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On e-Reader Tech News we track down the latest e-Reader news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great e-reader tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest devices and accessories.

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April 2010
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Changing the Feel of Kindle

The move from paper books to eReader devices might have been inevitable, but that doesn’t always make it easy. In a lot of ways, we’ve been fairly lucky. eInk displays make the pages read like paper, current technologies allow us to hold something the size of a book in our hands as we read, in a lot of ways it isn’t that much of a difference to read a book now than it ever was once you get used to the little things.

The one bit that I found the most difficult to deal with, at first, was the feel.  There’s just something about holding that brand new hardcover straight from the store or an old favorite pulled off the shelf for the twentieth time.  It’s got a pleasant, almost nostalgic feeling to it that the Kindle can’t really match unassisted.  My way around this was to take advantage of the cover options.

There’s a company I found a while back called Oberon Design that is in the business of making, among other things, eReader covers.  They’ve got them for all the varied Kindle versions, as well as a couple other devices, but I personally went with the Kindle 2 cover since that’s where they had the most designs to choose from so far.  It’s hand-tooled leather, feels good in your hands, and brings back some of the sensations that are lost in the move to synthetic media.  Can’t say it hurts to know that I can drop the thing in a parking lot(and I have) without damaging my favorite toy either.  The $75 price tag whether you’re going for a Kindle, nook, or Sony PRS cover is definitely a little steep, but it seems more than worth the money for the improved experience and security that the cover brings.

Upcoming Kobo Release Draws International Attention

As the May 1st release date for the Kobo eReader from Canada-based Indigo Books and Music Inc. draws near, people have begun to take notice.  The $149 price tag alone would seem to many to be the biggest draw, but the full picture is a little bit larger.

In keeping with the company’s goal of promoting content over gadgetry, anybody using the Kobo Store can expect to have access to their purchases available on any number of platforms from eReader to computer to cellular phone.  This should hold true not only in North American markets but around the world, as Indigo has brought in partnerships to expand their presence into the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Europe.

The device itself is simply a basic reading platform without any of the frills and features that a device like the Kindle boasts, but it provides an affordable option to people at a time when the eReader market is taking off and pulls in a large selection of international literature that is otherwise rather hard to come by.  There are reports of an impressive showing of Korean-language content on the horizon, for example.

If you find yourself interested, check out the National Post’s book blog, The Afterword, where’s there’s a contest going on all week to give readers the chance to win a Kobo eReader of their own to enjoy.  All it takes, it seems, is a few minutes, an email, and some luck!

nook on the Web – First Impressions

Today the latest content patch for the B&N nook rolled out and it’s made a fairly impressive showing.  I played around with it for a while earlier and found little to complain about.

The most important point is, of course, performance.  The screen refresh isn’t any faster, but navigating the device has been sped up considerably.  There is nearly no discernible delay moving from one menu to the next anymore.  Adding onto this the fact that the update is supposed to fix the freezing of nook units(couldn’t say since mine never froze in the first place), and I think many people are going to like the upgrade for this alone.

The most widely touted feature of this update was the web browser.  Now, as you would expect from the first release of a browser for a device that was never really an optimal sort of avenue for that sort of thing in the first place, there are some bugs.  First, page navigation is a bit slow.  Both moving from page to page and simply scrolling from one part of the page to the next.  I love that I can check my email easily through the device.  In fact, that was the first thing I did, just to make sure I could.  It causes problems when you try to do anything involving a pop-up or new tab though.  Just bumps you out to the main menu.  Personally I’d rather just get a message saying “No, go do something else instead.”  Anyway, it’s still a nice addition.  With the color on the touchscreen, the web isn’t nearly as bland as it could be.  It’s a small window to the full color spectrum of the web, but it makes a big difference.

Finally, we have the games.  Why did B&N add games?  No idea.  Not that they’re bad.  I mean, they’re really not.  Heck, the sodoku is one of the most pleasant versions to play that I’ve ever found, and I hate sodoku.  I just don’t exactly see the point just now.  Maybe when downloadable games demonstrate the potential better somehow?

I’d say nook owners should be very pleased for a bit.  This is a major improvement in the device.  I still feel the lack somewhat, since the keyboard is a little less sensitive and harder to use than my Kindle‘s, but it isn’t too bad.  This eReader’s definitely going to get a bit more use than it has been for a while now though, I can assure you.

Audible Incentives

There are a lot of good reasons to pick up a Kindle.  It’s neat to read, occasionally very useful for its ability to be a portable internet device, and it saves on effort and potential injury when you compare it to the hundreds or thousands of paperbacks you might otherwise have to carry down a flight of stairs on moving day.  One of the less talked-about uses, however, is as a vessel for audiobooks.

Having worked with the Kindle while helping out students with learning disorders, I can tell you that this is a really useful feature.  It’s also proven helpful with an elderly relative of mine who sometimes has trouble even with the device’s largest font sizes, but who still really loves her books.  The Text-to-speech feature isn’t bad, though it can trip over some words in odd ways sometimes.  I personally prefer to go with actual narrated book readings.  It adds something that, if you’re forced or inclined to be listening to a book rather than reading it yourself in the first place, helps significantly with personal immersion.

Since I’m sure there are those of you out there who agree with me, as there are certainly those who find my position ridiculous, I figured it was worth pointing out the current incentive for people still on the fence about the usefulness of eReaders.  For the moment, Amazon is offering a discount of $100 off their device if you sign up for a year of Audible.com membership.  I don’t really know how limited a time this offer is, but I’d guess not terribly.  It’s been around a while.  I personally consider it a worthwhile investment if you’re interested in audiobooks.  Audible provides good prices on good readings of good books.  What more can you ask, really?  Chances are that if you’ve read this far into the post, you’re interested in audiobooks anyway.  Might as well get a discount on your Kindle and a new source for your reading all at once, right?

Kindle Available at Target Stores April 25

It looks like Amazon is taking a page from Sony and Barnes & Noble’s book by offering the Kindle in a retail outlet.  The Kindle will debut in Target Stores April 25.  The good part about this strategy is that customers will finally be able to test a Kindle before they buy them in a secure environment.  According to this article from Wall Street Journal, Amazon previously recruited volunteers to go to public spaces such as coffee shops and showcase their Kindles.  However impact of these activities was limited. More than two years of what everyone believes to be stellar sales have passed and as I use my Kindle in public places some people still ask me “what is this” having no clue about Amazon Kindle specifically or eReaders and eInk in general. Clearly Kindle needs more public exposure.

Until B&N Nook came about much later, Kindle was the only device that could work without PC at all. So technically one could by it like a cell phone, have store associate set up amazon.com account with payment information and then read books without ever having to use a computer for that purpose. This way Amazon would be able to pick up some customers who never shopped online before. It’s a win-win situation all around. Why did it take Amazon 2.5 years to finally get there is a total mystery to me.

However, don’t rush to your nearest Target tomorrow. Chances are you will not find Kindle there. The plan is to pilot this in a limited number of stores with broader roll-out to follow sometime later.

Improved eInk Displays

Well, the news of the day revolves around the recently announced improvements to the eInk technology.  Honestly, it looks like good news.  I know, many people are holding out for color, but this is still something to be excited about.

According to information from the recent Red Ferret interview, we’re looking at the potential for significantly higher contrast and refresh rates on eInk displays being made available by the end of the year, as well as some noticeable improvements in durability not too far off beyond that.  Comments were made regarding the potential for animation now that the refresh rate has been improved so significantly, but we can probably take that as more of an example case than a real goal for the technology.  Maybe for scrolling effects?  I can certainly see those being a major boon for eInk based web browsers, if nothing else.

Anyway, good news for the future of eReaders in the face of the increasing competition from the tablet market.  It comes at an especially good time, we can hope, with the prevailing opinion being that the next generations of both the Kindle and the nook are probably coming in the next year or so.

Kindle Book Prices Starting to Climb

With the recent launch of the iPad and battle with book publishers, Amazon’s Kindle book prices are starting to rise.  Books on the bestseller list that used to cap at $9.99 now start at $9.99 and up.  Bestselling author Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, “House Rules”, is available for Kindle at $12.99.  Others such as “The Bridge,” by David Remnick is $14.82 and “Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang,” by Chelsea Handler is $12.99.  More info is available in this article from The Baltimore Sun about the Apple iPad’s influence on e-book prices.  There are still a good many bestsellers holding at $9.99, but it remains to be seen what the future holds in terms of e-book price inflation.

It will be interesting to see what the reader response is to the price hike in the long run.  Based on observations of the comments on the Kindle forums, they are not happy campers.  There are many mass market paperbacks available for nearly half the price of the Kindle versions of the same books.  According to the article about the new e-book prices, publishers claim that paperback versions are often printed by different publishers than the Kindle version, thus leading to inconsistent prices.  Time will tell whether the price hike will be a short term or long term issue.  If they stay high for long term, it will be interesting to observe the impact on e-book and e-reader sales.

eInk in the Military

I’ve always been fascinated by the way in which new applications drive new developments in technologies.  What’s got me interested today is the military applications of eInk.  The potential benefits are clear.  Low power draw, huge standby times, clear to read in pretty much any conditions, and far more durable than your average LCD.  If production costs on the material itself can be driven down sufficiently, this technology could significantly reduce the average infantry load of batteries and equipment at a reasonable price without costing functionality.

HP’s prototype, according to the Wired article on the subject, should be available starting next year.  They have some thoughts on how to make the production more efficient, the basic idea being to use the flexible nature of the material to print continuous runs of the displays instead of small batch jobs.  Take these, power them with portable solar panels sewn into fabric to charge on the go and you’ve got some really impressive versatility.

This excites me as a consumer, honestly.  Yeah, I’ll still want a Kindle or something similar for reading books, but the idea of my next road trip’s GPS being something I can strap to my wrist and forget about when it isn’t in use is quite appealing.  A decade ago we started having entertainment technology that was small and thin enough to conveniently fit in a pocket, a decade from now we may have some that can be sewn right into things.  Definitely a fun idea.

B&N Steps Up the Competition

In recent days, as Apple steps into the market and eReaders are practically falling out of the rafters, one of the major points of comparison that has kept the Kindle on top has been the subscription-free 3G connection complete with web browser.  Nobody has ever claimed that it looked wonderful, but it does the job and who doesn’t occasionally love the option to check Wikipedia on the fly?

Well, it seems that Barnes and Noble has finally caught up with the crowd.  According to recently released rumors, we could be seeing a full web browser added into the feature list as early as next week in a downloaded firmware update.  Now, it would be reasonable to expect perfection right out the door, but any nook owner will tell you that this has been a long time coming.

Even assuming that the main purpose will be for text-based web pages such as Wikipedia or the many online dictionaries, there will be several unexpected side effects that could benefit owners.  Travelers in areas without 3G coverage who wish to use their devices in the airport, hotel, or coffee shop have often found themselves out of luck up until now, since many such places require navigating an internal web page to gain access to the connection itself.  If this rumor proves true, nook fans have some fun things to look forward to as the eReader feature gap closes up a little bit more.

New York Times Hikes Kindle Subscription Price

New York Times has recently announced that it is raising the price for Kindle subscriptions from $13.99 to $19.99 – a rise of whopping 43 percent. There is some respite for current Kindle subscribers, who will continue to be billed at $13.99 for the next six months. The Kindle edition of New York Times app has been very popular and allows readers to get news coverage of exceptional depth and breadth, as well as opinion that is thoughtful and stimulating.

The timing of this announcement is very interesting and coincides with the launch of Apple iPad in United States. In a related move, an iPad application for New York Times hit the iTunes App Store yesterday. The current NYT iPad app is free and offers a limited selection of automatically updated news, features, videos, etc. laid out with a newspapery feel and offline reading capability; it’s sponsored exclusively at launch by Chase Sapphire. It is expected that a full-fledged paid NYT app for iPad would be launched soon.

The New York Times subscription on the nook is also going up from $13.99 to $19.99. Like with the Kindle, existing nook subscribers will get 6 months at the old price. Many print media veterans have argued that digital subscriptions should be less than their analog counterparts, however the prices for digital editions continue to rise. I wonder if the Kindle vs. iPad battle will help the customers or will it further aggravate this pricing war?