I hope you’re reading this on your phone – I am!

Tablets and phones

About a week ago, when I wanted to try out Amazon’s new bookerly font, I went searching for my Kindle Paperwhite and realized the battery was dead; I hadn’t used it in weeks. Yet in those weeks, I had read several e-books and a plethora of articles – just not on my e-reader. I realized I did most of my reading on my phone.

Am I an outlier? Not according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“The Rise of Phone Reading” by Jennifer Maloney, @maloneyfiles). Reading on a smartphone is commonplace:

In a Nielsen survey of 2,000 people this past December, about 54% of e-book buyers said they used smartphones to read their books at least some of the time. That’s up from 24% in 2012, according to a separate study commissioned by Nielsen.

The number of people who read primarily on phones has risen to 14% in the first quarter of 2015 from 9% in 2012.

Continue reading →

Kindle Paperwhite: Best e-reader available?

Kindle Paperwhite
Kindle Paperwhite
Kindle Paperwhite | flickr

A couple months ago, I praised my Kindle keyboard as one of the best e-readers available because of its content selection, accessibility options, excellent keyboard for annotations, and battery life. I said that if the Kindle Paperwhite was able to match these qualities and add new ones, I’d consider buying it (at the time, it hadn’t been released to the public). I was happy with my Kindle keyboard, so I waited.

I decided to buy the Kindle Paperwhite last month, and I have to say, it’s a wonderful e-reader. I’m so convinced that I might have to give up on my Kindle Keyboard because all of my needs are met with the Paperwhite.

Even though the Paperwhite shed some functionality like text-to-speech, its new features make up for what it has lost. First, the text is so clear; the font resolution is as close to ink on paper I’ve ever seen before. Second, the front-lit screen is not hard on the eyes. I can read in bed with the lights off and not feel eye strain like I do when I read on a tablet or on my phone.

Third — and this is the most important to me — annotating on this Kindle is a wonderful, easy experience. I thought typing on a multi-touch e-ink screen would be a chore, but it’s very easy. I find myself annotating and writing notes on more books than before.

The hardware itself is nothing amazing, but that’s the point: Amazon wants you to ignore the hardware and immerse yourself in a book or article. Even with the front-lit screen turned up all the way, I am not paying attention to the hardware, only the words on the screen.

Using these three criteria, I’d like to give my reasons for why I am switching to the Kindle Paperwhite. Sure, the Kindle Keyboard is a great option for those readers who don’t need a built-in light or need the accessibility functions like text-to-speech, but the Kindle Paperwhite is a better option for readers who want the best reading experience.

1. Screen Resolution. Technically, the Kindle Paperwhite has a better resolution and pixel density than the Kindle Keyboard. When dealing with text on an e-ink screen, this is fairly relative. The most recent Kindle Keyboard update improved the font resolution significantly, but the Paperwhite is good enough that you don’t see much pixelation on any of font sizes. Also, the Paperwhite has better font options. While I got used to Amazon’s Caecilia font, the Paperwhite has more standard book publishing fonts, like Palatino and Baskerville (my favorite is Palatino). Caecilia is still available, but not the best choice. Images look much sharper as well, which was a complaint I had about all Kindle models pre-Paperwhite.

2. Front-lit screen. When the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight came out, many reviewers said that the front-lit screen made for a better reading experience, but the light was uneven and came out from the top of the device. On the Paperwhite, the light shines up from the bottom and disperses evenly. There is a bit of dead light near the bottom, but on my model, this does not affect the content areas at all (some reviewers, however, have complained about “dead spots”). I was concerned that even with a front-lit screen, I’d suffer from eye strain at night, but I find it to be unobtrusive and easy on the eyes. And, I don’t disturb my wife while reading in bed at night like I did when I read on my Kindle Fire. For that reason alone, this device is worth it for me.

3. Annotating, sharing, highlighting, and clipping content. I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog that I am an active reader. I annotate, note, and highlight almost everything I read. When I read on e-readers or tablets, I have a very specific system to keep track of all these notes: I use services like Instapaper and Longreads to find and save content, then I back up my notes to Evernote and Google Drive. The Kindle Paperwhite makes this process easy. The experimental browser, for example, seems a lot faster than in previous Kindle models, so I can archive or like articles in Instapaper quickly and don’t have to do it on a different device. Also, the clippings.txt file is still there as it was on previous models, so all my notes get saved to a central file that I backup to my computer regularly. Tweeting book highlights seems quicker, and access to Wikipedia isn’t as clunky as it was on the Kindle Keyboard. Overall, I’ve become quite the power-reader thanks to these features.

Complaints: I have a few complaints about the Kindle Paperwhite, and most are hardware-related. First, I’d like physical page forward and page back buttons. Even if I don’t use them, it’d be nice to have the option. This is one advantage that the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight has over the Kindle. Second, I’m not impressed with the battery life. While it’s comparable to the Kindle Keyboard, I’m not getting the battery life that Amazon promises on their Website (8-weeks is what they claim). This might be because of my usage: I read a lot, and I read with the light on at half-power and with WiFi running in the background. Still, even with tweaks, I’ve had to charge this twice and I’ve only owned it for 3 weeks.

Even with these complaints, I’m convinced that the Paperwhite is one of the best e-readers available. The Kindle Keyboard is still a good choice, but I recommend the Paperwhite at this point.

I’d love to hear what my readers think about the Paperwhite: have you made the switch, or will you stick with your current e-reader?

Why I’m excited about Monday’s Microsoft Event (UPDATE: It’s a tablet called Microsoft Surface)

My Windows 8 Start Screen. If Microsoft releases an e-reader, it might have a similar interface.

Readers of this blog know that while I write a lot about book technology, I’m not one to write about general tech news. But this weekend’s rumor mill has me excited about a possible new e-reader platform.

Many tech sites have reported that at Microsoft’s mystery event on Monday in Los Angeles, the company might reveal a Microsoft/Barnes and Noble branded tablet, most likely running Windows 8 or some variant. Other tech sites have speculated that this won’t be an iPad-like tablet, but rather an e-reader that will take on the Amazon Kindle Fire. The e-reader is supposed to have Xbox media integration as well, which would definitely take on Amazon’s entertainment market.

There are a lot of rumors out there, but if it’s true that Microsoft is releasing another e-reader platform, what might this mean for readers who are interested in an e-reading platform?

If the rumors end up coming true, it would bring in another major e-reading platform. Amazon’s Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook still dominate, but Apple’s iBooks is still quite successful. Sony’s and Kobo’s e-bookstores are still around, but aren’t as popular. A Microsoft e-reading platform (potentially powered by Barnes and Noble) might shake things up.

More importantly, I’m intrigued by Microsoft’s user interface approach in Windows 8. The metro interface (shown in the screenshot above) is a radical and new approach to an old operating system. I won’t go into depth on why I think it will change the desktop (not now anyway) except to say that I’ve played around with it enough to say that it has me re-thinking my workflow in positive ways. (For a more thorough analysis, go to this hands-on from techradar).

Wouldn’t it be cool to see the metro interface on an e-reader? I think so. We still don’t know if this is what Microsoft will announce, but if it is, it might bring a new level of interacting with books and book-related apps.

Even with all of this excitement, Microsoft doesn’t have a reputation for doing radical things like this. Maybe I’ll be disappointed. Stay tuned to see.

UPDATE: Well, part of this came true: the event introduced Microsoft Surface, a Windows 8 tablet that has a case with a keyboard built in and is meant to compete with the iPad. Barnes and Noble was not a part of this event, but I think this tablet could still shake up the e-reader/tablet space. Read more about the tablet at AllThingsD. I think the tablet looks very nice, so we’ll see how it does competing in the tablet space.

The impending Death of the Book, and other stray observations

2010 proved to be the year the book died, or so it seems from many pundits and book bloggers out there. The reason: new technologies like the Kindle and the iPad, which moved into the mainstream this year, have supposedly killed off the book. Book sales are down, according to many estimates, and the act of reading itself seems to be at risk as a result of this changing market, according to many.

At the same time, e-book sales continue to rise, reading devices and apps have grown in popularity, and online literary publications have thrived in the midst of this new technology. In addition, the recession has created an increase in used book sales, and from my own very unscientific observations, books are still all around us. Despite this, many continue to declare the slow and painful death of the book. The blame is put on electronic reading and reading devices, an easy scapegoat to what appears to be the end of reading as we know it as referenced by many of these authors.

I will come out and state my personal bias: my Kindle has revolutionized the way I read and process ideas. With this new technology, I admit that something has been lost. But at the same time, something new has been gained, and I don’t view my Kindle as killing off my desire to read physical books. Instead, I view it as something that has enhanced the way I read and interact with text. I still read physical books, and love them. Most people who own eReaders still do. But I do not see the two as separate from each other: reading is reading, and technology might change how, where, and in what object we read but the pleasure of reading remains the same.

I bring up these ideas in part to respond to an article by Kyle Minor that appeared on HTMLGIANT today. Minor reflects on the Kindle and why the debate surrounding the physicality of the book should matter to readers and writers alike. While coming to the conclusion that reading on a Kindle can be a pleasurable experience, Minor frames his article with some of the objections he had and still has to the Kindle. At the beginning, he makes this point regarding why he avoided the Kindle for so long:

[I]n a book whose structural trappings (the distances between numbered parts or chapters, some physically implicit invitation to flip around among moving parts) are meant to transparently convey something about how the reader ought to enter into and understand it (Roth’s American Pastoral, Coetzee’s Disgrace, Cortazar’s Hopscotch, Nabokov’s Pale Fire), the abandonment of the physical book also means the abandonment of a habit common to many sophisticated readers — the act of taking a book’s measure by a frequent flipping-around comparison of the part with the whole and subsequent thinking about how that impacts the way the book does the thing the book does.*

The physicality of a book does make a difference, and Minor reveals a technological problem with the eReader. As a technology, it might not yet be mature enough to elicit this type of sophisticated reading, but it is perfect for casual reading. He goes on to state that while this is a hurdle to a reader’s ability to dive into books in the same way on a Kindle, the Kindle’s convenience and quick access to a multitude of books allows him to understand (cautiously) its appeal to readers and writers alike. At the end of his article, he concludes ambiguously about the future of the book industry:

Do I still think about the various high-minded objections? I do. I still think that e-books are bad for writers, economically speaking, and probably aesthetically, too (Will we eventually be robbed of physical copies of the thing that cost us years to make?) Maybe they’re good for readers, though, and if readers have a new reason to be enthusiastic about books, maybe that’s good for writers. Would I give my books away for free if it ensured them a massive audience, even though it would keep me from making money on them? Maybe. Do I think writers ought to be compensated for their work. Of course, and, if the writer is me, well-compensated. Do I think it’s unhealthy for ebooks to tank booksellers the way big chains tanked indies? Yes. Am I distrustful of million-tentacled corporate monsters like Amazon? Very. Is there anything significant I can do about it? Not any more likely than my chances of getting people to abstain from MP3s and take up vinyl, culture-wide. It’s not going to happen.*

While I understand these objections, and agree that in ebooks a part of the interactivity of reading is lost, I still view the ebook as one more viable addition to the production of the book. It is a positive addition, and it is one that will only serve to bolster the importance of literature and the book industry for years to come.

Just as other book technologies have helped to add to the way we interact with text, the ebook will help, rather than destroy, the book as we know it (as an example, look at mass-produced paperbacks in the early 20th Century and the periodical in the early 19th Century and their effects on American literature). It is too easy, in many ways, to blame the medium for the sometimes negative changes in the way books are marketed and consumed, especially in our hyper-literate, over-stimulated society.

With this idea in mind, and with Minor’s interesting perspectives on the book as a physical object as a starting point (his article is well worth the read, by the way), I’d like to think that as the technology improves, so will our interactions with ebooks improve. Right now, the eReader works best for pleasure reading, but still leaves much to be desired for studying and devouring books much in the way the critic or author would like the book to be read.

Books like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close play with and require a physical book to be enjoyed to their fullest potential. The depths of these books are lost on the reader without the physical book. Equally, reading a musty, leather-bound copy of Matthew Arnold’s Essays In Criticism instead of reading it in ebook or paperback form gives the work a different contextual meaning and breathes a certain life into the work that might be missed otherwise.

At the same time, reading a bestseller such as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom in ebook form, a physically large and imposing book to read in its hardcover version, puts the book alongside other shorter, lighter bestsellers. The smaller size changes the way one treats the book’s significance. This may provide a different reading experience. Whether good or bad, it gives the book one more layer of meaning. It’s similar to the difference in listening experience between an mp3 version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing on my iPod during my morning commute and the vinyl version on my home stereo in my living room. It might be the same album, but it sounds different, and my experience of it is drastically different. In this same way, as readers we must think of the ebook as providing one other reading experience, but not the definitive experience.

Ebooks do not represent the death of the book. Instead, they give the reader a different frame and context to interact with text. With time, this will influence the ways authors view their works being consumed by readers. Hopefully, this will bring new levels of sophisticated play with genre and form of literature.