eBook Readers – the Kindle

I’ve recently added both a Kindle and an iPad to my collection of eBook readers. I’ve been using the Sony eBook reader since 2009 and thought it would be useful to compare the leading products as this area of hardware hots up. All eBook readers can carry more eBooks than you are likely to want to read in a month, and all eBook readers substantially reduce the effort required to carry today’s massive tomes around.

The Kindle, from Amazon, has two major strengths and a couple of significant weaknesses. The most impressive aspect is the Whispernet technology – the worldwide roaming 3G application which lets you search Amazon.com directly from the Kindle, and with one click to select, purchase and download books directly to the eBook reader. This is a brilliant innovation. The fact that browsing speeds are, relatively speaking, quite slow (3G doesn’t match most broadband connections for speed) and that searching for books isn’t as simple as doing it through a web browser are minor drawbacks in comparison to the overall facility of direct purchase and download.

The other big advantage is its size – you get a large screen, which means that you get more text on the screen in front of you than with the Sony Pocket. More text means fewer page turns, which means fewer clicks on the neatly placed ‘next page’ button. Size, though, is the first big draw back of the Kindle – unlike a book, the Kindle is not something that you can drop into a pocket, or a beachbag – it’s a chunky item, very slightly smaller than A4 in size and quite heavy. Of course, it’s a bit neater than today’s 500+ page book, but that doesn’t make it easy to cart about.

The second big limitation is that you are, effectively, limited to reading books available from Amazon. While it appears to be technically possible to transfer other eBooks and pdfs to the KIndle, it’s not a simple process and is one which still eludes me. The eBook selection on Amazon.com isn’t that great, to be frank – and far more useful selections of popular eBooks are available from retailers like Waterstones – but, of course, you can’t download a Waterstone’s eBook to your Kindle reader.

The Kindle is, in effect, a tool for buying and reading eBooks that are sold by Amazon.com. It is designed so that you can’t use it to buy eBooks from Amazon’s competitors. If Amazon was giving it away for free, as a device to encourage you to purchase eBooks from Amazon, there would be a justification for getting one – but it is a relatively expensive and very limited product. On this basis, the Kindle simply doesn’t compete with alternatives like the Sony eBook Reader – which is not only lightweight and pocket-sized, but with which you can purchase eBooks from any retailer or publisher, download and read them, and with which you can also read pdfs and other electronic documents from almost any source. As a practical, workaday tool, I would take the Sony eBook reader over the Kindle any day! 

I’ve just taken delivery of an iPad, so will be talking about that in due course.