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Electronic Reading

Dear Authors, Your Next Book Shouldn’t be an App

There was another editorial on TechCrunch yesterday, and the author (like Paul Carr) has been caught up in the iPad hype.

If you, as an author, see the iPad as a place to ‘publish’ your next book, you are completely missing the point. What do you think would have happened if George Orwell had the iPad? Do you think he would have written for print then copy and pasted his story into the iBookstore? If this didn’t work out well, do you think he would have complained that there aren’t any serious-readers anymore? No. He would have looked at the medium, then blown our minds.

Needless to say, I think she’s wrong. Whatever you spend to make that app will be spent in a small, highly competitive market. There are 4 billion apps in iTunes right now. What makes you think your app will stand out, or that you’ll make a return on the investment? BTW, most of the material created to enhance the ebook cannot be sold elsewhere; there is no other market. (Okay, you could post the content on a website, but wouldn’t that undercut the app sales?)

The Edge & the right way to handle notes

Today  I came across a feature that the Edge got right. The main reason I noticed is that everyone else gets it wrong.

One critical feature that most ereaders miss is annotation. To be more exact, the missing feature is how to get annotations off the ereader. Okay, it’s not important for the basic models, but once you have the ability to edit an ebook on an ereader, what is the value of that editing if you can’t use them elsewhere?

When using the Edge, you can save the pen based annotations (and the page they’re on) as a PDF. You’re also supposed to be able to send that PDF as an email attachment, but that doesn’t seem to work yet. (Let me fiddle with that some more.)

I’m also pleased with the quality of the inking. BTW, now I understand why the Edge has a large bezel. It gives me extra space to rest my hand while I’m writing. This helps me a lot, because my penmanship was never very good to start with.

So long as I’m on the topic of inking, I’d like to point out that you can also create "journals", which are collections of handwritten notes that aren’t attached to any ebook. With a single button press, you can switch between having an ebook and a journal on the epaper screen.

I’m really impressed with all the writing options. You can write in 6 different line sizes, 5 different shades, and there is even undo and redo options. I think the best comparison would be a b&w version of MSPaint( but that’s not an exact match). About the only option not offered is typing a piece of text into a journal instead of writing it.

sample 1

sample 2

Entourage Edge Review, pt 0

I know I’m a couple months behind everyone else, but this is one situation where I like it that way. This is not going to be an easy review.

I’ve had an Edge for 3 days now, and it has reinforced the impressions I got when I saw it back in December. It’s a fascinating tool, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to play with. I’m already beginning to form an opinion, but I won’t share it here.

This isn’t an ereader; it’s so much more than that. I don’t know that I will be able to make a clear recommendation (for or against) because there are a dozen or more reasons that might affect your decision.

E-readers are comparatively simple. They display text, and some let you annotate that text. Like I said back in December, the Edge can do so much more. The closest tool to an Edge is a netbook, not an ereader.

Just to give you an idea of where I’m going to take this review, here are some of the questions I plan to answer:

  1. How does the Edge compare to a netbook? What can one do that the other cannot?
  2. How is the Edge and a laptop used in comparison to the same laptop and textbooks? (ditto for desktop)
  3. Could the Edge be a complete replacement for a netbook?Would a desktop PC partnered with the Edge be better than the same desktop partnered with a netbook?
  4. Would a laptop partnered with the Edge be better than the same laptop partnered with a netbook?
  5. How does the Edge compare to an ereader in terms of usability?

ThinkGeek now selling E-ink Tattoos!

From the product page:

How many people do you know who regret their tattoo? You grow up, you dump (or get dumped), or maybe you picked a tattoo "artist" that learned their craft in prison using ballpoint pens and a sharpened paper clip. At that point, your choices are: deal with it, get it covered up, or get shot with lasers to take it off. And nobody wants to go for a job interview only to be given the evil eye because you’re a little more inked than the current employees! Body modification discrimination is a sad fact of life.

What do you do when you want a tattoo but don’t want the commitment of permanent ink? The moodInq system is a breakthrough in tattoo technology, using a skin-safe proprietary E ink encapsulated pigment system that lasts a lifetime but can be configured to display any design (or none!) to suit your mood.

So how does it work? We have partnered with leading physicians and technicians in the cosmetic surgery industry to implant the E ink grid, called a canvas. The canvas can go anywhere on your body and be configured to the size and shape of the body party you’d like to ink. After a short healing period (usually 2-3 days), you can begin using the moodInq software included with your kit to change your canvas to display the tattoo you desire!

A Brief Review of the SmartQ V7, pt 1

My SmartQ V7 just arrived in the mail, and I thought I’d post some thoughts. I’m going to compare the V7 with my SmartQ 7, which is the previous generation. I’ll post a more extensive review later, and this will cover all 3 OS options that come on the SmartQ V7. Both models are available right now, and I’d recommend EletroWorld if you want to buy one.

The 2 devices have a lot in common; they literally have almost identical hardware. They’re a 7″ touchscreen LCD tablet design with a curved off-white back panel. There are 2 speakers & a flimsy kickstand on the back, 3 button on the upper edge, 3 buttons to the left of the screen, SDHC card slot & reset button on the lower edge, and power, headphone jack, & USB Host on the right edge. The only major visual difference between the 2 is that the newer model has HDMI out.

Both devices have Wifi & Bluetooth, and they run the same custom Ubuntu Linux firmware. The V7 also comes with Android and WinCE pre-installed. The V7 has more RAM (256MB vs 128MB) and more internal storage (2GB vs 1GB).

I’ve been playing with the V7 for a couple hours now, and I can’t see any significant improvement in its performance over that of its predecessor. This is something of a relief for me because I’ve so desperately wanted a V7 ever since it was announced.

I’ve had the SmartQ 7 since August, and I like it. It’s not a terribly fast MID, and it doesn’t have Flash support, but I’ve found it to be a more than adequate ereader. It comes with FBReader and Midori (web browser), and you can also most common Linux apps.

When I use the SmartQ 7, I like to alternate between reading an ebook, browsing blogs & forums, and reading RSS feeds. The general e-reading experience is where the SmartQ devices excel. Actually, this is where LCD tablets usually beat epaper based ereaders because there are times where a fast screen refresh is worth it.

My Opinion

I haven’t used the Android or WinCE firmwares yet, so I can’t comment on them. But I will say that I like the SmartQ as general ereaders, and I’m beginning to lean towards recommending the V7 over it predecessor.  I wouldn’t replace an existing SmartQ 7, but if I was making a new purchase I would get a SmartQ V7. I think the extra RAM, Flash, and OS options might be worth the extra cost ($189 vs $225 at Eletroworld). On the other hand, the SmartQ 7 is a very adequate in its own right, and you should ask yourself if you really need the extra features.

Pocketbook 302 Review, pt 2

The Pocketbook 302 is just coming on to the market, and I was lucky enough to get one of the first review units. This is part 2 of the review. I posted the first part of the review last week, and it has a fair amount of detail. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. This part will cover entirely different material. Also, you might be interested in the hands on videos I shot.

My Opinion

I’m putting this section first, rather than last, because I think I spent a little too much time pointing out the flaws of PB302. I like it. I could easily see having one as my main ereader. It’s the first dedicated ereader that I’ve seen that really lives up to the term ereader. Most every other device is just an ebook reader; the PB302 is more because it has an RSS Reader and a browser. These features are slightly flawed, yes, but they are features that you can’t get on any other ereader without a hack (Nook, Iliad). (The Kindle doesn’t count because in most countries you can’t use the browser).

In my opinion, the only ebook reader that can compare with a PB302 is a (hacked) Nook. I’ve thought about this for some time, and I can’t say that one is clearly better than the other. This is great news for the PB302; it costs $80 more. I think I would go for the PB302 myself; I prefer its hardware design.


I was planning to simply say that the 302 uses Adobe RM and FBReader, but I’m beginning to realize that that would be inadequate. The software is on so many devices now that the qualitative differences between one implementation and the next might be a deciding factor. I think it’s worth noting that FBReader is fully implemented, and has enough options to satisfy the pickiest of users. On the other hand, I’m not happy with how the 302 handles annotation under Adobe.

Highlighting is not supported, but bookmarks and note taking are. The PB302 handles notes slightly different from other ereaders I’ve used. You can make a note by copying part of a page, only you’re not copying text. Instead, you’re taking a partial screen shot and saving it as an image. Once you create the note, you can then draw or write on it. There is no text based annotation.

The note taking is a disappointment. You can’t access notes from inside a book; you have to exit the book and go back to the main menu. I’d say the note taking really has no value until they fix the accessibility issue.

The Shiny Screen

Like I said in the first part of this review, I’m happy with the PB302 as a reader. Even though the screen doesn’t bother me, it might bother you. It is nearly perfectly reflective. I used it as a mirror one morning; it’s that shiny. If you are concerned about the screen, then you might want to wait for the later matte screen. Also, I’ve been told twice by 2 different people that Pocketbook will replace the shiny screens upon request.

Battery Life

My testing was not all that rigorous, but the battery lasted about 10 days with a lot of reading but not much Wifi use.


The PB302 comes with 9 apps (and you can install more). The 9 apps include a calculator, chess, solitaire, clock, dictionary, Snake, Sudoku, and a web browser. The games are a nice diversion, but they’re really nothing special. You might find one that you love, but I wouldn’t pick the games as a reason to get the PB302.

The web browser is very useful, and when the bugs are ironed out it will be even more so. But before I enumerate the bugs, let me say that the browsing experience is good enough that the bugs are actual disappointments. I like browsing on the PB302. In comparison, the Kindle browsing experience is poor enough that I would not have bothered to complain about these few bugs.

There are 2 bugs in the web browser. The text entry parts of web pages don’t display correctly (this prevents you from logging in anywhere), and the other bug is that when the browser downloads a file, it tries to open it as text.

Here’s what I’d like to see as an app: an email client. It’s the only type of e-reading that I can’t do with the PB302. I can read blogs, forums, RSS feeds, and ebooks, but I can’t read my email. Even if all I could do was view the emails (and not respond), it would still be useful.

RSS Feed Reader

This feature is reasonably well thought out and implemented. Rather than pulling the feeds itself, it instead contacts Pocketbook’s servers. The servers check the feeds for updates, gather the new posts, and create ebooks for you to download (one per feed). Using external servers results in a very fast process. The only delay is the time it takes to download the ebook.

But it’s not quite there yet. There are a number of parts that need to be improved, including how you enter the feed names, link support, and the file format used. I had to type in each of the feeds one at a time. I follow nearly 200 feeds, and I would much prefer to simply upload a list. I also think they should change the file format used. They’re currently using FB2, and they should use Epub. Switching to Epub should also fix the problem with html tag support. Also, it would be good if the links leading out of a feed post worked. This last point is well within the abilities of the 302.

Like the browser, this is almost (but not quite) the WOW factor for the PB302. It’s very useful, and it works rather well. Even though I have issues with it, I still think the RSS reader is one of the best things about the PB302. If I kept the ereader, I would use this feature.

Kindle not all that great as a Digital Textbook

The Financial Times had an article yesterday on the Kindle textbook pilot projects. I already knew most of the details just from my personal experiences, but it’s good to have confirmation from another source.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business was one of the first to issue a Kindle DX – the larger display version of the ereader – to a selection of new MBA students.

Darden is the second-biggest publisher of business case studies and teaching notes after Harvard, so it was interested as a publisher, and as an educator, in whether e-books could be a useful format for students.

But that meant converting many documents into Amazon’s format because simply putting them on to a Kindle in standard PDF format would in many cases render them unreadable; fonts can be too small and the text can’t be highlighted or enlarged.

Once the texts were on the device, sorting through dozens of cases was a challenge, because documents can only be sorted by author, title or most recently used, with no scope for categories or other file structures.

The Kindle’s monochrome screen is not ideal for viewing charts or illustrations and the lack of touchscreen means highlighting or annotating data in tables or spreadsheets is cumbersome, Mr Koenig says.

Note-taking was also a problem, because of the small inbuilt keyboard. Up to half of a Darden MBA’s grade is based on performance in the classroom, requiring heavy preparation.

“If the technology you use to organise your thoughts slows you down compared with taking notes by hand or on a computer, we told [students] to put it aside,” says Mr Koenig.

Most did just that. Of the 63 students randomly selected for the trial, 10 to 15 per cent remain “heavy users”, with a very small percentage using Kindles in the classroom. Almost three-quarters said they would not recommend the Kindle to an incoming MBA – even though the vast majority said it was a great personal reading device.

In spite of the ereader’s faults, many liked having their notes to read en route to interviews or to use its text-to-speech features to listen to cases while driving or at the gym.

“They have created a fantastic consumer device,” says Mr Koenig. “Those who have it, have a library that travels very easily.”

continued here

Pocketbook 302 Review, pt 1 (hands on video)

I got one of the first PB302 while I was at the O’Reilly conference last week. I’m going to follow my usual pattern of posting my impressions before posting a full review. I’ve covered the Pocketbook 302 before, and I’ve taken several photos (here and here).

It’s a 6″ ereader with touchscreen. The design is sparse, but the buttons are well placed. There is a stylus, microSD card slot on the upper edge, and the headphone jack & 2 USB ports on the bottom edge (it has USB host). The battery is user replaceable (there is a panel on the back). The PB302 also has an accelerometer, Bluetooth, and Wifi, and includes support for WPA and WEP security. The Wifi works rather well.

There are only 5 buttons on the front of the PB302. There are 2 on either side of the screen, and an escape button below the screen. Normally, I’d name all the buttons based on their function, but here’s the first neat feature of the PB302: you can remap the 4 buttons so they perform different actions. They default as page turns, but you’re offered a broad selection of alternatives. I’m frankly surprised at how many different actions there are; I honestly can’t think of one that’s not in the list. You also have the option of mapping functions to the power button. Press and hold will always turn off the 302, but tap and double-tap can be set to any of the options.

Reading software

It’s using Adobe Reader Mobile and FBReader. It appears to have full feature support for FBReader. Screen refresh is slightly faster than the Nook. Since we know the Nook has one of the latest generation Marvell chips (and the 302 doesn’t), I’d say that the PB302 comes out ahead in this comparison. I’m quite happy with it as a reader.

General Impressions

The touchscreen is highly reflective (I’m told they’re working on it). Even so, I’m satisfied with the PB 302 as a reader. It meets my minimum requirements: sleep mode, adequate format support, & one handed operation. I’ve gone though most of its abilities and I can’t find any shortcomings.

Extra Features

With the 302, you have the option of installing your own apps. It comes with about a dozen apps installed: games, dictionary, clock, sketchpad, web browser, RSS feed reader. It was the browser and RSS reader that originally caught my eye. Both of them work rather well.

I wish it had an email client, though.


Hanvon N516 review part 2

You may recall from the first part of this review that I bricked my N516 while trying to install a firmware update. I got the replacement on Friday, and I think I’ve used it enough to give a definite opinion. I’m going to discuss both the N516’s original abilities and how well iot functioned under Open Inkpot.

First I should probably list what I’m looking for in an ebook reader. For a small device (5″ to 6″), my list is rather short. I’m looking for an ereader that:

  • supports a popular format
  • can be used with one hand
  • has a sleep mode (or a very fast boot)

Note: I’m not concerned about DRM support or battery life. There are many sources of ebooks not encumbered by DRM, and as for battery life, I’d need to have a different standard for my LCD based ereaders than for my epaper ones. Better just to avoid the rule completely.

Original Firmware

When using the default firmware (v1.7), the N516 scores a 1 out of 3. It has no sleep mode, and it can’t read a popular format. In fact, it’s really not very good at reading ebooks. My unit only supported HTML, TXT, and PDF.  The HTML was completely unusable; all of the tags were ignored. The PDF was marginal (on a 5″ screen). And the txt is text.

Open Inkpot Firmware

My reading experience improved greatly after I installed OI. Open Inkpot uses FBReader as its reading software, and all of FBReader’s features were implemented: page margin, line spacing, font choice & size, justification, everything. It’s difficult to convey how many options FBreader has, but I can say that it will satisfy the pickiest user.

One of the improvements OI had over the default firmware was that you can customize the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. You have the option of adding the clock, battery meter, progress bar, and you can the height of the task bar and the spacing between it and the text.

Installation was not easy; I’m skilled at causing software failure.  But I did get it installed. Important note: the installation is reversible. If you want to go back to the default firmware, you can.

OI scored a 3 out of 3 because of the broad format support provided by FBReader and because of it has a sleep mode (hold down the OK button).

My Recommendation

I still think the Jetbook is better, but if you get the N516 then you should install Open Inkpot. It’s worth it. If it were available, I’d use the OI firmware on my Jetbook.

Iceberg Reader

I downloaded 2 apps for this review: the Iceberg Bookshelf (which came with an excerpt) and a standalone app for a series called "Gossip Girls". The behavior  and the reading experience of the apps was largely the same. Interesting note about GG: you can buy and read all the ebooks in the series from inside the app.

Since I only had the 1 book, I can’t really say anything about the bookshelf other than I could not sort by author or title. There are 2 views: thumbnail and list.

The menu inside the book was nicely laid out, and you can access it by tapping the screen.At the top of the screen is a button for the options menu, and below that are icons for Search, Notes, Shelf and Store. There are 2 buttons at the bottom of the menu: Goto Page & Goto Chapter. Above that is a  page marker that lets you jump around inside a book by dragging the marker left and right.

The one good feature is that you can copy parts of the text and either save it locally, email it, or post it to your facebook page.

As a reader, the Iceberg leaves a lot to be desired. You are limited to search, changing the font size, background & font colors, copying part of the text into a note, and then annotating the note. There are a lot of things Stanza can do that Iceberg can’t.

Page turn behavior was rather strange. The block of text that the Reader referred to as a "page" didn’t all fit on the screen at once. I had to scroll to see it. Advancing to the next "page" is triggered by touching a narrow strip on the left and right side of the screen. The area set aside for page turns was far too narrow; I had trouble with consistently touching the right spot. And from what I can tell, the contents of a "page" appears to match that of the paper copy of a book.  It strikes me as a poor way to organize a fiction book, but I can see the benefit for nonfiction.

My Recommendation

If it is at all possible, buy an ebook and read it through Stanza. There’s really no reason to use the Iceberg Reader other than title lockin. It’s just not a very good app.

About the company

The Iceberg Reader was developed by ScrollMotion, who originally used it as the basis for standalone ebooks-as-apps. Starting with the November release of the Iceberg Bookshelf app, ScrollMotion has been upgrading existing ebooks so they could be used from within the Bookshelf and has also stopped releasing the standalone ebooks.

ScrollMotion has made a big deal about signing contracts with major textbook and other non-fiction publishers. They recently announced new contracts to bring textbooks to the iPad. According to their website, there are around 6,000 titles available for the Iceberg Reader.

Ectaco Jetbook – a brief review

The Jetbook has been out for some time now, and it has been reviewed endlessly. But I’ve never explained why I like it, and I think that merits a brief review.

Ectaco released the Jetbook in early 2008. The hardware was designed by a Chinese company called JCNIP, and is sold in China (under the original firmware) as the M218. BTW, I’d avoid the M218 unless you already know how to convert to a format it uses, or you know how to replace the firmware. The Chinese firmware is for the mainland Chinese market. The ebook formats it uses are rather funky.


The Jetbook has an unique 5″ LCD screen. This grayscale screen was designed by Toshiba as a low power alternative to traditional LCD.  it has buttons for 0-9 to the right of the screen and a slider bar to the left of the screen. Below the screen are the page turn buttons (to the left), and a D-pad, OK button, and 4 menu buttons to the right. The purpose of each button is obvious, so I won’t discuss them here. But I will say that I like the design; very rarely do I press the wrong button.

Reading Experience

This is one of my preferred ebook readers because the abilities it lacks are more than outweighed by the very low cost (I found it on sale at $150). The current firmware is limited; highlighting, annotation, TOCs, and hyperlinks don’t work. I didn’t realize until I bought it that there are times when I don’t care if I can use those features. I have any number of ebooks in my collection that all I want to do is advance one page at a time.

I also like the Jetbook because it uses FBReader, and does a decent job of displaying Epub. I prefer to read in landscape mode. This lets me hold the Jetbook in my left hand with my thumb  next to the page turn button. I feel I have a firm grip, and turning the page is easy.




limited features
no DRM support


The Jetbook can be bought at Fry’s, Newegg, and BB&W. You might also want to consider the Aluratek Libre, which has the same hardware but different firmware.

Hanvon N516 review, part 1

This is part one of the review. Part 2 will be delayed until I get the replacement N516; I managed to brick the one I have during a firmware update.

First things first. I encountered a problem with the N516; I received a unit with an older firmware. According to the product page, the N516 had support for Adobe DE DRM and could read Epub, PDF, html, & txt. The unit I received from Fry’s could only read html, txt, and PDF.

When I asked Hanvon customer service about it, I was told that the firmware hadn’t been released yet. I find this rather curious because I know that it had been released to the German distributor back in October. I also have confirmation from one N516 owner in Australia that his unit had the later firmware and supported Epub. But I should also say that the firmware I was installing when I bricked my unit was the one from the German distributor; perhaps Hanvon was correct in not letting me have a copy.

Without Epub support, I can’t recommend the N516 as an ebook reader. The N516 does not fare well when compared to the competition. All of the 5″ readers have better format support; 2 even have Adobe DE support (Aluratek Libre and Sony Pocket Edition). The Jetbook Lite wins on price, the Sony Pocket Edition wins on reliability, and IMO the Aluratek Libre has better button placement.

The reading experience was okay. Unfortunately, my opinion is biased by my disappointment over the missing Epub support, so I can’t give you a better description.


One of the things I didn’t get a chance to test  was Open Inkpot (an open source firmware for ebook readers). I was looking into installing it when I found the firmware updates on one of OI’s support pages. Part 2 of this review will be posted in a couple and will cover Open Inkpot.

Hello world!

This is the inaugural post of my new blog.  Greetings and salutations.

My name is Nate Hoffelder (aka Nate the great), and for the last 2 years I’ve been part of the moderator team at MobileRead Forums.  It’s a community that’s dedicated to ebook and ebook readers, and being part of it is a pleasure.

One of my contributions to MR was gathering ebook related news. I’ve decided to start this blog becuase I believe I can build it into a valuable resource.