Reading eBooks

I’ve now read three books on my phone (you can see which ones here). I never thought it would be possible to read on a screen that wasn’t designed for this purpose; I was sure that you’d need a Kindle or Nook-type screen to be able to read in comfort and for long periods of time.

The girl with the dragon tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my Motorola Milestone

It turns out that when I have time to read it’s typically on the train or bus (OK, mostly waiting for the train or bus followed by a brief journey), and then a few hours at weekends. Reading on my phone is fine for these use cases and in fact normally more useful since I always know where my phone is, and it always knows where I left off from.

Some facts:

  • The screen has a resolution of 854×480
  • I read in white on black
  • I read using Aldiko (although I tried WordPlayer too)
  • I have used the built-in catalog browser for virtually all my downloads
  • I have experimented with using Calibre to convert PDFs into eBooks and for magazine subscriptions. This is all simple.

I am pretty much a convert. There are definitely some downsides to reading books on a screen – it’s hard to pass it on afterwards, for example, or to quickly show someone a particular bit of text (since on such a small screen they’d need to go back three pages to get the same amount of context you’d get on a printed page or a proper ebook reader).

But I am astonished by the price of ebooks. From the little I’ve looked around they seem to be at best a few pounds (or dollars) cheaper than the dead tree equivalent, and I was certainly expecting a massive discount. Let me make a trite example:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:  book, $5.50, ebook, $5.42

and that is only for the books that you can get in DRM-free format, of course. Unlike, say, books that are printed on paper, some books are only available in certain formats or available for certain readers. It’s like they looked at the mp3 sales business of 8 years ago and said “yep, that looks like a great business model to us!”.

The pricing rather makes a mockery of the value of a printed book – do publishers really want to be telling me that the physical thing I hold in my hand is worth far, far less than the license for the artwork on the cover? Even if it is, the devaluation in the item that this revelation causes means I’m likely to be more frugal with my book purchases, not less.

All in all, although I thought I’d miss the whole tactile sensation of paper books, I don’t. I do miss the covers and a row of spines in a bookcase, but it’s not as if I have rows of CDs still out in my house. They all got ripped and are now in my loft.

I fully expect that over the next year most of my casual book purchases, or book-reading at least, will get done on my phone. After that time I may buy a proper ebook reader, certainly the experience I’ve had so far has indicated I am going to be spending even more of my time looking at a screen in the future.

Three months with a Droid

Just before Christmas¬†I got a Motorola Milestone to replace my Nokia N95. At the time it was the latest and greatest Android device to be released in the UK, and it’s my first non-Nokia device in a decade.

All in all, it is not the step change I was hoping for in upgrading from a device I got in October 2007. The device itself looks unremarkable and rather like several touchscreen LG models. The hardware keyboard is very useful but the keys are virtually flush together, making it hard to get any kind of sense of whether you’re about to press the right letter or not (obviously it’s less of an issue after a bit of practice).

The camera is significantly worse than my N95 in both hardware and software (even accounting for the 24.5 day bug which my firmware has) – this is a real disappointment since the camera on my phone had become my main Flickr weapon since it worked well in most light conditions, had simple software and a great lens.

It doesn’t come with a podcatcher, which the nokia did, and the music player is extraordinarily basic (although it does seem to do most of the things I want).

On the other hand, having a large, hi-res, bright, touchscreen device is lovely. I’ve been lusting after my wife’s iPod Touch for the last year or so but hate iTunes and get frustrated at the Touch’s limitations so it’s been a blessed relief to finally get a device that feels more like a computer (yay for multitasking!). Of course, the Android Market is much smaller than the app store but the only place I’ve really noticed this is with games, and I’ll write another post about the Market later.

It’s pretty clear I was quite spoiled with the N95 in that it met all the hardware and software requirements I had, even though I didn’t realise I had them until I moved platform.

All this does lead me to wonder whether i’d have been better off with the Nokia N900 rather than the Milestone. In the short term I think the answer is no, especially since it runs Maemo rather than Symbian. I’m glad I have an Android device, even if, in the worst case, it’s just to get some experience of it; but in 15 months time I think there will have to be something special, in both hardware and software to keep me on Android.