Your library in your hand

 

TECHNOLOGY:Amazon says it now sells more ebooks than paper ones. If you’re thinking of switching from printed book to screen, CIARA O'BRIENweighs up rival ereaders

THIS YEAR Amazon.com said its customers are now buying more digital books from its Kindle store than all hardcovers and paperbacks combined. So is it time to try out an ereader? Although it can’t replicate the smell and feel of the printed word, it could be a great addition to your library. Convenience is one strength. You have a book in your hands in seconds and can carry thousands around in a device smaller than a paperback. E Ink is another strength. Made to mimic paper, it provides a clear screen that won’t tire your eyes. The experience can feel so natural that you can forget you’re reading a screen and try to flip the page. And the best part is that ereaders cost a lot less than they used to.

Amazon Kindle

£89/€105 and £149/€175

The Amazon Kindle wasn’t the first ereader, but it is one of the most popular. The latest version has a touch screen; a more expensive version includes a keyboard and 3G. You can archive your books to Amazon’s storage locker, which means you don’t run out of space.

ProsAmazon’s Kindle bookstore gives you access to thousands of titles. If you have the version with built-in international 3G, you can buy books almost anywhere, as long as you have some sort of mobile connection.

ConsBooks outside the Kindle store can be limited. The device reads PDF files, as well as ebooks without digital rights management (DRM) to restrict their distribution. As many ebookstores use DRM, the Kindle is locked out.

Sony Reader PRS-T1

€169

Sony’s latest ereader is light and thin and comes in a range of colours. It’s got 2GB of space, so you can store about 1,200 books – and, if you need more space, add a memory card. Wi-Fi is built in, so you can buy books online without using a computer. This ereader also supports audio playback, so you can listen to music while you read – or listen to audiobooks.

ProsThe Sony Reader supports the EPub format for digital books, so you can buy books from a range of stores. You can also rent them from libraries that offer e-book rental schemes, such as those in south Co Dublin. It’s easy to swap the memory card, so you could carry thousands of books. And the battery life is impressive – about a month or so, according to the manufacturer.

ConsNot as easy to use as the Kindle; the Sony Reader Store isn’t available in the UK or Ireland; and there’s no option to add 3G, so you’re reliant on Wi-Fi.

Elonex 621eb

€99

Elonex’s ereader is not as well-known as Sony’s or Amazon’s, but it is worth a second look. It is lightweight yet sturdy; the battery lasts for about 7,000 page turns – that’s up to three months, depending on how fast you read – and you can store up to 1,000 books, which should see you through even the most difficult journey. Like some other ereaders, the Elonex will also play MP3 and other audio files, opening up the world of audiobooks, among other things.

ProsAt €99, it’s considerably cheaper than many of the alternatives. And it supports EPub, so you have options when it comes to buying books.

BThis model has no Wi-Fi and only 1GB of on-board memory. That’s a decent amount but less than other models – and the design may not be to everyone’s taste. You say “minimalist, ultramodern styling”; some say “rubberised casing”.

BeBook Neo

€229

Not a bad alternative, with a similar-sized screen to its rivals’ at six inches. As well as being able to read on the touch-enabled device, you can sketch or take notes, should inspiration grab you. BeBook has also tried to simplify the book-buying process. The Neo has built-in Wi-Fi, so when you have an internet connection handy you can simply go to its portal and see what third-party bookstores are available for your region. You can also access websites such as Google or Wikipedia through its browser.

ProsIt is speedy and uses technology that is aimed at making your reading experience more natural. The ability to make notes also makes the Neo a bit more versatile.

ConsWhen you use its browser, the appeal of greyscale on an E Ink screen is limited. Maybe for emergency browsing only.

Archos 70b

€124

A slightly different animal from the rest of the ereaders. For a start, it runs on Google’s smartphone operating system, Android, which makes it more like a tablet than your average ereader. Rather than E Ink, it uses LCD, like tablets, and so is in colour. This means it won’t last as long on a charge. Aside from books, photos and music files, the Archos will play video. So it’s a bit of an all-rounder, particularly with its built-in Wi-Fi.

ProsAt seven inches, its screen is slightly larger than its rivals’. You’d be surprised how much difference that makes. Because it’s a bit of a hybrid, you can browse the internet and view media files, in full colour. Which isn’t strictly what an ereader is – but it’s a nice touch.

ConsIt’s a little thicker and heavier than others, and the LCD screen can be tough on the eyes. Battery life suffers compared with standard ereaders’: you get about eight hours.

App alternatives

If you already have a tablet or smartphone, you can download an ereader application. Amazon offers the Kindle app for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry and Android. Apple offers iBooks (below); other free apps include Stanza on iOS and Aldiko on Android.

ProsThe apps are usually free or cheap to buy – far cheaper than buying an ereader. And as you’re more likely always to have your smartphone with you, you’ll never be without reading material.

ConsUsing such apps will eat through your battery life, meaning you could end up stuck somewhere without a mobile phone or a book. The backlit screens are often tougher on the eyes than E Ink versions, and while ereaders are intended to last several thousand page turns – up to two weeks of reading in some cases – the tablets often have a much shorter battery life. And you have to do your research. Not all books are compatible with every ereader app. Some won’t work with, say, files with DRM.

The future?

The Kindle Fire is Amazon’s foray into the tablet market. It’s meant to be an all-round entertainment device. It runs on a customised version of Google’s Android system, so it’s not quite as open as you might expect. You can buy apps only through Amazon, for example. Still, it’s a strategy that worked for the regular Kindle.

ProsIt’s designed as a system. This means Amazon will sell the whole package: apps, books and media. At $199, it’s also significantly cheaper than most other tablets on the market.

ConsNot available here. Even if you have access to a US address to get hold of one, a lot of the good things about the Fire are limited to US customers: Amazon Prime, media content, even apps. So perhaps wait until it’s available here. Also, it’s has only 8GB of storage, although it’s designed to work with Amazon’s cloud, allowing you to store your content off the tablet. Not much good if you are out of Wi-Fi coverage, either: the Fire doesn’t offer 3G.