About eBooks and eBook Readers
What Are eBooks and Readers?

An eBook (electronic book) is a version of a book intended to be displayed by an eBook reader. As such, it is an ordinary computer data file that is most often obtained over the Internet. The popularity of eBooks has grown in recent years to the point that in 2011 Amazon announced that eBooks were outselling paperback books.

Generally speaking, an eBook reader is an electronic device specifically designed for reading eBooks. Dedicated devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, and Barnes & Noble Nook, have several advantages for book reading. First, they are highly portable, usually about the height and width of a paperback book and less than 1/2 inch thick. Second, and possibly most importantly, they are easier to read than other electronic devices. This is because dedicated eBook readers use a special screen called E Ink. This screen is not an LCD. It doesn't flicker the way LCDs do, it has very high contrast, low glare, and best of all: it is truly daylight readable. A good E Ink display is very easy to read in direct sunlight.

Dedicated reading devices are not the only method of reading eBooks. Applications to read eBooks are available for general purpose computers and portable devices such as smart phones. The Apple iPad is touted as an eBook reader although it uses an LCD screen rather than E Ink.

In addition to making eBooks readable, recently released eBook readers can wirelessly access their “mother bookstore”—a place where you can search, browse, and purchase eBooks. Many eBooks are available for free, especially if their copyright has expired. And they do mean many—Amazon says they have 1.8 million free eBooks that are out–of–copyright. Wireless access may be available through WiFi (such as you might have in your home), or through a cellular network. When cellular networks are used, you can browse the bookstore and purchase books from almost anywhere. Even better, there is currently no charge to the customer for the cellular service. This means that from almost any location (in the U.S. at least), you can use your eBook reader to browse or search for books you want to read. When you find what you want, purchase and download the eBook file immediately. Buying and downloading the book takes only minutes. Amazon advertises “Books in 60 seconds.” This is one of the eBook reader's greatest strengths.

Whether you use a dedicated reader or not, eBooks have a couple of inherent advantages. First, after reading a book, you don't have to find shelf space to store it. You can even delete eBooks from your reader (to reduce clutter or save space). The bookstore will remember the books that you have purchased, and you can download them again later, at no additional expense. A second advantage of eBooks is that readers (dedicated or not) will allow you to choose the size of the font they use. Except for poorly formatted books, you should be able to find a font size that suits your reading preference.

There is a distinct disadvantage to eBooks. eBooks don't allow anything resembling typesetting. Publishers are reduced to making little more than suggestions about what the text should look like. The eBook reader does most of the layout, typically even choosing the font. Mostly, this is necessary. eBook readers have different screen sizes and users have different font size preferences, so publishers can't know in advance how much text will fit on a line or page. This means that in an eBook, there are no true page numbers. eBook technology is advancing rapidly, and some of the current limitations, like limited font choices, are likely to change.

eBook readers have many other features, such as the ability to read a book out loud, that may be of interest to you. I don't discuss most of them because my purpose is to assist people who may want to obtain an eBook reader to use with Living Bible Studies materials. Manufacturer product literature and product reviews do an adequate job of enumerating the many things you can do with an eBook reader. My goal is to go a little deeper than most reviewers on those issues that are likely to be of interest to the visitors of our site.

Our Plans

A publisher's control over eBook formatting is limited to a small subset of what can be done with web pages. It is not possible to create an eBook that looks any better than a web page, so better rendering is not a reason for Living Bible Studies to support eBooks. We do have plans to support eBooks and eBook readers however, for the convenience and usability benefits they provide to our patrons. In particular, I think the superior readability of E Ink and the get it anywhere availability provided by cellular wireless downloads make eBook support worthwhile.

Presently, we have upgraded our website to be more friendly to the browsers built into some readers. This allows you to access our website over the Internet using your dedicated eBook reader. From there you can access our regular content of printed Bible studies.

Our plans call for books to be published in paperback form and made available through bookstores. As we produce these books, we will also produce eBook editions. These editions will be available through as many sources as seems practical. Currently, we make the eBook editions available for purchase through some eBook readers' mother bookstore. The reason for doing this is to make obtaining eBooks easier for you. The disadvantage? The bookstore won't distribute our eBooks for free. Currently Amazon and Barnes & Noble impose a minimum list price of 0.99 USD for our eBooks sold through their stores. They also restrict us from offering the book elsewhere at a lower list price. We do not currently plan to charge a mandatory fee for material downloaded from our website. We will continue to look into this and ajdust our distribution plans as the eBook market develops.

Which eBook Reader?

If you want to purchase an eBook reader, you will have to weigh a number of factors to determine which model is right for you. There are many readers on the market today and they are not all created equal. I have obtained several readers to use in testing our eBook products and I have written some notes about these devices based on my experience and comments others have made to me. I hope this will be helpful to you in choosing which reader will work best for you.

General considerations

As already noted, wireless access and E Ink displays are significant features to look for in an eBook reader. Other considerations that I consider important are: removable battery, library categorization, and a web browser (for readers that have wireless access).

A removable battery matters for this reason: The rechargeable battery in your reader is likely to be the first component that will fail, usually in 2 to 5 years depending on how well you take care of it and the luck of the draw. If the battery is soldered in place, it is permanent and you will have to send it to a repair center to have it replaced when it fails. I find this unacceptably inconvenient.

Some (most?) readers dump all of the books you have purchased into one long list that you must scroll through to find what you want. I tell you from experience, that is an inconvenience. And in my professional opinion, as a software developer of many years, it is inexcusable. One of the features you will find in advertisements for eBook readers is how many books they can hold. Usually thousands—thousands of books in one long list. What you want is a way to organize your books into folders or categories.

If you just want to purchase books from the mother bookstore, web browsing from the reader isn't important. If you want to obtain Living Bible Studies content for your reader, it does matter. You won't find our free content at the mother bookstore, mostly because it is free. So ideally, your reader will make it easy to obtain content directly from our website. The degree to which that is possible depends on the browser built into your reader (if there is one).

Of course you will need accessories. For eBook readers, the first accessory is a cover. I am of the opinion that readers need covers just like paper books do. They protect your screen from damage, and the reader will likely cost you more than any paper book you will buy. The most popular readers don't include a cover, but you have many OEM and 3rd party styles to choose from. The second accessory you may want is a book light. E Ink needs a reading light just like real paper does, maybe even more. Solutions in this area seem more numerous than effectual. Mostly you will be stuck with a bulky, inconvenient clip–on light, pretty much like they sell for paper books. For once, being “like paper” is a bad thing.

There are PC applications for managing libraries of eBooks. These applications can obtain eBooks from various sources on the Internet, manage a library of books on your computer, allow you to read books, and manage books stored on eBook readers. Calibre is a free eBook manager available for many computers. You may find it useful for managing an eBook library. Note that I have had very little experience with this or any other manager application other than what was provided with one of my eBook readers. Calibre is an open source project, so rough edges are to be expected.

In the reviews that follow I will describe my experiences with the several eBook readers I own. I will try to mention how they stack up on the issues described above. At the end I'll summarize my thoughts on choosing a reader.

Sony Reader Model PRS–505

This device as been out for some time and looks to be discontinued. It has an E Ink display and as far as I can tell, the battery is permanently attached.

The 505 does not have wireless access, so web browsing is not relevant. You must connect the reader to a PC and use Sony provided software to purchase books over the Internet, and to manage books on the device.

The PC software allows you to organize books into categories. You choose the categories and, once finished, the results work very well. However, I detest the software. The device itself works well, but the PC application was written by amateurs. Its design is exceptionally poor and frustrating to use. It does work though, provided your expectations are low enough.

Notable, and essentially unique, is the fact that this reader has a touch screen and a built in back-light. The touch screen and back-light features work very well. But beware: they destroy one of the dedicated readers greatest strengths—readability. The 505 model has much more glare than other E Ink readers I have used. So much so that I think you might just as well use an LCD screen.

The 505 does not come with a power adapter, and that isn't very nice. You are expected to charge the 505 using a USB cable (provided) plugged into a computer. And it must be a computer because ordinary power adapters with USB connectors will not work. Perversely, a fully discharged 505 will charge enough to wake up, see that the power isn't coming from a computer and then refuse to charge any further! And it gets worse—there is no way to read from the 505 while it is connected to a computer. So if you purchase a 505, plan on buying the “optional” power adapter for it. You should also note that it is a relatively bulky adapter. Hopefully that indicates that it is fairly rugged.

At this writing Sony Readers are available from Best Buy. They are stocked at local stores and there are display models that you can try out.

Amazon Kindle DX

The DX version of the Kindle is much larger than the other Kindle models and it is the only model I have personally used. However, much of the comments about the DX will apply to the other models. It has an E Ink display and the battery is permanently installed.

The Kindle was the first reader to have built–in cellar wireless capability, and it implements this feature very well. The mother bookstore is of course Amazon. There is no special PC software for the Kindle. It has a USB port that can be used to charge the battery and move files between the device and a PC. As with most such devices, you can use the file browser that comes with your computer to transfer files. To your computer the Kindle will appear to be a USB connected disk. The free eBook manager application Calibre is supposed to recognize a Kindle when it is connected via. USB. That did not work for me, but my computer may be to blame.

The Kindle comes with a USB cable and a power adapter. According to customer reviews, not all after-market USB charging cables can be used. Fortunately the Amazon OEM chargers and cables are reasonably priced. In addition, the power adapter connects to the Kindle using a USB cable of generous length. The adapter itself is very small and easy to carry. (Incidentally, I purchased a Kindle charger for my Droid phone because it is smaller and has a longer cable than you get from Motorola.) You can charge the Kindle using the power adapter while you read. If you are charging the Kindle from a computer, you cannot, in general, read from the Kindle while the computer is connected. However, you should be able to get your computer to disconnect the Kindle (so that file transfer is no longer available) and then read from the Kindle while it continues to charge from the computer. This can be important if you travel with your kindle—there will be one less power adapter to carry. Instructions for doing this are displayed on the Kindle when it is plugged into a USB port.

The Kindle did not initially provide support for organizing books into categories or folders. A recent (at the time of this writing) software update makes that possible. You can now create book categories and then move your books into them. This works pretty well except that the job of selecting a book for a category requires that you sift through your entire collection to find the book you want to place into a category. So you can still be overwhelmed with a long list of books while you create and update your categories.

The Kindle's web browser, as of this writing, is listed as experimental. However, it appears that networking—beyond just communication with the mother bookstore—is a priority feature at Amazon. So this experimental feature will likely remain. At least for now, web browsing over the cellular network is free but the browser itself is very primitive. Worse than that, the browser defaults to “Basic Mode.” This means that the browser allows very little formatting of the web page and most websites will be difficult to read this way. You can change this behavior by opening the browser and pressing the “Menu” key. Then select “Desktop Mode” from the menu. This switches the browser to a mode that enables much more formatting of the web page. It is said that this may cause compatibility issues with some websites. Nevertheless, it is almost required to make use of the Living Bible Studies website.

Our website will recognize the Kindle browser and adjust to its limitations automatically. The Kindle can navigate our website and does a very good job of displaying our Bible studies. In fact, Bible studies display just as well as any eBook would—the formatting capabilities are the same. One thing worth noting is that when reading a web page that is too long to display all at once, the Kindle treats the web page like a multi-page book. So, you can use the page forward/page backward buttons to read through the document. This is part of what makes reading an on-line Bible study a similar experience to reading a normal eBook. You can also adjust font sizes on web pages, just like an eBook.

It appears that Kindle users will be able to click on a link from a web page to an eBook and have the book download to the Kindle where it can be read. I intend to verify this capability soon. It is an important feature, at least to us, since it provides a very convenient way of distributing free eBooks. Distribution on Amazon's mother bookstore carries a minimum cost of $0.99 and a prohibition from offering the same titles elsewhere for less.

The Kindle does not include a cover. There is a well–documented problem with the Kindle that you will want to know about. The method Amazon uses to attach their standard covers to the Kindle allows the front cover to hinge away from the Kindle and fold around flat against the back for easy reading. Unfortunately, the back cover is not supposed to hinge and should not be separated from the back of the Kindle—but it can be by someone who doesn't know better or is just careless. The only attachment between the cover and the Kindle is near the spine. Magnets hold the outer edge of the covers (front and back) closed. It is possible to pull the back cover away from the Kindle and snap the plastic case at the hinge. What to do? Be careful and don't loan your Kindle. There are probably many Kindle owners who live in fear of this one issue.

The Kindle is available direct from Amazon. You may be able to find one in a retail store so that you can try one before buying it.

At this time, eBooks published by Living Bible Studies are available for purchase from the Amazon website, and you can search for and purchase them right from the Kindle itself. We list our eBooks at the lowest price Amazon permits, which yields a $0.30 return for Living Bible Studies.

Barnes & Noble Nook

The Nook is a recent entry into the eBook reader market. It is Barnes & Noble's answer to the Kindle. It has a good E Ink display and replaceable battery. The battery is one of the early marketing points that got my attention—not much is made of this feature now. In addition to the usual ability to change the font size of a book, the Nook allows the user to change the font shape as well. At this writing, the user can choose to have books displayed in any one of three fonts.

The original Nook supports a cellular wireless network for buying books in much the same way the Kindle does. Like the Kindle, there is no fee for using the cellular network. It also has a WiFi modem that you can use instead of the cellular network.This may be important to you if you expect to travel to places where the appropriate cellular network is unavailable, or worse, if you live in a cellular “hole”.

Turning on WiFi automatically disconnects the Nook from the cellular network. I haven't verified this by experiment, but I suspect that using WiFi will drain your battery much faster than using the cellular network. A more recent, and lower priced, Nook offers WiFi without cellular communication. I haven't used this version but appears to be the same with the exception of not having a cellular modem.

The Nook makes less use of dedicated (physical) buttons than other readers. Instead it has a small LCD screen located below the E Ink screen. This lower screen is color, back-lit, and touch sensitive. Most user interaction with the Nook centers around this LCD. I find it difficult to say if this interface is better or worse than the Kindle. Neither can compare to the Sony Reader for ease of use, since the Sony has a full touch screen over the entire E Ink display. I'm sure the separate touch screen is either better or worse than the Kindle buttons, I just can't figure out which it is.

I have found no way to organize books on the Nook. It does not appear that this is possible.

Like the Kindle, the Nook does not include nor require PC software. It does include a USB port that can be used to exchange files with a PC. When connected, the Nook appears to the computer as a disk. Ordinary file management software can be used to manage the content of the Nook. Calibre can be used to manage eBooks on a Nook and it should automatically recognize a Nook when it is plugged in.

The Nook charges through the USB cable and includes a power adapter. The adapter is just a little larger than the one provided with the Kindle, and the cable is just a little shorter. I haven't tried the Kindle charger to see if it will charge the Nook. You are supposed to be able to charge the Nook from the adapter while you are reading. Instructions for doing this are displayed on the Nook while it is connected to a USB port. I was not able to get this to work myself.

The web browser on the Nook cannot be used over the cellular network, you must be connected through WiFi. Apparently, all Barnes & Noble bookstores provide WiFi access to Nook readers, for free.

The browser itself seems to do a better job of displaying web pages than the Kindle—the good news ends there, the browser is unpleasant to use. Web pages display on both screens, the E Ink where you do most of your reading, and the LCD were you control the browser. A Rectangle on the E Ink screen shows what portion is visible on the smaller, LCD screen. You scroll the LCD screen, and when the part that is visible on the LCD reaches the edge of what is visible on E Ink, the E Ink will scroll. And you must scroll the LCD to view long pages in their entirety. Unlike the Kindle, the page forward/page back buttons act like scroll right/scroll left. As a result, reading on-line Bible studies using a Nook will not be as convenient as reading an eBook.

The Nook does not come with a cover but there are many after–market covers to choose from. One such cover is the Lyra from Barnes & Noble. It is distinguished for having a built–in reading light. This reading light looks to be more convenient than anything else on the market. Unfortunately, the reading light leaves something to be desired. The problem is that the arm that holds the light lacks sufficient articulation to place the light where you want it—and you want it in a place that doesn't glare. The arm doesn't hold it's position as well as it needs to either.

At this writing, the Nook is available from Best Buy, and it should be in stock with demo models available to try.

At this time, eBooks published by Living Bible Studies are available for purchase from Barnes & Noble's website, and you can search for and purchase them right from the Nook reader itself. We list our eBooks at the lowest price Barnes & Noble permits, which yields a $0.40 return for Living Bible Studies.

What Do I Think?

I would not buy a Sony. The clarity of the E Ink is especially important to me, which would rule out the 505 with it's touch–screen and back–light. The Sony PC software is a big disappointment, I get mad just thinking about it. I also would not consider any eBook reader that doesn't allow books to be purchased directly, without a PC. Sony does make other models, but now that Amazon and Barnes & Noble have gotten into the market, it seems to me that Sony just doesn't have a compelling product. At this time, our eBooks are not available through the Sony bookstore.

I'd choose between the Kindle and the Nook. And for me personally, I'd stick with the Kindle DX for one simple reason: the DX is excellent at displaying PDF files formatted to print on letter paper. That isn't true of the other Kindle models. Most people will probably prefer a smaller and cheaper reader, so you are back to Kindle vs. Nook. My ongoing experience with both leads me to prefer the Kindle anyway. Without a touch screen its user interface is less sophisticated. On the other hand, what it does, it does well, in a consistent way, and in a way I can understand. The Nook often exhibits behaviour I just don't expect or understand.

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