E-book reader that will handle fuzzy PDFs
May 9, 2008 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Is there an e-book reader that comfortably displays PDFs made by scanning type (i.e., PDFs that are images and don't have plain text data)?

I could see myself getting a ton of use out of one of the modern e-book readers, and may be willing to buy an expensive one. But I haven't been able to figure out whether there's one that will do what I want.

In particular, I want to be able to read PDF scans of print journal articles, gleaned from various online sources. These PDFs often do not have any text data in them. In addition, they can be somewhat fuzzy. Here are a couple examples (first pages): [1][2].

I'm worried this sort of thing won't be comfortably readable on an e-book reader screen, either because of display issues or conversion issues.

Can someone with experience clear this up?
posted by grobstein to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: AFAIK, no e-book reader currently does this. I own the Amazon Kindle, but while it does great for other purposes, it's really not great for PDFs. The whole basis of PDFs -- which is that it's basically an image that stays the same on different platform and when you print it out, goes against the way e-book readers like to resize text and float images about. It does especially bad when tables are involved.
posted by peacheater at 3:43 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hurf durf. That's disappointing; I would've loved to get the Kindle.

I've also been reading about the iLiad; some pictures (see comments) of it in action suggest it might be able to do what I want (it has a very high-res display). Does anyone have one?
posted by grobstein at 3:50 PM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: I think the Iliad would come the closest, by virtue of the size and resolution of the screen. But I have never handled one personally. I do have the Sony Reader, but that is too small for what you want to do.
posted by lovejones at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As peacheater said, the Kindle isn't great for PDF, but there is PDF conversion available (with moderate initial hoop-jumping) that works well for image-based PDF files: there's a MobileRead forum post that lays out the steps and the fifth post on that page has screenshots of the results. I've tried it out on an oracle training PDF, and the results are readable on the Kindle (at least to me.)

Shortcuts to the tools you'll need to try it, if you're so inclined:

-PDF->zip app is here.
-batch conversion scripts are here.
-Mobipocket Creator.

When all is said & done, you run:
pdflrf -i "Filename.pdf" -o "Filename.zip"
png2pdf "Filename.zip"
and get a converted PDF to be fed into Mobipocket Creator for conversion to .mobi. (I did say moderate hoops, didn't I?)

The main caveats (beyond the setup process):
-rotates the images to landscape mode, so you'll be holding your reader sideways.
-There's some overlap between 'pages' so sometimes you'll have half a line of text show up again on the next page
-works better on PDFs with consistent margins, and best if you have a PDF editor that will let you crop the margins ahead of time.

If all that hasn't discouraged you, I'd say take a look at their screenshots, run a few PDFs through the conversion process, and see if the result is acceptable to you.
posted by sysinfo at 4:25 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Nokia 770 internet tablet ships with a PDF reader (which converts down to black-and-white if you want to make things faster) and runs Linux, so you can install Evince on it. I've enjoyed using it quite a bit, though found the best luck with HTML and other text files. I've found it a little slow with PDFs and occasionally crashes, particularly without virtual memory. However, it saves you the conversion problem.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:27 PM on May 9, 2008

I have a Sony ebook reader (PRS-505, I think). It can be used to display scanned PDFs, but it's not the best reading experience ever. Mostly because it's slow: any page containing bitmaps takes noticeably longer to display on that device, and each page is just one big bitmap... The viewing quality is fine, but unless you can read really tiny print, you'll also need to scroll up and down to read a page's text, and that's a PITA for the two- or three-column layouts many journal articles are in.

On the positive side, the e-ink display really is noticeably nicer to read text from than an LCD. (You also don't need to do any conversion: you mount the reader as a USB flash drive, copy stuff onto it, and you're done. It only handles a handful of formats but PDF is one of them.)
posted by hattifattener at 6:55 PM on May 9, 2008

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