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Technology Review:

E-Readers

by Mark Bright, General Manager of Koinonia House


E-Readers have been around for a few years, but have only recently come into their own. These devices are built around a “Print Once” or “E-Ink” technology. This is important because the screen does not refresh like a normal computer screen; instead, the ink is placed once in small pockets to make up the picture or text. Normal electronic displays refresh 60 times per second and this is why your eyes fatigue. With this technology that is not the case. I have spent four to five hours in a row reading on these devices and have not experienced any eye fatigue.

There are two major players in the electronic “Print Once” reading devices as of today: Sony and Kindle. Sony has just released their third generation reader, called the “PRS 700 BC.” I think their marketing team must be from the “BC” time period to come up with a name like that. Stupid name aside, this is the first “touch screen” e-reader to hit the market. As this goes to press, the device has not yet shipped, so I will give a short update on it next month. This article will compare the second generation e-readers from Amazon and Sony.

The Kindle

The Amazon Kindle  is on its second generation and they have two sizes to choose from. I have worked with both the first and the second generations, and I can tell you that in design features alone, the new Kindle is a major leap forward from its predecessor. They function almost the same except the new Kindle has a five-way pointing stick that is much more user friendly than the previous click roller.

Also, for those of you that have eyesight problems, the text size on all the e-readers can be adjusted from as small as 7 point to as large as 20 point font. I like both the Sony and the Kindle, but I would give the Kindle the edge.

The Sony

The screen on the Sony (see photo, below) seems sharper than the Kindle and the form factor on the Sony is a lot tighter. I chose the Deep Blue version of the Sony and not the Silver one as I thought the text would stand out better against a dark casing.

The Sony has two major advantages over the Kindle. First, it is free standing—it’s an open format unit that easily accommodates word docs, PDF files, and other formats. The second advantage is Sony’s partnership with “Google Books.” Google Books makes available over half a million public domain books that can be transferred onto the Sony PRS 505 and 700 BC. For those of you considering purchasing a used reader, this feature does not currently work with the first generation Sony PRS 500.

These are not new release books or even somewhat older books. They are books that have aged over 75 years and are now copyright free, but if you ask me I like a lot of the old writers better anyway. I have writings from Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, C.H. Spurgeon, and Robert Lewis Stevenson (and don’t tell anyone but I even have Jane Austin) on my So-ny.

All of these works were downloaded for free from the Sony eBook Library software that interfaces with the Google Book system.

Back to the Kindle

Yet, the Kindle has some interesting features going for it. You can only get a Kindle from Amazon and, as such, by default it comes already linked to your Amazon account. This is something to keep in mind because if you want to give someone a Kindle you will need to make sure you select the “this is a gift” option when you purchase it. If you do not, the recipient of your gift will be buying books from Amazon on your account.

The Kindle does not hook up to your computer as a way of syncing your purchased books. It uses what they call “Whisper Sync.” This is a chip that allows the Kindle to log onto Sprint’s wireless phone network and establish a data connection. You can shop for books directly from your Kindle or on the Amazon website. Either way, the books you purchase are downloaded to your Kindle via the Sprint wireless network.

There is no fee for this wireless contract, as Amazon has worked out a deal directly with Sprint that is invisible to the end user. The only time you might run into any wireless costs is when you want to send a document to your Kindle via the “Whisper Sync” interface. In next month’s article I’ll talk more about how to get your documents onto the Kindle and how to do it without incurring the $.15 per MB charge.

I have used Kindle 2 almost daily since I purchased it six months ago and it is almost always with me. The reason why I have ended up liking the Kindle so much more is that I can word search or multiple word search books—including the Bible.

I can also highlight sections of books that I am reading and then quickly reference them later from the “My Clippings” folder on the Kindle. I can even make notes that are associated with the “clipping” I created. This has proven to be a great tool, as I can share a section of a book with a friend or one of the guys in my small group. I can make notes next to the Scripture we are going through in church and then always be able to re-fer back to them.

I usually have two or three books going at the same time and with the Kindle I don’t have to haul a backpack around that’s going to torque my back out of joint. Also, the Kindle remembers where I left off and takes me back to that spot when I select the book again from the home page. I currently have 28 books on my Kindle and it will hold about 2,000, so I have some reading to do if I want to take full advantage of my device. Actually I can chew up some of that space by transfer-ring music or audio books into the memory, since the Kindle can play both.

The current generation of the Kindle will also read any book out loud. For instance, it will read the book How to Pray by R.A. Torry to me, one of the eBooks I have purchased on my Kindle. However you’ll need to picture H.A.L. the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, only with a little less personality and, yes, it is a bit creepy.

This is in no way a theatrical reading and to date has not proven very useful to me personally. When you are in “reader mode,” it does advance the pages as it reads and I suppose it could be used to help people who are learning how to read, as they could follow along.

One of my favorite features of the Kindle (second genera-tion) is the five-way pointer, which allows you to navigate to any word on the page you are reading and, once there, it will give you the word’s definition at the bottom of the page. This has proven useful when I am reading the old-school cats like Chesterton. If you can’t wait until I review the new Sony touch screen e-reader next month (I’ll also talk about the iPod Touch and iPhone Kindle apps, as well as cover some more detail on the larger Kindle DX), I would tell you to purchase the Kindle 2 in the six-inch version. The larger DX has some additional features, but I don’t think it makes up for the fact that it is so much clumsier to carry around with you. I may also release a video review or post some further details on our website this month, so check in at www.khouse.org.

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