Ghost Underfoot

Book reviews and general reading

Switching To E-Books

kindle voyageI’ve had my e-reader for over five years now and I’ve pretty well switched to e-books almost exclusively. I hardly read any physical books these days and I buy them even more rarely.

The last physical book which I actually forked out money for was a recipe book. Even then, had it not been for the acquisition of a new halogen oven by my better half, I probably wouldn’t have bought that.

Of course, most of my reading comes in the form of novels, with the odd history text thrown in. Novels work very well in e-book format and history books tend to be fine as well. Where there are maps and drawings these work fine on my Kindle reader. If there are lots of color images, I would probably read the book, or the graphical sections of it at least, on my tablet or laptop.

For a while, I did buy a few Terry Pratchett books in physical format. He uses a lot of footnotes and, back in the day, the earlier e-readers didn’t really cope with these as well as they might have. That’s all changed now, newer readers make good use of their touch screen technology and handle footnotes perfectly well thank you very much. So now I have even digitized the late, great Sir Terry.

To be honest I can’t think of all that many types of books which I would prefer to read in physical format. Lots of color images means that it won’t work so well on my Kindle reader – but that would most likely just prompt a move from reader to tablet computer for me rather than have me heading off to the local bookstore.

Even my previously mentioned recipe book wasn’t chosen in print due to concerns about its format being suitable for an e-book. It was more a case that I didn’t fancy using my tablet in the kitchen when I was messing around with flour, oil, water, hot fat etc.

I suppose I might take the same sort of view with gardening books or DIY manuals – if I ever actually read either of those that is. However, in general, I find my e-reader and e-books to be an infinitely preferable alternative to struggling with a big chunky paperback these days.

Of course, I’m well aware that not everyone will agree – and if you hanker for the feel of a “real” book in your hands, then that’s great. Each to his/her own I always say. However, the advantages of e-books and, to a lesser extent, e-readers are just too good for me to pass up.


Which Is the Best Kindle Reader?

kindle voyage ereaderNot everyone will agree that Amazon’s Kindle reader is the best reader on the market – but the fact that it is the most popular (based on sales volume) seems to be pretty self evident – to me at least. Amazon first released the Kindle in November of 2007. It sold out in less than six hours and has gone on to become Amazon’s best selling product.

Best reader or not, it’s the benchmark against which all other readers are measured. There have been plenty of challengers for Amazon’s top dog spot over the years, but most of these “Kindle killers” have been seen off. The fact of the matter is that, for a great many people, “best e-reader” and “best Kindle reader” are pretty much synonymous with one another.

So, if you’re in the market for an e-reader, it would make sense to have a look at the current Kindle family wouldn’t it? You might wind up choosing a different reader altogether of course, but the Kindle range just can’t be ignored.

At the moment there are three different models for you to choose from. However, you will have to decide whether you want Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi plus 3G and whether or not you want “Special Offers” (adverts).

Connectivity Options

Wi-Fi only is a pretty good choice for anyone who has Wi-Fi in their home. In all probability you’ll download most of your books at home. Even when you’re out and about, it’s fairly easy to find a Wi-Fi hotspot these days.

If you want to add 3G to the mix, it’s going to cost you another $70. That’s quite a bit extra, and it’s probably only worth it if you don’t have Wi-Fi at home or if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in a Wi-Fi free zone.

Adverts Or Not?

When Amazon first unveiled their Special Offers scheme to get a cheaper Kindle, some people got a bit sniffy about it. they seemed to consider akin to an act of sacrilege to mix adverts and reading somehow. Of course, we’ve had this for years, in newspapers, magazines and even novels.

And the fact of the matter is that the ads and the reading aren’t really mixed at all – ads only show up on your screensaver. You’ll only see them when you first turn your reader on, or if you let it go to sleep when reading. Ads do not pop up in the middle of a chapter (which would certainly be annoying).

With Special Offers is reportedly the most popular option – so it does seem that most people don’t object to the ads enough to shell out the extra $20 that it costs to get rid of them. However, if you’re not sure about the ads, just go ahead and order your reader with Special Offers included. If you find that they drive you up the wall, then you can go to your “Manage  My Kindle” page on Amazon’s website, pay the extra $20 and have them turned off after the event so to speak. It’s not possible to reverse this though – so make sure that the ads are annoying you enough to spend your $20 on getting rid of them.

The Entry Level Kindle

Kindle entry level 2014Amazon’s entry level reader costs just $79 with special offers and Wi-Fi only connectivity. There is no Wi-Fi plus 3G option for the entry level model. As mentioned earlier, $20 will get rid of the ads if you don’t care for them.

The touch screen has no reading light and it has a resolution of 167 pixels per inch (PPI).

Dimensions are 6.7 x 4.7 x 0.4 inches and it weighs just 6.7 ounces.

It should work for 4 weeks between battery charges – based on an average of thirty minutes reading daily.

Don’t let the “entry level” tag or the low price fool you. This is a perfectly good little reader, fully functional and at a great, value for money price.

The Kindle Paperwhite

kindle paperwhiteWith Wi-Fi only and special offers, the Paperwhite starts at $119. Adding 3G costs and extra $70 for a price of $189. Adding a further $20 to either of these prices will get you an ad free Paperwhite.

The Paperwhite has its own built in reading light. The light shines onto the text rather than from behind it – so you won’t get eye strain like you might using a back-lit screen. Resolution is 212 PPI.

The Paperwhite has the longest battery life of the current Kindle collection. You should get 8 weeks worth of reading between charges – as usual, that’s based on reading for an average of half an hour each day.

Dimensions are 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″ and the Wi-Fi only version weighs 7.3 ounces with the 3G model weighing 7.6 ounces.

The Paperwhite is a great reader – and its long battery life makes it a good choice for anyone who plans on spending a long time away from mains power.

The Kindle Voyage

kindle voyageIntroduced in late 2014, the Voyage costs $199 with Wi-Fi only and special offers. Add 3G and the price rises to $269. $20 more gets rid of the ads – so if you opt for the absolute top of the range Voyage, you would wind up paying $289.

The screen resolution is 300 PPI and the Voyage has a reading light which automatically adjusts to the light level in the surroundings where you’re reading. It also adjusts over time to take account of the fact that the reader’s eyes adjust to reading in dimly lit conditions. The light will dim just a little after fifteen to thirty minutes to compensate for the fact that the reader’s eyes get used to low light levels after a short period of time.

Battery life, based on half an hour’s reading daily, is 6 weeks between charges.

Dimensions are 6.4 x 4.5 x 0.3 inches. The Wi-Fi only versions weighs just 6.3 ounces, with the 3G model tipping the scales at 6.6 ounces. It’s the smallest and lightest Kindle yet.

Another nice addition are the page turn buttons on the left and right bezel (which is flush with the screen like a tablet computer). These feature haptic technology feedback (which I had to look up). turns out that’s just geek speak for the fact that it vibrates a little when you turn the page (you can turn this option off if you want).

It’s an awesome reader – but some people might think that it also has an awesome price tag. However, if you really enjoy reading, you might consider it to be well worth the money.


The E-Book Revolution

Changes To The Way That We Used To Read Books

gutenberg printing pressJohannes Gutenberg is generally credited with inventing moveable type. He unveiled his system early in the fifteenth century, sometime around 1436 – although the exact date is not certain.

It was, without a doubt, the biggest change in reading and publishing up to that point. It allowed the man in the street to (quite literally) get his hands on affordable books, pamphlets newspapers and other reading materials for the first time.

It allowed authors, philosophers and seditionists to have their thoughts committed to print and made available to a much wider audience than ever before. It raised the literacy rate in Europe and helped to drive cultural, industrial and scientific advances, paving the way to the modern information age in which we currently find ourselves.

In short, it was a bit of a big deal – and then things went quiet for a few centuries. Although there were plenty of efficiency improvements in the production/publishing process – e.g. typewriters, computer controlled printing presses, word-processors etc. – the end product stayed pretty much the same.

Johannes Gutenberg would probably recognize “modern day” books, newspapers and magazines without any difficulty at all. He might find some of the content a bit mind blowing, but the packaging would be very familiar.

Changes To The Way We Read Books Today

original kindle readerWhat may cause a time travelling Herr Gutenberg a little more consternation would be e-readers. Early forms, such as the Franklin eBookman, first appeared in 1999, but the more modern versions, complete with e-ink technology displays, started to become available in 2006 (Sony PRS) and 2007 (Amazon Kindle).

E-books had been around for quite some time before that of course, but they required a computer to access them. Even the laptops of the time weren’t that convenient, and battery life was short. The advent of the dedicated e-reader was what was required to produce the next big step change in reading.

The e-ink technology displays used in dedicated e-readers offers users a reading experience which is every bit as good as reading text printed on paper – and considerably better than reading on a back-lit, color LCD computer screen. The fact that e-ink displays use a tiny amount of power means that e-readers will last for weeks between battery charges, rather than the few hours that you might expect from a tablet computer.

Amazon’s original Kindle launched in November of 2007 and, despite the fact that it was something of an ugly duckling, with odd angles and a funky QWERTY keyboard, it sold out in just five and a half hours. It remained out of stock for several months.

kindle 2Despite the popularity of the Kindle and the Sony PRS, there was no absolute guarantee that users would be able to get the book that they wanted in an electronic format suitable for their reader. Some of the big publishing houses dragged their heels when it came to getting e-book versions of popular titles out. After a few spats and the occasional hissy fit, most publishers came to realize just what side their bread was buttered on.

By the time the Kindle 2.0 was released in February of 2009, it was pretty much unthinkable for there to be no e-book version of any major book. Whether or not you agree that the Amazon Kindle is/was the best e-reader, the fact that Amazon’s credentials as a bookseller, combined with good reader hardware and a huge selection of e-books has made the Kindle the most popular e-reader (based on the number of units shipped) is indisputable.

A Kindle In Every BackpackStephen King wrote a short novella – “Ur” – on the subject of e-readers. Oprah Winfrey declared that her Kindle was her “new favorite thing”. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his capacity as governor of California rather than in Terminator mode, gave a speech on how to make the best use of e-readers in education. Hilary Clinton was part of a senatorial think tank that produced a white paper titled “A Kindle In Every Backpack” – again, looking at how to use e-readers in education. E-readers were the hot gadget of 2009 and reading was fashionable again.

2010 – The Year Of The Tablet

Things change very quickly in the world of personal electronics – and e-reader’s time in the sun came to an abrupt end in 2010 when Apple released the first iPad tablet computer. Industry watchers predicted the demise of e-readers, expecting tablets to oust them.

ipad tablet computerTablet computers are certainly very popular. Their touch screen user interface is extremely intuitive to use and many people who wouldn’t dream of sitting down at a desktop or laptop are quite happy to pick up a tablet computer. However, as good as tablets are, as versatile as they are and as user friendly as they are, they just aren’t as good for reading as an e-reader.

Text is formed using a combination of red, green and blue pixels – so it isn’t as crisp and sharp as when reading on an e-ink display. Tablet displays, like most computer displays, are back-lit. It’s like having someone shine a light in your eyes when you’re trying to read. Tablets’ lovely color displays are also power hungry – a few hours between charges is the best you can hope for right now.

In summary, whilst tablet computers can certainly be used for reading e-books, if you’re going to read for more than a few minutes, you will probably be better off with an e-reader. Tablets have not killed off e-readers, not yet at any rate, any more than e-books have killed off printed books. There’s a place for both devices – and many people do have one of each.

Changes To The Way That We Read Books In Future

It’s probably worth pointing out that, while some people do feel that reading on a tablet is a less than pleasant experience, and one likely to result in eye strain or even headaches, other individuals don’t seem to mind. Some studies suggest that it might be age dependent, but there are some people who are quite happy to read e-books on an e-reader, a tablet computer or even a smart-phone.

The fact is that, whereas before the advent of e-readers, e-books were confined to desktops and laptops, devices which aren’t ideally suited for reading books (although it can be done of course). E-readers effectively liberated e-books and made them a truly portable experience which could be enjoyed anywhere you like. Since then, tablet computers and highly specified smart-phones have offered even more options to users.

phablet phones and tablet computers

Whether tablets kill e-readers or not, or maybe whether “phablets” (big fancy phones) kill tablets or not, is not really all that important. In all probability, technology will continue to evolve and the devices may merge functionality in the not too distant future. It doesn’t matter too much however.

It was the symbiosis between e-readers and tablets that freed the e-book genie from the bottle. Today there are even more access options available – which is great. The future will see new technologies and even more available choices when it comes to accessing e-books. What does seem certain is that the e-books themselves are here to stay and are now a key part of the reading and publishing landscape – with all that that entails.

Here’s one possible future for mobile technology. It’s still in development, but it’s an interesting possibility: