Ebook reader for academic PDFs?
January 12, 2010 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience using an ebook reader for academic papers (physics, bio-chem)? Since most articles are available only as high-resolution, multi-column PDFs my instinct is that a standard Kindle may be a no-go.

Other desirable features would be annotation (and easy access to those annotations) and access to ebook stores in Europe and Israel.

Or, should we wait and get one in a few months?
posted by herzigma to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Academic papers on the Kindle 2 kind of suck. You can't zoom the PDFs. Most of them are readable if you flip the Kindle to landscape mode, but just barely, and the pagebreaks are all screwed up. Also, annotations, etc. don't work on PDFs on Kindle 2. If this was my primary reason for buying a reader, I wouldn't buy a Kindle 2.

I don't know about the other e-readers, and even the Kindle DX is supposed to have better PDF support.
posted by jeb at 7:18 AM on January 12, 2010

You're out of luck with the Kindle, I believe. While it now allows you to read PDFs, there are no zoom features, so the pages have to be squeezed to fit inside the regular screen. Now, this might be tolerable on the new DX model...but I don't believe that you can annotate a PDF (someone will have to confirm).

The other option would be to turn the PDF into an ebook, using something like Mobipocket Creator. But this would probably turn an academic paper - with footnotes, diagrams, etc. - into a big mess. It's bad enough with regular text.

You might want to see what these new rumoured iSlate tablets are going to look like. If there's a good PDF reader/annotater included, it might be just what you're looking for.

On preview, echoing jeb about viewing PDFs.
posted by hiteleven at 7:19 AM on January 12, 2010

Well ... I am using a asus eee t91 (touchscreen tablet netbook) in tablet/portrait mode for just this task. It runs Win 7 and I use Foxit (for PDF's), firefox, and Evernote.

The 9 inch screen is sometimes just a bit too little for large journal pages (e.g. A4) with small fonts.

Otherwise it is rather good. But an 11 inch screen would be an amazing improvement.

And it doubles as a spare PC.

posted by jannw at 7:23 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use a Kindle DX for academic articles, and it is pretty good for text, even multiple columns but only okayish for diagrams and tables. Since you can't zoom and scroll, some tables and diagrams work better than others. Multi-column text, however, is pretty good, as long as you can deal with slightly smaller than normal size.

And managing files on the DX can be a pain. I combine it with Mendeley, which handles things like naming files, and then I transfer them by hand.

Also, Good Reader for the iPhone strips out everything but text, and is surprisingly workable.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:19 AM on January 12, 2010

I've thought about this a little, and I don't think any of the existing ebook readers are really suitable: B&W, no zoom, no/limited search features etc.

A tablet PC has these features (and they allow very easy annotation of PDFs with a stylus), but have a shorter battery life, are heavier, and cost more.

Personally, I'm hoping that Apple will soon announce a tablet, and that I'll be able to install Papers (either the Mac or iPhone version) on it.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 8:27 AM on January 12, 2010

I read journal articles using Papers on my iPod Touch. It is doable with most formats and the navigation is pretty easy. The longest I've read at a stretch is an hour, and that was fine. It's not a perfect solution, but far better than any of the ebook readers I've seen. I don't usually annotate, though.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:50 AM on January 12, 2010

I've been generally pleased reading double-columned PDFs on the Kindle DX.
posted by dfan at 8:50 AM on January 12, 2010

Seconding jannw's recommendation of the ASUS T91 series-- I recently got a T91MT after polling AskMe with a similar question, and it's beyond amazing for reading and annotating journal articles. I agree that screen size can be an issue at times, but the five-hour battery life and netbook/tablet convertible design more than make up for that. Here's a pretty good youtube video review of the T91MT by a grad student.

Perhaps the best thing about using a netbook as opposed to an ebook reader is that in addition to reading and annotating the pdfs, I'm also able to keep them all organized through Zotero and synchronized through DropBox, so I can access the annotated versions of every paper I've ever read here on my work computer, too.
posted by The White Hat at 9:32 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Look into the Iliad by Irex. It is not available in the US due to FCC noncompliance, so you'll have to score one off ebay. It is a terrific e-reader, has the e-ink screen, natively reads pdf and supports zoom functionality. Way better than the kindle or sony reader and DRM free...
posted by jnnla at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2010

The kindle is too small but the Kindle DX -- which can be read sideways -- seems to handle scientific pdfs just fine. My husband is a computer scientist & reads a lot of double-column pdfs on his kindle.
posted by media_itoku at 11:40 AM on January 12, 2010

The new QUE looks promising, but it's expensive. I absolutely can't do .pdfs on Kindle 2. The view just totally sucks. I'm really interested in this too, though, as I've been looking for a good .pdf reader for a while.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 12:05 PM on January 12, 2010

I use the sony ereader for this, and it works decently, not as good/easy as w/ paper, but doable. you can zoom, or enlarge the text, but you can't make notes while zoomed. I'd suggest taking a sample paper on an SD card or USB drive to a sony store and trying it out, if you can, to see what you think.
posted by katers890 at 12:31 PM on January 12, 2010

Thanks for all the suggestions.

Does anyone have experience with the iRex readers? Specifically the DR1000?
posted by herzigma at 5:25 PM on January 14, 2010

I just ordered a Sony Reader daily edition for just this purpose. You'll find an extensive video overview of how it does with academic/technical pdfs here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF3p55C1Nt4.

My criteria include being able to read academic PDFs with complex layouts without having to zoom or use reflow (which destroys layout); and being able to annotate pdfs -- preferably with a pen. And since complex pdfs can slow readers down, a good page-turning time, as well as the ability to jump around easily, are also nice. It should also be decently lightweight.

I currently have the Kindle DX--which is very good--but it has no annotation capabilities for un-converted pdfs.

I've also tried the original Irex Iliad but I found it to be too slow; and its screen wasn't quite large enough. I think the DR1000 has gotten mixed reviews; the DS800G seems to have gotten good reviews but I don't think is available in the US now (ever?); here's an unboxing with comparisons to the sony reader daily edition: http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=70664. The gist is they're about even. Personally, I don't like iRex as a company -- they have a poor reputation for customer service and communicating with the public about their products (their similar to Archos in the since, and were utterly silent about the delayed release of the 800 in the same way that Archos was silent about the Archos 9).

Keep in mind that there a ton of readers coming out this year. The business/academic holy grail is the Plastic Logic Que, due in April but very expensive: http://www.que.com/

Then there are tablets. I've tried a ton of them, including the eee pc T91 . I'm far too bothered by the screen backlighting and the sluggish performance of tablets small and light enough for me to comfortably use as an e-reader. Not to mention the user interface problem, which has essentially hampered the wide adoption of tablets for anything since their adoption. The Apple Tablet, to be announced in January 27, is rumored to be a solution to this problem, and is also rumored to be engineered in part as an ereader. Further, Pixel Qi has developed a screen technology that is meant to be a hybrid that converts from regular LCD to non-backlit (e-ink approximation) at the touch of a button. A number of devices coming out this year will use this technology, along with capacative touchscreens and a fast tegra chipset; the Notion Ink is one such device (http://www.notionink.com/).

And Qualcomm has developed a color e-ink screen for use on devices soon ("Mirasol").

And then there are some very promising hybrids with both lcd and e-ink screens; the enTourage eDGe is being marketed to students: http://www.entourageedge.com/devices/entourage-edge.html. You can push content between screens with ease, and there are full handwritten note-taking capabilities. I like the use of android on the net-book side. A bit heave at 3 lbs. Same idea, smaller device: the springdesign Alex: http://www.springdesign.com/us/index.action

There are countless other devices about to be released -- there were a glut of ereaders at the CES conference this year. Samsung, Asus (http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/22/asus-dr-950-touchscreen-e-reader-spotted-in-the-wilds-of-asus/), Skiff, Hanovon, and the list goes on and on. See this matrix: http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/E-book_Reader_Matrix. And you can follow the latest technologies by subscribing to the mobileread rss feed.

So for me: it's the Sony Daily Edition for now. I may upgrade to the Que, and I'll certainly get the Apple tablet. And I'd love to check out the Springdesign Alex and the Entourage Edge. And I'm looking forward to pixel qi/mirasol devices.

And no, I can't really afford this obsession, but I hope this post helps.
posted by studio2054 at 4:27 AM on January 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

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