How to Choose an Ebook Reader

There are so many different e-reading devices on the market now that it can be a confusing choice to make when choosing what reading device is perfect for you. The most important thing is to know all of the benefits and downsides to features on reading devices in order to identify which reader has the features that suit your needs.

Display

There are two main displays seen on e-reading devices on the market, this is the key feature of the reader and the decision as too which screen you desire in your reader is important. The two displays available on the market are color screens which tend to be TFT LCD screens or an eInk screen. Both have completely different properties and advantages and therefore it will depend on how you intend to use the device as too which screen will suit your needs better.

eInk display

The eInk display was developed specifically with the e-reading market in mind with the properties on the display replicating the properties of a paper display. The screen works by using a contrast between white and black shades on the device in order to display an image to the viewer. Unlike many color screens there is no backlight on an eInk display.

kindle e-ink display

Advantages of eInk displays are very beneficial to users who only want a device in order to read novel style books. With no backlight on the screen the reader will not experience any strain to the eyes even when reading for a long period of time, therefore the reader could be read from all day long just like a book without the user experiencing any discomfort with eye strain. This is a major benefit as straining the eyes can cause problems with eye sight in the long run and also triggers symptoms such as headache.

As eInk screens work on the principal of contrast rather than a backlight the eInk display also benefits from using a very small amount of power meaning that the device it is featured on will have a long battery life. This is due to the fact that the display will only consume battery life whenever the display is refreshed, in terms of reading books this translates to the fact that the device only needs power whenever the reader turns to a new page. This is a major benefit in reading, particularly for slow readers as it does not matter how long the user spends on one page; it is not consuming battery life on the device.

The other major advantage of an eInk screen is yet again due to the lack of a backlight on the display. Due to there being no backlight in order for the display to be seen there is the benefit of being able to read from the device even in direct sunlight as there is no glare on the screen as is found with many other types of display. This means that readers can take the place of a book completely, even if this includes reading out in the garden on a sunny day, a major benefit and really does reinforce the idea of a reading device as a replacement for paper books.

There are some downsides to the eInk display. One is that the eInk displays can only cater to black and white displays at the current moment in time. There is talk of a color eInk display being developed however none have been released yet and it is unsure how successful the display would be. The color on the eInk display certainly wouldn't be as vivid and high quality as on an LCD display. With the lack of color this limits the reader to reading novels only, with documents such as magazines not being effective on the display. It also eliminates the device from supporting media such as video on the reader.

Another disadvantage of an eInk display is that as the screen is not backlit the display cannot be seen in the dark which can cause problems for users who may be reading on a plane or anywhere where there is not a strong light. This isn't a major problem however as lights have been developed specifically for eInk devices which clip on to the reader and illuminate the screen so that the reader can read in dimly lit locations.

Color Screens (TFT LCD)

The most common form of color screen included in reading devices at the moment are LCD screens and it looks to be staying this way for a while as they are very effective, displaying bright colors and high resolution to the reader. The color screens are much more beneficial to devices that have other features rather than just reading as the color display is wasted on novel books as it looks no different from an eInk screen and is not as easy to read from.

nook color screen

The advantage of a color screen is that the device has much more possibilities in terms of media features such as video playback or applications. The TFT LCD is perfect for devices featuring media features as the display will show bright colors in high detail. This is very beneficial for some books on the market which are dependent on color to be effective, children's books and magazines are an example of this as they are not effective on an eInk screen due to the lack of color.

Another benefit of color screens is that due to them being backlit they can be read in poor lighting, this is a massive advantage for people who read at night or even people travelling at night as the lighting on public transport is fairly dim in order to allow travellers to sleep if needs be, a color display will provide enough light for the user to be able to read at ease without disturbing anyone around them.

There are also a fair few downsides to having a color screen, the main being that it dramatically lowers the battery life of the device. As the color screens are backlit they are constantly using power in order to light the display, therefore the device is constantly draining the battery on the device which may be a problem for users who cannot charge their device regularly. This is a major downside also for users who want to use the device whilst travelling as the battery life is only around 6 hours on a color reader and therefore may not last long enough, it is hoped that the technology will be developed so that the battery device on color screen readers will have a longer battery life.

Another downside of a color screen is that the backlight can cause a lot of strain on the users eyes when reading for a long period of time which can not only be uncomfortable for the user but can also cause health problems short and long term, therefore it is important to take breaks when using the backlit color display. The other disadvantage of a color screen is that in direct light there can be quite a lot of glare on the reader which can make it difficult to read the content that is being displayed.

Supported Formats and eBook availability

This is a very important feature to consider, all readers have a different range of supported formats that the reader can handle and it depends on these as to what books will be available for use on any reader.

The two most popular formats that eBooks are written in are EPUB (electronic publication) and MOBI. Most readers tend to support one of these two formats however newer readers have been including the support for both formats.

EPUB FORMAT

EPUB is widely available and is extremely common within the market and therefore any device that supports this will have a vast expanse of content available for the reader. EPUB can come in protected format or unprotected (open) format. EPUB is usually given in open format, meaning that you can convert from EPUB to other formats (text, html, MOBI, PDF, etc.). Open EPUB format gives the reader complete control over the book such as sharing, format conversion and so on. For books with a strict copyright, one can also purchase protected EPUB format that can't be converted to other formats or edited.

MOBI FORMAT

MOBI is mainly seen on the Kindle range as the online Amazon store sells eBooks that are written in the MOBI format. MOBI format is a protected format (unlike EPUB) and cannot be converted into other formats. You can convert EPUB/text/html/PDF to MOBI format via Amazon's email conversion process or with 3rd party software such as Calibre.

If ease of gaining eBooks is important then it is important to check what stores sell which formats and what the majority of titles you require are written in. Although the supported format is important it isn't detrimental as there are many programmes available on the internet that are free to download and have the ability to convert file formats, therefore in theory any eBook can be converted to the format it needs to be in order to be displayed on the reader.

eReader Connectivity

The main purpose of including wireless connectivity on a reading device is so that users can simply connect to the internet and download books straight to the device eliminating the need to use a computer. This is a great feature and really speeds up the time taken to manage the device, not only this but readers now have the ability for the user to browse the web on the device with a built in web browser included in many of the devices on the market.

The three ways to connect an ereader device with a computer/network is:

  1. Wi-Fi
  2. 3G
  3. USB

The connectivity options depends on the device and model. The typical combination in 2011 for connectivity is Wi-Fi + USB. Some devices might have Wi-Fi + 3G + USB for even more flexibility.

Wireless connectivity can be provided to the reader via Wi-Fi or 3G connection. Many readers come with the option of buying the reader as a Wi-Fi only device or including Wi-Fi and 3G. If this is a particularly important feature then the Kindle range is well known for its excellent wireless connectivity and web browsing facilities on their readers. The main advantages are being able to eliminate the use of a computer and saving the user a lot of time and hassle by the books going straight on to the reader. A lot of the software that is built for managing e-readers is very poor, some don't have any at all and therefore it can be a pain trying to use a computer to manage the device.

The downsides of wireless connectivity are mainly to do with the effect of the feature on the battery life of the device. An example of this is that an eInk reader that had a battery life of around 4 weeks would be lessened to around 10 days with the inclusion of Wi-Fi/3G. The inclusion of wireless connectivity also bumps up the price of the device considerably, therefore if you feel you would not use the connections a lot it may be worth looking at a reader without it as it may be a much lower price.

Some newer reading devices that are also sold for the purpose of media now come with a HDMI port allowing the user to connect the device to a television in order to share the media you may have stored on the device with other people. If this seems like an important feature to you then it is also worth looking into these sought of connections before buying the device.

User Interface

The two main interfaces used on e-reading devices on the market tend to be between a button interface, which normally incorporates a QWERTY keyboard (not all the time) or a touch screen interface. The touch screen interface has proven to be extremely popular however the popularity of the Kindle (which has a QWERTY keyboard and button interface) proves that there are benefits for both.

kindle sqrty keyboardsony touch screen

The main advantages of a touch screen display are the ease of use. With a touch screen display it is easy to select things on the screen, particularly useful in web browsing when trying to click on links or pictures, it saves a lot of time as on a navigational button interface the user would have to spend their time scrolling through the page and menus. Touch screen interface also allows the reader to interact with applications that may be on the device. There is normally a virtual keyboard on a touch screen interface so the user can still easily input text on to the reader.

The downsides of the touch screen aren't too detrimental, the one problem of touch screen is that the device will be receiving a lot of wear and tear on the screen which can leave fingerprints and smudges, and these can cause the display to become obscured at times which can disturb reading on the device. Some people also dislike a touch screen interface on a reader as when they are holding the reader they can accidently turn the pages on the device which causes problems with reading.

The button interface is a very old method but is still used in many devices and is also fairly popular. QWERTY keypads are very popular as they are very easy to use and once the user is used to them they will be able to input text on to the device very easily. Buttons are preferred by many as some touch screens can be temperamental and it also prevents any finger prints or smudges obscuring the display on the device.

Screen Size and Portability

It is important to look at the size of the reader you are buying, particularly if portability of the device is important to you. Readers tend to come in three screen sizes, small screens at 5" the standard at around 6/7" and then the larger readers with displays of around 9". If portability is important to you then it is important to check the dimensions and the weight of the device before you purchase to be sure that you will be able to transport the device as and when you need to.

Screen size may also be important if you are going to be viewing a certain style of files on the device. For example if you plan on viewing mostly PDF's on your reading device then a larger screen will be much more beneficial to your needs. Smaller screens can support files such as PDF's however they do look better on a larger screen, this can compromise the portability of the device though.

Text-To-Speech, audiobooks and music playback

The ability of transferring text of eBook files to audio was seen as a gimmick by many people however the tool is extremely useful as it opens up reading to partially sighted consumers or even those who don't like to or struggle to read. Text to speech seems to have many uses such as it has proven to help improve weak readers as they can listen to the book whilst following the words, also people who do not have strong enough vision to read off the device can still enjoy an e-reader.

Audiobooks are extremely popular, as is music playback, these are two features which as is the case with text to speech, can only be used when there is audio support on the device and also the hardware must be able to support it by including either speakers or a headphone jack, in some cases both. If these are important to you then it is important to check the specifications mainly for MP3, AAC or OGG support. Not all readers that support audio have the text to speech function and this is a feature that should be looked for specifically, if you are not sure then ask.

Apps/Web Browsers/Games

Some ebook readers may have extra functionality such as a web browser to surf the web/check email, provided the device has Wi-Fi or 3G on it. Other devices might offer special applications or games on the device as a bonus.

kindle web browsernook games

Reading Features

Each device offers reading features. Some important things to look for:

  • Built in Dictionaries for instant word lookup
  • Horizontal/Vertical screen rotation
  • PDF resizing
  • Annotation/Note taking
  • Font Type Selection
  • Font Size Selection
  • Text to Speech Reading Support
  • Audiobook Support

The above list is not exhaustive, but it's a good starting point for what to look for in an ebook reader.

PC Software

This is more important for users who plan to manage their device completely on a computer and therefore may not buy a device with wireless connectivity. Some reading devices don't even come with PC Software and if this is going to be a problem then it is best to check it out beforehand. If the device you really like does not come with software then it may also be worth checking out some unofficial freeware that is on the web. The freeware programme known as calibre is highly recommended and is easily available on the internet. All of the software that comes with reading devices is free and can be downloaded from the manufacturers store even without owning a device so it might be an idea to check a few out before buying a reader to make sure you will be able to manage the device easily when you purchase it.

Other features that are not so important include areas such as accessories for the device. If you are a person who is going to want to personalize their device then there are some readers that cater to this much better than others. For example the Nook store has a range of accessories such as cases that allow the user not only to protect their device but to also give it a personal touch. It is important to look at more practical devices too, such as lights for eInk readers, adaptors that allow devices to be charged from the wall and screen protectors as these are all important in maintaining the quality and running of the device.

The Price of Content

Buying the reader is a key part of the e-reading experience however it is also important to check out the after care. The initial cost of the reader is going to be a substantial amount however the content you will purchase for the device will probably cost you more than the device did in the long run. It is important to research the places you will be able to purchase content for your reading device and to also check the price to make sure that the cost of filling the device will not make you bankrupt.

Most e-reading device manufacturers have an online store that sells books that can be displayed on the devices they have released. If the device does not have a manufacturer with a specific website then they tend to pair up with an existing online store. In most cases the popular readers such as the Nook range by Barnes and Noble and the Kindle range by Amazon have expansive stores with millions of titles and therefore users should be able to find everything that they need in one place without worrying about the format of files.

In terms of price and availability, the Amazon Kindle offers the most, with the Kindle store having the biggest selection of ebooks on the planet and the availability of most new hardbacks for under 10 bucks.

The prices of eBooks are also important as you do not want to be paying a high price for eBooks that can be bought elsewhere for a lesser price. It is also nice if the eBooks are less than the RRP of a paper version as there are no printing costs etc. and therefore it would make sense for the cost to be less.

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