Saturday, January 9, 2010

The E-Book Explosion

As consumer interest in e-book readers approaches critical mass, the number of highquality models available is mushrooming.

THE E-BOOK universe is expanding rapidly. Amazon’s Kindles still off er the ultimate in wireless-transfer convenience, but other readers and e-book resellers are starting to compete on price and content—including hundreds of thousands of free books Amazon doesn’t offer. E-books have numerous benefits. Eliminating paper saves resources. E-book readers take up little room in travelers’ backpacks and purses, while storing the equivalent of a whole bookshelf.

You don’t have to go anywhere to buy or borrow an e-book title. For the vision-impaired, the ability to adjust font size can make the difference between being able to read a book and having to hope for an audio version. Some readers double as music players, and some even read books aloud. Unfortunately, the world of e-books is Balkanized, with multiple incompatible file formats and digital rights management (DRM) technologies, and devices with varying support for both. Books in the public domain are widely available in PDF and other standard formats. But copyrighted material is another story. Amazon’s current Kindles can obtain commercial e-books in Amazon’s AZW file format via wireless download only in the United States (in early October, however, the company announced a Kindle capable of downloading content in most countries). Meanwhile, Sony, which produces some of the classiest e-book readers around, is abandoning its proprietary BBeB e-book fi le format and shifting protected content in its e-book store to Adobe ePub, an e-book fi le format that book publishers and re - sellers have widely embraced. Whereas Adobe’s PDF reproduces a fixed image of a page, ePub permits reflowing of text to accommodate different fonts and font sizes. Adobe off ers a DRM technology called Adobe Content Server 4. Sony and a number of other online bookstores— most notably Borders—sell commercial titles in ePub/ACS4 format, and some libraries let patrons check out ePub books. As of early October, 17 e-book readers supported ePub and ACS4, making that combination the closest thing the industry has to a standard for DRM-protected books. Aside from the Amazon Kindles and Foxit’s eSlick, all of the e-book readers in this review support ePub/ACS4.

Sony Reader Touch Edition (PRS-600)
Sony’s new flagship e-book reader offers something we haven’t seen in previous Sony Readers: a touchscreen and stylus for navigating and for creating drawings and handwritten notes. Whether this innovation enhances the e-book experience is open to debate, but the overall quality of the product is not: Except for its lack of wireless connectivity for purchasing books without connecting to a PC, the Touch Edition is a worthy competitor to Amazon’s Kindles. This reader looks like a refined version of Sony’s previous reader, with a 6-inch, 8-grayscale E Ink screen framed by a metallic case (available in silver, black, or red). Beneath the display are five thin silvery bar-shaped buttons for turning pages and accessing menus. The Touch Edition lets you create text memos (via an on-screen keyboard), listen to unprotected MP3 and AAC music, view images, and set up a slideshow. The MP3 player was the best on any e-book reader I tried, with reasonably strong audio through earphones plugged into the Touch Edition’s standard headphone jack. It includes repeat/shuffle options, and you can play the music while you read. The reader comes with a dictionary and lets you annotate your books and documents. The Touch Edition is a topnotch e-book reader. Th ough pricey at $300, it’s well de -
signed and feature-rich.

Amazon Kindle DX
The Kindle DX looks surprisingly lean and elegant. On the device’s front is a spacious 9.6-inch E Ink display that can show 16 shades of gray (as can the Kindle 2). At 7.2 by 10.4 by 0.4 inches and 18.9 ounces, the Kindle DX is the largest and heaviest of today’s e-book readers. Like the Kindle 2, it has a keyboard (for annotations and for searching for books in Amazon’s Kindle store through the built-in wireless connection), but typing on it is awkward. In the United States you can shop for and download books from the device without connecting to a PC (only the just-announced global version of the Kindle 2 lets you download content elsewhere). Though the DX’s spacious screen and skinny profile are big pluses, the device is unlikely to succeed as a newspaper or magazine replacement; it’s too heavy for that, and its E Ink display lacks the color and visual appeal that modern print publications possess. The DX’s high price is likely to turn off some potential customers as well: At $489, it costs more than some full featured laptops.

Amazon Kindle 2
The Kindle 2 is a sleek, curved tablet that you can hold easily in your hands. Like other Kindles, it offers easy access to Amazon’s Kindle store through Sprint’s 3G wireless network (at no extra cost to users), so shopping for books is a breeze. But Amazon doesn’t make available the hundreds of thousands of free e-books you can get from other stores. Its polished design looks great, as does its 6-inch, 600-by-800-pixel E Ink screen. Text is sharp, and images are crisp. But the Kindle 2’s stumpy five-way navigation joystick feels stiff and sits awkwardly near the right bottom edge. Still, the QWERTY keyboard below the display is surprisingly usable, with circular keys that are easy to press. Even though its extras are limited to a text-to-speech capability, a basic MP3 player and a Web browser, the Kindle 2 stands as a good reader’s companion overall.

Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-300)
The Pocket Edition is about as inexpensive as e-book readers come: $199 for a slim gadget with a 5-inch, 8-grayscale E Ink screen. It lacks extras that some competitors
offer, but its topflight design and usability more than compensate for the missing features.
Like previous Sony Readers, the Pocket Edition has a metal case (most competitors use some sort of plastic), which may explain why it tips the scales at nearly half a pound. But the silvery case felt great in my hands, and the reader’s controls are simple and intuitive.
Document file format support is limited to unencrypted BBeB, ePub, PDF, TXT, RTF, and Microsoft Word (.doc) files, plus (on commercial books) encrypted BBeB, ePub (with Adobe Content Server 4 DRM technology), and PDF files. The Pocket doesn’t support image or HTML files, and you don’t get a dictionary. Reading on the Pocket Edition is easy and intuitive: Pages looked good and flowed neatly, and page turns were responsive—on a par with those of other devices. Overall, the Pocket Edition is appealing, not just for people on a budget (after all, the Kindle isn’t a lot more expensive), but for anyone who wants a small, no-frills e-book reader to carry in a purse or backpack.

Interead Cool-ER
The $249 Cool-ER strives to distinguish itself from the black-and-gray competition, and for the most part it succeeds. Skinny (0.4 inch thick), lightweight (6.2 ounces) and available in eight cheery colors, this e-book resembles an overgrown iPod—not a bad role model for industrial design. The only items visible below the 6-inch screen are the device’s logo and a round, iPod-esque four-way navigation/selection wheel, which you use to navigate through menus and turn pages. Unfortunately, because the button is quite stiff , using it is unnecessarily arduous. The Cool-ER’s display employs the same E Ink technology that Kindles, Sony Readers, and other e-book readers use. The Cool-ER adopts the 8-grayscale version, operated by a 400MHz Samsung ARM processer. You can transfer content only via the USB cable, but a wireless model is due next year. The Cool-ER supports about a dozen fi le formats, including ePub, HTML, PDF, Rich Text, and three popular image formats; ePub with Adobe Content Server 4 digital rights management soft ware is the primary format for commercial e-books, which you can buy at (its available library isn’t huge) or at other sites that support ePub and ACS4. The built-in MP3 player lets you play music while you read, but it’s a barebones audio player. Annoyingly, the headphone jack port doesn’t accept standar mobile 3.5mm jacks. You’ll have to get a 2.5mm adapter to use it with most current headphones or phone headsets (the Cool-ER comes without earphones). A little polish (and a better four-way navigation wheel) would improve the Cool- ER’s usability. But for the price, it’s not a bad deal.

Source of Information : PC World December 2009

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