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October 6, 2010 1:01 PM   Subscribe

E-Reader time: beach, bath, page lag and sync.

There are tons of out of copyright books I'd like to read, e-book readers have got a lot cheaper, so I'm considering buying one. I've got a few questions though:

1. Has technology improved enough so that the annoying page turn blanking has gone away? If not, do you get used to it, or is it distracting?
2. Are there any e-readers you can read on the beach or in the bath? I'm not looking for a ziplock bag, I mean something that will work as it is.
3. calibre seems good for syncing. Does anyone here use it? How clever is it? Can I use calibre-server to continue reading a book on my android when I don't have my e-reader with me?

Any general advice? I'm not really interested in a keyboard. Something light with a big screen. Maybe a backlight (if one exists).

posted by devnull to Technology (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Kindle.

The screen flash is really easy to get used to. I actually love the screen on the Kindle. Very easy to read. I prefer it to reading on my phone.

I use my Kindle in the bath, I'm just careful. I live in the midwest so I have no beach experience, but I don't see why not. I wouldn't shove it into the sand or anything, but holding it on a beach chair doesn't see crazy to me.

I don't know about Calibre, but the Kindle (which is restricted mostly to Amazon content - I've never tried to sideload PDFs or other formats) operates with the cloud and interops with Kindle programs for my Evo. The Evo and Kindle sync furthest read marks so swapping between is easy. Books I've purchased through Amazon are available in both places.

The Kindle I have has a keyboard (I don't really use it much) and no backlight (I have a case that I clip a little LED light to).

If you're hip with DRM-locked books and Amazon's control, the Kindle is wonderful in my opinion.
posted by cmm at 1:08 PM on October 6, 2010

I love my kindle. 95% of its use is in the tub. (One of life's little pleasures is a warm bath and a good book...)

You don't notice the page lag after about 30 seconds, really. Considering the alternative is the lag of actually turning a page, it's insignificant. I'd much, much much rather use an e-ink reader with the page lag that something like the iPad's screen, at least for reading.

I use this to keep my kindle dry. It's essentially a giant, stronger ziploc. It's a bit of a pain, but once you've navigated to your book, it's not an issue. It's definitely saved me from my own klutziness though, so no complaints here.

Calibre works pretty decently. It's probably the best solution out there, if you're planning on reading non-amazon content. I haven't tried it since Kindle upgraded the software to support collections (folders), however. And I haven't tried calibre-server; my only syncing needs are handled by Amazon.

I only time I use my keyboard is to name collections. Prior to having them available, I never used it. It's a giant waste of space, IMHO.

That all being said, I love, love love my kindle. Seriously seriously heart it. And I know I'm not alone. People are passionate about their kindles.
posted by cgg at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2010

Seconding that the Kindle screen flash is annoying at first but you adjust very quickly. I don't even notice it now. The flicker time goes down with each generation, my new Kindle 3rd generation is even better. It also has a nice cover you can get from Amazon with a built-in light, which I like a lot more than the clip-on light I had for my 2nd-gen Kindle.

I *think* I could use it in the bath or on a beach if I really wanted to, but I'm paranoid and haven't.

Not sure about Calibre, though. I keep meaning to try it. The Kindle and the Kindle Droid app sync up just fine, though.
posted by Stacey at 1:37 PM on October 6, 2010

1. Nope, it's still there for e-ink devices. Mostly got used to it. You're looking at a new page in comparable time to what it takes to flip a page in a book (but, of course, odds are the book's page has more on it, and you only flip every two pages, so there is time lost.) The only time I'm annoyed by it is when I want to flip back a few pages to reread something.

2. Not that I know of.

3. I use Calibre, and it's clever, but I haven't used calibre-server.

n. e-ink and backlight are antithetical. LCDs have backlights; e-ink doesn't. That's a feature for e-ink, mostly -- that's what makes it easy on the eye and readable in bright light. But unreadable in the dark. The Sony PRS-700 has an LED edgelight; it's the only one I know of with that built in -- others have little clip-on light accessories.

Some people like the experience of reading on some LCD screens; I never did. Despite being an avid reader who's had handheld devices I could read on since 1997, only this year with my Nook have I done appreciable reading of e-books.

Some tech I'd like to see in action is the Notion Ink Adam (not out yet) with a Pixel Qi screen -- a different kind of LCD for which e-ink-like quality is claimed when the backlight is turned off. And the Asus EEE Note (not out yet) which doesn't have Pixel Qi but will have monochrome LCD with no backlight. These should have almost instant screen refreshes; my big question is how good the text quality will be.
posted by Zed at 1:41 PM on October 6, 2010

I have a Nook, and before that a Kindle v1 and the original Sony PRS500.

The screen flash hasn't gone away -- it's still a necessity of e-ink, to clear the screen of afterimages before displaying a new page -- but as the previous commenter said, you get used to it, and it is also faster on new readers than it was back on that old Sony. Personally I don't even notice it any more.

I don't think I'd use my nook in the bath, and for the beach I think you might be better off with one that uses hardware buttons (a Kindle for example, or something like the Kobo reader if you don't need a keyboard) instead of a touch screen that you could scratch with sand on your fingers.

Calibre is very nice and I definitely recommend it -- although the UI needs some polish IMO, it is an excellent way to manage your e-book library and its automatic conversion makes it pretty painless to use whatever sort of (non-DRM) book you get with whatever reader you have.

Calibre's server doesn't sync your progress between multiple devices, if that's what you're asking. Only the vendor apps do that, and I think only with purchased books. The Calibre server is just a way to get books out of your library over HTTP, either with a web browser, or with a Stanza-compatible library browser such as is found in some reader apps on mobile devices (Aldiko for Android for example) or on a rooted Nook. Personally I use the server mainly to make loading books easier, so I don't have to hook the Nook up to the computer unless I'm loading a bunch of books at one time.
posted by robt at 1:48 PM on October 6, 2010

I have a smartq R7. It has a backlight, and no noticable page lag (I guess because it's not e-ink?) It's colour, so comics and so on work well. Also, it actually runs a full ubuntu system, so you can install any linux software you like on it (as long as it runs on something with low memory.)

I love it, but your mileage may vary.
posted by lollusc at 3:31 PM on October 6, 2010

We have a Kindle and a Nook but there's a lot of good advice about both above, so I won't add to it. I WILL say, however, that I've played with the newest Kindle and the page turn time is astonishingly fast.
posted by lhall at 3:34 PM on October 6, 2010

Nth'ing that you'll get used to the screen flash in less than an hour. Your brain will just automatically direct your finger to press the next page button at the right point when you nearing the end of the page so that everything just flows smoothly.
posted by JaneL at 6:28 PM on October 6, 2010

The screen flash hasn't gone away, but on my new Kindle (whichever edition just came out) it's so fast it's really not a bother (and vaguely helpful because occasionally I turn the page a few words too soon).

As for reading on the beach or in the bath, if you don't trust a ziplock bag, there are commercially made cases (which are kind of like heavy duty ziplock bags and just enough more aesthetically pleasing) that you can buy. I'm probably investing in one soon (cheapest I've seen is around $15 or so).
posted by quirks at 6:36 PM on October 6, 2010

I've had a Sony 505 for the last couple years and it's been great. I've used it often on breezy, sandy beaches and by the pool and in a slight drizzle and never bothered with a plastic bag or anything, no problem. I have used a baggie in the bathtub since, y'know, directly above the water and all. If you do this a lot, then one of the waterproof cases is probably the way to go. I'm not aware of any readers that are waterproof out of the box.

Calibre's pretty much indispensable. The developer's ridiculously responsive to requests for help, as are many of the users, so if you have problems, be sure to ask over at MobileRead.

The screen flash becomes a non-issue very fast, and with the new generation of e-ink screens, it's probably even less of a problem. I would not recommend buying a reader with one of the older screens at this point. The difference is significant.

If my reader were to die tomorrow, I'd probably replace it with the Kobo. I was impressed with the build quality (for something that's not all fabulously metal like my dropped-repeatedly 505), interface, and price, and it's got the fancy new screen. I did get to see the new Sonys recently and liked them (they've fixed the touch-screen contrast issue) so if I had another $50 or whatever it is to throw at having the nice touch-screen page turns, I'd consider waiting for those to ship.

Since probably the single biggest difference among readers is whether it's got some kind of wireless bookstore available: for my use, wireless access is probably a bad idea. The extra few steps necessary to purchase an ebook keep me from doing anything stupid with my budget, and that slight inconvenience makes comparison shopping an easier choice. Plus I'm seldom far away from a computer, so syncing it via USB isn't a problem. YMMV.
posted by asperity at 9:05 PM on October 6, 2010

Thanks for the excellent responses. Until now I have been leaning towards a Oyo (which is a rebadged Medion device) since most of the space on the device is the screen (no keyboard!) and it's small.

So now I'm considering the Kindle too. I have a questions about the Kindle though: how does the wireless come into this? I guess it turns on when I want to get a new book, to save energy, but can I also grab books outside of Amazon wireless, or must I use a cable for that?
posted by devnull at 12:56 AM on October 7, 2010

(all the below is in regards to a Kindle 2 DX - not sure if newer models behave differently)

The Kindle wireless connection is just a sprint data connection. You can easily turn it on and off from any screen. It doesn't turn itself on and off automatically. Battery life with the wireless off is really great. You can only[1] get Amazon content over the air. You have to sideload anything else. You just drop things on while hooked up to USB.

[1] They do have "experimental" web browser access and Wikipedia access you can do over the data connection too. When in a bind, I've used the Kindle browser to access email and such.
posted by cmm at 7:13 AM on October 7, 2010

The other Kindle option is to email files to yourself at a special email address - then they'll be downloaded over the wireless connection without fussing with USB cables. I remember there is a small fee but I can't remember if it's per file, or based on file size, or maybe depends on file type - I have hardly ever used that feature. There are probably details on Amazon somewhere, though.

The web browser is pretty dismal, although I have used it once or twice when my phone died.
posted by Stacey at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2010

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