OK, in this age of portable tablets and smartphones, the regular E-ink readers look old and moldy beside devices with large, high-resolution colour screens. As an avid e-book fan, I have read e-books on all my portables, on iPhones, Samsungs, and iPads. But the best reading experience I have is still with the venerable E-ink readers.
Pros and cons of E-ink Technology
Firstly, E-ink readers are based on E-paper technology, which forms images by rearranging charged pigment particles when an electric field is applied. The images will stay in position even in the absence of electricity. Hence, most E-ink readers will continue to display a static image (eg. a book cover) even when they are powered off! Electricity is needed only to change the images, hence battery-consumption is super low. Even with regular usage, most E-ink readers do not need to be charged for weeks, and even months! It’s nice to be able to read a book without having to worry about keeping the screen on all the time and eating up your phone’s battery life.
Reading E-ink is like reading text on real paper. There is no flicker and I can read for hours without straining my eyes. You can read an E-ink reader outdoors, at the beach, like you do with a regular book. And because the technology is simple, E-ink readers are much lighter than most similar-size tablets, making them easy to hold for long periods.
These winning features come with some caveats. E-ink readers are all black and white. Colour readers are still some years ahead. Until recently, E-ink readers have no backlight, making it necessary for you to leave on a table light if you wish to do some night reading in bed. Page transitions are much slower than LED displays, resulting in ghosting when you turned pages. So while you can play simple games like Angry Birds on some E-ink readers, watching movies could be quite frustrating.
My old e-Ink Reader – The B&N Nook Simple Touch
I was a laggard when it comes to adopting E-ink technology. I held off the temptation of the early keyboard based Kindle readers from Amazon and Sony. They were clunky, slow, expensive, and franky, I couldn’t get myself to get stuck with a proprietary, single-use device.
That changed when curiosity got the better of me with the release of Barnes & Noble’s Simple Touch reader. It has a touchscreen, and what’s more, it was running a native version of Android which was quickly hacked by the community! Once rooted, it was effectively a light-weight Android tablet, and can run many apps off Android’s Playstore. I bought it with the intention of rooting it, but never actually got down to doing it because I found myself reading loads of e-books non-stop on it. Anyway, I had too many other Android devices so one more would just make it a crowd. Also, since I was letting my children use it, I thought it better to let them use it only to read, and not to play games and stuff. Actually, this is yet another advantage of giving a kid an e-book reader rather than an iPad. You can be sure that the child is reading, and not knocking off some Angry Birds :).
I loved the Simple Touch. It was slimmer and lighter than a book, accepts the very popular .EPUB format, and has a slot for an external microSD card for virtually inexhaustible book storage.
The only problem? I cannot read it at night!
Amazon.com’s Kindle Paperwhite
So when Amazon finally released its Kindle Paperwhite in December 2012, I was caught in a dilemma. Do I want to be stuck with some proprietary standard? Kindles use the .mobi and newer .azw formats, which cannot be used on other book readers. B&N also released its Simple Touch GlowLight, which was essentially the same hardware as the original GlowLight, with additional built-in backlight.
The other issue, of course, was that Amazon.com isn’t really “officially” selling its products in Singapore. To set up your Kindle, you need to create an Amazon.com account with a US address to link it up.
To purchase either Amazon or B&N products in Singapore, we have to either buy from the official online stores and get them shipped via a 3rd party courier (eg. VPost), or buy them off a local importer who sells them on Gmarket or Ebay. I was able to easily find importers for the Kindle, but not for the Simple Touch. When I found one selling the Paperwhite WIFI Ads-free version for S$178, vs the B&N for S$219, the decision was clear to me. I went with the Kindle!
It turns out that all my fears of proprietary formats were unfounded. The Kindle works well with Calibre, my e-book management software which I use to manage my couple of thousand e-books. It was able to recognise, and convert my existing .EPUB books to .MOBI or .AZW formats and sideload them into the Kindle. The Kindle may not have an external SD option, but the internal 2GB (only 1.35GB is available for books) is plenty enough for my books. Also, it has a free 5GB cloud storage option that allows you to sync your books to all your kindle devices.
It has an “experimental browser” which was quite decent. I was able to browse KiasuParents.com quite comfortably with it. I’m not sure if paying additional for a 3G version makes a lot of sense, since it would mean investing in yet another 3G data SIM. This device is meant for more for serious reading, and less for ad hoc news flashes. Besides, you only need to tether it to your smartphone if you really need to surf on the move.
So I’m loving my Kindle now… even at night 🙂 Amazon claims that it has a battery life of 2 months even with daily use with the backlight. I’ll be able to confirm if they are just smoking in 2 months time 🙂
I also got a pretty good bundle deal for a 3rd Party cover and screen protector for $19. The cover comes with a hidden magnet that will auto turn on and off the Kindle when the cover is opened or closed. It even say “Kindle” on it :). That’s a really cool and neat feature! Click on the picture if you wish to order this from the nice lady that I got it from. It also comes in all kinds of colours. Being an ah pek, I chose leather brown :). It provides good protection: even though it claims to be “slim”, that case almost double the overall thickness of the Kindle. But the whole thing is still thinner than a standard novel.