E-readers for the visually-impaired
December 4, 2012 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Please help me pick the right e-reader for my visually-impaired boyfriend!

So, my boyfriend is a very intelligent, well-read guy. He's also extremely visually-impaired (I believe he might be legally blind, but I'm not positive) and struggles with light sensitivity. His sight varies over the course of the day - sometimes he may not be able to read even the largest of zoomed-in text on a computer monitor, other times he can read the print in a regular-print-size book with only a little trouble. This means that as much as he'd sometimes *like* to read a book, it's often just not doable. It seems like an e-reader of some kind would be an ideal Christmas gift for him, since he could dynamically adjust the text size, but I'm not sure which reader would be best given his other requirements. Mefites, what's the best e-reader for someone who:

*Needs to be able to blow text up very large sometimes
*Would use it only for reading books - web, etc are not needed (the ability to look things up in an online dictionary, etc, would be fine, but not necessary. Ditto stuff like the ability to buy via reader from a bookstore). For the same reason, black-and-white-only screen would be just fine.
*Would mostly sideload books onto the reader, rather than buying them from Amazon, BN, etc. Is epub still the most useful standard for this?
*Has sensitivity to light (is a backlit LCD screen going to be a problem? or would having to turn on an overhead light to read e-ink be worse?)
*Is, er, not the most coordinated person in the world. A device that won't shatter to pieces if dropped or knocked around would be awesome, though I know all e-readers are going to have limitations on this, because screens and stuff
*Wears thick glasses, often accompanied by polarized sunglasses (I have no idea if this matters - do different screen types interact differently with glasses?)

We are in the US and not committed to any brand names - if there's a cheap, reliable off-brand reader that fits these criteria, that's as fine by us as if it has to be "Kindle or nothing", but I'm willing to spend a bit more for something that's not going to disintegrate or be obsolete within a year. Price point is ideally under $75, but up to $100 or so.

(anonymous because boyfriend knows about my Mefi addiction and may look in on me here)
posted by anonymous to Technology (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If it won't ruin the surprise, I'd have him test out a few of the glowlight-type options available now to see how they suit. Unfortunately they don't usually give you a nice dark room to try them in stores, so it'd be hard to check on contrast. As for overhead/reading lights, it's about the same as lighting a print book, so if that's not an issue with print, it won't be a problem with e-ink. You could get one of the glowlight ones and use it with any reading light -- no downside to that other than cost of the device.

You can go with pretty much any e-ink reader on the market. I'd suggest one that supports epub, but with Calibre it's not really necessary -- you can convert the files easily.

There are plenty of options listed here, though not all are available easily in the US. They're generally very sturdy for electronic devices. Make sure he's got a convenient cover or three for it and he should be fine.

One other thing that may be an issue: check on whether the general interface allows for text resizing (as opposed to when you're reading -- they all allow it there.) It wouldn't be much fun to have to squint or ask for help to get to the book you want.
posted by asperity at 7:25 AM on December 4, 2012

i have the new kobo glo. it has a very adjustable (off, to very bright) backlit e-ink screen, and can redo the text size on the fly by just clicking a button or dragging a slider. it's very fast and easy and its right about $100 (don't know exact price in the states but it was only $129 in canada normal price). i ONLY sideload books and its very easy and wideopen for that. has a built-in dictionary. its very easy to hold, has kind of a rubbery/smooth back so probably easier to hang on too. i have already dropped it a few times without issue.

this is it.
posted by chasles at 7:27 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just checked my own machines.

Both the kindle and the kindle fire allow text resizing to very large (approx 10 words per page), but neither of them allow you to resize the interface itself. The kindle (i have the kindle 3) does have voice interface, which may work as an alternate.
posted by zug at 7:28 AM on December 4, 2012

I'd probably go for one of the glowy ereaders. I have a Kobo, which reads sideloaded ones fine, though I have some issues with the way they organise the front screen because I am picky. Mobileread is the place you should go to for recommendations, though, because they have lots of obsessive people who can give you great detail about every ereader ever created and will answer all your questions.

If you get a case for the ereader, you should be pretty safe from dropping it. I've dropped ereaders lots and lots of times, to no permanent damage, even without a case. Note that the screens for the glowy ereaders scratch easily and scratches really break up the light in an irritating way.
posted by jeather at 7:29 AM on December 4, 2012

I used to work with a guy who is (or is very close to) legally blind, and he loved his e-ink kindle for making text very large. I don't know if the newer stuff is better.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:52 AM on December 4, 2012

Libraries have done some decent studies about which ebook readers are better/worse in terms of accessibility. I don't have one myself but you might find some of these articles/websites useful.

- Accessibility Issues in E-Books and E-Book Readers - from Oregon State
- Accessibility of eBook Readers (pdf) - Colorado State University
- Mainstream Access to E-Books--What Works, What Doesn’t, and What Is Still Unclear - National Federation for the Blind
posted by jessamyn at 8:18 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine whose children are visually impaired to varying degrees got them e-ink Kindles. These seem to work well for the kids.
posted by not that girl at 8:40 AM on December 4, 2012

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
It looks like the Kobo Glo isn't available in the US until January. That's not necessarily a dealbreaker, but it seems to be making it hard for me to find usability details. Does the Glo let you re-size the interface text as well as book text? It sounds like re-sizeable interface is something I need to be looking for that I never even thought of.

Also, a point I forgot to add: boyfriend tends to find it easier to read light text on a dark background, so bonus points for any reader that gives him that option. Is this available on the Kindle (any model)? The Glo? Others?
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:57 AM on December 4, 2012

I use a Kindle app on my android. It doesn't always get the text as big as I'd prefer. However, it does give me the black background/white text that I need for high contrast.

When I'm tired, I use my laptop or computer and read off of the Amazon Cloud reader.
posted by Librarygeek at 9:39 AM on December 4, 2012

Just checked:
The kindle fire allows you to get light text on a dark background.
My kindle 3 does not. Don't know about the newer ones, but I would guess they don't because it would (very) negatively impact battery life.
posted by zug at 9:40 AM on December 4, 2012

Not an e-reader recommendation, but: whatever one you get him, also get a good cover. A sleeve is open at the top, and the reader can slip out; a jacket looks nice (many look like real book covers), but leaves three edges of the reader open; a zippable cover protects the reader from things being stuck in from the sides, plus (since the reader can't fall out of it) offers more droppage protection for the fumble-fingered among us. My own current cover is an M-Edge, but there are other good ones out there.

Also, many covers have slots to hold a booklight if that's desired.
posted by easily confused at 9:45 AM on December 4, 2012

I'll let you know about the Kobo Glo this evening for light text on dark, but I would doubt it. Reading on e-ink is more like reading paper, though, so depending on why he likes white-on-black it might not be necessary. It is certainly available on all LCD tablets.

The front screen of the Kobo is just the last 4 or 5 books you added or started reading -- I haven't totally figured out what it chooses. The shelf interface etc I will also check this evening.

LCD is probably more customizable, but it's harder to read outdoors, more tiring on the eyes.

I really, really recommend asking these questions at the mobileread forums, because I guarantee they have all the answers.
posted by jeather at 10:09 AM on December 4, 2012

It didn't occur to me that nobody's actually made a resizeable e-ink interface yet, or I can't find info about it if they have. That stinks. On most of the e-ink readers the title will show up fairly large on list, and other data (unread/finished, author, etc) smaller.

For book text resizing, you're in luck if you're sideloading, since you'll have the option of editing the ebook file to increase text size even before you put it on the reader. I don't think any e-ink readers offer the white-on-black text option, though it's possible to create PDFs to read in that format. They wouldn't be as easy to resize on the fly. I'm not sure that it would be an improvement on an e-ink display, as the contrast isn't quite as high as with print, and they're not backlit in the same way that LCD displays are.

You may find these display comparison photos helpful.
posted by asperity at 10:13 AM on December 4, 2012

My husb went blind from cataracts and had to get lens implants earlier this year, and we got him a Kindle Fire and it is absolutely perfect for his needs. SPECIFICALLY he loves the ability to resize text very easily and the ability to read light text on dark background, which is imperative for him. We got him a hard plastic cover and that has really helped, because he does find himself dropping things much more often than he did when he could see well. And he often wears sunglasses while he reads and is able to do that just fine with the Kindle Fire. It may very well be different for your boyfriend, since all visual impairments are different, but that particular device has been a lifesaver for us.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 11:39 AM on December 4, 2012

I think you have to test-drive them. The decision between e-ink (with or without a glowlight, which is sort of like a nightlight) and a backlit color screen is really individual.

Also if you are going to make the text awfully big, the small e-ink readers are not going to give you many words on the page.
posted by BibiRose at 3:57 PM on December 4, 2012

A good friend of mine with a similar-sounding eye problem really likes the Nook, and has commented that he finds it easier to use/easier on his eyes than a Kindle, which he also tried for a while. So, that's one data point anyway. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:59 PM on December 4, 2012

Hi guys, this was my question. I decided in December to put the purchase on hold until after the Kobo Glo was out in the US and we could evaluate it in person, but it now seems he's inheriting a Kindle Fire from his mom, who's upgrading, anyway. If it's of interest to anyone, I can try to get him to let me share how that works out once he's had it for a while.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 12:05 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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