A reader writes:
Seeing as you're both someone who knows his gadgets, and someone who enjoys a good read once in a while, I was wondering if you've ever considered those new-fangled e-book contraptions.
I've been considering getting one, as shelf space is always expensive, so I want to reserve that for books I'd want to re-read often, or just proudly display. Besides, the ability to carry a lot of books at less space/weight than the average paperback is quite interesting.
I live in the Netherlands, so I'd need something internationally available (which will probably go for you in Australia as well). However, since I read mostly English, something bound to a primarily English store like Amazon (Kindle) or B&N (Nook) isn't too much of a problem.
From what I've heard, the Kindle, even though it goes against my open-source instincts, is actually one of the best models for actual reading (as opposed to showing off your latest gadget).
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
PS: If you recommend the iPad, I'm going to be very disappointed, as I always though you were immune to the Jobs-cult propaganda.
I don't actually have a really good answer for this one - though I will of course manage to sound off interminably anyway - but I bet some commenters will have ideas.
I'm pretty sure that one day, paper books will be rather quaint. But I'm not crazy about any of the current e-readers. Definitely not the iPad; if you need/want the various other things an iPad can do (including just delight you with its interface) then the e-reader function is just a bonus. But it's only got a normal LCD display with 1024 by 768 resolution, so if reading books is a primary interest for you, the iPad is nothing special.
A standard-geometry 1024 by 768 LCD with subpixel rendering is actually perfectly adequate for reading - maybe even a whole page at a time, depending on the text size. It's just not worth spending a lot of money on. You can of course do the same thing with any number of random laptops, including various ancient tablets and other oddball devices that let you fold the screen around. You could even use a netbook.
The downside of doing your reading on a relatively normal computer is that you can't use the online e-book stores that deliver DRM-encrusted books that can, generally, only be read on specially-blessed hardware like the dedicated readers.
Current dedicated readers can all display at least a few kinds of non-DRMed content, and you can generally bludgeon one non-DRMed format into another so you can view it on Some Damn Reader that can display PDFs but not plain text, but it's all still quite a fractured and hideous format war; don't hold your breath for one reader that works with everybody's online store and can read everything else too, including DjVu and CBR.
If you're perfectly happy with the Amazon/B&N/whoever-else online stores (which, yes, may only be accessible in North America - what e-book stores are there, besides the Amazon one, that work outside the US and Canada?), plus whatever other formats your chosen reader deigns to support, then that's fine, of course. (Provided you don't end up with the bold new version of customer-service hell that prevents you from buying books.) While the online stores are still charging new-paper-book prices for e-books that you don't really even get to own, though, they don't interest me at all.
A buck a book, I and much of the rest of the world would be happy to pay. But Amazon clearly don't find this very exciting while they're still selling Kindles as fast as they can make them.
That said, the reason why I've chosen to ramble on about e-books despite not owning any kind of dedicated reader is that I have been doing a lot of reading on a screen instead of a page, lately. To the point that I have managed to do what I presume many others have - opened a paper book while lying in bed, turned off the light, and been surprised by the discovery that I can no longer read.
I do my reading on the World's Greatest Conversation-Starting Laptop, the ridiculously cute OLPC XO-1. Which is not actually a very useful general-purpose computing device (as the original owner of the one I've got discovered...), but which makes a pretty decent e-book reader, provided you don't want to read any DRMed books.
There are a lot of free-to-download books out there. Very few current authors let you download their stuff for free, but if you like ancient sci-fi, or any of the usually-considerably-more-ancient stuff at Project Gutenberg, or the Internet Archive's rather-more-peculiar-on-average text archive, then you'll have a full reading list for rather a while.
If you can get an OLPC laptop for the same price I did (I did pay for the postage!), then it's a good option for free-book reading. The standard Reader (PDFs, etc) and Write (actually a word processor, but fine for reading plain text) interfaces are a bit of a pain, but my main complaint about Reader is that there's no way to quickly set the zoom so that the text fills the width of the screen without wasting screen on blank margins, which isn't a big deal unless you're reading numerous short pieces and have to keep resetting it. The OLPC's screen (now being separately commercialised) is one of the best things about it - it's a TV-type hexagonal-subpixel-layout colour screen normally (effective resolution as little as 588 by 441, or as much as 984 by 738, depending on how you measure it), but if you turn the backlight down to zero it changes into a 200-dot-per-inch mono display that you can read in sunlight.
This isn't quite as awesome as it sounds, because the mono-mode colour scheme is the good old LCD almost-black-on-dark-green, not nice white e-paper. But it's still handy. I think e-paper readers have the reverse problem; they're great in good light, but nobody's yet found a way to make them light up properly.
Enough of this digression; about as many of you are likely to read books on an XO-1 as are likely to read them on an eMate. The important question is: What have I missed?
Who's got an e-reader they really love?
Is there software you can run on a normal laptop or netbook that lets you buy and read Kindle/Nook/Sony-Reader books?
Is there some shameless DRM-cracking $100 option from Hong Kong? (There already are a hatful of dodgy little reader doodads at the usual crapvendors, but I'm pretty sure they can't read any kind of DRMed file, and their screens look pretty terrible.)
Anybody buy books on paper and then download illicit PDFs?
Has someone started a kind-of-legal $10-a-month all-you-can-download e-book emporium yet?