Ebooks are a big, complex topic and it seems to me that the whole ebook industry is so splintered that it may never get itself together. I have no idea how many ebook formats there are out there but there are enough to create a problem for anyone thinking about trying out electronic books. The hardware choice is wide too. Devices range from simple PDF readers to devices that contain cellular data modems and come with online access to an electronic bookshop controlled by the device manufacturer.
I have a suspicion that there are a lot of Ebook types out there that have had enough of chasing formats and suppliers and want total flexibility to choose their content from multiple sources in whatever format they want. Both free and paid-for.
A ultra mobile PC might not be the simple consumer choice but it does bring flexibility. A PC is the common denominator of hardware choices and an ultra mobile PC brings that flexibility right into the hand. Users can view PDFs, Mobipocket books, E-pub books, HTML books, images, web-based content and soon, hundreds of thousands of Amazon Kindle books.
Amazon’s announcement of ‘Kindle for PC’ lit a little candle in my heart because I’ve long believed that electronic reading is one of the great use-cases for small UMPCs and MIDs. The problem is that even Amazon seem to have forgotten about our ‘tweener’ devices. No-one wants a 1KG, 800×480 device with a fan and a 2hr battery for $1000 just to read an book do they? Of course not.
Open your eyes Amazon. In your inventory lies a treasure-trove of next-generation UMPCs that are less than half the price, half the weight and last at least twice as long as those Origami devices of 2006 and 2007. I’m talking about the Intel Menlow-based UMPCs that have been keeping the ultra-mobile PC wheels turning for the last year. Some of these devices are just perfect for the Kindle software so I thought I’d take a closer look to see what would be the best ‘KUMPC’ device out there.
First things first though, we need to address the issue of E-ink. UMPCs don’t have it. What they do have is a backlight and in some cases that backlight fits in perfectly. I’ve been e-reading (admittedly it’s mostly browser-based) for the last three years on a ultra mobile PC and I recon that I can go a two-hour stretch without my eyes feeling tired (about the same as with a real book!) I’ve been known to do four-hour stretches too but that’s not the norm for me and usually means I’ve been distracted by a tweet or email. (Sidenote: Switch off wifi, 3g, bluetooth and every other program when reading. It’s impossible to read with twetdeck, email, IM, skype or anything else running in the background.)
E-Ink screen technology aside (hit the back button if you’re an E-ink fan!) here are the other main features of an ebook reader.
- Weight. An ebook reader needs to be as light as possible. One-handed use starts at sub-700gm in my opinion but gets comfortable at around 500gm. Anything under 300gm is ideal.
- Dimensions. Book sized! Book reading is a one-handed affair and the dimensions need to match. There are exceptions to this. Comics are often represented as bitmaps and are often better on larger screens. A one-page-per-screen non-reflowing PDF also requires a larger screen.
- Battery life. The more the merrier. 4hrs is the absolute minimum in my opinion but ‘days not hours’ is the real key.
- Wireless connectivity. The Amazon Kindle makes great use of wireless cellular data but I would argue that most are happy if they can transfer books while at home. Wifi would be the base requirement.
- Price. Obviously price needs to be low. It seems that $200 is the current entry point for a dedicated reader.
- Storage. Storage requirements are minimal. 1GB of storage is a huge amount of space for electronic books. 4GB would be a luxury.
- Controls. Touchscreens provide the most flexible form of control but dedicated page-turn buttons can be an advantage.
- Easy-on / Simple to use. ‘Warm’ switch-on time has to be in the sub-10-second range. A cold boot should take no more than it does on a mobile phone. 30 seconds max. Standby is a must-have.
- Format support. The more formats you support, the better it is. Simple!
- Ease-of-access to content. Having access to free books is fine but an online store of commercial offerings is a must-have in todays e-reader world. The Kindle proves it.
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