What is an e-reader?
Rosie and I travelled to Vietnam in December 2011 with one of the best e-readers I could find.
It had a battery life of eleven hours, and I downloaded five or six movies since it had 250GB of storage - puts those tablets that boast 32GB to shame. On the flight over we watched two films, rather than pay the airline to watch theirs. The device had wireless internet, but that's not much use 27,000 feet above Australia, so I wanted everything stored on the machine, not sitting in a cloud I couldn't access. We each had one ear speaker so the sound didn't annoy other passengers.
In between times I wrote a few pages, typing happily away on its word processor function. Then I started reading a book on it. It was perfect, with it's a ten inch screen.
Thing is, it was also brilliant when we travelled around Vietnam. After taking photos left right and centre like any tourist, we uploaded them onto this e-reader via a cable to one of it's USB ports. (Not many e-readers have USB ports.) Since most hotels have wifi, we would then just leave it running overnight so it in turn uploaded the photos to the cloud. That way our snaps were safe even if we lost both the camera and the e-reader.
Wait, there's more.
This e-reader also had a proper keyboard, and a remote mouse, so it was easier than typing than on those electronic tablet keyboards. And it had dozens of free games, not that I know more than solitaire. Finally, you could search anywhere on the internet, and download and read any ebook from anywhere, including Amazon, Sony, you name it. Completely open. I could even run spreadsheets on it.
Only cost me NZ$440.00.
Here's a picture of me using it in Hoi An, Vietnam.
Hang on, you're saying. That's a PC.
Yes. In fact it's a Netbook. A mini PC, lightweight enough to lug around the world in a backpack. I can personally verify that. But it's also an e-reader. So is your PC. And your smartphone. But not your microwave.
Question: How did I make the PC into an e-reader? Answer: downloaded free e-reader software. Amazon, among many others, gives it away. You'll find the reason why below.
My whole point is, don't go rushing out to buy an e-reader until you know what you are looking for.
Let's approach this another way. Amazon have changed the world with their kindles, the device most people think of when they hear the term 'e-reader.' Let me tell you the benefits of a kindle, if the salespeople haven't already.
Firstly, they have a really long battery life, at least the mono ones do. Colour chews up power. A good kindle might last several days, on and off. Which is great if you spend lots of time completely cut off from power sockets. Camping at Lake Waikaremoana for example. No power sockets there unless you chat up the store owner. If weeks under canvas are regular activities of yours, ensure you get super long battery power. But if you only go there once a decade, then maybe super long battery life is not that critical.
There is a really obvious downside with long life mono screens, by the way. They don't show colour. Lots of digital books come with colour, and more will. Why do you think Amazon has launched the kindle fire? So before we leave the battery life issue, let me give you a hint: choose 6 or 9 cell battery packs. Ask the salesperson. If they don't know the difference, move on.
9 cell packs last the longest. 3 cell, the most common variant up until 2011, last the least longest. Our Netbook has a 6 cell.
Flexibility. This is the next major point. I know you want to talk price, but if you haven't grasped flexibility, you will most likely not get what you want. Being flexible in e-reader world means being able to purchase and download e-books from anyone you want, including Amazon and of course, Oceanbooks, while I'm on this point.
Kindles don't lend themselves to doing this. It's possible, yes, but you have to learn how to 'sideload' non Amazon books onto your kindle. Same with the Sony Kobo. They are restricted in who they can access, and more than that – what you can do on them. Don't expect to run spreadsheets on your kindle. Or develop a powerpoint presentation, or run your accounting software.
However, the price is great! Well, at least the price of the kindle is. When you get on the Amazon site, you might baulk at the price of the ebooks there. And now we need to explain the Amazon business model.
It's a bit like mobile phone companies. You get a subsidised cell phone because you pay for it in the monthly usage billing. Same with a kindle. Amazon clips a ticket every time you download an ebook. No wonder the kindle shunts you to their website. And no wonder Amazon will give you a free cloud to store your movies if you buy them with a kindle fire. It's a great business strategy.
Let's compare the kindle or kobo type device with the tablet. Tablets come in two flavours, Android and Apple. Frontrunners in Android today include Samsung, Acer, Asus and Lenovo. Frontrunners in Apple include only the iPad. Or the iPhone, which doubles as an e-reader too of course. Tablets are more expensive however, so why include them here?
Simple. Tablets can do everything e-readers can do, plus all the other tablet functions. They're easier on web browsing, games, email, photo albums, syncing with google calendar (if you're a real pro). Oh, and you can download and read any ebook from anywhere. In colour.
By now you can see we have headed right back to the start of this article.
A Netbook can do even more than a tablet. It can do anything a PC can, because it is a PC for crying out aloud. That's why we chose it.
A word of warning though: technology changes rapidly, and we are now seeing the 'thinning' of netbooks and PCs. These are called 'ultrabooks' and they will be as thin and lightweight as a tablet. Only they will have a built in keyboard like all PCs. We will also see tablets coming out with separate keyboard options, rather than relying solely on those screen ones. Furthermore the price of tablets will drop to the point where you really wonder if there is a price advantage in getting a somewhat dedicated e-reader like a kindle.
So, after all that, what is my recommendation? Here are two:
Firstly try downloading e-reader software onto your PC first. It's free of charge, and you can get kindle working for nothing on your home computer. Then get some free books off Amazon, like Aesops fables or Sherlock Holmes. It gets you off square one.
Secondly use your smartphone as an e-reader. I know the screen is small, but you can experiment by downloading e-reader apps, and playing around with sample books again. It helps you build up some skills before spending money.
And now you should now read the next page in this series on ereader formats. Because there are two - and if you buy the wrong device, you will only be able to read one.
Following that, look at the page showing how to do it all easily, back up your purchases, and download to ereaders for zero cost.
Then come back to oceanbooks.co.nz and buy as many e-books as you can off us. We'll love you then.