A cheap bastard's e-book reader.
February 23, 2008 11:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in getting an e-book reader. The only two readers that seem to have a following are the Sony e-reader and the Kindle. Problem is, I don't want to spend anywhere near the price of those two. Is there anything you can recommend for a lot less money, say under $100 US?

Being a cheapskate, I don't want to pay any more than is necessary for a decent reader, but as I understand it those are the only two that use e-ink technology, which makes reading off an electronic screen very easy on the eyes. I was thinking of buying a simple Palm(-esque) computer, likely an older model. Any palm computers out there with above-average screen quality? Again, an older model that can be found on eBay on the cheap might be just right.

The Kindle is butt-ugly and ridiculously overpriced. But it really seems to be exactly what an ebook reader should be. It's disheartening to know that good ebook technology is here, but it'll be some time before they're reasonably priced, and even longer before they actually become cheap. So in the meantime, what are some good options?
posted by zardoz to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The Palm TX might be for you. What you get is lots of screen real estate compared to many other models, and it's got a relatively modern display so that's nice. They can be had for less than $150 on eBay. And you can read numerous eBook file types on it because you can have the (Palm format) eReader, PDF reader, and other readers loaded on it. The thing about different readers is the different formats of the actual files, so be aware of that. Also, the Kindle and Sony are big, comparatively, and therefore not nearly as portable or convenient. Fine for the armchair, though, if you're mainly a home reader.
posted by Askr at 11:23 PM on February 23, 2008

I use a Sony Clie PDA for all my ebook reading. No longer made but easy to get on eBay for way under $100.
posted by anadem at 11:52 PM on February 23, 2008

Should have added that the Sony Clie is Palm-OS based, and has a nice screen with very clear text. The 'jog' dial makes turning the page very easy. My new battery lasts for about six hours of reading with the screen backlight on, so I can read in the night without waking my wife. The screen is not so good to read in daylight, though it can be done.
posted by anadem at 12:08 AM on February 24, 2008

Just for something a little different, how about a Nokia N770 or N800 internet tablet?

It's more than you need, but it's got a really hi-res screen compared to most PDA's (which should help with the reading), and its good for other stuff too, like watching movies and surfing the net from the couch...

I picked up my N770 for about $250 AUD, so I would imagine you might be able to get one a little cheaper in the states..
posted by ranglin at 12:25 AM on February 24, 2008

For instance, here's one on ebay, "brand new in box", for $150 buy-it-now

Nokia 770 Internet Tablet
posted by ranglin at 12:26 AM on February 24, 2008

I used casio cassiopeia be-300 for a very long time on a train. It was perfectly functional, I had thousands of book loaded on it and I've read at least a few dozen. The only reason I don't use it now is I don't commute. Another little problem was that connection software is very buggy, it's usually recommended to get a separate cf card and a card reader, both are very cheap. The unit itself is around $40-50 used on ebay. They're not made anymore. As far as I remember you can't use it like a good reader right away, you need to install a third-party OS. There are some fanboy sites for the be-300 out there and they have a bunch of software and alt. OSes. Battery life is about 4 hours at first, slowly decreasing over a year of heavy use to 2 hours. New batteries are expensive but I don't remember how much exactly. I think you need to get the unofficial battery or something.. The fanboy sites will have all that information. I was worried at first abou the screen size, which is rather small, but it turned out to be more than enough for me. By the way, there is a reader that can be set up to look up a word in dictionary when you tap it with the stylus, very neat! I also think it's ridiculous how much these readers cost. These BE-300s were introduced for $200 about 5 or 6 years ago, and they can do much more than reading, and they have color screens; therefore a similar modern reader with monochrome screen should be around $40. They're too greedy to let that happen.
posted by rainy at 1:41 AM on February 24, 2008

I'll second the Nokia 770 for ebooks. I've read ten or so books on it and it's really quite nice. The wifi and audio/video stuff is just a plus.

If you're looking for cheaper, the best ebook reader I had before the Nokia was probably the Palm IIIc. The colour screen was perfect for reading in the dark and it felt great in my hand. I tried some other Palms, but they never quite "fit" for me.
posted by ODiV at 2:04 AM on February 24, 2008

I read books in my phone. It is a simple phone that can run java games, and i use tequilacat's ebook reader which creates a java "game" (a simple text browser) with the book you give it in txt or html format. The screen is small, but i got used to it with no problems. I must have read 20 books in it by now. If you need help finding txt books, email me. I don't know what books you want to read but i can tell you my sources.

I have used a few phones with this setup and having an OLED screen is what made the biggest difference in battery life.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:13 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just a note on text size: you can choose your font and size from the fonts in your computer. I load my books with bitstream vera sans in several sizes that i can switch during the reading for comfort. However i am in no way knowledgeable in such matters.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:19 AM on February 24, 2008

ranglin, do you know of any stores in Australia that have it? Or should I only poke around eBay then? I can see many stores here offer the 800 model, but it's wayyy more expensive. Also, how about the battery time?

Also, anyone: how about the iPod Touch? I know it has Safari, so I'm guessing it might support reading html and txt locally (meaning, files stored in its flash memory, not online somewhere). Or does it? Any luck with pdfs, that doesn't involve one of those famous hacks?
posted by Iosephus at 5:33 AM on February 24, 2008

I bought my Sony Reader for $60 through a special where if you signed up for a Sony Visa you could buy the reader for the cheaper price. You may want to dig around and see if that special is still running.

I really like my PRS-500, if it broke or was stolen, I would almost consider getting the new PRS-505 for $300. It's a bit much, but it is a great device. I would easily spend $150-$200 for it.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:54 AM on February 24, 2008

Seconding anadem's suggestion of the Sony Clie.
My response to a previous askmefi question.
posted by tra at 7:54 AM on February 24, 2008

Seconding a Palm TX, as I have read a lot of books that way. Largest Palm screen, easy to read. A Nokia Internet Tablet is also on my wish list, but they need a bigger pocket than a Palm.
posted by Idcoytco at 10:11 AM on February 24, 2008

I read on a Nokia N800 all the time, but it doesn't begin to compare with the visual experience of a digital ink reader. You need to spend the $300 to understand the appeal.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:06 AM on February 24, 2008

nth-ing a secondhand Clie PDA from eBay. The jog dial is delicious. I'm very happy with the Mobireader/creator, and it's free.

Buy a new battery for the used PDA. It's easy to swap and a new battery will let you go 3-5 hours (depending on model). Look for something with 1400ma (Sony standard batteries are 1000ma, in the first place).
posted by porpoise at 12:24 PM on February 24, 2008

eBookwise 1150. I got one of these for Christmas. Good selection of books available and much less expensive than the other options. I suspect the screen quality isn't as good as the Kindle or the Sony, but it IS backlit where those are not. I like it.
posted by rglasmann at 1:17 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I read a lot on a Palm, and not just books, I read web stuff using Sunrise (which downloads them) and Plucker (the browser on the Palm).

And of course, there are a lot of books available directly from the web in text, html and ready-compiled Palm formats.

I did a bit of research on the iPod Touch and nobody can tell me a way to read local documents with the browser, so I'd say that's out. I'd love to know if I'm wrong though.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:11 PM on February 24, 2008

Iosephus: I bought my Nokia 770 from ebay precisely because it is a discontinued product (superseded by the N800 and then the N810). I'd be surprised if you could find the 770 in any store, so I think places like ebay are probably your best best. Having said that, I bought mine from a bloke in Melbourne who imports them, so I got mine pretty quickly!

As for the battery, I find it lasts ages. Maybe someone else can comment, but I know that I probably get a weeks worth of watching a movie on it for 5 x 45 minute train trips before I need to charge it on the weekend. Also, I can't comment enough on how favourably the 4.1" 800x480 screen on the 770 beats the pants off the 320x250 2.5" screen on my PDA/Phone for use with movies, books etc. It's just excellent, and the support community for the Nokia tablets is good too, so there's quite a bit of good software.
posted by ranglin at 7:57 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

The battery in my N800 gives me about 4 hours total if I have the wifi enabled. Double that if not. I carry a second (wafer thin) battery for it on trips. And it has 16GB of storage. But my eyes would die even with its beautiful screen if I had to read whole dissertations on it. It is just too small.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:46 PM on February 25, 2008

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