Digital book readers are gaining popularity all the time, with Amazon, the major online book retailer, especially keen to push the technology through their own brand of digital book reader. With the power of Amazon helping to drive it forward the number of digital book readers on the market is growing exponentially.
Despite this growth in popularity many people are unaware of what a digital book reader is, and how it can be used to enhance their own book reading experience. So let us look into the fundamentals of this technology.
What is a Digital Book Reader?
A digital book reader is, in essence, a small mobile computer that is able to travel with you wherever you go. The very essence of it is the ability to travel easily, so they are lightweight and small – designed to be no more than book sized.
The technology is a natural progression from a hand-held PDA. PDAs are mobile computers designed to help you organise your day and also supported the reading of certain documents. Digital book readers have progressed that technology and taken the next logical step.
Rather than being an input machine the digital book reader is designed to be a display module (with some limited input capabilities), allowing different formats of files to be shown as text. These files can be saved to an internal hard drive or use external memory cards that are easily inserted.
These files, as the name suggests, are, in the main, digital books. Simply put they are the same text as normal books but presented in a digital format for a digital book reader to display on its screen (which takes up most of the front of the electronic device). Other files can be read, depending on the device, including reports in files such as .txt or .pdf, which have interested many commercial services outside of publishing.
It is not simply a case of these devices being mini-computers that let you read books. While that is an accurate description it is also a simplistic one. A lot of research and development has gone into these readers to ensure that the reading experience is a comfortable one.
It was discovered that using normal mobile technology to light and display text started hurting the eyes relatively quickly, making it uncomfortable and unlikely to catch on. This has lead to the development of such technologies as ‘electronic paper’ and ‘electronic ink’. These are designed to allow the readers to be read for long periods (e.g. while studying) and still feel as natural and as easy to read as a book. The change in lighting also makes such devices easy to read in sunlight, which laptops have traditionally struggled in.
Electronic books, also known as ebooks, are available in a number of different formats. Originally the various hardware developers, such as Sony and Amazon, created proprietary formats so that ebooks bought for their hardware could not be used on other devices, effectively tying people and their ebook collections to the one hardware.
However as more hardware manufacturers have entered the market a general use format has emerged, ePUB. Sony has changed it’s recent offerings to include access to this format, as have most manufacturers (with Amazon the main notable exception).
Digital book readers continue to advance as technology changes and improves, but with the expansion of the books available, and the emergence of a standard publishing technology, it looks more and more like the digital book reader is going to be here to stay.
Digital Book Reader Benefits
With the increased popularity of digital book readers comes increased scrutiny. As it moves out from simply being a gadget that gadget lovers will get and into the mainstream so to must it be questioned for usability and value for money. Why should you get a digital book reader? What benefits does it bring?
The book has been our medium for reading for hundreds of years, huge collections exist and the book brings a value and feel all of it’s own. So for digital book readers to overcome this history and familiarity they are going to have to present some real benefits.
So what benefits can digital book readers bring to users that they don’t get with the traditional book?
- The first is ease of transport. Whilst a digital book reader takes up roughly the same size as a book it can in fact store thousands of books inside it’s (and any memory card’s) data banks. This means that when you are travelling you don’t need to pack half a suitcase worth of books, just the one book sized piece of equipment. It can be of great benefit for online education.
- Instantaneous downloads. Books are hard copy, they need to be picked up from shops or delivered, which means you need to wait. Electronic Books (eBooks) of digital book readers are available for an instantaneous download, meaning you can have what you want in your hands, ready to read as soon as you have bought it.
- Storage space. If you are an avid book reader it can be difficult to find space for all the books that you own. Many such people end up having to give their books away. Wouldn’t it be preferable to instead be able to store it on a tiny little device such as a memory card? That is what an eBook can bring. No need for vast storage areas, or giving away books you may want to read again, just an easy to access and easy to store system that takes up next to no space.
- Cost. Whilst a digital book reader can be somewhat costly the massively reduce cost of ebooks vs traditional books mean that if you are buying books on a frequent, or even semi frequent, basis then you will be saving money.
- Wear and tear. Books traditionally suffer from degradation. Folding of the pages, yellowing, water damage, tears and more are something that anyone who owns a book is aware of. With an eBook though they will never suffer such problems as they are stored in digital format. Whilst it is possible for the digital book reader to get damaged (though they are sturdy items) your ebook collection will still be unharmed, and can be transferred to a new book reader if needs be.
- File support. It is possible to read other documents on such readers, such as work reports or newspapers. It can greatly increase the functionality of the digital book reader over that of a traditional book.
These are the main benefits that most people appreciate with digital book readers. Other benefits exist and their importance from person to person can vary. It should be noted that at this point the manufacturers and publishers are not pitching eBooks as something to take over completely from traditional books, just an additional interest that will benefit those that like to read.
While Sony and Amazon Kindle are the two biggest names in the digital book reader market, there are a few companies that have developed their own offerings that are fast getting a strong following from users. As the technology is still in early stages, it is likely we will see a number of ‘new name’ companies come and go. But some will stay around thanks to the strength and popularity of their offerings.
Two of the major up and coming digital book reader companies are featured below, and should be strongly considered as alternatives to the established options.
Cool-er ebook readers are certainly eye catching. They come in a range of 8 different colors, all of which are very bright and easily spotted. As one of the latest of the digital book readers to be released the Cool-er has almost all the up-to-date specifications you would expect.
The Cool-er is roughly the same size as the Sony Reader, but is also roughly half the weight, making it far more friendly as a travel companion. It comes with speakers to allow ebooks to be read to you (and MP3′s to be played) and has the good news that it supports the ePub format, fast becoming the industry standard for ebooks.
It is attractively priced, aiming of the lower end of the pricing market, which makes sense considering it’s lack of internet connection. It is certainly developing a fan base, with rumours of an application store in a similar vein to the iphone app store currently doing the rounds.
There are two types of BeBook Readers currently on the market, the BeBook Reader and the BeBook mini, with the mini being the stripped down, smaller and more travel friendly version of it’s bigger, more powerful brother.
BeBook is probably the leading ‘independent’ brand digital book reader in the world, and for good reason. It supports or common (and a number of uncommon) document types, it has an extremely lengthy battery life, high quality screen and contrast and can play MP3 files and audio books.
Unlike some of the other ‘big names’ BeBook readers support the use of SD memory cards, making backing up your digital book collection far easier – and therefore making your investments safer. The style is also comparable to the best on the market, achieving a futuristic ‘tablet’ type feel that is also easy to use.