Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Digital Debate - Reading Ebooks on a PDA by Imogen Howson

I meet lots of people who say they wouldn’t buy ebooks because they “hate reading on the computer”. And I don’t blame them. I spend my working day looking at a computer screen, I don’t want to do more looking at a computer screen in my leisure time.

The first ebooks I bought, in 2006, when I was first researching epublishing, I read on my desktop computer. And honestly, if I’d had to carry on doing that, I would have bought very, very few others. A couple of short stories I actually printed out before reading, because what’s the point of a book you can’t take to bed with you? I couldn’t stretch to a specifically designed ereader, though, so I did a little research and ended up with this, the Jornada 545 (£35, secondhand from Ebay).

The Jornada 545 is actually meant to do a lot more than just read ebooks—it’s designed as a PDA—but even in 2006 it had been superseded by lots of sleeker, shinier, faster gadgets, so I’ve only ever used it for ebooks.

It came with Microsoft Reader pre-installed, which reads ebooks in the Microsoft Reader (.lit) format. I downloaded and installed Mobipocket, which is my preferred reading software.

Loading books onto the Jornada is easy. It synchs with the desktop computer via its recharging cradle, and sending a book across takes a few seconds. I’ve stored up to about twenty books on it before.

It fits very comfortably in one hand, and the pages can be turned either by touching the edges of the screen (with your finger or with the provided stylus) or by using the scroll wheel on the side. If I’m reading lying down, I find it much more comfortable than holding a paperback.

The screen is backlit—like standard computer screens—so I can’t read it in direct sunlight. It is, however, fantastic for reading in bed without disturbing my partner. I’ve often been halfway through a print book but gone and bought an ebook specially so I have something to read in bed without waking him up. Despite the screen being basically a small computer screen, I don’t find it tiring to read, maybe because it’s smaller so my eyes have to move less. The reading experience is very little different from reading a print book—of the various books I’ve read I actually can’t remember which I’ve read in print or electronic version.

The battery life is okay, although nowhere near the length of the specifically designed ereaders. I’ve read a full length novel on it before (reading most of the day) before it needed recharging. Recharging is easy—I just put it back in its cradle—and takes about an hour.

Since I bought the Jornada, my daughter has acquired an iPod Touch, which, like my partner’s iPhone, can function as an ereader. The display is crystal clear, and the pages 'slide' when you turn one, which takes a little getting used to even though it looks very pretty. It’s like a whole entertainment unit, with books, movies, music, TV shows, games, the internet… So it’s not necessarily what you want if all you want to do is read books, but as a lightweight, totally portable, all-the-entertainment-you-want device, it takes some beating!

When the Jornada eventually dies, I know I’ll be tempted by the Sony, the Lbook and the Cooler. But I’m not sure I’ll be willing to forego the ease of reading in bed without using a book light, so my next ereader could well turn out to be an iPod. Or, of course, another secondhand PDA.

Imogen is epublished by Drollerie Press and her next ebook release, Heart of the Volcano, is coming in September from Samhain Publishing.


Cindy said...

It looks like a very attractive unit...and transportable?

And it is nice that, if you wanted to, you could do other things with it. This is a really good review!

Unknown said...

Hey Cindy. Thanks for commenting! It's super transportable. The recharging cradle is a little clunky--it's not made by Apple, after all!--but the unit itself is very transportable--fits in a back pocket.


Jenny Haddon said...

Now that's a solution I hadn't thought of. I infer that you feel comfortable reading it for a reasonable stretch of time. I don't think I'd mind the machine texture and smell so much in something as small as this, either.

Thanks for the idea, Immi. Really helpful. I'll see if I can blag a test drive off someone.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be without my PDA!

No matter where I am I can answer my emails, check the latest tweets, go on an ebay shopathon, and write or edit Word docs as it has a slide out QWERTY keyboard that I use with my thumbs (writing is easy, editing trickier as I can't see more than a para at a time!). I put Mobipocket on it and I can fit a shelf full of ebooks on a 2 gig memory card. It's as easy to read as a real book, just with smaller pages. There's a scroll wheel to turn the page, I can bookmark, add marginal notes, do pretty much anything I'd do with a paper book. Oh, and of course it's my mobile phone, MP3, and camera.

I'm not tempted by an ebook reader at all.

Why carry around more gadgets in an already ludicrously overloaded handbag when one device does it all so well?

I still love my "real" books as the towering TBR and keeper stacks all around the house prove!

Unknown said...

"I infer that you feel comfortable reading it for a reasonable stretch of time. I don't think I'd mind the machine texture and smell so much in something as small as this, either."

Absolutely, Jenny. I read for hours, and honestly don't notice whether it's on this machine or from a print book. And for me, this doesn't feel like a machine at all, unlike my laptop (which I also love, but not for reading books).

Waitingforthecall, your PDA sounds much better than mine! Mine is really only good for books and playing Patience. But then, it cost £35 so I don't mind. :-) I think if I go for an iPod next time I'll enjoy the multi-functionality, though.