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It's The Tiniest Things Sometimes

Written by on November 23, 2010

I read a lot of books. The current count is 92 books in the last two years, and I just bought three more. Granted about 34 of them have been audiobooks (I am an Audible Platinum member), but the rest of them are ebooks.

Note: I no longer read paperback or hardcover books. I sold my entire library a couple of months ago. I'm now 100% digital.

My reader is the iPad. It's brilliant in many ways, but it is not the perfect device. It's too heavy, the metal and glass surface are a far cry from the soft paper/leather/cloth feel of a real book, and it's constant backlight can be a bit hard on the eyes with prolonged usage.

But, it is also brilliant because it supports many different ebook apps, each book doesn't take up any physical space, and it is always with me wherever I go.

I'm tempted to buy the Kindle, but I am often in the situation where I cannot buy a specific book via Amazon. On the iPad I can read everything, or at least close to everything.

What surprises me though is how big a difference there is between each ebook reader? On the surface, they look nearly identical. They all come with Georgia font; the text size can be adjusted etc. But it is the very subtle variations that make a huge difference.

The iBook app (from Apple) looks very nice, but you get really tired of the simulated book interface (it's distracting), and the flipping pages animation. It is great fun for a demonstration, but not when you are reading almost a book a week.

The biggest problem however, is that the text is hard to read for lengthy period of time. It is not something you notice within the first hour or so, but after that you get tired.

The eReader app (now part of Barnes&Noble) is easier to read than in the iBook, but it lacks a proper margin and thus whitespace around the text (even when set to huge). That makes the text look cramped.

The Stanza app (now part of Amazon) is a great app for reading ebooks you cannot buy through regular means. Combined with Calibre, you can convert pretty much anything into something that Stanza can read. But, it is too slow, especially when reading books around 500 pages. These delays disrupt the reading experience, reminds you that you are looking at a computer, and thus annoys you over prolonged use.

The Kindle app is one of the best ones out there. The margins are just right, the text is easy to read, it is really fast - and it syncs to the cloud. It allows you to read your book on whatever device you happen to be using at the time. That is simply brilliant.

It does have an annoying feature of highlighting text that other readers have highlighted in their books (called "Popular highlights"). It is probably great for textbooks, but absolutely annoying when reading works of fiction. You can however turn it off in the settings.

The best one out there is Kobo. There is something about the text. I think it is the line-height that makes the difference. It feels more comfortable to read. And it doesn't have any of those annoying page flip, move, drop, slide animations. It just quickly replaces one page with another. It syncs like the Kindle, and has a gorgeous interface.

It interesting just how much difference the tiny details make. Something as small as a few pixel difference in line-height, how much white space that is around the text, and the fraction of a second it takes to changes a page, can make - or break - the reading experience.

The ebook market has just started, but already accounts for 9% of the total. The apps are good, but not perfect. What I really want is:

  • The openness of Stanza, allowing me to take any book, from any source, and read it on whatever reader I decide to use.
  • The buying experience of the iBook store, which is far superior to anything else out there.
  • The cloud based synching, auto-download, and availability of the Kindle, so that I no longer have to sync or redownload books on my other devices.
  • The availability of eReader, which offers more books that matches my taste in fiction (note: Amazon have the biggest selection overall, but lacks the niche content)
  • The readability and interface of Kobo, which are just more pleasing to the eye.

I would also like to:

  • Not being locked into a specific app or supplier, which is a huge problem for ebooks.
  • Get rid of the many restrictions. E.g. I'm currently reading a 9-part book series by Ian Douglas, which I had to get from three different sources. Amazon have book one and five, but not any of the rest - apparently because Harper Collins are restricting whom each book can be sold to. It took me more than 2 hours just to find out how to buy them.
  • Much better support for sharing, social interaction, internet links, and just simple things as copy/pasting quotes.
  • The next generation iPad to be made of a softer material, but maybe I should just buy a leather case for it somewhere.

What is your ebook reading experience? Any favorites/concerns?

Read also: Top Trends of 2010: Growth of eBooks & eReaders (ReadWriteWeb)

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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