Sunday, April 22, 2012

Initial Impressions of eBooks


A free book on a handy gadget

I have grouched previously in this blog about eBooks, eReaders, etc, but also have mentioned that I have been and shall always be a pushover for gadgets, clever devices, indeed just about any small shiny thing. In addition, as tablet devices had already gained a handhold in my house in the form of a B&N nook, and also an iPad, I felt that I should give them an open-minded spin, if for no other reason than being able to join in the dinner table conversation with the rest of my family on terms other than the stubborn old retrogrouch troll who lives under the bridge clutching his thousands of old fashioned paper-based books.

My first spin with the nook (or NOOK: can we not be spared the grating capitalization affectations of marketing bastards? please?) was family-oriented, in that we all read the Hunger Games trilogy on our various electronic reading gadgets. Overall it went well, as all four of us read through three books with no need to take turns or trade off. Since the nook allows you to read books on six devices at the same time, we had four people in one house reading three books on three different devices at our own paces with zero conflicts. That in itself is something to consider as an advantage. On the other hand, the image of all of us gathered in the living room listening to one of us read aloud from an old fashioned paper book, rather than huddled separately in our alone spaces squinting at a glowing screen, also appeals to me. Yes, I still have reservations.

On further explorations with my nook, though, I found it also ideal for reading books of interest which are unlikely to have a shelf life greater than a gadget plus its parent company plus its DRM plus its proprietary format(s), a.k.a. one to five years max. I have a box full of that stuff, including a Handspring Visor, a Dell x50v, etc, with associated special purpose accessories, which I am certain the nook NOOK will join in due time as well. But whether for the beach, or for some easy bedtime reading, lesser works have their place, and being able to get them and read them in a convenient electronic form which kills no trees, and which is generally slightly cheaper than their paper forms, also appeals to me. Some recent examples that I read on the nook (mine is the nook color btw) were Matterhorn A Novel of the Vietnam War, Before the Lights Go Out, and currently reading Bike Snob NYC's latest, The Enlightened Cyclist. No timeless classics in that list, to be sure, but well worth an electronic supported read-thru.

Then, recently, I spent some focused time exploring some of the online sources for free books that I was already familiar with, and feel like I have struck gold. Both Project Gutenberg as well as the Internet Archive have large numbers of free books available. I was already familiar with those sources, having downloaded dozens of texts to my various other computing devices, but always with some reservations about reading on them. Reading several hundred pages on any of them just never appealed to me. None of them hold right, look right, or work right for reading long stretches of text, in my opinion. Enter the nook, which is designed to address those exact concerns, and I will hand it to its designers, it does. Downloading and reading free texts on it is not only free, but enjoyable. 

There, I said it. With one caveat: for whatever reason, when you "sideload" content, which is apparently what it's called when you put anything on the nook other than a book or other content your purchase directly from B&N, renaming it and storing it in a sensible manner is not something possible with the existing interface on its Android system. Although its Wi-Fi performance is outstanding, its web browser quite serviceable, its ability to play Flash from Youtube and other sources very credible, and its touchscreen color display beautiful to the point of only falling slightly short of the iPad's, you can't move, copy, or rename files on the nook through the provided user interface, which, in my humble opinion, sucks. Without hooking up to a PC, you are stuck with the name the file comes with, in the place the nook chooses to download it, both of which are usually not what you want.

A shortcoming which I work around by downloading to my PC first, renaming the file with a sensible naming convention, then hooking up a USB cable and copying the file to where I want it on the nook, which thankfully it does allow. I store downloaded books on the add-on memory card (microSD) in the My Files, Books folder. I know, I know, that's just crazy talk. The USB hookup would also appear to allow you to move files from folder to folder, but some online forum chatter indicates this may screw up the nook's database of stuff about books, which includes last page read, highlighting and notes you add and so on, which if true makes sense, and I wouldn't hold that against the nook. A lot of these limitations might be able to be overcome with either add-on software and utilities, and/or rooting the nook to get full Android capabilities, but I like to explore the capabilities of a device to understand it before embarking on a rash course of action that can render it a dark, silent brick. However, rooting it does apparently permit one to install the Kindle app for Android, which would allow one to read Kindle books on the nook, a sick/twisted act which may eventually cause me to go ahead.

Oh, and due to Android devices being interpreted as "mobile", you can't watch Hulu on the nook color, which is also utter stupidity. It's not mobile, no more than my notebook computer, there's no 3G or any other telephonic wireless on it, only Wi-Fi. There are ways around that, too, but again, I'm still working with the device as supplied to see what it can do.

So, wrapping this up, in addition to many classics near and dear to my heart such as the writings of John Muir, I also found on the Internet Archive the Gazette of the London Bicycling Club (see photo above). The nook color handles both the EPUB format and PDF files with ease, and I am now in the continuous process of loading it up with books of both formats. The PDF format on the nook does offer the advantage of easy zooming with very similar features as the PC version of PDF readers, while the EPUB format offers more of the eBook experience, able to adjust the font, and make highlights and notes which persist, but not zoom much.

In short, I am becoming a grudging supporter of eBooks to a certain extent. The nook color feels good in the hands, although for extended periods of reading it's a bit heavy, which leads me to assume a horizontal position with the nook propped on a throw pillow on my chest. The leather-like case (proprietary, pricey, will go into the obsolescence box along with the nook once its day is done) helps with this balancing act. A position which is suitable to a grouchy troll surrounded with his old fashioned paper-based reading material under the bridge. You kids get off my lawn with the Twitter and the Facebook on your Hulu-proof mobile devices, I got some back issues of the London Bicycle Club Gazette to read.



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8 comments:

  1. Interesting. I am a hold out too, preferring the paper feel as opposed to tech gadget reading.

    But, while I haven't embarked down that particular road yet, my two sons are currently reading the Hunger Games also with one download. One is using a Kindle and the other (not an avid reader) is excitingly reading along on his Ipod Touch. This technology definitely has strong points.

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    1. I am still searching for the right verb here: eReading? nooking? eBooking? book surfing? eading?

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  2. I tend to read your blog via iPad, but then none of your posts have been as long as even a long short story. I'm not sure that I'm ready for JRA to write a sequel to "War and Peace" as a blog post. Even WITH graphic photos...

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    1. Are you one of the few who likes the new tablet-friendly blogger interface? My mouse would like to have words with you.

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  3. I will never forgo the feel and smell of a book as long as they're still available. But, I do have a basic B&W Kindle. I could never read text for very long on the computer without my eyes fuzzing and a thumping headache descending. The Kindle I can read for hours. Its been a great source of free classics for me (through Project Gutenberg), I'm wallowing around in Dickens again at the moment. I also like having access to travel accounts that have not made it to print. Where it does come in handy is keeping the bulk down in my bike panniers, whether, commuting to work or camping by bike. Although I don't have the lovely colour screen of your NOOK, the Kindle does allow me to sort my library straight from the device.

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    1. I am now looking for solar charging solutions for my e-reader. I hope the books in the house don't find out, get mad, and revolt.

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  4. I've discovered another benefit of the Kindle which I don't think I could fully appreciate until I bought one: it is light. Lighter than a typical mass market paperback, and definitely lighter than a large novel or collection of short stories (I read a lot of short stories). I'm mostly a commuter, but still, the lightness of it really helps my back out, especially on days when I also bring my computer along for the ride. I have the B&W version because I can't read backlit computer screens for very long. No glowing screen here! It's also approximately the dimensions of a mass market paperback, which fits very well in my hands.

    Gotta admit, moving 2000 books to another state (and then moving the same books a year later when we moved again) really soured me on the "romantic" nature of paper books. Now when I look around at our shelves all I can think about is having to move them again when we leave. :(

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    1. Hello Erica S, thanks for commenting. The Kindle (3, with wi-fi) certainly is light, listed at 8.5 oz, while the Nook Color is a bit heavier, at 14.9 oz, still pretty light. I've been using it a lot since I posted this, particularly for reading free stuff I have downloaded from the Internet. I find it particularly good for reading long PDF documents, which I just cannot abide on a computer screen. We also have a kilobook or two, so I know what you mean about moving them.

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