Electronic readers: Which one to buy?

December 5 2010 by Ellen Roseman

It’s the hot holiday gadget. The electronic book reader can be yours for just $149, including wireless connections for ordering and downloading books.

I’m talking about the Kobo, the e-reader marketed by Chapters-Indigo in its stores and online. The Amazon Kindle isn’t shipping to Canada until January, as the Star reported.

I did a column about my Sony Reader, which I still enjoy and carry around with me, and my new Apple iPad, which I use for reading books at home.

Moneyville did a rebuttal, saying an e-reader is better than a tablet.

You can see (from the 24 comments on my column) that e-readers are controversial. The formats aren’t standardized yet, so it’s not clear which one will be the winner. Remember Betamax versus VHS in video cassettes?

Also, I heard from many readers that the Kindle doesn’t work with library downloads because of Amazon’s proprietary technology. You need the ePub format, which Sony and Kobo can accept and Kindle can’t.

I also heard that iPad and iPhone screens are backlit, while e-reader screens are not. The back lighting can be harder on your eyes and cause strain if you read for hours at a time.

E-readers are not going to replace the traditional book, in my view. You can disable your e-reader if you drop it or expose it to water, while the old-fashioned book is much sturdier.

I heard from a man who bought 80 e-readers and found more than 10 per cent were damaged by users.

The screen on these devices is somewhat fragile. For one, they are not flexible and hard objects that land on them can render the screen useless. Essentially, they are not repairable.

I think this is great technology with a lot of potential, but there is also a slight downside that no one seems to be noting.

13 comments

  1. DH

    Dec 6 2010

    Interesting article on e-readers. Something you did not touch on is access to libraries. The Kindle does not allow downloading from libraries. Sony and the Nook both allow downloading from public libraries at absolutely no charge. After 2 weeks, the borrowed book “disappears” from the device. This feature may be important to some of your readers. I enjoy your columns. Thank you!

  2. Riscario Insider | @riscario

    Dec 6 2010

    Until there’s standardization, having different readers is helpful. That’s where the iPad excels. You get free apps for iBooks, Kindle and Kobo. That gives flexibility and choice.

  3. TE

    Dec 6 2010

    I have a Kobo and I love it (much more than I thought I would). When I bought it, I just wanted a device to read, not cook my dinner or beep at me for different things. To each their own.

    One important thing to note about the Kindle though: it uses a file type that is proprietary and therefore you can’t get library books on it.

    The kobo, sony, nook (I think) all use epub files and you have the option of using the library systems to get all of your favourite books. This was a really important selling point for me when I bought mine.

  4. PW

    Dec 6 2010

    Ellen – I enjoyed your article on e-readers. A user’s perspective on emerging technologies is always interesting.

    I’m an enterprise IT and telecommunications professional. I’m also someone who loves to read. I have a number of friends that I trade books w/ regularly.

    I have a few bookstores that I take my books to if I’m done w/ them and trade them for credits on buying more books.

    I think the loss of the concept of purchasing (as opposed to
    licensing), as well as the associated loss of the right of first sale, is one of the great issues of our times, with remarkably little awareness out in the world that it is even occurring.

    I spent a lot of time in the library in my home town when I was a kid. Andrew Carnegie’s gift to North America was an amazing event.

    I wonder if anyone will step up to the task of trying to preserve access to literature and knowledge for all people in this day and age, when you purchase a limited license to read a story, which limits your legal and functional ability to share that story.

    What will happen to local public libraries?

    It sure would be nice to see discussion of the social issues
    associated w/ e-readers counter-balancing the consumer perspective.

    Thanks for your time and keep reading!

  5. TS

    Dec 6 2010

    You missed something that I consider a deal breaker when comparing the Kobo and the Kindle.

    With the Kindle, you can actually buy books anywhere. It comes with mobile internet access that lets you buy books (uses Rogers) anywhere. They have an agreement with Rogers, where Amazon pays back Rogers for the cost of the book, so you don’t need to subscribe to any sort of wireless plan either (the cost of the data is included in the cost of the book).

    Trust me, it is very nice when you are up at a cottage (without internet access) to be able to still buy books on line.

    It is also worth mentioning that many of these devices can read lots of different formats. You don’t HAVE to go through Amazon to buy books.

    However, it would seem the Kobo doesn’t support many of these common formats, which may make it harder for people to buy books from other stores or from independent publishers/authors.

    Another significant feature for many people is reflow support for PDFs. For those of us that have to read PDFs on a regular basis (specs, papers, etc.), reflow is absolutely essential. The Kobo doesn’t have it (but they say they are working on it), but the Kindle does (older Kindle users may have to upgrade their devices software).

  6. TB

    Dec 6 2010

    I have an older model Kindle reader which, for all the e-book reasons you state, I love (if one can love an inanimate object).

    Two things:

    With Kindle, you can download free “samples” – up to 50 pages or so of any Kindle book that has your interest.

    This is particularly fun when in the mood for fiction. Just go to amazon.com on one’s computer (more comfortable access than on the Kindle, although one can “shop” directly from it) and sample selected books to one’s heart’s content, all to be reviewed later at one’s leisure and comfort. A

    But a downside to Kindle is that not all Kindle formatted titles are available to Canadians. For example, Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM, which is available to friends in the US, is not so for Canucks, although several other titles by Franzen (eg The Corrections) are.

    Actually, with FREEDOM, Amazon tells Canadians (me) that the book is not available in Kindle format, whereas my friend in US has already downloaded it. Usually, there’s an insert in the Kindle dialogue box indicating the title is “unavailable in Canada”.

    I have inquired of Amazon about this and get the expected response about copyright laws, etc.

  7. DT

    Dec 6 2010

    You are probably aware of Project Gutenberg (and there are many other sites too) for free PD out-of-copyright e-texts of books such as the Bible, other sacred texts, Shakespeare, pretty well everybody since before 1925 or so. But if not, here it is …

    It is particularly useful for those who don’t want to pay for older books — they are already here, in basic AASCI format. If that looks too ugly, just import into Word or some other word processor and change the font.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/

    Try also

    http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/

    for almost a million (well, over 900,000) references…all free.

  8. Frances

    Dec 7 2010

    The rights to publish a book are sold individually to different markets. A publisher that owns the rights in the U.S. might very well not own the rights in Canada and probably not in the U.K. That’s why Amazon might not be able to sell an electronic book to a Canadian. I know it’s a pain but, until an adjustment is made to accommodate this new method of publishing, it’s the law.

    It’s been quite a while since I had anything to do with importing books, but I seem to remember that an individual can import any book as long as it’s for his own use, regardless of who owns the copyright in Canada. Maybe we need to work out something similar for individuals who want to import e-books.

  9. tom toe

    Dec 8 2010

    Sony is still the best by far especially the touch edition

  10. orgchaos

    Jan 5 2011

    I have the Kobo version (not wireless). While I was hesistant to give up the feel and look of a new book, I was won over by the ability to increase the font (and not have to find your reading glasses) and the weight and ease of the reader.

    The downside, though, is it actually costs me more to use an e-reader than books. On average, each e-book costs $10-$15 to purchase online. You can no longer borrow from your friends, neighbours, co-workers.

    I turned to the library to cut down on the cost and find it to be a terrible experience. Often I wait weeks to get a book and when I finally get an email notification that the book I want is available, I am in the middle of another book and only have 7 days left to borrow.

    That means I have to go on the wait list all over again for one of the two books and 14 days just isn’t enough time to read many of the books, so I lose the book when I am 3/4 way through and have to wait for it to be available again.

    I’ve had many problems downloading the books to the reader (doesn’t show up in the reading books section but in the library, etc.) and now I am getting an error message saying that it cannot communicate with my device.

    I have contacted Kobo twice now and they say they will escalate to the next technical support level, but still a week later and nothing.

    Hmmm…guess what I am reading now…a good old fashioned book.

  11. Richard Stooker

    Jan 18 2011

    As a reader, I’ve been studiously avoiding the ereader issue, but can’t any longer. I’m going to move overseas soon. Bookstores there carry some books in English, but they’re expensive. Paying for Amazon to mail a book to me will be expensive, and I don’t trust the other mail service.

    I’m going to buy a Kindle with wireless access before I go, so I know I can still read books I need for work or entertainment. And it’ll cost me less money in many cases.

    However, as a writer I can tell you this — the focus of writers is on Amazon and Kindle. I have books on Kindle and I cannot publish anywhere else.

    For books without restricted content, however, I’m also in the iPad store, Google books, Kobo, etc.

    I suspect that many authors stop with Kindle, though. That’s certainly where most of the sales are, and maybe they don’t know or don’t have time to go into the distribution outlets.

  12. Vic Bartram

    Feb 4 2011

    I love the idea of the e-books, but will probably wait until they drop a bit in price, and fix some of the issues with the sensitve screens. Apparently, once the screen is rendered unusable, it can’t be repaired, so it coms down to replacing the entire unit, which again just adds to the over-all expense.

  13. Doug Munro

    Jun 16 2011

    I have has a Sony e-reader since December 2010 (yep, it was a Christmas gift) and don’t know how I survived without it.

    The only downside to it is that it requires downloading books through computers. In today’s world, I would like to see it download books via wifi.