Which ebook reader?
October 18, 2009 1:31 AM   Subscribe

Whats the best eBook reader I could get for Christmas? And dont say kindle

Im in Canada so the kindle is useless.
I want some thing with an e-ink screen for reading during long trips.

The one I was interested in was the Sony Reader, I was hoping that their big announcement would be good, but its basically a Sony kindle (useless in canada).

I've tried the two sony ones out at the store and I liked the functionality and expandability of the touch screen one, but the screen on the smaller non-touchscreen one was much better looking.

So what's new in ebook readers? Whats coming in time for Xmas?
posted by Iax to Technology (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
There is nothing new with e-readers yet. B&N will soon be releasing one, but it will probably be US only to start as it supposedly has cellular wireless.

For the price, you can't beat a $150 refurbished Kindle 1. I picked up one last week and it was brand new (I've heard others report that as well).

Just turn off the wireless and you can use it just fine in Canada. It supports enough ebook formats to not have to rely on the Kindle store for content.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:06 AM on October 18, 2009

I think the big news right now is Barnes & Noble teaming up with Plastic Logic; everyone has been waiting to see what Plastic Logic will come out with, and Barnes & Noble seems to have invested heavily in the proposition of going head to head with Amazon.

But... will it be out in time for Christmas? How much will it cost? Will it be another U.S.-only/mostly mess? How reliable/user-friendly will the device be? Will it employ a proprietary format (so far, it seems not - good call). We don't know yet. But a lot more information should be released this week, so keep your eyes peeled.

One would hope that Barnes & Noble will have learned from Amazon's stumbles, re: how to respond to flaws in the hardware/software, price points for ebooks, file formats, international availability, and so on. They have a lot more information at their disposal than Amazon did, so it will be interesting to see how they proceed.

The whole industry is at the point of breaking wide open right now... prices are dropping, and everyone and their brother is coming out with an E-reader. What the consumer needs is an affordable reader (around $100 seems to be the price at which readers will really become viable) and a portable format (can be used on different devices), which is beginning to look very much like it may be EPUB (see also here and why WSJ recommends investing in B&N here).

All of which means if you were buying next Christmas, you'd have a lot more information to go on. Sony has a proven track record of producing a reliable, popular, user-friendly reader in the PRS500, which bodes well for the newer offerings, and has now adopted EPUB. Plastic Logic + Barnes & Noble is the new hotness in terms of buzz. Many other companies have come out with ebooks that get mighty close to that $100 magical price point, and support various format.

My best recommendation is to peruse the excellent Mobile Read forums (the E-Reader Devices forum is here), and after checking them out a bit, go ahead and sign up and ask your question there, too.
posted by taz at 2:40 AM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, I have to disagree with wrongcorgi about the refurb-Kindle1, simply because you have to have a U.S. credit card to buy Kindle books (as well, as, I presume the device itself, if buying from Amazon). If you had a Kindle, you could convert some other unlocked (non-DRM) formats (html, PDF, MSWord, txt) to a Kindle format using MobiPocket Creator software (free), but it's not always reliable in terms of the end product (you often get weird characters and strange line endings), plus you have to start with a non-drm file. You cannot read a Kindle formatted file from someone else, for example, and you cannot read a DRMd PDF, etc.

If you don't have access to the Amazon store, the Kindle is next to useless, in my opinion - unless you are a file ninja who can buy DRMd books elsewhere and unlock them, then convert to PRC/Mobi, or deal with the bog mess of pirated versions, which still you will likewise have to convert. I really don't know what the deal is with EBay Kindles, since each Kindle has a PID that allows you to read Kindle formatted books from Amazon that are sold to your account with a registered Kindle. I've never looked into how those sellers deal with that aspect...
posted by taz at 2:57 AM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hey, if you want the convenience of a Kindle, there is now an international version available.
Personally I want to keep control of my ebooks, so I bought a Sony PRS-505 a while ago and use it with the excellent Calibre book conversion/management software. (Microsoft Reader books can be made readable on any device most easily, indeed.)

I think the most sensible decision, when deciding on an ebook reader is to see what books you want to read, how easily they are available electronically and how well they work together with calibre. The Mobile Read forums taz mentions are the best resource for that.

I love the convenience of the Kindle, but I hate the loss of control over my ebooks.

If you get your ebook reader for fiction I would avoid touch screens, they steal a lot of contrast/add glare and aren't really needed for fiction. If I wanted something for non-fiction and had a lot of money to spend, I would go for an iRex 1000.
posted by mmkhd at 5:54 AM on October 18, 2009

I am sorry, I only looked on the cellular coverage map. Amazon doesn't sell the kindle to their neighbors to the north. :-( Sorry.
posted by mmkhd at 5:56 AM on October 18, 2009

I'm in Calgary, and I bought a Kindle earlier this year from eBay. Except for the wireless not working, and being unable to purchase books from Amazon, it worked fine. I was able to load content on it using Stanza.

I didn't use it much, so I ended up selling it. But it did work.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:10 AM on October 18, 2009

I wanted to upgrade from my PRS-500 to get something with ePub support. There's a slew of new products coming out "Real Soon Now", but nothing in the near future. I ended up with a PRS-505 since the new Sony readers aren't to my taste. Apparently the touch screen adds glare.

I'm interested in seeing what Plastic Logic comes out with, the videos on youtube look interesting. However, before the B&N deal it seemed they were going for the professional market (portable documents) and not consumer.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:24 AM on October 18, 2009

I recently read a few articles on a blog, which might be of interest to you. The blog is ultimately about Kindles, so that's the focus, but it also compares it with other ereaders and looks at other options.

- Kindle Canada Review - the Canuck Experience. The writer is in Canada, and reviews using the Kindle there.

- Free International Kindle Books. Links to websites with ebooks that will work with Kindle, but also other devices.

- Kindle Versus Sony Reader Touch Edition. Comparison, with videos

- Kindle Versus Google Editions - Buy Anywhere, Read Anywhere in 2010. A look at how Google is entering the ebook space, and the implications that will have in separating the device from the book.
posted by Houstonian at 7:11 AM on October 18, 2009

The ILiad is what you want.
  • Open Source (based on Linux)
  • Supports: PDF, Mobipocket, XHTML, Plain text, JPG, BMP and PNG
  • With its integrated touch-screen capabilities, you can add notes to documents
  • Because it's based on Linux, there is a huge developer community (available software includes AbiWord, SSH, Web browsers, etc.)
If you were in the US I'd say you might have a problem finding one because the FCC cracked down on them. But you're not! So enjoy your freedom and go get one!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:22 AM on October 18, 2009

i've got the sony 505 and really love it. The battery life is greaat and it's very simple to load non-sony formats on it. The only complaints I have are that the official sony software is windows-only, so I have to run it in Parallels on my mac. Additionally, even though it charges over USB it doesn't begin charging unless it does some kind of protocol handshake with a real USB host. In practice this means you can't charge it with one of those simple USB port wall adapter or car socket dealies, which is frustrating because this is how I charge other USB things in my car. Like I say, though, with a three-week battery it's not a huge problem.

if you have any specific questions about the 505 just let me know.
posted by odinsdream at 7:23 AM on October 18, 2009

I think open source is a good idea in this rapidly-changing market. In addition to the ILiad, you might look at the Bebook, which is what I have. Their main site lists all the formats. Some people replace the factory system with OpenInkpot, which you can learn about on the Mobile Read forums that Taz linked to. I didn't have any trouble having the Bebook shipped to me in the US. The manual included with the device is sub-optimal, so you'll need a bit of patience at first.
posted by PatoPata at 7:49 AM on October 18, 2009

Since you say you want an e-ink screen and prefer a non-touch-screen, I'm guessing that the iPod Touch or iPhone are not options? I mention it, though, because there is a Kindle for iPhone/iTouch app.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:01 AM on October 18, 2009

It's too bad that you want e-ink because you could always make a "diy Kindle"
posted by majikstreet at 8:45 AM on October 18, 2009

Normally I can't stand the technological retardedness of the iPhone/iPod Touch, but in this case I would suggest getting a cheaper Touch and loading up the free Stanza program. It's the second best ebook reader I've ever seen, it's free, and though it's a bloody pain to load multiple books onto it it's definitely a well-done and nicely configurable interface.

Absolute best ebook reader program ever is PalmFiction . Don't worry about the Russian on the page, just click the first link; the program is in English. Only challenge? It run on the now-defunct PalmOS. See if you can find a second-hand Sony Clie or other 320x480 Palm device on craigslist. It's worth it. I've read ebooks on PalmFiction for years, first on my Clie and now on my Centro. The Centro's screen is tiny though. Ah well. Note that regarding the e-ink thing, you can turn the backlight off completely on the Sonys (and I would assume just about every other Palm device), giving you a massive amount of battery time as long as you have decent light around you.

Difference with the Kindle is that a Palm device will actually HAVE a backlight, meaning you don't need to carry an itty-bitty-booklite around with you if you'll be reading in less than optimal lighting conditions, and you won't need a freakin' messenger bag to tote one around with you. Difference with an iPod Touch is that a Palm's backlight can actually be turned OFF to save battery, not to mention the fact that you won't want to slit your wrists after jumping through the hoops of loading more than one ebook onto it. And PalmFiction doesn't lock you in to a custom format. Like the Russkij says: "Чтение документов в форматах: PalmDoc, zTXT, RTF, MS Word 2.x, 6.0/95, 2000-2003, OpenOffice (*.odt), обычный текст, текст с HTML разметкой (только удаление тегов), TCR (полная распаковка)."
posted by tra at 8:46 AM on October 18, 2009

I'm getting one eventually, but not yet. I've been watching the reviews and articles, and the consensus is that none of them is ready for prime time. The screen contrast isn't even close to a printed book, they're difficult to read in dim light, and finding the Next Page button is much less convenient than turning a page. Not to mention the high prices.

When one comes out with a great, backlit color screen, and can also surf the web, and goes for $100, then I'll get it.
posted by KRS at 9:02 AM on October 18, 2009

odinsdream: The sony library software has been ported to OS X for the PRS-500 and above - you really should be using Calibre though. [If you use Calibre and the Sony Software, use Calibre on one memory card, and the sony reader on the other memory card - don't mix them up - it kind messes stuff up.]

I have the PRS-700 - it was the first sony touchscreen, it works well, as far as the glare that folks are talking about, it's not that bad. The only thing I don't like on it is that I don't have access to the amazon bookstore - and the fact that ebook prices are silly compared to regular book prices. But with Calibre, my library, guttenberg (and other free book providers like google), my pdf library, and all the ebook stores that I can buy from - I'm satisfied with it.

This is the last ebook reader I'm buying until pdf rendering is smooth and intuitive. Don't get me wrong, PDF's work well on the PRS-700, it's just that they aren't awesome and intuitive like they should be. PDF rendering needs to be smarter to account for badly formated (not reflowed text.) If you are just looking for reading on long trips, I'd get the least expensive sony reader and wait until the next big thing - it might be awhile. I think the next big thing after SUPER AWESOME PDF rendering is going to be DRM free ebooks, ala the digital audio revolution.
posted by bigmusic at 9:38 AM on October 18, 2009

bigmusic: that's great news, thanks! Calibre is what i've been using for everything except purchasing from Sony's ebook store.
posted by odinsdream at 11:04 AM on October 18, 2009

I strongly disagree about the Sony PRS-700. We had bought a BeBook which is very nice, open-source, many formats - except it wouldn't sync to the Calgary public library properly (two Calgarians in the same thread?) - so, my wife bought the Sony...

It went back within a day - the glare was horrible. We ended up with the previous generation Sony model (the number escapes me), which does the job.

But I prefer the BeBook - although some formats are better displayed than others (CHM is weird (line-spacing issues) - PDF ok, RTF/TXT are excellent).

The BeBook has an SD card reader (won't go bigger than 4gb).
posted by jkaczor at 11:56 AM on October 18, 2009

Any one have experience with the sony PRS-300 and the PRS-505? Any big differences?
posted by Iax at 4:48 PM on October 18, 2009

No experience here, but among the features the PRS-300 lacks (most of which wouldn't make much difference to me) is an integrated dictionary - which, from my point of view is one of the best things about using an e-reader. I got a Kindle because I don't have easy or affordable access to many books in English (and I'm originally from the U.S., and do have an account there that I was able to use to purchase the device); I never expected to prefer the mechanics of reading ebooks over paper books at all, it was just a question of lots of books to read versus very few, but now when reading paper, I really miss just being able to highlight a word and look it up instantly... so, personally, I'd never get an e-reader without that option if I had a choice.

(Note that it's not just that it doesn't come with a dictionary; according to the reviews I read, it doesn't have a dictionary-look-up function at all. Whether this could be easily modified with a future-possible patch, I don't know.)
posted by taz at 12:05 AM on October 19, 2009

The 505 doesn't have a dictionary either, fwiw.
posted by odinsdream at 11:19 AM on October 19, 2009

Thanks, odinsdream... I didn't realize that. I just read something that says it doesn't have a search function either? eep. I use search all the time... so handy when some character or place I've forgotten about is reintroduced 200 pages later.
posted by taz at 12:27 PM on October 19, 2009

Here's some talk about a dictionary for the sony folks - and there are lots of dictionaries in sony's bookstore. And my PRS-700 does have an integrated search FIW.
posted by bigmusic at 1:35 PM on October 19, 2009

taz; correct - there's no suitable entry method for putting words or phrases in even if you had a search application or dictionary file. There are keys from 0-9 which you can use to input page numbers directly (i.e., go to page 300) there's a History function that tracks where you've been in files (handy for flipping between sections of a book) and there's a directional pad for navigating TOCs and menus.

It's perfectly great for my use. Unlike some other people, I'm not interested in an all-in-one device. I'll probably get a CrunchPad when they come out to serve the purpose of an internet-browsing-searching device.
posted by odinsdream at 7:14 PM on October 19, 2009

Oh, by the way Kindle is available in Canda now, since November 17th.
posted by delmoi at 10:13 PM on December 13, 2009

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