June 24, 2009

Don't Buy Me a Kindle: The eReader Debacle

I've been doing some digging in the eReader department ever since the release of Kindle 2. I've spoken about my love and desire of all things Kindley, but an open mind and critical review were warranted--especially since they frontrunners all sport $350 price tags. The most promising competition is the Sony Reader,* with the big differences being 1) Kindle's wireless delivery and 2) Sony's expandable memory / removable battery. As is so often the case, the race has inevitably split into a two-headed dichotomy: Sox and Yankees, Republican and Democrat, and--in this case--Mac and PC, respectively. I won't run down a list of pros and cons--cnet has done that already, and I agree with their assessment of each--but having held both in my eager hands, pushed buttons, scrolled, and toggled, I can say with authority... they're about the same.

Yes, I realize I've lived in Camp Kindle for the last six months. I realize I took it very personally when Amazon released the Kindle DX--the larger, faster version for hipper, wealthier consumers. The DX appealed to me on exactly two levels: the screen size, and the automatic rotation. That's it. Still no color--which I personally don't really mind--but I appreciated seeing more text per "page" than in the standard version.

Here's the thing: the DX is being marketed as the "news" reader. Amazon has made deals with a number of floundering news companies for exclusive rights to their e-publications, so the New York Times can be delivered wirelessly to your Kindle every morning. It can natively support PDFs and the e-ink resolution is (supposedly) textbook-friendly, making it handy for students. Swanky. Tempting. And with the screen increased by 50%, the ability to read "above the fold" all in one glance makes the transition away from paper that much more attractive.

What bugs me is that the thought that went into the DX was skipped over for the original Kindle--and every e-book reader I've seen so far. Why is the screen so damn small? Six inches seems to be the standard for every reader across the board. Why, when making a one-page sized version of a book, would the engineers not make it... the size of a standard page?

Paperbacks range anywhere from 7-10 inches in diagonal--conservatively, why not settle for eight? The width of an e-book has been taken down to less than 2 centimeters--about the size of the Dover Thrift edition of Common Sense. Whatever advantage is lost in height (none, really) is made up by the slight and slender casing, making it more than compact enough for anything that would normally carry... well, a book.

You may say, "Well, Sarah, maybe the average reader isn't as blind as you are. The text size is adjustable. Suck it up." My retort would be that the text is adjustable, yes, but at a readable size you get ten to twelve lines of text per refreshed page. I'm a slow reader, but I'm not that slow. I hit the "next" button about every fifteen seconds--meaning the average (similarly-visioned) reader would by hitting it every seven. Also, a full-page viewing would give readers the opportunity to glance up at a previous paragraph whenever their minds wander (something I am guilty of constantly).

This is a pure matter of personal opinion. Perhaps you're happy with your Kindle 2 and have no eyestrain/repeptitive thumb injury to report. But no amount of research has answered the screen size question to my satisfaction. It's as if someone were trying to replace your sofa with a bean bag chair. Sure, it works, technically, but can't we do a bit better? Especially since the bean bag chair in question costs as much as the Wii? Alternately, imagine the outrage if you could only buy a Miata or a Range Rover, with nary a sensible sedan in between.

As the owner of a Chevy Cavalier, I'd like to know the reason why the ebook industry tacitly agreed on a screen size smaller than an index card. And don't tell me it's so it'll fit in my purse, because a human head would fit in my purse if I greased it right.

* At least until Steve Jobs weighs in with the much anticipated Apple version, which will presumably be the One Reader to Rule Them All.

[Amazon / Sony reps: please click the email link to get my thoughts on retainer. Kisses!]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The one reader to rule them? Witty. Very witty.