stop crying kindle fanboy
September 13, 2008 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Some are calling it the "Kindle Killer". (Demo launch video at engadget.) Plastic Logic's new e-reader, expected to be out in the first half of 2009, does promise to offer a lot that Kindle and most other other popular e-readers don't, like a larger display, big enough to provide a newspaper or magazine layout; touch-based markup and annotation; the ability to read standard documents and other file types without conversion; (promised) Wi-Fi connectivity (including the ability to transfer documents between readers); and last but not least, a screen display that you can hit with a shoe, and isn't that something we've all been waiting for during these tense times?

But in the Plastic Logic vs Amazon Kindle smackdown, "Plastic Logic says they don't plan to compete with Kindle directly, instead, it's targeting business mobile professionals with 'a lot of documents already,' not those who will get all their content from the Amazon store." Heh.

The question on everyone's lips, of course, is what about price? Wired reports that while pricing has not been announced, "officials said the reader would be "priced competitively" with devices such as the Kindle, which currently costs $359".

Other questions? The NYT touches on issues of privacy, mentioning that, "as an electronic device, newspapers can determine who is reading their paper, and even which articles are being read. Advertisers would be able to understand their audience and direct advertising to its likeliest customers" and wonders "how much people will pay for a device and the newspaper subscription for it". (emphasis mine)
posted by taz (85 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I totally stole the post title from a comment at the Wired post, btw.
posted by taz at 7:18 AM on September 13, 2008

I want this so badly.
posted by phrontist at 7:22 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can see the use of this for people who have to carry a lot of documents with them -- especially since it has native support for MS Office files -- but in general, I don't see the point of any of these devices as a replacement for books. All it does is limit what you can read to whatever the distributor has access to. Sure, you can say it's better because you can have a bazillion books on one little device, but unless you're a student, how often do you need to carry a bunch of books around with you?
posted by Target Practice at 7:30 AM on September 13, 2008

I'm beyond want and heading for NEED! territory.
posted by pinkbuttonanus at 7:31 AM on September 13, 2008

unless you're a student, how often do you need to carry a bunch of books around with you?

as a student, i am most interested in something that could easily carry lots of academic papers. this looks like it could work.
posted by alk at 7:37 AM on September 13, 2008

Stop formatting your PDFs in portrait mode and start formatting them in landscape mode and use a damn Laptop to read them.

A "business reader" device seems silly when most businessmen need a laptop anyways. Does this device allow you to make changes to the documents, add comments, send the document in emails?
posted by schwa at 7:41 AM on September 13, 2008

Nthing the benefits to students. If PL can get the price down to under $200, grad students will flock. I spend an unreal amount of money on printer ink and paper.
posted by The White Hat at 7:44 AM on September 13, 2008

I really want a Kindle but only because it's so easy to buy books through Amazon. I'm not excited at all about the Plastic Logic or other e-book readers I've seen. I've heard that the Kindle's buttons are in stupid positions (so that you turn pages when you just want to hold it comfortably) and that's why I haven't bought one yet. I figure they will fix that when they release a new version, though, so I'm waiting to see. That seems to be the only real advantage this has over a Kindle right now. It seems premature to call it a killer anything.
posted by Nattie at 7:45 AM on September 13, 2008

I have an e-reader now, Target Practice, because I can't buy English language books easily or affordably where I am, but if I were still in the U.S., I would have maybe waited for a really compelling version of an e-book reader (flexible, full color, whatever). However, thinking back, I've lived in one-room apartments, and I've moved house 35 times (meaning I've given away or sold most of my books, over and over)... I think I would probably still be into the whole ebook thing in many circumstances. I imagine that not too far in the future, only rich people will have beautiful paper book libraries (that will be mostly just for show, just as rich-person libraries usually are now - no difference there)... so love and treasure your book-books, everyone, while you can, even if you go e-book.

(schwa: look up "E-Ink")
posted by taz at 7:47 AM on September 13, 2008

Awesome invention. It's really cool to be living in a time of such intense innovation. Now if we could only get away from the whole petroleum biz.
posted by nickyskye at 7:49 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't quite see any point in an ebook reader that doesn't natively read pdf files. I mean, what idiot would send their company's financal reports to Amazon for conversion and distribution? So a paper sized reader using wifi sounds good.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:54 AM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know. I love my Kindle and I'm happy to consider better technology.

But the first thing I see that I question about this is that it appears to be bigger than I'd like. Thinner than the Kindle but I am not really looking for something that can handle newspaper displays. I have to be able to comfortably hold and manipulate it with just one hand while standing up on BART.

And now that I'm used to the convenience of buying off of Amazon through Whispernet that is something that absolutely must be replicated for me to consider a change. Watching a Jon Stewart author interview and having the hawked book on my Kindle and beginning to read before the interview is over. Finishing a book on BART, realizing I'm not in the mood for whatever else I have unread at the moment and having something else before we get to the next stop.

Simple WiFi isn't a big selling point for me.

But there is definitely room for a Kindle killer in terms of annotation, notes, intra-book navigation, etc. But I'm willing to live with those deficiencies for the other benefits.
posted by obfusciatrist at 7:58 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

This misses the whole point. What the market needs (of course, IMO) is a *cheap* reader that isn't perfect, but handles many formats and is usable. I'm talking $49.95 and books costing about the same as physical books. Want to make the world readership go electric? Go even cheaper.
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:59 AM on September 13, 2008 [8 favorites]

Why is everyone talking about buying content?
posted by phrontist at 8:03 AM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

Because I don't have a problem with paying for books?
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:07 AM on September 13, 2008 [8 favorites]

Finally, the Kindle's stranglehold on the "things that nobody owns" field will be broken.
posted by Damn That Television at 8:12 AM on September 13, 2008 [8 favorites]

> Why is everyone talking about buying content?

I wonder how much piracy there would be if people had to ask themselves this simple question before each download:

"Would I want to do my job and not get paid for it?"
posted by Target Practice at 8:18 AM on September 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

Ok, can you search text on any of these? If that's possible, that would be huge for grad students, authors and anyone else who wants to find something to refer back to it and look at how different authors have handled the same subject.
posted by Maias at 8:19 AM on September 13, 2008

Books come in different sizes for different needs. My paperback-sized Rocket is great for casual reading but useless for technical documents, magazines and other layout-intensive content. And while my tablet PC's screen is large and rezzy enough to show portrait or landscape PDFs at comfortable size, its weight and bettery life leave much to be desired. I'm looking forward to this device greatly, whereas kindle was very "meh."
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:23 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I could see getting one of these because as a grad student reading papers on it would be useful. However as of now I'm pretty happy with my Kindle. The big thing about the Kindle isn't so much the e-ink alone but the content delivery from Amazon and how quickly you can go from thinking a book sounds interesting to actually reading it (something like five mins). Also as obfusciatrist mentioned, I don't know if I'd want to carry a magazine size reader around. In my dream world the makers of this device would hash out a deal with Amazon and I could have the best of all possible worlds.
posted by peacheater at 8:27 AM on September 13, 2008

The big advantage of Kindle, as has been mentioned earlier is not the e-ink, but the Whispernet. Kindle is attached to Sprint's 3G network so you can download a book directly into the device no matter where you are. It is like carrying an Amazon sized bookstore around with you.

So this isn't a Kindle killer.

In any case Amazon is in the business of selling books not readers. If someone comes out with better technology the smartest thing they can do is offer it to Amazon. The better the reader, the more books they sell. On the other hand, a reader without books is a dead brick.
posted by eye of newt at 8:28 AM on September 13, 2008

I've been waiting for the kick-sensitive screen for far too long.

And Amazon is in the business of selling pretty much everything.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:32 AM on September 13, 2008

Working in an environment where I often print things to take them home for review and peruse hundreds of pages of pdfs, word files and spreadsheets daily, this looks like it may be what i've been waiting for.

Tablet PCs have tempted me, but they really don't offer a whole lot of flexibility over my laptop, and when I want to read that latest 60 page proposal or rfp I still end up printing it out. This device looks to resolve the eyestrain and portability factor, but I hope the refresh can be a bit improved from that demo. I can't see going from being able to flip through paper to waiting 1 second per page to cycle through a report looking for that one reference I wanted to read.

Still, I look forward to the day I can bring a device like this home instead of a hard copy print of a 1200 page building spec document.
posted by meinvt at 8:36 AM on September 13, 2008

This looks almost essential in my line of work, since on any given day I'll be juggling 5+ PDFs of 50+ pages each. Sucks to read on a laptop, sucks to print out that many pages and lug them around. One potential problem - there's no yellow highlighter option?
posted by naju at 8:41 AM on September 13, 2008

One thing to keep in mind if you're working with documents (and I'm assuming this won't solve what is an issue I have with the Kindle):

Flipping back and forth really, really sucks. It is great for reading straight through, or searching a phrase and reading that part, but I don't read my work docs on my Kindle (though I could without goign through Amazon if I really wanted to) because when I'm reading a spec I am constantly jumping back and forth within the document. Does this section match up with what was said in that section. What was the business rule driving this design element again? Stuff like that.

So, unless this has a fluid way of handling that I'd still end up printing out long documents for reading and markup.
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:46 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

a screen display that you can hit with a shoe

posted by spiderwire at 8:47 AM on September 13, 2008 [18 favorites]

I'm still holding out for flexible, full-color, e-ink/e-paper computers.

To me, trying to integrate real world media - books, documents - into an electronic format, although posing distinct benefits, totally misses the point of e-paper. I want this stuff to evolve such that the analog world of ergonomics can retake its rightful place, by making the digital more analog-feeling.

Am I the only one who is sick of staring into brightly-lit, backlit and rigid displays for my computing tasks? I want to see this technology used to bring digital media into an analog context, not vice versa. E-books are cute, but it seems more like a proof-of-concept thing than a terminus. Books - well, we already have an analog precedent. Sans the portability angle, I like my paper books just the same, thank you. But websites? Rich visual data and software? Dare I say, computer games? These are innovations I can't possibly enjoy in an analog context, because they live in the ether. And that very quality prevents me from enjoying them more, because I can't stand the physical feeling of it.

Think about it: tabletop, foldable computers that are easy on the eyes? This would be marvelous for collaborative work; for mixing your printed matter with your e-paper and working on it all at once; maybe you could have an e-paper blotter on the center of your desk.

Board-game sized, roll-up displays with tactile input, in full-color? You could play Civilization, or Worms, or Risk at the table, moving about your units à la touchscreen. Digital games could finally break back into the analog world of board games. Because, really, who likes being tethered to a stationary monitor and using controller appendages?

I think the biggest part about this is the display method. This might just be me, but I cannot get over the feeling, when I use computers, that I am staring into them. LCDs and CRTs don't have the "aura" of all of the other stuff in the world, that just seems so, well, organic. Maybe I'm behind the evolutionary curve. Even the most early e-paper/e-ink displays I've seen don't have this problem. They seem so real.

Uh, anyway, I'm naïvely hoping that this is the direction e-paper will take, but it seems like there are very real, non-technological hurdles. The tech will get there, but do people want to stop using brightly-lit displays perpendicular to their desk surface? I'm not so sure.

Still, my mind is awash with science-fiction-esque dreams...
posted by softsantear at 8:50 AM on September 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

Isn't having a "kindle killer" kind of like having a "segway killer"?
posted by Artw at 8:53 AM on September 13, 2008 [19 favorites]

I recommend Mobipocket Reader running on your PDA of choice. Not perfect, but good enough.
posted by Optamystic at 8:54 AM on September 13, 2008

Comparison Matrix of e-book readers.
posted by stbalbach at 9:01 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been calling my Asus EEE 900 a Kindle Killer from the day I got it. Love the thing. About the same size, about the same price, but with an amazing color screen. Put Comix on there for mobile reading bliss.
posted by jbickers at 9:02 AM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Looking forward to see the McCain-Palin list of approved books for e-readers. Approving sounds so much better than banning.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:04 AM on September 13, 2008

The Astak Mentor is looking pretty good also.

However the sweet spot will be 8x11 color screen e-ink .. coming up from Fujitsu the FLEPia
posted by stbalbach at 9:05 AM on September 13, 2008

Intel had a demo of a laptop with an e-ink display on the back of the unit, so you open it up for full computer mode, and leave it closed for e-ink reader. It wouldn't surprise me if many laptops get that feature soon, and of course you get much more battery life that way.

That said, I really don't like the locked-down, closed up nature of the Kindle devices. If you ask me, publishers are really screwing themselves over by being so paranoid about DRM. Of course, with books your content isn't easy to pirate already because it's entirely non-electronic. Everyone has the hardware needed to pirate CDs, DVDs, analogue tapes, video games, but not books.

I'd really love it if someone came up with something like an eePC where you basically get a full-blown Linux computer hooked up to an e-ink display.
posted by delmoi at 9:09 AM on September 13, 2008

Looking forward to see the McCain-Palin list of approved books for e-readers. Approving sounds so much better than banning.

Eponysterical. Let's not do this in this thread too.
posted by odinsdream at 9:30 AM on September 13, 2008

It's true what they were saying in the comments - that guy's thumb really does look like a transplanted toe
posted by mannequito at 9:34 AM on September 13, 2008

Grad students and others with massive printing needs aside...

Am I the only one who still likes books? Who still likes the feel of paper in my hand, and appreciates a beautiful glossy cover design?
posted by Roman Graves at 9:40 AM on September 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

Isn't having a "kindle killer" kind of like having a "segway killer"?

No, you can't escape from the scene of the crime on a Kindle. Don't be silly.

whhhhhhiiiRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrr WHACK! rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

--what kills on segways, baby, yeah baby yeah

posted by spiderwire at 9:43 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

taz: Yes I understand the benefits of e-ink. Negligible power consumption, high contrast, no backlight, etc, etc. But really - if PDF producers spent more time producing documents for the screen rather than paper it might be a small step closer to the fabled paperless office. Business folks need a real PC for email, whatever. Another dumb reader device to carry around? No thanks.

None of these arguments apply to the Kindle though, I'm just criticising this business reader. I've been on the verge of buying for a while. The main reason I don't is because I read a lot of books at night in bed (currently using eReader on iPhone), I need something with a backlight (and a $3.99 reading light duct taped onto a kindle is not a good solution).
posted by schwa at 9:48 AM on September 13, 2008

I find it amusing when people complain about how "locked down" the kindle is, since I mostly read free books from manybooks and gutenberg. I guarantee I never would have finished Anna Karenina in paper form, nor would have taken as many notes, been able to look up words, able to jump to wikipedia to learn the historical context of a particular passage, and on and on. But I did have to keep getting interrupted to explain what the kindle is. obfusciatrist touched on the other annoyance, which is the lack of an easy method to flip back and forth....though I wonder if the corner-dogging feature might not make that easier. Some day I really should read the manual-'book' that came with it.
posted by nomisxid at 9:48 AM on September 13, 2008

I'd really love it if someone came up with something like an eePC where you basically get a full-blown Linux computer hooked up to an e-ink display.

People have got Linux and X running on a number of e-ink devices — you can find all sorts of stuff on the Mobileread forums — but the main problem isn't the form factor, it's the refresh rate on these displays. I don't know what Plastic Logic is claiming, but the displays from E-Ink that everyone else uses have update times of ~250ms (bitonal mode) to ~750ms (grayscale mode) — I don't imagine anything involving typing or a pointing device will work at all well until that's dramatically reduced.
posted by enn at 9:56 AM on September 13, 2008

To me, this all sounds like a moot point since we're not talking about the same market. Amazon's Kindle is sized for reading pulp fiction, making it a joke for business or educational reading.

Kindle provides basically one feature over ordinary pulp fiction books : buy, change, etc books anywhere. Amazon establishes themselves as the new gate keepers of pulp reading by providing this service. But by doing this, Amazon has also locked themselves outside the VPNs required for security by business travelers.

A business or educational reader must offer letter or A4 paper size, native access to common file formats like PDF, etc., and must give its users control. I suspect business & educational readers must eventually provide some rudimentary computing functionality too : document mark up, note taking, etc. Business readers should eventually provide video out for presentations.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:02 AM on September 13, 2008

I'm talking $49.95 and books costing about the same as physical books.

Can you make a reader for $50 though? Because Kindle has the 2nd part down. Sometimes cheaper, in fact.
posted by smackfu at 10:02 AM on September 13, 2008

My wife had a sony prs-505 as our first e-ink reader.
We've been using ebooks as our primary book reading device for 4 years or so. I had a reb1200 and she had an ebookwise 1100.

The prs-505 was a birthday present for her.

It was amazing. Easy to read, portable, great battery life, easy to put software on.

But it broke. She put her arm on it without thinking and shattered the screen. The ultra-thin glass substrate under the plastic can take almost no pressure.

It broke.

All of the current models use the same substrate.

Great technology, but at the price point, WAY too fragile for normal use.

This plasticlogic one has great potential but I think it's a bit too big.

There's a few other Eink displays at lower costs for later this year. There's a new Epson control chip becoming available in october that should dramatically increase the usability of this type of reader, but I'm unsure when it'll hit actual consumer units.
posted by Lord_Pall at 10:05 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

What spiderwire said.
posted by bjgeiger at 10:06 AM on September 13, 2008

I guess the on-screen annotations are cool... but I love my Kindle.

Aside from the poor button placement (which I've never REALLY gotten used to), I don't really have any complaints. It's great for when I'm traveling and it's perfect for my morning commute on the Metro. Whispernet ensures that every morning my electronic edition of the New York Times is right there for me to read, with easy navigation to boot!

There's also something satisfying about someone recommending a great book to me - and then finding it on the amazon site and downloading it in less than a minute. I admit it... I'm a well trained consumer!

Since I also use my kindle to read work documents that I mail to my kindle account - usually technical reports of some kind or another - I don't really see how this new tech will make my life any better. I suppose the larger screen might be nice? Regardless, I don't see it as a 'Kindle Killer'.
posted by matty at 10:26 AM on September 13, 2008

> This plasticlogic one has great potential but I think it's a bit too big.

I think A4 or US letter -size is just right. This is the comfortable minimum for tech and reference docs, service manuals, small tech illustrations, etc, and I think it's also a comfortable size for newspapers and magazines, because it's big enough to present a decent amount of content without scrolling. Also, I think it gives a big enough canvas for print and layout designers to do their thing.

I do worry about the price point. Normal-sized entry-level laptops have dropped below the $500 mark, and mini-portables like the ASUS eee (I have one) are below $400, so I think a reading-only "appliance" needs to be $200 or less, and get down to that magic $99 point in pretty short order.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:39 AM on September 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Are ASUS still actually doing a sub $400 model?
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on September 13, 2008

Letter-size is too big for me. I want something I can put in my pocket. I suppose ideally that means two screens that fold open like a... like a... what are those things called?

As others have said, it's not even the same market as Kindle, because most of Kindle's value is in the network, not the device.
posted by rokusan at 10:59 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I need this. I travel quite a bit now and usually am juggling 2-3 textbooks. Now I make copy of chapters I want to read and bring those with me. Reading on a laptop is a pain the ass, especially for those moments where you want to sneak a few pages online or in the back of a cab.

Any idea on release date / price? I notice those aren't available, are we sure this isn't some vapor ware fantasy? Kindle, Sony, etc. haven't been able to meet my needs. The idea that I could even have a fraction of my library available at any given time is just too amazing. mmmm....
posted by geoff. at 11:07 AM on September 13, 2008

The problem with either the Kindle or the Sony isn't form factor, they're both actually pretty nice to use (I own one of each), it's the content.

Each needs content formatted specifically for them to work really well, neither has specifically great PDF reading capabilities because they aren't dynamically formatted for the screen size or text zoom selected. Neither the Kindle or the Sony eReader has a big library. There are hudreds of thousands of texts in each, but it's no where near comprehensive. If you want to get access to truly huge libraries, you're left with scrounging torrent searches and storing collections you come across. I draw parallels to the state of mp3 searching before Napster arrived on the scene long go in it's first iteration.
posted by iamabot at 11:16 AM on September 13, 2008

As soon as an e-book reader can deal with this scenario I'll get one:

Friend: "Hey, what are you reading?"
Me: "This is the 3rd book in X series. It's awesome. I think you would like it. Here, take books one and two."
Friend: "Thanks, I'll give them back when I'm finished."

posted by odinsdream at 11:18 AM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

Also, that is the worst "pretending to hit it with a show" mime ever.

Yeah I'm on Metafilter and I hate everything. What's it to you, punk?
posted by rokusan at 11:20 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can you make a reader for $50 though?

Not yet, because the display is too expensive.. Certainly $150 isn't far off.

They are still milking early adopter / business oriented pricing. Look at tablet style notebooks.. There isn't much reason why they should cost double what a traditional notebook costs, but since no one has gotten around to stirring up that market, prices are stuck where they are. For now.
posted by Chuckles at 11:32 AM on September 13, 2008

Artw: "Are ASUS still actually doing a sub $400 model?"

Newegg is selling the 2G Surf for $249.99.
posted by booticon at 11:36 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

What a lame audience. They tepidly clapped when he finally revealed the device. Fuck them.
posted by wastelands at 11:45 AM on September 13, 2008

I wonder how much piracy there would be if people had to ask themselves this simple question before each download:

"Am I willing to pay to only put this content on devices that the content provider has blessed, and risk losing it when they abandon their crappy DRM?"
posted by mattholomew at 12:17 PM on September 13, 2008 [6 favorites]

looks pretty cool- I want one!
posted by arnicae at 12:19 PM on September 13, 2008

I have reached the point where, for some of the technical books I want, the difference between the price of the paper edition and the price of the Kindle edition is in the same ballpark as the price of the Kindle itself. That, plus the fact that my textbooks weigh a fricking ton means that I jonesing madly for an e-book reader. The Plastic Logic reader is making me drool like a St. Bernard.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:37 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I should add that I really, really really love the idea of the Kindle, I just despise the DRM.
posted by odinsdream at 12:54 PM on September 13, 2008

Artw: Are ASUS still actually doing a sub $400 model?

You mean their little netbook thing? Yes, but it's not just them anymore. Everyone and their dog has jumped into this space now, and many are offering way more features than Asus for the same price or less. Dell has a few starting at $350, Acer's got more, and they even give you more than the Dells for less, starting at $330. Some Chinese company even thinks they can get a near-equivalent to the 1st gen Asus Eee out for under $100USD in the next few months.

That said, I've got the first gen Eee myself, and it's a good little portable netbook, but I wouldn't read a book on it. I read books on my 4 year old Palm instead. The first gen Eee only had a 7" screen and 800x480 res, so that's part of it. The newer ones I referenced above have 1024x600 res on 9" screens, and I am personally planning on trading up to the Acer unit in the next month or so, maybe that one will be better for reading documents, etc.
posted by barc0001 at 2:10 PM on September 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

As soon as an e-book reader can deal with this scenario I'll get one:

Friend: "Hey, what are you reading?"
Me: "This is the 3rd book in X series. It's awesome. I think you would like it. Here, take books one and two."
Friend: "Thanks, I'll give them back when I'm finished."


I feel obtuse here, but are you implying carrying several books with you everywhere you go or simply using Wifi to transfer e-books to your friend?
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 3:01 PM on September 13, 2008

Annotation is definitely one of the critically needed bits for ebooks to be successful. That and maybe a tab style approach to bookmarks, or something so you can *quickly* flip back to references, etc. If not now, then in some future device.

Right now the ebook market is very much like the PC market was back in the late 80's. No one really quite knew what was needed, what would work, or how to make it cheap enough for people to buy. Its entirely technology driven (ie: "Look we can do *this* now, isn't it nifty!") rather than user driven. That isn't a bad thing, but it does mean it isn't going to be widely adopted. They'll be used by those who absolutely need one for whatever reason (grad students, etc), or by those who are so in love with the concept that they'll pay huge quantities of money for something that doesn't really work very well.

A few years from now, as the economics of scale kick in and moore's law makes the hardware cheaper, they'll be able to build something that will be widely adopted.

Roman Graves I like physical books just fine, and I'm eagerly awaiting the advent of a really good ebook. I'm something of a book fetishist, I really like the whole watered silk endpiece and gilt edges bit, and I'll always buy books as physical artifacts for collecting.

But, much more important, I'm an infovore. I tend, on average, to read over 1,000 pages per week. When I go on vacation I typically carry over 30 pounds of books, and still wind up whining "I don't have anything to read". So an ebook is a fantastic thing from my POV, theoretically I could carry my entire library in a single device that weighs only one or two pounds. As a historian I love the idea of being able to carry around reams of stuff without crushing my spine. Etc.

Once ebooks arrive I'll still buy high quality physical books to satisfy my fetish. And they'll get read, occasionally. But mostly they'll sit on my shelf.
posted by sotonohito at 3:11 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Am I the only one who still likes books? Who still likes the feel of paper in my hand, and appreciates a beautiful glossy cover design?"

No, but that doesn't mean that e-books don't have their place. After reading novels exclusively on my laptop and cell phone for more than a year I bought one on paper and the difference was huge. When I first opened the book I thought "Oh man, THIS is luxury." The fact that it doesn't emit light is great, and the crisp text and nice typesetting make it a pleasure to read. Tactile feedback is just the icing on the cake.

But, it's rather large and heavy, and it was expensive. These factors alone are enough to make me generally favour e-books. The last thing I need is yet another thing to carry around with me. I generally have my laptop with me, which means I have access to my whole collection of e-books, so if I'm not busy I can just read, or if I discover there's a book I want, I can download it pretty much instantly. If I finish the book I'm reading, I can just start the next one. As for the phone, it's not as comfortable to read on as the laptop, but the cool part is that as long as I've got a book or two on there, I'm NEVER without reading material since I keep my phone in my pocket all the time anyway.

Will I buy more paper books? Absolutely. But since I got back into reading recently I think I've read about 20 books on my laptop, 2 on my phone, and 1 in hard copy. I don't expect that ratio to change much as time goes on.
posted by benign at 3:13 PM on September 13, 2008

What I don't understand is that, if this device poses itself as a "business reader" for traveling businessmen to review documents on the go, why not allow you to edit the documents? It's fine to be able to mark them up, but if you can read and display it, certainly it's not that hard to come up with an editor. Of course, now we're straying into laptop territory...but maybe they are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I guess it will come down to price point and size of library.
posted by Edgewise at 3:34 PM on September 13, 2008

Otherwise, I like it a lot more than the Kindle. The Kindle's ugly aesthetic and high cost make it a no-go for me.
posted by Edgewise at 3:36 PM on September 13, 2008

For pleasure reading, I would stick with paperbacks. But as a student, I would love something light with a good interface for handling PDFs. Textbooks would be great for it, too.

Different devices for different tasks. Just cause I buy a car or bus pass doesn't mean I'm throwing away my bicycle and jogging shoes.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:47 PM on September 13, 2008

If you are a reader and have an ebook, would it use less light than reading in bed with a lamp? Because then I need one, since my partner isn't a reader.

I keep wondering why they make these ebook readers white.
posted by misha at 4:27 PM on September 13, 2008

I like the page-sized one, but for it to be practical for me, it would have to fold up, because I don't carry anything big enough to put it in when I'm not using it. The kindle (which I don't have either) at least has the advantage of being able to go in a purse.

I think I'm waiting for my copy of the book from Diamond Age, please.
posted by dejah420 at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2008

If you are a reader and have an ebook, would it use less light than reading in bed with a lamp? Because then I need one, since my partner isn't a reader.

No, you have to use a lamp to read them, just like an old-school gameboy.
posted by delmoi at 6:07 PM on September 13, 2008

Networkable and open. That's all I've been waiting for. And as soon as it is available (whether from these guys or not) everyone else is dead. Why not beat the rush, Amazon? Do it right the first time.
posted by DU at 6:50 PM on September 13, 2008

>This misses the whole point. What the market needs (of course, IMO) is a *cheap* reader that isn't perfect, but handles many formats and is usable. I'm talking $49.95 and books costing about the same as physical books. Want to make the world readership go electric? Go even cheaper.

Except the exact opposite happened with the commoditisation of MP3 players with the iPod - a good-but-expensive product appeared that dominated the market. An iPod of the book reader market is needed that doesn't currently exist, but I'm not sure this is it - I think a bigger company will need to support it in order for it to become mainstream and offer multiple models.

I really don't think the Kindle is it. The Kindle is pretty much useless to me as it fails to tick too many boxes. Too small in dimensions for most documents, too poorly designed, too many limitations and their design has made it very difficult for them to launch it internationally. The concept of having to e-mail the device to upload documents onto it is very bizarre. I honestly see relatively few advantages in carrying an expensive Kindle over a couple of cheap paperback books compared to the massive advantages of carrying an A4 book reader over a heavy clunky textbook. The ability to read arbitrary documents without conversion is also very useful, as it annotation.

As much as I love the Eee, I don't the readers are comparable to laptops either as they appeal to different markets.
posted by HaloMan at 7:35 PM on September 13, 2008

I love my Kindle. I'd like a slightly larger model, sure, but for reading in bed/on planes/in the airport you can't beat it. Given that many things I've read on it since purchasing it are books I'd never be able to resell anyway, I'm just as happy reading them on not-paper (we're running out of walls for bookshelves). As an author, I am happy to pay for books -- they're my one big vice, actually.
posted by at 7:50 PM on September 13, 2008

eBooks are AWESOME. I live in a place where the English language book selection is tiny, and incredibly expensive, and the used English book scene is nigh non-existent. I take my little Sony eReader everywhere, but I'm glad to see more competition because the software/support for it is terrible.

I wish I had money.
posted by damo at 10:30 PM on September 13, 2008

I live in a place where the English language book selection is tiny, and incredibly expensive, and the used English book scene is nigh non-existent.

damo, that is my situation exactly. I finally got a Kindle, and I'm delighted to have a disk drive full of books to read, but my Kindle problems are these:

1. the Amazon ebooks DRM means I will only buy their ebooks if I absolutely can't find them elsewhere. Their prices are fine, and the selection is fairly good and keeps growing, but I'm not going to spend a lot of money on books that can only be read on one single device. I got the Kindle so that I have the choice of Amazon ebooks if I want/need it right now, but they would be getting a lot more of my money without the DRM.

2. No native support for standard documents like doc, pdf, txt, etc. You can read most of these with effort. You have to send them to Kindle to have them converted, or you can convert yourself using mobipocket software.

3. No international language support. This is weird, because it seems like such a minor issue to deal with. My husband reads books in English, but has lots of scripts and schedules in Greek that he has to deal with every day. An e-reader would be very handy for him, and we've been thinking of getting a Cybook (supports most document filetypes, all languages that aren't right-to-left), but the Plastic Reader format would probably be a better fit (less fragile, better size), so I maybe we'll wait a bit to see what the price and specs are like.

Anyway, about the Plastic Reader, I think their idea of targeting business people is pretty smart; the device that you become used to at work is the device you will be most likely to turn to when you are ready for a personal-use application (and I would assume that a lot of businesses might buy these for their people). Plus all the business folks using it will be walking demo units for the reader... And there are a lot more people reading every day for business and news than there are general readers, I assume, so addressing the needs of this group, specifically, is wise.

For me, personally, I'll still be reading mostly books, but the durable screen display and slightly larger size are very attractive to me... wifi capability would be really, really nice. I can't tell, but it looks like it may have 16-gray scale, while most e-readers only have four; this would be very good. I'll be watching closely to see what they offer for language support and file types.
posted by taz at 1:50 AM on September 14, 2008

By the way, there's a great comparison table of most of the currently available e-book readers at the mobileread wiki, for those who are interested. Plastic Logic not added yet, of course, but I would love to see those specs filled out for it.
posted by taz at 2:08 AM on September 14, 2008

Oh! Look, rich people: Fujitsu color e-ink reader to become available soon.
posted by taz at 5:11 AM on September 14, 2008

I was at DEMOfall and this was one of the total hits of the show. During the stage presentation, I was sitting there agape, but not as agape as I was at Fusion-io's solid state drive. That set of demonstrations set my inner geek on fire.

The reader is about the same size as a letter-sized legal pad. That's pretty handy for reviewing documents on the plane or something, instead of getting out the laptop.

(NB: I wasn't there for Plastic Logic or Fusion-io, but for another of the launching products.)
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 7:21 AM on September 14, 2008

I feel obtuse here, but are you implying carrying several books with you everywhere you go or simply using Wifi to transfer e-books to your friend?

I'm pointing out the fact that this is being marketed as a way to replace books, but it doesn't even come close because you never own any books. You don't enjoy any rights that book-owners do, like the ability to lend, sell, or give them to people. The DRM in these devices will always be what kills it. Read through Kindle's TOS and tell me that you don't believe you'd run afoul of it through just normal use.
posted by odinsdream at 8:27 AM on September 14, 2008

Oh! Look, rich people: Fujitsu color e-ink reader to become available soon.

Ah, crap. I'll probably have to wait for a Plastic Logic-type device with color, then. At least 50% of my academic PDFs have color figures that lose a lot of meaning in black-and-white.

Dammit, when I started transitioning from law/humanities into science, people told me it would be time consuiming, exacting, frustrating, and difficult-- which is fine, bring it on biznatches-- but no one told me it would be so bulky.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:13 AM on September 14, 2008

Would I want to do my job and not get paid for it?

Except that this is a bullshit thought experiment with barely any semblance to the situation at hand.
First off, IP law as it stands does not make sense because IP is not a very sensible idea. No one creates works in a vacuum - all new ideas require some degree of plagiarism. So as a society we've come up with this hideous mess of laws that try to denote a hard a fast series of rules as to what is sufficiently "original".

When apple designed the iPod should they have paid royalties to the people who came up with the capacitive scroll wheel, the LCD screen, or the mp3 codec? How about the heirs of the inventors of the printed circuit board, high density polyethylene, or the electrolytic capacitor? Well, we have a whole other series of laws to sunset some inventions, to declare some ideas public domain.

The whole system is a byproduct of the Great (Wo)Man view of history - that extremely special creative individuals grace us with the products of their intellects. Almost any sufficiently studied innovation will have several names attached to it that never see public recognition (or patent/publishing royalties) - who remembers the mathematicians that got close to calculus before newton, or all the inventors that had working (but inferior) lightbulbs before Edison, all the proto-beat poets, the also-ran punk bands? Just ask James Burke.

So why do we persist with this idea? Because we want to make creativity profitable. We want the people who go the extra mile to get paid for it so they'll keep doing it. This isn't such a bad idea, but it it has a whole host of conceptual and practical problems.

First, it ignores the incremental and often collaborative nature of the process. There are endless examples of absurd patents to highlight this, but Amazon's One Click comes to mind. Goethe didn't get sued by the catholic church for ripping off their creation myths, and the Jews had the good grace not to claim prior art, probably thanks to the kindness of the Zoroastrians and... well, you get the idea.

Even if it made philosophical sense, it's now completely unenforceable. There is no way we will ever again prevent the free dissemination of music/literature/schematics/films. Information wants to be free.

That probably sounds pretty damn glib, but I don't think it's such a problem. The vast majority of artists and musicians never made much off publishing rights anyway. In the case of musicians specifically, we're seeing a shift to micro-patronage, capitalizing on a brand through merchandise, and concert revenues. It will always pay to be first to market with a better design in the engineering world (though admittedly, not as much as before), and without patents new ideas can be built upon by competitors more quickly (a major stagnating force before). The software world is shifting in to a service economy.

All in all, I think things will only improve when we give up the IP charade.

I'm an electrical engineering student/programmer/wannabe musician.
posted by phrontist at 5:46 PM on September 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Networkable and open. That's all I've been waiting for.

I'm still waiting for networkable and open in a goddamn digital picture frame.

("No, Kodak I don't want to use your crappy online 'service' to upload photos.")
posted by rokusan at 10:12 PM on September 14, 2008

Yeah those problems are all even worse for the Sony readers. If you hit up the mobileread forums you'll find a lot of good information about making things more usable (though I'm not sure about the Kindle specifically). I can format my own books and I actually installed a Japanese language set on my reader by reflashing it thanks to their help. It's a good community, and one of the most helpful internet forums I've found.

Also gotta give a shout out to feedbooks if you want to find public domain reads.
posted by damo at 11:21 PM on September 14, 2008

I love feedbooks! And is awesome.

Yep, I can format most filetypes to be read on the Kindle with the help of a few nice tools, but so far, as I understand it, it's relatively labor intensive to format Amazon books with DRM so you can read them on anything but a Kindle, so until that changes, I won't being buying many Amazon books. I got the Kindle, I like the Kindle, Amazon has a good shop for e-books, but I'm not signing on to being forced to use a Kindle for the rest of my life, which the DRM on Amazon's books tries to strong-arm one into doing.

I find the whole idea of DRM on books a bit bizarre, anyway. Before e-books we had, and still have "books". You can loan a book to somebody, you can borrow a book from the library, you can go to a used book store, you can sell your books in a garage sale... and book publishers have not gone broke because of this.

Most people are not going to be torrenting books, I think. Most readers are not going to want to deal with trying to get a book file from someone else or finding it on some warez site. Most people will be glad to be able to buy a reasonably priced e-book instantly and start reading within seconds, with their trusty online bookstore handily keeping a back-up for them, offering recommendations, etc. - all the value-added stuff. It's nice, it's tidy, it's legal, it's ethical, it's convenient, and the vast majority of readers will prefer it. But there are a many, many people who won't do it that way who otherwise would, specifically because of the DRM. Why buy a book that will be useless if you decide to use another reader?

People who simply don't have enough money to spend on books at all won't be buying them either way, so if they get a pirated copy of a book the publisher isn't losing money on that individual - but s/he may talk about a book to someone else who will end up buying. And of course, some people will pirate even if they don't need to (they can afford to buy), but this group is not going to be that significant I think - not enough to punish all customers just because of these few... And the crazy, sad irony is that by imposing these unreasonable DRMs the industry is training people - regular readers who would be happier to buy - to skirt the law and find other resources for getting what they want. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
posted by taz at 12:14 AM on September 16, 2008

By the way, for those who are interested, you can check Fictionwise's selection of multi-format books for contemporary books without DRM (scroll down a bit to see the full list, by category): "When you purchase a MultiFormat eBook, you are allowed to download it in any format(s) you need for your own personal use. If you have two different devices you commonly read on (perhaps a PC as well as a Palm device) you are within your rights to download two different copies of the eBook for reading on those devices. If you change to a different device in the future, you can download your eBooks again for the new device."

Obviously, you can't just breeze in and pick up any book you have in mind, because the selection is limited, but well worth perusing to see if you find something you might like, since this is one of the few ways to legally buy and read an ebook on whatever device you want to use - so a worthy cause, and I'm glad they go through the effort to provide this retail option. I'm definitely going to be keeping up to date on what's offered here, and support them with my business.
posted by taz at 2:10 AM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

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