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Thomas' Tech Tales

The death of books - meet the eReader

The days of cuddling up with your favorite book could soon be coming to an end; that is of course if the eReader boom keeps on growing. eReaders are any device that is used to read material in a text format. This includes smart phones, some media players (like iPods), but most importantly, actual eReaders. A true eReader’s sole purpose is to act and read like a book without the bulk and limited space (and expense of print).

The main eReader on the market today would have to be Amazon’s Kindle 2 with Sony’s PRS-700 following behind. While both have the same basic goal in mind, the two companies took two very different approaches to their products.

The Amazon Kindle 2, which I’ll just refer to as the Kindle from now on, is very sleek and lightweight. Looking much like a Mac product with its white face and chrome back, the Kindle boasts a wide range of extras to put itself above the competition. In a partnership with Sprint Mobile, the Kindle uses Sprint’s 3g network so that you can wirelessly buy books and download them wherever you have cell service. So you could, in theory, never have to hook up your Kindle to a computer.

Listing off the extras of the Kindle would be tedious, so the main headliners will have to do. With a dictionary built in you can simply highlight a word you don’t know and get an on-screen definition; if you want to find out more about what you’re reading simply connect to Wikipedia straight from your current page; the ability to subscribe to newspapers, magazines, and blogs is a major bonus. However, what I find to be the coolest feature is its screen.

The Kindle, along with many other eReaders, uses electronic ink technology which acts much like real paper. Flat panel displays, e.g., computer screens, need a backlight in order to illuminate the pixels that make up images; electronic ink, on the other hand, uses no backlight. Instead, it reflects sunlight just like paper; even better by some reviews. Since a backlight isn’t constantly needed to see the image there is no power being used while the image is still, so battery life can last up to weeks on a single charge. I’ll do a follow up article on electronic ink and paper as this has really caught my interest.

If you’ve ever seen the first generation Kindle then you are in for a treat. The Kindle 2 has a higher resolution screen at 16 shades of gray rather than the former 4 shades of gray. This means a very clear image is seen; the pixilated photos from the original Kindle are now almost picture perfect.

Other improvements on the new Kindle include a smaller body, better button layout, a five-way direction controller, improved keyboard, expanded national network (that includes some of North Idaho!), zoom function, faster page turns, and a read-to-me feature that… well it reads your material to you. The major disadvantages that users have stated are lack of a touch screen and that the Kindle does not support PDF files. For a small fee, ten cents or so, you can send your PDF files to Amazon, who will convert them so that your Kindle may use them.

Amazon certainly didn’t reinvent the eReader and there are a lot of great competitors out there. However Amazon did get a lot of things right with the Kindle and definitely marketed their product better than any other eReaders. All I can say is that I’ve added it to my “Wish List.”

The 6-inch Kindle runs around $299; the 9.7” version costs about $500.

Sony’s Reader Digital Book features the ability to flip pages naturally and highlight, and has a touchscreen keyboard. A major drawback to this device is that titles for download are only available through Sony’s online store and tend to be pricey. Also the touchscreen is said to be harder to read. This device retails around $700.


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Author info

Thomas McMahon Thomas McMahon is a student at Albertson's College of Idaho who, when he's not playing some geeky video game or designing some new, award-winning engineering project, plays basketball and tennis. His study interest is engineering.

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