLED screen will not be easier on your eyes...). I once read a book on my old Palm III while flying from Boston to LA... It was adequate to my needs, but not a pleasant experience. I have often read eBooks on a variety of computer displays. Again, adequate but not great. I spend probably at least 5 hours a week reading on my eBook reader and it is truly a pleasure to use. I would have always chosen a physical book over my Palm III or a computer display, given the choice... but I often choose my eBook reader over a physical copy of the same book.

    If that's not the hallmark of success...

  20. James Hein

    Kindle is Underrated

    I have had a Kindle 2 since they came out and I have read dozens of books on it so far. First off the comment "and if it's not there then you can't have it" is just plain wrong. There are a number of free utilities that will convert PDF, LIT, HTML, DOC, PDFs and others to a Kindle readable format.

    The unit lasts me a good two weeks between charges and the screen is clear and sharp. That being said I'd love a touch screen, utlities that enable search on conversion native PDF capability (like in their bigger model) but for the most part I read the majority of what I usually would on the Kindle. I pay a lot less for the books than the stupid prices in Australia. It has saved me a lot fo money and paid for itself a few times over already

  21. Mark G Forbes
    Thumb Up

    DRM? Not necessarily

    I personally don't see what the big deal is about DRM and the Kindle. I have both the original Kindle and the new DX. I haven't bought a DRM'd book yet, and I use it for reading all the time. I've found lots of stuff I want to read in the Gutenberg collection, and plenty on the Baen Free Library. There are other sources too, but I don't have infinite reading time. Baen's prices are quite reasonable for ebooks, and I've bought a bunch of theirs, no DRM at all. You don't *have* to buy books that use DRM if you don't want to, and I choose not to. That doesn't keep me from reading.

    The DX has worked out well so far for its intended purpose, which is to be my repository of PDF technical manuals. It saves me from hauling around inches-thick binders full of paper, which is what I was doing until I bought it this summer. Yes, I could read them using Acrobat on my laptop screen, but usually I'm trying to do some work on that same screen, and I want the datasheet to be concurrently-visible while I'm working.

  22. Martin 6 Silver badge

    @banks books

    Not really surprising that publishers are nervous.

    They are already over a barrel by Amazon, unless they are Dan Brown Of The Day.

    Giving Amazon more of a monopoly by putting your e-books on their platform might be worth a second thought.

  23. BobC

    You only scratched the surface!

    My motivation for getting an eBook reader was to permit me to spend less time at my computer reading. I do a ton of reading...

    I made my choice based primarily on wanting a "minimalist" device (no WiFi or cell networking) that would be rugged, long-lasting, easily fit in a cargo pants pocket, and would accept an SD card for additional storage. I especially like the current crop of 5" eInk-based readers, since they have the same 800x600 resolution as many larger readers, providing sharper text in a smaller form factor.

    I'm using the Astak EZReader PRO, which understands just about every known non-DRM eBook format, in addition to Adobe Editions. My 80 year old mother purchased the same model!

    The Astak EZReader PRO is a rebranded Jinke Hanlin V5, which is also sold by several others, such as Endless Horizon's BeBook Mini, and the IBook V5. Other eBook readers include: Bookeen's Cybook and ECTACO's jetBook. And the list goes on...

    There are also many FREE sources of eBooks, and Project Gutenberg is only the start: Google for "free eBooks". Beyond that list, many authors and publishers provide free eBooks for their titles that are no longer in print. Crazy publishers, such as Bean (one of the largest publishers of science fiction), make nearly their entire catalog freely available as eBooks.

    More authors are placing their books under a Creative Commons license, and make them available in eBook form from their web sites. Find them by searching for "Creative Commons", or simply start here: Short works such as scientific papers and whitepapers are also readily available from the authors and/or journal publishers (including Arxiv, PLoS and others).

    Finally, you can always make your own eBooks! For example, the Calibre program, among its many other features, has the ability to periodically download any site's RSS feed, convert it to your preferred eBook format, then automatically transfer the latest news to your eBook reader whenever it is plugged in.

    Yes, you can even get The Register on your eBook reader!

  24. Mayhem


    Once the other major publishers start removing DRM same as Webscriptions, then I'll be more interested in buying from them.

    I read a lot of e-books on the screen (full text looks more like work than web browsing) but I only purchase things that once I own it, it is mine to do what I want with. I don't want to be locked to a particular device, or particular shop. Especially with the way technology will outdate a device in a matter of months. I have books that are over a century old, the words are still readable, and I can lend it to a friend with no issues. I'd rather purchase ebooks that are device independant, so I know that whatever I buy to read them with will work fine.

  25. Bassey

    Wrong model

    I think the whole model for eBooks is wrong. The industry is treating eBooks like MP3s but they are used completely differently. If I buy a music album, I will listen to it several times. It will then go on the PC/MP3 player and it will get played occasionally for many years. It doesn't even matter if it's not that great. It just sits there - it's only a few minutes worth and I can always hit skip if I'm not in the mood.

    When I buy a book I will read it. If it is quiet good it goes on the bookshelf. If it's very good it will get lent out in a "you have got to read this" fashion. Otherwise, it goes on eBay or to a charity shop. Reading a book is a serious time investment so it is quite rare to read a book multiple times. That is why libraries are so popular.

    Yet the industry is treating them like MP3s. We are meant to buy them (full price!), read them and then keep them forever. This works for reference material but just doesn't make sense for most fiction.

    I would be far more inclined to get an eBook reader if I could "rent" an eBook for a couple of weeks - much like the DVD-by-post services. After I've read the book, I can either leave it for the DRM to make it "disappear" or, if I REALLY liked it, I could choose to buy. There could even be a social networking element to it. I could recommend a rental to a list of friends etc (or warn them off the dross).

    But I am not going to regularly pay full-price for an ebook that will then never get used again. There is no return on my investment - either monetary or time.

  26. Ian Farrell

    Does the tech have a long term future in its present form factor?

    I own quite a few eReaders. I have all the Sony models and although they are probably the best of the current bunch, they still fall well short of what will eventually be an acceptable standard.

    Kindle have gone down the proprietory (closed) route with format and DRM and now that Sony have woken up and offer a slightly more open standard they will possibly win a larger market share.

    As a slightly aging geek I have hundreds of manuals which I do not wish to cart about. The eReader is a very good way of getting all my manuals into a bag and taking them with me.

    So far, two publishers have come closest to getting it right. O'Reilly has a pretty good offering but the company that really has impressed of late is Packt. All their manuals are in ebook format and with great discounts if you buy both print and pdf versions. But regrettably, prices of most ebooks are still way too high and that has to change quickly if there is to be a major adoption of the medium by a larger audience.

    I have one serious problem with PDF manuals though. Most screen grabs are jpg graphics dropped in to the text and these do not display well in ebook PDFs, being virtually unreadable.

    Having said all this, I have to conclude that unless someone comes up with a fully searchable format that can be annotated and possibly suppports insertions to keep the content current and up to date, then perhaps this is a niche technology that was always destined to fail in a wider market.

    Most tech publishers don't understand the product and manufacturers, with Sony as the surprising exception, have not learnt much from the film and music industry DRM and format wars of the last twenty years.

    I am an avid collector of books, printed ones, and I will never give them up. ebooks are a tech convenience that lends itself to temporary media publishing such as newspaper and magazine replacement and technical manuals that are usually out of date before the presses even roll.

    Perhaps the netbook or its next incarnation will serve the purpose better than dedicated eReaders that are both very limited in what they offer at a price that is way too high. A fully radio connected, light weight tablet with decent 12-14" screen and a long battery life with a searchable and editable publishing format would be ideal.

  27. Am

    Banks ebooks

    21 of his books are available on Waterstones website - do an advanced search for Iain Banks, format ebook.

  28. ASG


    Some libraries that have web sites are starting to offer e-Book loans. Not many in the UK though.

    Yes, the technology exists - you borrow the e-book for 2 weeks (or whatever the loan period is). You download it, and it is deleted from your PC and reader after 2 weeks. The library has a limited number of copies to lend, as per usual for real books.

  29. Dave Humm

    HG Wells - not in the UK or US

    As HG Wells died in 1946 I don't think that his works are out of copyright in either the UK or US yet. UK law would be 70 years after his death so we have to wait until 2016 for the project Gutenberg content to be legal here. You are fine in Australia or NZ though as it is more than 50 years since he died.

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