Monday, 29 March 2010

The Ebook: Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the pixel.

I can be a bit of a Luddite when it comes to new technology. It took me years of holding out before I bought a mobile phone and even longer until I fathomed out how to use an mp3 player. I now love both and wouldn’t be without either.

However, I was always against using an electronic device to read material. Like most avid readers I love collecting books. There’s nothing nicer than stepping into a well-stocked bookshop (or even Waterstone’s) and having a good long browse. Modern book covers are so enticing that they practically beg to be bought and added to the ever growing ‘to be read’ tower by my bedside.

So there was no need for an ebook reader in my life. Early models were ungainly and slow to use. They also had a backlight which made lengthy reading uncomfortable, at least for me.

All this was true until I got my hands on a Sony Pocket Reader. This small lightweight device uses a newish technology called E ink which basically allows you to read a book in available light and dispense with a backlight altogether. As I had a bit of money in my turnups I plonked down my cash and bought the thing.

So, how does the e-reader work and is it easy to use?

You load ebooks on your reader by means of a small program that runs on your computer. It’s a matter of minutes to upload a small library of books onto your reader via the supplied USB lead (which is also used to charge the sealed in battery). The pocket edition holds around 150 books but this depends on the size of the files you are importing.

Once loaded you can start reading a book which you select from the main menu screen. One of the advantages of the reader is that you can alter the size of the book’s font making it easier to read if you have problems with small print. You turn the page by means of a small wheel underneath the screen.

Personally I found the reader very easy to use. It’s lightweight to hold and, now that I’ve bought a cover for it, even looks a little like a book. Any worries I had about eye strain have vanished, as I’ve had reading stretches for more than an hour without any problems.

The main advantage about owning an ereader is portability. It’s no longer a strain to lug about War and Peace or Infinite Jest on the bus or train with me. The small font sizes of print volumes are obviated by the magnifying feature of the Reader and the device even remembers what page I was up to when I stop reading.

Battery life is excellent. My Reader usually lasts two weeks on one charge. The only downside being that when the battery eventually runs flat the Reader will have to be sent off to Sony to have a relacement fitted.

There are disadvantages though. E ink only produces greyscale print which means that illustrated material doesn’t look brilliant. There will be a while to go before non-fiction heavily illustrated technical material will look good in this format. It also takes a while to get used to the way the screen goes black momentarily when you turn the page. It can also be annoying to find that the book you want to buy isn’t (a) available at all or (b) only downloadable in another propietary format. Hopefully this situation will change soon.

Having an ebook Reader has changed the type of material I read. There are many places on the internet to download free, legal ebooks. These are mostly out of copyright classic novels. It’s great to be able to download a book by Dickens, Chesterton or Eliot and know that if you don’t get on with then it hasn’t cost you any money to find this out. (Libraries are another handy way of trying before you buy!)

Since buying my Reader I find that I’m reading a lot more than I used to and trying new authors and genres of fiction. I’m currently in love with American pulp hardboiled crime fiction of the 1940’s and ‘50s. It’s very difficult to resist a book called Blonde Bait (“She had to buy protection-and her payment was her body”)!

In a forthcoming blogpost I’ll talk about the best places on the web to download free fiction and how you can use your Reader for more than just books.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog post - I think we're coming from the same feeling about books.

    I'm slowly being converted by Apple - first my ipod Touch and now my iphone - and I've used the various ereaders available for them, almost as an afterthought, as I didn't buy the devices for ereading.

    I love the physical artefact that is a book, but I'm increasingly swayed by little tricks - like being able to set the background to black and the text to white for night reading. I'm not sure it'll replace the novel for me, but for non-fiction and short stories, comics and graphic novels, a larger ereader looks like the future for me. Not necessarily an ipad, but...