Wednesday Links 1-27-10

  • Basically, nobody wants to shut up about the new Apple tablet (supposedlydubbed the iPad–consider it nominated for this week’s dumbest new ereader name award). It’s slated to be revealed today, so I’m not going to bother parsing out the rumors. This one bit about pricing strategies and the coming battle between Apple and Amazon is interesting though. Not sure where B&N is in all this. I guess they probably shouldn’t have f-ed up the Nook launch so badly. Perhaps they are waiting for a boost from Apple? If you’re foolishish enough to get a first generation iPad (thus ignoring Apple’s track record of vastly superior second gen devices), here are some other fun uses for it.
  • It looks like Asus’s EeeReader (or are they Asustek?) will have two models. Acer’s got one running Chrome. Then there’s Mustek. And the Lenovo Tianji. And Endless Ideas has a WiFi BeBook Neo. There’s the Oppo Enjoy (dumbest name: winner). Copia is still hanging around. Even Nintendo is getting in the fray, selling romance novels on their DS. Man, the market is officially awash.
  • Amazon has quietly laxed their DRM policies. So quietly that hardly anyone has noticed. In what could be an enourmous shift, Apple will allow iTunes users to store libraries in the cloud, rather than their harddrives (hopefully it doesn’t require a .Mac subscription). Besides fighting with China, Google is also in a tiff with its old buddy Apple. This may lead to Apple dumping Google integration from their devices and adopting Bing, which is of course owned by–Mac geeks are fainting left and right over this, I’m sure–the evil Microsoft. Regardless of Google’s early success (maybe) with Android’s apps, Apple is still the undisputed ruler of App-land.
  • It’s kinda old news, but apparently colleges are being sued for using ereaders  in classrooms because blind students can’t use them. How using a braille edition to supplement a Kindle (which reads books–poorly–out loud) is less fair than if the other students use deadtree, I do not understand. It won’t help the blind, but if you’ve no backlight on your ereader and can’t figure out how to turn on your lamp, try this dongle. This Boogie Board doodle toy isn’t an ereader (and probably isn’t much use to anyone not a basketball coach) but it does seem pretty cool, and uses no power at that.
  • We’ll be posting on Friday about some of the many changes we have planned for our second year. There’s a lot of good stuff planned, and we’ll be getting bigger and better as time goes on. Check back Friday for that.
  • I really like this comic explaining proper semicolon use; there’s also one for the apostrophe. Also at The Oatmeal, the best Twilight review I’ve yet read (yes, I read the books). Everyone in this school district should be given a lobotomy. And Scholastic Surprise! should chill on this one and use their noggins. Finally, Farmville is stupid (no link, just spouting the truth).

Upcoming and Rumored eReaders

(You might have seen the outline for this post pop up in your RSS feed last week; my apologies for the oversight.)

A couple of weeks ago, I summarized new and recent ereader additions. This week, let’s look forward at some upcoming devices. If there’s a trend emerging, it’s that touchscreens and 3G access are quickly becoming standard features, which is great news.

A quick note before we start: take the information here with a grain of salt. I’ve tried to cite my sources when possible, but even cited information should be considered rumor until these devices actually come out.

The Plastic Logic Whatzamawhoozit

Even though it doesn’t have a name yet, this is the device I’m most excited about. Even the earliest videos of the PL in action (this one was posted a year ago) showed a slick touchscreen with no contrast compromise and a sleek form factor.

Barnes & Noble hopped on as the primary book provider, and AT&T’s involvement combined with the large screen suggests newspapers will be a big target.

It’ll be crucial to see exactly how the touchscreen works. Is it fast? Is the contrast still as good as it looks? Can you write freehand on it? If this video features the same screen used in the ereader, it looks pretty much unbreakable, so that’s nice.

The other big question is price. Some have reported that the PL will be competitive with the Kindle, which we’re hoping means a $300 price point. Realistically, I think that’s a little too good to be true. I’m guessing closer to $500, but I’d be happy to be wrong. I also heard a rumor about a smaller size somewhere, but I can’t find any evidence of that now.

Last, B&N is reportedly developing “their own flavor” of ePub for the PL. I’m not sure why. Incompatibility kind of defeats the purpose of using a universal file format.

Sign up for Plastic Logic updates at their website.

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Sony Reader Six Months In

UPDATE: Sony has just announced that Readers will soon be compatible with Macs , beginning as soon as the end of the summer. Original post follows.

I started using my Sony Reader about six months ago, and a lot’s happened in the world of ereaders since then. I figured it was about time for an update. If you’re thinking about getting a Sony, or you’ve got one and want a few tips, read on.

Sony Reader v. Kindle: Library books still take the prize

When I was first shopping for an ereader, I kind of assumed I would get a Kindle. But since the Kindle was forever back-ordered, I started shopping around and eventually decided that a Sony Reader suited me better.

I didn’t like the idea of being locked into Amazon’s proprietary, DRMed format, and I wanted to borrow library ebooks, which the Kindle can’t do.

Since that initial decision, the Kindle 2.0 and the Kindle DX have come out, but neither allows library ebooks, and neither has made real strides toward a game-changing ereader. The Kindle franchise still seems to be trying to do things (like highlighting and textbook support) that E-Ink technology is simply not yet advanced enough to do satisfactorily.

As for Kindle’s Whispernet, it seems like a cool idea, but I generally stock up on books about once a month, so it’s not that much of a hassle to plug the Reader into my computer. I don’t think it’s worth it to be lashed to Amazon ebooks (and pay an extra $100 up front) for a minor convenience.

While the Sony Reader works very well for me, there are two caveats: I use Windows, and I primarily read casual novels (i.e., no enewspapers, no emagazines, and no ebooks for class). If you’re a Mac user, or you burn through a lot of newspapers, the Kindle’s abilities in those departments outweigh the format lock.

Sony Reader tip: Get one of these PSP chargers. They work with the Reader, and let you charge it at an outlet (and while reading) for less than half the price of the Reader’s dedicated charger.
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A Homemade Hard Case for an eReader

Ever since my first Sony Reader took a powder, I’ve been looking for a case that delivered more protection than aesthetics. I wanted something that would absorb a sharp blow, a case tough enough that I won’t worry about my ereader when I sling my bookbag around.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to want to make a case like this. My PRS-505 and BeBook both came with covers, but neither are rigid. My first Sony, the PRS-700, broke inside just such a soft cover, inside my backpack.

So I decided to repurpose some other kind of case, which turned out to be a whole lot more trouble than I thought it would be.

Here are three DIY options for hard cases that will give your ereader enough protection to survive anything short of being run over. Complete picture gallery at the bottom of this post.
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Why Is the Kindle Still U.S.-Only?

MobileRead’s been keeping track of the Sony Reader’s European march: the PRS-505 debuts in Germany tomorrow, and in Switzerland in early April (still no sighting of the 700).

Just in time, it appears, as new data suggests a whole bunch of Germans want to buy ebooks, over two million (Germans, that is), more than even generous estimates of Kindle sales.

It seems like more and more of a missed opportunity for Amazon. The Kindle has never been available outside the U.S., ostensibly because the whispernet isn’t set up yet. Despite tiny indications that Amazon’s working on this, I’m siding with the camp that says this isn’t changing any time soon.

The two million estimate is way high, as the analysis grants, but still, with the addition of the Sony Reader, that makes only three Kindle competitors (the other two are BeBook and CyBook) available in large swaths of the world. So why isn’t Kindle trying to spread its tentacles across the globe?
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BeBook Classic To Get WiFi; Plus First Look at BeBook 2

Quick news: Engadget reports that BeBook Classic (pictured) is getting a major upgrade in the form of a $40 SD card accessory that enables WiFi.

I’d love to see a few things:

  1. Improved interface and support for library books supported with the accompanying firmware update; currently you have to use an unwieldy hack to borrow library books on BeBook
  2. Open browsing (fat chance of this, I would imagine, but I can dream)
  3. And an auto-download feature that would wrangle and package RSS feeds

(If that last one comes through, it should have ol’ Bezos cackling a little less maniacally.)

Engadget also has a new picture of the BeBook 2 (MobileRead has another one here). Not much we didn’t know already about it: touchscreen, wireless, ePub. Still waiting for the first video for a touchscreen demo, but we might shouldn’t hold our breath: Engadget says BeBook 2′s programming wasn’t quite sound yet, and Endless Ideas is still keeping it under wraps.

Even bigger than the video will be news of BeBook 2′s price point, which Endless Ideas is also keeping a tight lid on. Ominously.

[via Engadget, and Engadget]

My eInk Deflowerment: Why eReaders are Awesome but Still Not Ready for Everyone

While I have high hopes for the successful future of ebooks and confidence in the Great Reader Adoption actually occurring, I have had very little exposure to the current generation of ereaders themselves. Most of my ebook consumption occurs on my computer and my iPhone in small bites (I’m smitten with Stanza, but long reading sessions on either screen prove uncomfortable, especially after spending the work day staring at a computer). So I borrowed a BeBook and took it with me on a recent Fung Wah adventure to NY. Nico’s already done a good job of breaking down the good, the bad, and the ugly with the BeBook, so I’m not going to do they same, and he’s also put forth that reading on an ereader is better than reading a paper book. I don’t agree with him entirely on that point, but I’d like to share my impressions as someone who recently lost his ereader cherry.

Now, I’ll admit I’ve been dragging my heels a little about trying out ereaders. A large part of me doesn’t want to like them.
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BeBook 2 Confirmed, and It Could Be Big

From ubergizmo, here’s the official announcement of the BeBook 2 at Endless Ideas BV’s website. If everything promised comes true, it could be leaps and bounds better than BeBook 1, and it’s even got a shot of being the best ereader out there. It’s slated to have “Wireless 3G and/or WIFI,” a touchscreen, ePub DRM, and to be ready before the summer.

The original BeBook had decent advantages (robust support, open platform, customer commitment) and significant disadvantages (cheap feel, clunky interface, no onboard clock). However, the original BeBook was just a rebranded HanLin V3, and a lot of those disadvantages could be attributed to the HanLin.

Endless Ideas (EI) has all the hallmarks of a company that thinks of its customers first. They don’t try to suck you dry with extended warranties like Sony, or by charging extra for a cover like Amazon. They answer questions promptly, they have an uncensored support forum, and they listen to customers and provide regular firmware updates with new features. Plus, BeBook 2 is touted as “a complete redesign.” Seeing as we haven’t seen anything that EI’s actually designed, this could be, well, anything.

Basically, the new BeBook has a whole lot of potential. Here are some things I’ll be watching out for:

  • Interface/design: That first video will be huge. It’ll show us whether BeBook Classic’s interface problems were the fault of the HanLin hardware or the EI firmware. As far as design, we have no idea what EI’s aesthetic looks like, so BeBook 2′s physicality is a complete x-factor. The good news is that that first look should only be a few weeks away.
  • Free 3G?: I’m guessing not, given that “and/or” in the wireless description. If it is free, this feature will be the real Kindle-killer. Even if it’s not, I’ll be fine with regular wi-fi, and I’d guess that the “and/or” also means regular wi-fi will be standard.
  • Price: Hopefully, EI learned their lesson when the original BeBook got slammed for debuting north of $500. With a good interface, I would happily pay up to $400. If it’s above $500, look for BeBook to remain a third-tier ereader retailer (at least in the U.S.).
  • Mobipocket, too, or just ePub?: EI claims to be working on secure ePub support. Mobipocket insists on DRM exclusivity. If they bump secure Mobi for secure ePub, I’m out: there aren’t any ePub library books. If, however, they manage to do them both, strike another blow for open ereading.

Finally, I must say, I do feel a bit stung that I just got a BeBook 1, but we’ll see what Endless Ideas has to say about a trade-in.

[via Ubergizmo]

UPDATE: Looks like I’m SOL. Endless Ideas will not accept any returns because you don’t like the BeBook, even if (as in my case), you’ve had it less than a week.

That makes it really hard to recommend buying any BeBook, since it’s difficult to get a true feel for the device from a video.

Sony PRS-505 v. BeBook

UPDATE: See end of post.

I’ve come to the conclusion that ereaders are not ready for serious books. They’re simply not good enough for students or anyone who wants to interact with what they’re reading: highlighting, taking notes, none of that is truly functional yet.

So, if you’re in the market for an ereader with which to casually read books and newspapers—one that doesn’t have any kind of keyboard—two stand out from the crowd: the Sony PRS-505, and the BeBook from Endless Ideas BV. (The CyBook was close, but it’s $50 more expensive than the BeBook including a cover, it doesn’t support as many formats as the BeBook, and doesn’t display page numbers or have number buttons, which is simply too little functionality, even for a casual ereader.)

I decided to get both a 505 and a BeBook and see for myself which was better. Here’s a side-by-side comparison.

Note: Sony Readers are not currently compatible with Mac or Linux. They still work with Calibre, but you won’t be able to buy or borrow any DRMed books (which means any current books). If you use one of those systems, get a BeBook.

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Reading Library Books on a BeBook

BeBook support might very well be the best in the business.

I recently got a BeBook after my Sony PRS-700 took a powder. After messing with the Mobipocket Reader software for a long, long time, I still couldn’t make the thing read a library book. This terrified me briefly, because I have a severe allergic reaction to paying for books with digital restriction measures, so the ability to borrow and read library books is essential to me.

Eventually, I found this thread on the BeBook support forum. It details the problem (the BeBook has no internal clock, and so the time-stamped DRM on library books thinks they aren’t active), and one user gives a link to a hack that you can load on an SD card that will give the BeBook a clock, or at least the ability to think it has a clock.

Here’s the interesting thing: the poster with the original problem was a bit reluctant to use a third-party hack, and wanted to wait for an official response from BeBook. The official response came, and BeBook support reported that they’d tried the hack out, and it worked, and they gave their (unofficial) OK.

I’ve never heard of anything like this. This kind of response shows a clear priority structure: BeBook’s customers come first. I can’t say the same thing about Amazon or Sony.

[here’s the specific post that contains instructions on how to read library books on BeBook]