I’m debating about adding the new Amazon Kindle ebook Reader as the top item on my holiday wish list. It’s about $100 more expensive than Sony’s Reader, but it seems to be better thought out by including an EVDO connection for downloading more content without a computer and supporting several more formats, as well as having the biggest bookseller on the planet behind it. A number of popular blogs are tied into the service, daily newspapers are available and a large library of books. There’s one thing Amazon does better than anybody on the planet: distribute the printed word, so I see every reason to think they may be the first company to really get the digital book right.
I know one of the key reasons book readers don’t like the idea of digital readers is because the screens have traditional been harder on the eyes than a printed page. For ages it felt too much like sitting at a computer screen to read. Both Sony and Amazon use digital ink technology (or as Amazon calls it, electronic paper), which doesn’t feel like you’re reading a screen at all. I already read a great deal of text on my Palm Treo 750, but even that starts to wear on my eyes. The electronic paper has none of the harshness of typical LCD displays.
A second key complaint I’ve heard from people who prefer paper to electronic reading is weight. Laptops make us think all portable digital screens must be heavy. Amazon got this right too, with a 10.3 ounce total weight for their Kindle device. As someone who constantly tries to trim weight from my travel bag, trading my often 500-1000 page reading material for something that is both thinner and lighter has huge appeal. Sony’s Reader is even lighter at 9 ounces (before you put on a necessary protective cover). Both weigh in at about the same as or slightly less than most paperback books.
The one thing all ebooks fail at is my take off and landing test. There’s approximately a combined hour of my time from the time I get on a plane to takeoff and from the time they make you put stuff away to landing that an ebook is completely unusable because electronic devices are not allowed. A paper book or magazine doesn’t suffer this limitation and until the FAA changes rules about flying I’m not likely to be able to completely go paperless for all my reading, even if Kindle is otherwise almost perfect.