eBooks & eReaders

by Carmen Webster Buxton

Most of my books are available only as ebooks (although I'm working on changing that). If you aren't familiar with digital reading, there are three basic choices as far as hardware:
  • you can use a dedicated ereader, such as an e-ink Kindle or Nook Glowlight 
  • you can use an ereader tablet like the Nook Color or the Kindle Fire, which has built-in ereader functionality but also works as an Android tablet 
  • you can use an ereader app on a PC, a Mac, or a mobile device like a phone or a tablet
Dedicated eReaders
An e-ink screen looks almost like paper. There is no glare to speak of, so reading outside is fine with e-ink, and because the display is static, the battery will last weeks on a single charge. In the US, the best known e-ink ereaders are the Kindles (from Amazon), and the Nook Glowlight. The Kobo is another popular ereader, but it is bigger in Canada (where it started) and in other countries where Amazon is less well established. All these ereaders come in touch screen models. eReaders also vary as to connectivity. Some allow wireless downloads using WiFi, and more expensive models offer 3G (like a cell phone) in addition to wifi. e-Ink screens are, by definition, never backlit, but Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Amazon sell front-lit models of their e-ink ereaders, where tiny LEDs illuminate the screen from just above it. This preserves the benefits of e-ink as far as reducing eyestrain and glare, but allows you to read in a dark room.

And finally, a dedicated ereader won't beep to tell you that you have a text message or new email. Some people see this as a disadvantage, but I don't.

eReader Tablets
If you want a color screen, currently LCD is the answer. Glare is more of an issue, especially in sunlight, and battery charge length will be measured in hours instead of weeks, but if you're reading a book with color illustrations, this is a good option.

The most well known LCD ereaders are the Nook Color and the Kindle Fire; both are small tablets running a version of Android OS, although the Fire also comes in a hi-def model, and in a larger size. Although they are technically tablets, both the Nook Color and the Fire come with a single ereader app, although you can add more. You can think of these as ereaders that do other things rather than as full-fledged, unhindered tablets. All tablets are, by definition, touch screen. The Kindle and the Kindle Fire offer cheaper pricing by selling the device with "special offers" (they have ads as screen savers and on your home screen).

Multi-Use Devices
If you don't mind reading on an LCD screen, you can get ereader apps to run on pretty much any kind of hardware, from desktop PCs and Macs all the way down to smartphones. Assuming eyestrain isn't an issue, a big advantage to a multi-use device is that you can load multiple apps onto it, and buy ebooks from different sources. The iPad, for example, offers a multitude of ereader apps, and like the Kindle Fire, it comes in two sizes.

Which brings me to a question that everyone should ask before they buy an ereader: Where do you plan to get your ebooks?

eBookstores & Libraries
Some ereaders are tied to bookstores; it's not so much that you have to buy books only from that bookstore, it's more that buying from that bookstore will be much easier with their ereader. If you buy a Kindle, for example, buying books from Amazon will be a snap. Buying ebooks from other vendors will be possible (and fairly easy) only if they offer their books in Mobi/Kindle format without digital rights management (DRM) software. That lets out ebooks from Apple or Barnes & Noble. The Nook is from Barnes & Noble, so their online bookstore will make it easy to put ebooks onto your Nook or device with the Nook app. You can add any ePub (a standard format) ebook to the Nook, so long as it doesn't have conflicting DRM. You cannot put Kindle books on an e-ink Nook or Nook books on an e-ink Kindle. Smashwords ebooks, on the other hand, have no DRM and come in many formats; they can go on any ereader.

If you plan to borrow library ebooks, the Nook and the Kindle both support that feature, and it's available in libraries across the country. Check with your library sysem to see what they support. Only some readers and apps support wireless delivery of library ebooks, so if that feature is important to you, be sure to check it out before you buy. Otherwise, you have to download the library ebook to a PC and then copy the file to the ereader via a cable connection.

Trying out ereaders in person— testing the screen for readability, and the keyboard or touch screen for navigation— is a good idea. Retailers like Target, Walmart, and Best Buy sell ereaders. There are also some good sources of info about both hardware and ebooks on the web, to check out before you shop.

Web Sources
Dear Author Blog: this is primarily for romance readers, but their coverage of ebook issues is stellar, and they also offer buyers' guides for hardware. Of particular use are their comparison reviews.

Mobile Read Forums: this user community is a great place to post questions about specific hardware; they offer forums for every major type of ereaders and they post good info on free or cheap ebooks.

Teleread blog: This is a good blog for news on ereaders and other developments in digital publishing.

Books on the Knob: this blog does a great job of tracking free and reduced priced ebooks, on all platforms, as well as PC games. It's updated pretty much daily.

eReaderIQ.com: this site is fantastic for folks who shop the US Kindle store! It has lists of free ebooks, and it also allows you to sign up for an email notice when a specific book becomes available on Kindle or when the price drops in the (US) Kindle store.

For my own posts about ebooks, click here. Or click for posts with tips about using a Kindle, or about ereaders in general. My review of the Kindle Touch is here, and my review of the Kindle Paperwhite is here.

Looking ahead
One big change caused by digital reading is that you can put an ereader in a purse or backpack and have your library anywhere. You can read a book on the smartphone you carry in your pocket. You can even have both the app and the ereader and go back and forth in reading on the two devices. You can also make any book into a large print book! You'll see folks on buses, planes, and trains reading on their phones, on ereaders, and on iPads and laptops. Digital reading is growing by leaps and bounds.

The technology is changing very rapidly  New models come out every few months, it seems, and more and more people can be seen reading on phones, tablets, and ereaders. Just walk down the aisle of a train, plane, or bus and you'll see them. It's a brave new world when it comes to reading books!

Note: eReaders change constantly, so if you have any specific questions, feel free to email meat the email address on the Contact tab.