Ever since we first started this website, I’ve been staunchly anti-Kindle. I’ve disliked like Amazon’s DRM scheme, its reluctance to adopt library ebooks, its inhuman use of “Locations” instead of page numbers, its attempt to hardball Macmillan by refusing to sell Macmillan books, the list goes on.
When a Sony Reader was the only decent non-Kindle choice, I bought a Sony Reader. When the Nook Color came out, I got one of those. I’ve given my sister another Sony, and my mother a Kobo, and I’ve stayed firmly Kindle-less for more than four years now.
But that changed last week, when I broke down and ordered the Kindle Paperwhite ($120), which appeared (until that day) on our Ereader Comparison under the category “Those we don’t like.” We’d passed over it in favor of the Kindle Touch (which has been discontinued), and the Kobo Mini ($80, touch capable, more below).
Here’s why I did it. Some of these reasons might be more subjective than others, and some I’ve researched more thoroughly. And, because most of my reservations about the Kindle are philosophical ones, some of my understanding of its hardware and interface might be flat-out wrong. I’ll be updating and posting again when I actually start using it. …
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The Kobo Mini is Chamber Four’s official first pick among E-Ink ereaders, but until yesterday, I’d never tried it (our budget is small enough to step on and crush). The Mini got to our top spot for two reasons. One: we gravitate toward basic models when picking E-Ink ereaders (if you’re thinking about getting a $180 Kindle Paperwhite with 3G, for example, we think you’d be better off with a $200 Nexus 7). Two: Kobo is the only major ereader whose default store sells universal ebooks. That means that if you want to switch to another ereader, you can take your Kobo books with you, which is emphatically not true of a Kindle or a Nook.
Anyway, I bought my mom a Mini for Christmas (hopefully she doesn’t read this blog very often), it arrived yesterday, and I couldn’t resist “setting it up” for her (i.e., trying it out). And so I figured I’d jot down a few quick thoughts. I’ve only played around with it for a bit, so feel free to tell me where I’m wrong, but this is stuff I would’ve liked to’ve known before I bought it (though I still would’ve bought it).
Size and Best Usage
This is probably the defining feature of the Mini, hardware-wise. It has a 5″ screen, a full inch smaller than either the base Kindle model or the base Nook. The Mini also has a pretty thin bezel around its screen (unlike the Nook) and no hardware buttons to take up space (unlike the Kindle). If you put those elements together, the Mini feels very small. From a glass-half-full standpoint, it’s the difference between sticking the Mini in your pants pocket and having to put it in your backpack. For me, that’s great. The only ereader I’ve used that came close to this was the Astak Pocket Pro, which was still bigger because of its hardware buttons (and anyway doesn’t appear to be available anymore).
These days I do most of my reading on an iPad or iPhone. I never take the iPad out of the house unless I’m going on a trip, primarily because of bulkiness. So out in the world, I read on my phone. That system has advantages (no second device to carry), but also big disadvantages (reading late at night will keep you up).
Most of all, I’m starting to believe the (somewhat anecdotal) evidence that says I read less when I have the option to hop over to the Internet with two taps. Of course, I get distracted most often when I’m reading a bad or mediocre book, but I’ve definitely noticed a problem, and I’m not alone.
That opens up a niche (despite doomsayers) for current and future ereaders: they can survive as a cheap second (or third) device that has one function, reading. For this function, the Kobo Mini is pretty great. …
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The home screen features a desktop with resizable icons for books and periodicals, and a "Daily Shelf" row at the bottom where new content automatically appears.
The Nook Color is Barnes & Noble’s new full-color LCD ereader, retailing now for $250 (more specs below). Basically, it has phenomenal potential, but it’s unfinished, which means we don’t yet know exactly how good it will be. 90% of the problems I have with the device could be solved with firmware fixes—I’m guessing B&N will roll out a major new firmware update in January, with the launch of the Nook Color app store. But I’m also guessing they won’t be able to fix every one of these problems.
Right now, this is still a very appealing ereader—and it is an ereader. If you’re looking for a tablet computer, get an iPad. But if you want a device for reading, and you want to read books, newspapers, and magazines, the Nook Color is well worth the money, and it’s only going to get better.
Let’s get into the details. …
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So Amazon announced the new Kindle Wednesday. Two big pieces of newsworthiness here.
One: TeleRead nailed the prediction. I mean, by a matter of hours.
Two: this wi-fi-only Kindle is a contender. It’s only $139 (ships Aug. 27), making it the cheapest E-Ink ereader on the market. Our problems with Amazon and Kindle still exist: the proprietary Kindle format means that you can never completely trust that you’ll always own your books; there’s always a chance that they’ll pull a Yahoo! Music and your ebooks will simply disappear. Of course, this is true of all DRMed formats, but with Adobe DRM, you can borrow library ebooks and not spend money you might never get back. To make matters worse, Jeff Bezos is kind of a jerk, and he frequently does things that are either stupid or just kind of bullyish.
All that said, $140 is a great price—that and the presence of Kindle apps on computers and smartphones makes the whole package quite tempting these days.
As for Kindle 3 (3G version), it’s the same as the old Kindle 2. It’s black now, I guess. A touch smaller. Buttons are a little different. Otherwise the new Kindle is nearly identical to the old, and still not our first choice for an ereader.
Today at Woot: refurbished Sony Pocket Edition ereaders for $115 including shipping. That is one helluva deal. The Pocket Edition is one of our recommended ereaders for book readers (as opposed to magazine or newspaper readers). More info in our ereader comparison.
If you were considering a Kobo, think seriously about this instead. Basic-model ereaders are more or less interchangeable, and Sony supports Adobe ePub, which means you can borrow library ebooks through your local library (Kobo supports Adobe, too—the difference is 35 bucks). Sony software is a headache, but if you’re reading books and loading up only once a month or so, it’s not so bad. And $115 is a great price.
- 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).
Some news about books and ebooks from around the web:
- Confused about ereaders? After CES pooped a thousand of them, it’s getting a bit crowded. Gizmodo has a guide to the major players, and news of a couple new Asus entries that will be available “this year” (meaning 2012). There’s a Samsung ereader, and a big newspaper reader called the Skiff, and probably another few dozen will come out this year. MobileRead has a guide to articles about there being too many ereaders. If you’re new to ereaders, let me provide a base camp for your shopping expedition: if you want a device to read books on, start by looking at the Sony PRS-300; if you want to read newspapers and magazines, start by looking at the Kindle. You might not wind up with those (they both have serious weaknesses, as do all ereaders), but they’ll provide a good baseline for comparison. And remember to breathe.
- The publishing landscape is changing. The Wall Street Journal freaked out Friday, saying that the Web makes it impossible to get noticed from the slush pile. The Rumpus says there’s still plenty of slush (via), but then we’ve got to worry about piracy and people hating DRM, the Guardian is picking out the horsemen of the book apocalypse, and it’s starting to sound like ebooks are ruining publishing. Calm down, please (publishing is jittery and excitable), and let me posit another theory. Roughly 60,000 novels are published in English in the U.S. every year (via). For the sake of a conservative estimate, let’s cut that figure in half. Then we’ve got 100 novels a day (remember, that’s just in English, in America). Say 90% of them are obviously not your cup of tea. Soooo… haven’t been to the bookstore for a week? Enjoy sifting through 70 novels (67 of which, just guessing, are crap) to find your next read. Bookstores have become the new slush piles, and that is killing the book much more than the Web, or ebooks, or libraries, or anything else. Anecdotally, authors are now reading to handfuls of disinterested cupcake enthusiasts, literally, desperately trying to sell a couple dozen books. This is not good.
So CES officially opened today and, sure enough, prices were announced for the Spring Design Alex and the Plastic Logic QUE. Up until today, I would’ve classified the Alex and the QUE as the two most exciting new ereaders. Then I saw how they’ll cost: The Alex is going for $399, and the QUE is $649 with WiFi, $800 (!!?) with 3G.
Yesterday, I guessed that the Alex would go for $350, and the QUE for $500. I considered those conservative estimates; i.e., I was ready to be pleasantly surprised. Eesh, was I ever wrong.
The big takeaway from these price announcements is simply that ereader manufacturers don’t care about the casual reader. These devices are getting more expensive, not less, and that’s not a trend that’s going to steal the Kindle’s thunder anytime soon.
But there’s more to glean from six digits and a couple dollar signs.
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1-6-10. Looks weird. Anyway, here’s some news about books and ebooks from around the web:
- CES 2010 starts tomorrow. I’m most excited about, predictably enough, a couple of ereaders: the Spring Design Alex, and the Plastic Logic QUE. Presumably both will premiere tomorrow, and hopefully they’ll be selling by the weekend. Among the questions in my mind: First of all, how much will they cost? Are the Alex’s dual screens useful or gimmicky? Is the QUE’s touchscreen as awesome as it first looked? And lastly, how much will they cost? If I had to guess, I’d say QUE-$500, Alex-$350.
- There are a few pieces of pre- or non-CES news floating around. First of all, there’s the new iRiver ereader, which might or might not be laughably expensive. And everybody’s jumping on the Wall Street Journal‘s story that the Apple iSlate is coming in March for one cool grand. Sooooooooo… wait till April and get it for $700? There’s also the Skiff, the biggest ereader in the world, and the new Cool-er, the smallest (that is, the smallest with a six-inch screen and an overinflated price tag—but it comes in green!). I’m still waiting for a netbook with a detachable, backlightable E-Ink screen. It’s a few years away.
- To get excited for the coming year from a, you know, reading perspective, here’s the Millions’s list of books to watch for in 2010. I’m looking forward to Robert Stone, David Mitchell, and Ron Rash, whose last novel, Serena, was among the best books I read this year. Salon does the same thing for January, though with sadly only four fiction books on the list.
- So, this op-ed in the Times, it’s a publisher saying that the role of the publishing industry is basically to have good taste, to find and polish excellent books for people to read. He says, “A publisher — and I write as one — does far more than print and sell a book. It selects, nurtures, positions and promotes the writer’s work.” There have been a lot of responses: at E-Reads, Booksquare, and Salon, among many others. My own response is a little shorter: When there’s more than 70,000 books about vampires on Amazon, maybe publishers should do more selecting, and less promoting and positioning (not to mention less worrying about William Styron ebooks).
- Random of the week: Did you see the Burj Dubai/Khalifa opening? Think Bellagio fountains plus explosions plus helicopter shots. They might have spent more on fireworks than the Empire State Building cost to build.