Recently at CES I put the eBook into the category of  “I just don’t get it”. I’m still not sure I get it now, but I wanted to set the record straight and let you know I am now an eBook owner, and user.

Why the about-face?

Simple. I thought it only fair to give the technology a go and then make my final judgement.

Before I tell you what I bought, let me take you through my journey of discovery. The eBooks I looked at were all commercially available at the time of writing. As I mentioned at CES – whilst the world was speculating about Apple’s plans, nothing concrete was being discussed. Today’s announcement of the iPad has certainly shown Apple’s commitment to be a serious contender in eBook market.

The three candidates I looked at seriously were the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Sony eReader Touch.

All three had strong and weak points with regards to features and usability.


Amazon has made the Kindle available internationally, through the US, at $US259 plus taxes, shipping and any additional duty. The Nook and eReader do not ship internationally. If you want to buy books from their recommended stores an American credit card is needed (definitely for Nook and eReader, still trying to find out about the new Kindle). Obviously this will change when the products become available in Australia.

None of these eBooks have a back lit screen – as it draws on battery power and reduces the two week or so life. To make the reading experience as book-like as possible they all use E Ink electronic paper display technology. You can buy covers that have a book light in them powered by a AAA battery if you need it, or you can get a clip on book light for around $US20. (I got one from Brookstore at JFK airport). All work well in direct sunlight – even with sunglasses on.

Amazon Kindle

With the Kindle , you can only buy your ebooks from Amazon – not a limiting factor when you consider there are literally hundreds of thousands of titles available. Recently Amazon introduced an international delivery model, so Kindle can now be purchased for use in Australia – albeit still through the US site. Kindle offers Text-to-speech, a feature not available on the Nook or Reader. Along with the variable font size this could be very useful for the elderly, or the visually impaired.

I did not like the keypad provided with the Kindle as I found it detracted from both the aesthetics and potential screen size. Amazon uses the keyboard as the Kindle does not have a touch screen. Also the cream finish seems likely to attract dirty finger marks.

If you lived in the US or were prepared to pay international roaming charges, the Kindle is a good device to receive your daily newspapers wirelessly. You can also order you new books through the device and they are delivered within seconds.

Barns and Noble Nook.

The Nook is the only eBook to provde a 3.5” TFT colour LCD touch screen for navigation. Don’t be fooled though – the books are still read on the 16 level greyscale main screen.

Connectivity is strong with the Nook – locked into the AT&T 3G network, along with 802.11b/g WiFi and free WiFi in Barnes and Noble stores (not very useful here in Australia unfortunately). With 2Gb internal memory, you can store up to 1500 eBooks, and a micro SD slot is also provided for additional storage.

Nook , like Kindle, boasts daily, wireless delivery of newspapers and journals. (The Sony Daily Edition – announced at CES, also has this capability, but was not available for review at the time of writing).

Nook is the first Android™ –based eReader, and you can add personalised screensavers with your own photos.

Battery life allows for up to 10 days with wireless turned off.

Sony eReader Touch

Sony have three versions of the eReader – the Pocket, Touch and Daily Editions. I will only refer to the Touch in this discussion.

The eReader Touch has a 6” display, with touch screen navigation. Whilst you can only carry up to 360 books at any one time without using one of the expansion slots, I am still trying to think of a time when I would need to access that many books at an instant.

The ability to make notes on a page using the stylus or virtual keyboard is a plus – especially if you are studying and need to clarify a point for future reference. If you don’t know the meaning of a word – tap the word and a dictionary definition pops up on the screen. Battery life is reported to be approximately 2 weeks, or 7500 electronic page turns. Five variable font sizes are provided.

Sony have made the Touch available in three colours – Red, Black and Silver.
The eReader Touch has an MP3 player and picture viewer, but remember you will only see the pics in black and white. You purchase your books via the Sony eReader store or through other public domain sites, download them to your PC or Mac and they are on your eReader Touch in no time.

Okay, so what did I end up buying?

The Sony eReader Touch.

Why? Mainly because of the touch screen, the ability to add comments/take notes via the stylus with handwriting or typing, and the overall look and feel.

And whilst I thought the wireless feature in all three manufacturers was a plus, the lack of opportunity to use this feature in Australia swayed me away from those models.

What am I reading?

What was the first book I purchased? Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Deception – by Eric Van Lustbader – the book I am currently reading in paperback. The obvious question is why buy the book I already had? To see what the experiences were like between real and epaper. On the journey over the Ludlum book was bulky and got in the way – I spent more time watching the movies, sleeping and listening to music rather than reading. At $US9.95 this was a lot cheaper than the $A21 I paid at Target late last year!

On the way home, I pulled out the thin eReader Touch and got straight into it. When I wanted a sleep, the eReader slid back into my laptop bag without taking up much space at all.

And yes, eBook envy does exist. The person across the aisle from me told me straight out he was jealous of my eReader – having been lugging 8 rather large hardcover books around New York. And yes, I did let him have a bit of a play. After all, what good is technology if you can’t (even if only for a brief period of time) share it around?

The verdict? Still working on it… but I can see some value for my $US299 – even if it is only brag value at this time. Give the savings are approximately $10 per book, I would need to buy 30 books to cover my cost.

The only question now is – how long will I use this before moving to the new Apple iPad? Only time, and available supply, will tell.

Thanks for reading.