What PDAs make the best e-book readers?
September 2, 2004 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by this thread, I ask: What's a good PDA to use as an e-book reader?

Requiremets: Cheap. Renders text well. Large, high contrast screen. Long battery life. Good backlight. Preferably Palm OS, preferably greyscale. May be a discontinued model.
posted by sid to Technology (11 answers total)
It's not high-resolution, but I'm very comfortable reading DOC-converted Gutenberg texts on my Zire 31, and the CD comes with a free copy of PalmReader, which can read eBooks and DOCs.

I also hear nice things about the Tungsten E, which is comparable to the Z31, but you get a high-res screen for $50 more.

Brighthand discussion thread comparing the two.

Don't go for grayscale; the older grayscale Palms are low-res and it hurts the eyes. (Speaking from experience, having read through several books on my old Palm 3xe.)
posted by brownpau at 7:21 AM on September 2, 2004

I like the Palm IIIc. The battery is second to none, the screen is awesome (And colour, but oh well). It's a bit big and uses serial, but you can't have everything. It should be pretty cheap these days.
posted by ODiV at 7:24 AM on September 2, 2004

As someone who also reads lots of eBooks on his Palm (the Palm 3XE and more recently a Zire 21 [which has no backlight]), and who has borrowed others' PDAs, I've gotta come forward with the opposite opinion from brownpau. The non-backlist greyscale screens are perfect, and it's the glowing colour ones who tire my eyes out. So - a vote for either side.
posted by Marquis at 7:33 AM on September 2, 2004

I use a Clie Peg-SL10 (very, very discontinued) which has 320x320 pixels, good screen fonts, ok backlight. I read a ton of books on it (wordsmith is a good reader/editor, plus you can transform truetype fonts into palm ones).
I'd recommend a color unit, as they have a white background, not lightish-grey ones. And an internal rechargeable battery.
A backlight is a must for reading in bed without bugging sleeping partners.
posted by signal at 7:42 AM on September 2, 2004

Response by poster: signal: I have the clie sl10 myself, and while it works passably well for e-books, I find the screen contrast far too low for comfortable extended reading.

As for the colour screen issue, I assumed that a unit with a greyscale screen would have much higher battery life than one of the colour units. Also, I somehow thought that having a backlight that you can turn off would be better for the eyes than a screen that is crazily glowing all the time, as I assume the colour ones do. Am I wrong in this assumption?
posted by sid at 7:55 AM on September 2, 2004

I'm quite happy with the TRGpro; basically, it's a Palm III with a CompactFlash slot. You can find 'em on eBay and in Amazon's zShops.

With Palm.net out of service, you can grab up some old VIIs for spare parts.
The TRG uses the same digitizer screens, buttons, battery cover and stylus.
You could even swap the AAA batteries out, or throw in some rechargeables.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:32 AM on September 2, 2004

On the grayscale issue, I admittedly read in the dark a lot, and the Palm 3xe had a pretty weak green backlight, so that might be one of the factors.
posted by brownpau at 8:52 AM on September 2, 2004

Mine's a Palm Vx, with the green backlight. I read it on the bus in the morning (mostly news via AvantGo) and my current book at night in PalmReader, in bed, in the dark with the backlight.

The green on black text is something like my first computing experiences, back around 1979-1980, and it makes for a perfect night-time feeling. Plus, with no lights on in the room, I'm a LOT more likely to put the book down and drop off to sleep when my eyes get heavy.

I have not tried any other readers.

I recebtly took a crack at Hand/RSS to get offline blogreading set up, but the application was not letting me delete subscriptions and even began duplicating subs after each sync, so I jettisoned it. Where's that non-proprietary WiFi PDA sub$200? I want it NOW!
posted by mwhybark at 9:04 AM on September 2, 2004

You want one of the new Pocket PCs with a 640 x 480 screen. That + ClearType = readable!

Not gonna be cheap, though.
posted by kindall at 9:21 AM on September 2, 2004

I still use my Palm III with custom font hacks. That works fine, although Plucker/HTML is a little slow, PDF is not an option at all, my Palm III has a bottomless heap of free memory compared to a stock unit, and I'm so used to it I probably just don't know or care how awful it is. For most things, I render them to the venerable Palm DOC format -- compressed raw text, essentially -- and use CSpotRun to read them.

A Palm V would probably be a little nicer, but it's hard to find them with shitpiles of extra memory hacked in.
posted by majick at 2:55 PM on September 2, 2004

I've used my Palm IIIxe for reading many, many books, technical texts and the like.

There are a number of excellent eBook and DOC readers out there.

What I find helps the most is two things: A screen-reverser plugin/hack so you can read light green text on a black background (some readers have this built in) and a screen rotation plugin/hack.

For some reason, rotating the display 90 degrees makes it much nicer. I think it is because you can hold the Palm sideways in either your left or right hand, and your thumb falls naturally on the buttons for page flipping.

Another great feature for most eBook reading, especially speed readers: Adjustable autoscroll. I can't even describe how fabulous it is to be able to lay down in bed, in the dark, totally inert and prone and to never, ever have to actually turn the page. The text just flows in like a river.

Disclaimer: I'm horribly (wonderfully) nearsighted. If I had a PDA with 1000x1000 pixel counts, I could probably still read a non-antialiased font at about a 4 or 5 without getting headaches or eyestrain.
posted by loquacious at 3:10 PM on September 2, 2004

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