What is all the fuss about with ereaders?
I felt that perhaps it might be useful to go right back to the basics of the whats and whys of ereaders and ebooks, to try and explore why anyone should buy such a device to read their books with – after all, we have happily read books published on paper for centuries now, with no real problems.
It is absolutely true that paper books are an almost perfectly designed method for reading, but they suffer from a number of drawbacks, and it is these drawbacks that the ereader and its attendant ebooks were designed to respond to.
Drawback number 1:
Paper books are – or can be – heavy and bulky to carry around.
Drawback number 2:
You need to find a book shop to get new books to read.
Drawback number 3:
If you are old or visually impaired paper books can be hard or impossible to read owing to the text being too small.
These are just a few examples of the way that paper books are not actually the ideal method of dealing with your reading needs, there are probably many more if one sat down and really thought about it, but they will do to start with.
Ok, so how do ereaders and ebooks respond to these points?
An ereader is at its simplest, nothing more than a device in which you may store an enormous number of ebooks (ebooks = electronic or digital books), so that instead of having to deal with kilos of paper, you merely have one light and generally comfortably sized device on which to keep an almost unlimited number of books, and with which it is simple and pleasant to read these books with.
An increasing number of ereaders these days are capable of connecting to various online book shops via the mobile phone network, so you can go and hunt up new ebooks directly from your ereader very easily and rapidly. Thus you can find and buy ebooks at any moment you choose without moving from your house.
This last benefit of ereaders is truly useful, all ereaders are capable of presenting your ebooks to you in a variety of text sizes, from very small to very large, all at the click of a button, so you can adjust the size of the text you are reading to suite your needs at all times. This is a real boon for those whose eye sight is not perfect – which is a vast number of us.
So, those are some of the advantages of ereaders.
Now, what exactly is an ereader?
An ereader is a device consisting of a screen and various buttons with which to carry out the different actions you need in order to read or organise your ebooks. and in which you may store your ebooks. They come in basically two types, which relate to the type of screen they offer you, and are generally about the size of a paper back novel. But much thinner.
The first, and generally considered best type of ereaders for simply reading with have one version or another of what is called an e-Ink or e-Paper screen. Currently these are almost all monochrome, which means black text on a white page. These are very easy on your eyes, as they are not in fact merely small computer screens, but an electronic version of paper, so they are not in fact illuminated as a computer screen is (called Back Lit). Thus, as with a paper book, you will need a reading light if you want to read in a dark place, and if you are in bright sunlight, they work perfectly. In fact they behave exactly the same as a paper book does in this respect. Thus an ereader with an e-ink screen is to all intents and purposes exactly like a paper book.
LCD or TFT screens:
The other type currently available make use of some version of a computer screen, and are thus capable of reproducing colour, which can be good (magazines, kids books, text books and so on). But, they suffer from a number of problems. Firstly they are very hard to see in bright sunlight (try a computer on a beach and you will see what I mean), they are much harder on the eye, and owing to the different technology used, they consume much more power, so you have to recharge its batteries much more often than with an e-ink ereader – every few hours instead of about once every couple of weeks as is the case with e-Ink screens.
What do I see on the screen?
Whichever type of screen technology you get, they both work on the same basic idea, that is they present you with one page at a time on the screen, and when you have read that page, either by means of a button, or sort of a swiping action you move on to the following page (if it has a touch screen – which means that you control your ereader by means of a touch sensitive screen, rather than buttons) . Just as with a paper book really, except here you only have one page at a time (which in passing I would mention makes bed time reading much easier… get comfortable and you dont have to deal with left hand and right hand pages, if you see what I mean).
As I said above, another benefit of an ereader is the ability to set the text size to a size that works for you. All ereaders, regardless of whatever type of screen they use have this extremely useful ability.
Also, all ereaders (well, almost all) remember the last page you were reading when you have turned it off, so when you want to carry on reading, you can go directly to the page you were reading, a sort of electronic dog-earing system.
Easy to use?
Yes, is the simple answer to that question. Ereaders are mostly very well designed to use – at least the better makes are. there are an increasing number of cheap Chinese made ones appearing on the market, and these can be tricky to get working, so if you happen to be not very good with computers, you should perhaps avoid these ereaders, and choose one of the established makes (Sony, Kindle, Nook, Kobo and so on).
Assuming you have an ereader that is moderately well designed, you will master it in a very short time, certainly using it simply to store and read ebooks with.
Most ereaders these days come with a whole variety of extra functions, which may or may not be of use to you. Such as the ability to make notes on pages, using one form or other of keyboard that the device may have, highlight or mark passages that interest you, built in dictionaries to enable you to quickly find the meanings of words in the text you might not know, and a whole load of other functions. Obviously when choosing an ereader, you should consider which if any, of these extra functions are of interest to you,and choose accordingly.
Where do you get your ebooks?
This can be fun, and also very tricky, as the publishing and book selling world is still struggling to find the business model that works both for them and for us, and frankly, it is something of a mess just now.
But, putting that to one side for now, one gets ebooks from a huge variety of online sources.
Not free ebooks – ones you pay for, that is:
Depending on which ereader you have chosen, there are a number of ways in which you may purchase ebooks to read on it. This is complicated just now, sadly, so I will have to deal with this by make.
Kindle, from Amazon:
If you have chosen a Kindle, then unless you happen to be pretty nifty with computers, you are effectively limited to buying your ebooks from the Amazon website as Amazon (the makers of the Kindle range of ereaders) have chosen to have a format for their ebooks that is unique to them, so you wont be able to read any ebooks you purchase from other sources on your Kindle ereader. Equally, any ebooks you buy from them wont work on any other ereader.
Against which, Amazon have developed an extremely easy to use system for buying ebooks from them using the mobile phone networks or the wireless internet, and their prices are in line with every other ebook seller, as well as offering you a huge range of ebooks.
And the Kindle 3 is a very good ereader, that is for sure, and competitively priced as well.
Nook ereaders from Barnes and Noble:
The above comments about the Kindle apply equally to the Nook range of ereaders. Be aware that the Nook works with ePub, but it is a different type to the ePub all others use.
All other ereaders – Sony, Kobo and any others you may find:
As far as I know, apart from the Nook and Kindle, almost all other ereaders work with (among other formats) the effective world standard ebook format, known as ePub. This means that you may buy ebooks from any online ebook seller (apart from Barnes and Noble – see note above) who offer ebooks in the ePub format, which is all of them really.
This is another tricky area, DRM, which means Digital Rights Management is a system to prevent you from distributing any copyrighted ebooks you buy to others, and effectively means that such ebooks will only work on your ereader.
All ebooks you buy are likely to be subject to DRM protection.
This isn’t the place to go into the details of how this works, but you have to be aware that you will need DRM software either on your ereader or computer in order to read such ebooks. This is normally an automatic process that happens when you first use your ereader, otherwise you may well need a bit of help from someone with a reasonable grasp of such technology
Now this is where ereaders truly come into their own. There are now hundreds of websites that offer free ebooks for you to download, almost all in ePub format as well. To a large degree this means books that are out of copyright, i.e the author died some time ago, so they tend to be all the well known Classics, but they are by no means limited to these, there are many where authors place their books to be distributed for free.
In the course of writing this blog I have discovered hundreds of such sites, a number of which I have reviewed on the blog, so you can either use the search window (top right here) or simply type “Free ebooks” into Google, and you will be amazed at the choice that you are presented with.
All free ebooks are of course DRM free, so they will work happily on any ereader you might have, and can be given away, copied and transferred from one ereader to another with no hassles. From our point of view, an ideal arrangement.
So, there you have a sort of beginners guide to ereaders, if you have any questions, either send me an email (from the Contact me tab above) or leave it as a comment here, and I shall do my best to help you out.