Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category
With 0.4 my focus has been on getting the existing features in a stable state. I foresee 0.4 being around for quite some time as development shifts to accommodate new features. I wanted to be sure a relatively bug free version is available for people to use. If data loss is a constant then there wouldn’t be any point in using Sigil. Now that 0.4 is done it’s time to start working on what’s next.
Just what is next? For the time being I’ve marked a number of issues on the issue tracker as Milestone-0.5. My plan is to have 0.5 just implement the most commonly requested and most interesting features. 0.5 has no vision and is just a stop gap while I familiarize myself with Sigi’s code base. 0.5 is my short term plan. It’s not grand but it’s functional and sufficient.
Recently I posted the conclusion of my Sigil user study. The findings are Sigil is most used and most useful to power users and small professional ebook creating houses. Also, the overlap between the two is significant. Thus I want to target these two group and make Sigil even more useful for them. Keep this in mind because these two groups are who is going to shape my views of where I want to take Sigil.
Please realize that not everything I’m going to talk about is set in stone. A lot of it probably will never happend. Also, this is part plans, part what I want to do, and part rant about what Sigil does that I don’t like. This is what my ideal Sigil would look like and it is what I’m going to work toward. However, nothing is set in stone.
If you’ve ever used calibre or Firefox you will know that plugins are amazing. They allow for easy and quick changes and additions to be made without having to change the main application. Both calibre and Firefox have large third party plugin communities. I would like to bring this to Sigil and I want a framework where all book manipulation is available over a plugin interface.
My feelings with Sigil are plugins should make small self contained changes. Similar to calibre’s heuristic processing. For instance, italicize common cases, up / down shift headings, and normalize CSS. To make plugins really useful I want to have a system where multiple plugins can be chained together and run in sequence. This would be super basic internal script functionality.
For plugins themselves I’m undecided about how they should be implemented. I don’t mean API wise because that isn’t even a thought at this point. I’m talking about what languages they should be able to be written in. C++ as a shared library will of course be supported because Sigil is written in C++. However, I want to Sigil to be able to load plugins written in scripting languages.
Currently Sigil does not respect the structure of existing files. When you open an EPUB in Sigil it restructures the file layout. It even goes as far as to rewrite each XHTML file by running it through Tidy. With 0.4.0 cleaning with Tidy can be disabled but pretty printing is still used and alters the XHTML. I absolutely hate this! If I want my XHTML or file structure changed I’ll do it myself.
I want to change Sigil to not be as automatic. Restructuring and cleaning of the XHTML should be moved to plugins and run when the user requests it. This way a user can open Sigil, change the metadata, save, and the only thing that changes is the OPF with the metadata changes. Not every single piece of the EPUB.
I also hate WYSIWYG editing because it inherently must make drastic changes to the underlying code. I don’t think it’s a good idea to remove it though. I would prefer to have the book view default to a preview mode that is read only. There wouldn’t be any changes made to the code by using book view. Read only is the default but the user should be able to have an edit toggle that will set the book view to edit mode which will work like it already does. This way a user can make changes that may not be valid or work, check them, see there is an error (say a missing </a> tag) without losing any work. They can see the issue fix it and still be able to use WYSIWYG editing when they want.
Right now XML (XHTML included) data is stored as a Xerces DOMDocument. This is then loaded into the book or code view depending on which one is focused. The use of a DOMDocument often leads to data loss. Putting malformed XML into a DOMDocument can have unintended consequences. Especially when then loading that into a QWebView and getting back a string.
I want to replace the DOMDocument with a plain string as the data store. This will prevent a lot of data loss, especially combined with the book view defaulting to read only. Further, this combined with not making automatic changes to the code will make the well-formed error warning unnecessary.
Not auto processing with Tidy and checking for errors automatically will allow Sigil to produce invalid EPUBs. I really don’t care that this can happen. The tools (FlightCrew) will still be there to check that the file conforms to the spec. It’s up to the author to ensure they’re publishing valid EPUBs. An EPUB that is being actively edited doesn’t have to be valid at all times. I’d rather put the onus on the person using Sigil to ensure their EPUB is correct before publishing versus having Sigil force validity at every moment.
Undo is terrible right now. Some actions cannot be undone, some can. The book view’s undo is completely separate from the code view. You can’t undo a replacement when doing it across all HTML files on files that aren’t open in a tab. I want to see a unified single undo that allows for setting back out of any change.
Further along this line I would like some graphical display where you can look at the changes that have been made to make it easy to find exactly how far back to undo. Something like Apple’s Time Machine but for the state of the book.
Here is where I want to take Sigil: less hand holding, less automatic changes and more advanced text manipulation though a plugin interface. The big question is, should I skip putting out a 0.5.0 release with just the Milestone-0.5.0 marked changes and get started on the above now?
Since taking over as the maintainer of Sigil I have spent some time reaching out to specific people in the ebook community to ask them about Sigil. Specifically if they use Sigil? Why or why not? What do they see as Sigil’s shortcomings? How do they use Sigil in their work flow? Why doesn’t Sigil work in their work flow. Basically, their thoughts and opinions on Sigil.
I asked specific people privately because I didn’t want to be inundated with responses. The people can be broken down into three different groups: self publishers, power users, and professionals. After talking to professionals I’ve come to realize that they can be broken down into small and large. The size relating to the size of the company and production volume. I spoke with about 8 people total and I tried to keep it even between the various groups.
I wanted to find out who is using Sigil, who isn’t using Sigil and why so I can determine where I want to take Sigil in the future. The only ebook editing I do is cleaning up a few books here and there. Learning how people use Sigil will help me to determine the best direction to take the project.
Self publishers are authors. These are people who write their book and then want to sell it as an ebook themselves. Typically these people are using Word for writing. they export their work as HTML, then import into an ebook editor for final adjustments and savings as an ebook file. The two biggest things self publishers are looking for are easy and high quality .doc or .docx import and one click send to store functionality.
Self publishers are also interested in WYSIWYG editing and don’t want to know about the internals of ebooks. They are primarily writers who see ebooks one of many distribution methods. They don’t care about the intricacies of EPUB for instance, they just want their work to look good and be readable by their audience.
The typical tools I hear being used by self publishers are calibre for format shifting. Atlantis Word Processor and Jutoh for formatting and base ebook creation. Atlantis and Jutoh both provide very easy to use WYSIWYG interaction and you can use these without ever seeing a line of code.
These are people who prepare works in their spare time as a hobby. They are not motivated by money and do not sell the works they publish. Typically the works power users deal with are public domain such as Shakespeare. This group also encompasses people who do not distribute works covered by copyright but spend their time cleaning and reformatting their favorite books strictly for their own enjoyment and personal use.
Power users are comfortable using either WYSIWYG and code editors. The biggest feature requested and talked about by power users is robust regular expression support for search and replace. Many of the books power users work with have terrible and often non-existant formatting. These works typically started life as either a scanned copy of a print book or a PDF file. Both of which typically leave broken paragraphs and misspellings thought the document. Which leads to spell check being the next most common request from this group. They are trying to take a jumble of half sentences and put them back together into a visually appealing layout.
Professionals format ebooks for one purpose, money. This is what they do for a living. An author comes to them and pays to have the company turn their work into an ebook. For a modest fee an author can have a beautiful ebook produced without any headaches or hassle. Many authors prefer paying someone to do this portion of publishing for them just like they will pay an editor to edit, a print house to print, cover artist to design a cover and so forth. Authors write and typically want to concentrate solely on writing. Many self publishers format their own ebooks out of necessity because of the cost of hiring a professional.
With both small and large professionals I’m specifically talking about ebook publishing and digitization services. I’m not talking about huge publishers like Macmillan that do everything. However, the larger publishers I talked to makes me believe their process is the same as the huge publishers. The big difference between small and large professionals are the tools they use.
Small professionals tend to use either Sigil or Adobe’s InDesign for a good portion of their work. Both fill a very similar role in ebook creation. The big draw of InDesign over Sigil is InDesign supports print book layout creation. It’s an all in one tool. This type of professional tends to use off the shelf tools that are readily available. Sigil and InDesign are not the only exclusive tools they use but one or the other tends to be a heavily used tool in their tool box.
Large professionals tend to use custom tools. They staff people who’s sole job is to develop and maintain ebook creation and formatting tools. They can afford to have custom tools that integration directly into their process. They don’t use off the shelf or vanilla tools. This group is all about custom everything. This allows them to quickly adapt to changes.
Sigil or InDesign and custom tools are all I know. Many professionals are vague about their process and tools. Some even declined to talk to me at all. They use tools in some way that works for them but their methods and implementation are proprietary.
What Does This Mean For Sigil?
Out of all of these groups I have little desire to target self publishers. There are existing tools that do a great job of meeting this groups needs. Sigil has a WYSIWYG editor and it can certainly be improved but I don’t want to tie Sigil to a particular store or stores like Amazon or B&N. Also, I want to keep Sigil as an EPUB editor and not a generic ebook editor. I believe that Sigil’s strength lies in being able to manipulate the internals of the EPUB format itself. I want to target this aspect more.
Power users are the major group I want to target. Out of all of the people I spoke with power users use Sigil the most and get the most out of it. Advanced editing of an EPUB’s structure and code is where I want to take Sigil. That along with advanced text manipulation. Think expansion of calibre’s heuristic processing.
Small professionals are major users of Sigil and I do not want to discount them. I believe that their use of Sigil overlaps with power users enough that targeting power users will also target small publishers. I do not want to alienate small professionals and will continue to take their needs seriously. From what I’ve learned about small professionals tools that make code manipulation easier will be a benefit and hopefully reduce their need for other formatting tools.
The last group, large professionals, do not use Sigil. I don’t believe that changing Sigil to accommodate this group will get them to use Sigil. They use their own custom tools and Sigil doesn’t fit into their work flow and I don’t see it ever doing so. Thus I don’t see it being worth while to work toward making Sigil “the tool” for this group.
Posted on June 26th, 2011 by John. Filed under Opinion.
Over the past few years I’ve been asked numerous times about my position on DRM (Digital Rights Management). Mainly I’ve been asked this by authors looking to start selling their works as ebooks. I’ve been sending the same email with more added each time in response to this and I’m tired of it. Here are my thoughts on DRM and how it is perceived by different parties. Since this relates to ebooks I’m going to focus on the publishing industry but I’m not going to ignore lessons learned by other industries.
I’m not a fan of DRM and I never recommend it to authors looking to sell their work as ebooks. If having DRM makes an author feel better or safer about selling their work as an ebook then I say do it. If DRM is what it takes to sell your work as an ebook then that’s what it takes. I would rather see ebooks with DRM than no ebooks at all. However, again I recommend against DRM. That might sound contradictory but I’m of the mind that I’ll take what I can get; something is better than nothing.
There are five major parties that are affected by DRM. Readers, stores, DRM vendors, publishers and authors. The point of DRM is to increase revenue. The most common excuse for why DRM is necessary is to prevent copyright infringement but I do not believe this is it’s true use. DRM as a tool is used to to increase revenue though lock-in.
Often you will hear that DRM protects an author’s work by preventing people from pirating content. I am not going to use the term “piracy” in this context because it does not apply. Piracy is what one of my close friends is fighting as part of the US Navy off the coast of Somalia. The act of downloading or otherwise acquiring a copyrighted work without permission of the copyright holder is copyright infringement. I am against copyright infringement and it should be stopped. I do not believe that DRM turns illegal downloads into payed downloads. This argument is a red herring used to take the focus away from DRM’s other purposes.
DRM Does Not Stop Copyright Infringement
There are many different DRM technologies used with ebooks. The biggest are Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s (B&N) Social, Adobe’s ADEPT and Apple’s Fairplay. All of these DRM schemes excluding Apple’s Fairplay have been broken. It is trivial to remove each of these from a protected ebook file. The only reason Apple’s Fairplay has not been broken is not due to it being superior to the others. It is due to all books sold in Apple’s iBooks store can be purchased in one of the many other stores that uses a circumventable DRM system. There simply isn’t any reason to put any effort into breaking Fairplay for ebooks.
Again the main reason given for why DRM is necessary is to stop copyright infringement. However, DRM has been proven to be ineffective for this purpose. For instance, the music industry has given up on selling music with DRM. Instead they are suing infringers directly. All it takes for a DRM free file to be distributed is for one person to use a point and click tool to remove the DRM from one file. Or to have acquired the file without DRM at some point in the publishing process. That one DRM free file uploaded someplace on the internet can be shared again and again.
DRM does not stop willful or blatant copyright infringement because it is too easy to get around. DRM however does stop accidental copyright infringement. Such as a parent sharing an ebook with their child. However, can this really be considered copyright infringement?
This leads to the argument that DRM stops unintended copyright infringement. I do not believe this one bit. People are not stupid. They understand that it’s not right to buy something and then turn around and give copies away for free. The concept is the same as buying a book, photocopying it then selling or handing out the photocopies. People know this isn’t right and wouldn’t do it unless it was willful.
The nature (technical) of DRM allows for removing it to be an easy process. With DRM, you are given the content, a lock and the key. You have to be provided with the key to unlock the DRM otherwise you wouldn’t be able to use the content at all. Think of it this way. The key is required to view an ebook in the ebook reading application you are provided with. All one has to do is retrieve the key from the viewing application when it opens the ebook for reading. This is what some DRM removal tools actually do. These tools are even packaged into very easy to use, zero user interaction bundles.
Thus DRM does not stop copyright infringement because it’s too easy to remove. It can be done by anyone even semi serious about unlocking their books. In the USA due to the Digital Millimum Copy Right Act (DMCA) removing DRM, in most cases, is illegal. Due to this the average user is prevented (who wants to be a criminal?) from removing DRM and must live with the limitations it places on the content they’ve legitimately purchased.
Perception of Ownership
Readers often dislike DRM due to the idea of ownership. In the case of a physical book, when you buy a book you own it. You don’t own the content or ideas within the book but you own the physical thing. You can lend, sell, move, give or burn it. The same thought is being applied to ebooks. However, DRM adds artificial restrictions that remove some of what you can do with the ebook. I say artificial because it’s an added restriction not a technical limitation of ebooks themselves.
Do you really own the ebook you buy? Many people will say yes and claim that it is no different from buying a physical book. However, sellers often do not agree with this assessment. Some sellers many claim that they are not selling books but limited access to content. This argument is not something I wish to peruse here. I’m going to take the view that when you buy an ebook you are buying the book itself and not a license to access it for a limited time and in a limited way.
When Does DRM Make Sense?
It makes sense to use DRM when there is no question about ownership. Meaning the user knows full well they do not own the content they’re buying. Two examples of this are libraries and subscription services such as Mog.
In both cases there is no perception of ownership. You know full well that you are paying for limited access. The trade off is, for libraries you are getting the work for free and for subscription services it’s typically low cost unlimited access as long as you are a subscriber.
Both models would not work without DRM because DRM is the only thing preventing the content from being kept permanently. DRM places restrictions on what you can do with a digital file. In this case the restrictions are necessary and make perfect sense. It’s not a library if you can keep the books you check out.
DRM does not make sense when ownership is not questioned. That is what I’m focusing on. When you buy an ebook it should be no different than buying a physical book. The same privileges that apply to that physical book should apply to the ebook and DRM only serves to restrict what you can do with an ebook. I’m not talking about restricting you from doing illegal things, I’m talking about restricting you from doing legal and common things with an ebook such as reading it.
There is no way to argue that DRM is a positive thing for readers. I honestly cannot think of a way that DRM does anything other than inconvenience, and annoy. Even when it’s implemented in a way that it isn’t noticed today, sometime in the future a reader will run into it and be prevented from doing something that otherwise would be perfectly legal and reasonable. There are a number of reasons why DRM is bad for readers.
The first issue is, it often locks the book to a particular device. If you buy a book from B&N for your Nook, then purchase a Kindle you cannot read that book on the Kindle. You have to re-purchase the book for the Kindle. DRM removes the ability to move books you’ve purchased from one device to another.
The second issue relates to people who have been burned by DRM. Ebooks have been around for decades. There are cases where a store or DRM provider has gone out of business. Suddenly thousands of dollars (this really has happend) worth of ebooks cannot be read because the files cannot be authorized against the DRM server. Don’t think this is a one time thing in a small industry either. This has happened in the music industry. Such as when Yahoo Music shut down. Not to mention the uproar when Microsoft tried (still going to but postponed for a bit) the same thing with MSN Music.
The second issue ties directly into the first. DRM restricts your ability to move content from one device to another. Without the store or DRM provider you cannot move content to another device. So if you get a new device (old one broke or it’s just time to upgrade) you cannot read the ebooks you currently own on the new device. Your only options are to remove the DRM (illegal in the USA) or re-buy every book you already own.
DRM gives readers a poor experience. Buying a physical book gives readers more privileges with what they can do with that that work vs buying a DRM locked ebook. Copyright infringers have a better experience than those who legally and honestly purchase an ebook. An illegal copy of an ebook does not have the restrictions added by DRM because the DRM has been removed. Obtaining an illegal copy means a reader doesn’t have to worry about any of the above issues regarding DRM. Readers shouldn’t be punished by doing the right thing and actually buying an ebook!
In the world of ebooks, stores do not set the selling price in the majority of cases. The major publishing houses have been able to force stores into what is called agency pricing. In the agency model the publisher sets the price not the store selling the ebook. Think of it like the price printed on a physical book but stores cannot deviate from that price in any way. They can’t even offer discounts or sales. What the publisher says the ebook sells for is what it must be sold for.
Since stores cannot compete with one another on price (every store is forced to sell the same ebook for the same price) they have embraced and come to love DRM. It is used as tool to prevent customers from buying ebooks from competing stores. It binds readers to a particular store and makes it difficult for them to go elsewhere.
Amazon is a prime example of this behavior (they’re no the only one but they’re the most successful). When you buy from Amazon you buy a DRM locked Kindle book. This book can be read on an Amazon Kindle, in Amazon’s PC or Mac software, or their mobile software. You cannot however read your Amazon Kindle ebook on a B&N Nook. You are tied to Amazon’s ebook platform.
The stores provide a disincentive for leaving them. Namely if you leave Amazon, for instance, to go to B&N you must leave behind all of the ebooks you’ve purchased from Amazon. You don’t lose the ebooks from Amazon but you can’t take them with you for reading on your new Nook. Readers tend to be people who have an attachment to their books. Many avid readers would not entertain the thoughts of either leaving behind their library or re-buying hundreds if not possibly thousands of books simply to change stores. It is true one could buy from Amazon and read on a Kindle then buy from B&N and read on a Nook without giving up the Kindle. However, who wants to carry two ebook readers around?
Stores are using DRM as a way to tie your ebook library to their platform. It is an economic investment that many people would think twice about leaving behind. They want to make it hard, technologically, physically, and mentally, for you to shop at a competitor.
This group profits directly from the use of DRM simply because they make their money from selling DRM systems to stores. Often these companies do more than just license DRM and also provide additional services. Content distribution is a big one. Licensing a DRM system is only a small part of the profits these companies bring in due to their DRM product.
The biggest player in this category is Adobe. Amazon doesn’t count here because they don’t license their ebook technologies to third paries. Adobe sells a complete ebook platform. DRM, content distribution, reader software for computers, readers software for embedded devices (ebook readers), and ebook authoring tools.
Companies like Adobe leverage their DRM with their customers (stores) just like stores leverage DRM with their customers (readers). They use it to create lock-in. All ebook DRM technologies are proprietary making it impossible for a store to move to another vendor without completely changing the DRM system they’re using. Changing the DRM system is a major undertaking and can easily have a devastatingly negative impact on a store’s customers. It is the hardest piece to change. If you want to use Adobe’s DRM system then you need to be using Adobe’s content distribution system. Also, if you want the ebooks you’re selling to be readable (with DRM) on a dedicated ebook reader then you need to license Adobe’s mobile reader software. Thus by using Adobe’s DRM stores are locked into using other Adobe products and are unable to use another vendor. DRM is used to not just sell related products but to prevent leaving as well.
DRM serves two purposes for publishers. It makes them look like the good guy because they’re trying to defend the ability of authors to make money. It also provides them with a source of revenue from people re-buying books they’ve bought before.
DRM is necessary as a way to reassure authors that their work won’t be ripped off. Many authors rely heavily on their publisher. A publisher is there for handling everything aside from writing so the author can focus on what they know and do best, writing. Publishers tell authors that they need to put DRM on their work when they sell it as an ebook otherwise people will steal what they’ve written. The publisher does this to seem like they are the only ones that stand between authors and copyright infringers. I highly doubt publishers tell authors about all the various parties that make substantial amounts of money simply by putting DRM on an author’s work. Money that doesn’t always equate to an author making more themselves.
I don’t know of any evidence that shows DRM increases sales / profits or that not using DRM reduces sales / profits due to preventing copyright infringement. There are many studies out there but they are often contradictory or from questionable sources. The music industry is a good example and a great model for the ebook industry in this regard. The music industry has gone though many of the issues that the ebook industry is going though now. The music industry has moved to a DRM free model for purchases and it’s working.
A publisher is first and foremost a publicly traded company. They have a responsibility to their share holders and the share holders have a large say in the priorities and how the business is run. As such the number one priority of most business is to make their share holders as much money as possible.
The major book and now ebook publishers are not stupid. They have very smart people working for them and they understand their market very well. They look at profits based on various projections as a routine course of action. Right now requiring DRM makes them the most money. Again it has nothing to do with copyright infringement. This has everything to do with publishers knowing their customers.
Readers tend to be people who become engrossed and committed to a particular author, character or story. Moving from physical books to ebooks it’s not uncommon for readers to re-buy their favorite books. I’ve probably purchased the Lord of the Rings four or five times over the years (anniversary edition, hardcover, omnibus, ebook); I’m willing to do this because I love the story. Publishers prey on this by requiring DRM and stores are happy to comply because if the reader wants to move to a different store (or ebook reading device) the reader often must re-buy their books for the store’s associated device.
Instead of creating new editions with additional content like the Movie Industry does, with extras on DVDs and Blu-Ray releases, ebook publishers are using DRM in place of incentives for readers to re-buy the same content. There is no guarantee that DRM locked content purchased today will be readable tomorrow. There is no guarantee that DRM locked content purchased today can be moved to other or new reading devices. Often the only option is re-buying. It’s the love readers have for their favorite books that is being exploited by publishers as a way to increase revenue. It would be one things if say buying the anniversary edition of the Lord of the Rings came with a biography of J. R. R. Tolkien but it’s another thing to sell an anniversary edition that is only readable in one place or for a limited time.
The biggest fear for the average author (aside from being unknown) is having their work stolen. Writing is hard and time consuming and authors want to be compensated for their work. DRM is touted as the best way to prevent people from copying an author’s work and distributing it without compensating the author.
DRM gets an author nothing. Again, it is very easy to circumvent. Even if it were possible that DRM was unbreakable, copyright infringers will just take pictures of each page of the physical book and distribute those. This happend with the last Harry Potter book and the leaked pictures were even available on the internet a week before the book was released for sale. DRM does not protect an author’s work.
DRM is not why people pay money for ebooks. At least it’s not why people want to buy ebooks. They do it for the love of reading. If you are an author, don’t try to make it harder for your readers to actually read your work. DRM does nothing good for you and it does nothing good for your readers. The only way DRM could make you a little bit of money is the few people who will re-buy your work when they change reading devices. You’re better off giving your readers a great experience so they will want to buy more of your works than trying to sell the same thing to them twice and embittering them.
The big thing to remember about DRM is it can be broken. I personally see it as a way to annoy people who do the right thing and buy ebooks by making it hard for them to read the what they have bought. It does nothing for people who don’t want to pay because DRM is easily removed and they will just download it without DRM. By downloading without DRM people get a better experience since they don’t have to worry about things like will I be able to read this book on my device if I buy from store X vs store Y.
From the perspective of readers and authors DRM does nothing good and has no benefits. The other parties involved (stores and DRM vendors in particular) in the ebook selling process have a very vested interest in keeping ebooks tied down with DRM. Simply put, it makes them too much money to do away with it. My advise to authors is let readers get the most out of your work. Make them happy and don’t leave them feeling cheated.
When Barns and Nobel (B&N) announced the All New Nook, the Simple Touch Reader I was interested. When I heard it was going to be an e-ink device I became very interested. I’ve desired owning a Nook for a long time but I’ve never bought one until now. The 1st generation Nook with the dual screens looked like a good product but I passed on it. The battery life and e-ink screen compared to the Kindle 3 (I was in the market for a new reader a while back, when I broke my Bookeen Cybook Gen 3) just weren’t enough to get me to buy it instead of the Kindle. The Color wasn’t to my taste because I use my ebook reader to read books. So e-ink is a must for any ebook reader I get.
I decided to get the Nook simply because I’m not happy with the Kindle and because the Nook at first glance is the device I’ve been dreaming about. The Nook is a 6″ e-ink screen with a bezel. That’s it. There is no wasted space. It’s as small and compact as you can get while still being able to hold it comfortably.
Social: I have few friends who read.
Making purchases: It’s easier to find things on the web site.
Battery life: I don’t want to wait two months before publishing this review.
Updates: I’m not aware of any yet.
Signing up for a B&N account using the Nook: I already have an existing account and I don’t need another.
The Nook is a solid device. It doesn’t feel cheap and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to break if you drop it. It is plastic but that’s good in an, it makes it lighter not weaker way. The back of the device has an anti-slip paint that feels good on your fingers. It’s a very attractive, but squat, device. It doesn’t weigh much and you won’t get tired holding it.
The back of the device is slightly curved on each side. This makes the device a bit thicker but it makes it easier to hold. This plus the anti-slip back are nice touches but I always keep mine in a case. I learned my lesson about naked ebook readers when I dropped by beloved Cybook Gen 3.
For the most part it’s just a screen and a bezel. The bezel is large enough that you can hold it comfortably. There are six buttons total on the device: power on the back, home on the front (think iPhone or iPad), and page forward and page back on the sides. All other buttons appear on the touch screen on an as need basis.
When I first saw the device I was very happy about the physical page forward and back buttons. Often I read on my lunch break and touching the screen after touching my lunch isn’t something I would care to do. These buttons would be very helpful and handy if they weren’t such a pain to use. You have to use a lot of pressure to press these buttons. They also make an audible click when you use them. Noisy buttons that are to resistant to being pressed aren’t useful.
The page forward and back buttons are even less useful if you have the Nook in a cover. Pretty much all official Nook covers from B&N clip the Nook into the cover only on the left side of the device. So it’s only being held on one side. If you try to use the page buttons on the left side, the nook pivots to the left and the right side of the device lifts into the air. The buttons are already hard to press and this makes it harder and more awkward. The right side doesn’t have this problem because the cover is holding the device down on the left side.
The issues with the left and right buttons aside. I found it easier to use the touch screen to turn the page. If I’m holding it on the right side touching the screen with my tumb next to the bezel the page turns. If I’m holding it with my left hand (I alternate hands while reading) then swiping with my thumb works fine. Also, the extra effort of swiping versus taping is still less effort than trying to use the page buttons.
As expected of a first party accessory the cover fits the device perfectly. With this reader (it’s number 5) I decided to go all out and get a nice cover for it. I got the Industriell Easel Cover in Carbon. The covers B&N sells are a bit pricy but it was well worth it. The construction of the cover is on par with the Nook itself. I feel very confident about being able to carry my Nook with me and I’m not afraid of putting it into my messenger bag with my lunch and folders.
I really like the cover I chose because of the easel feature. It opens from the top and has a magnetic strap which allows the cover to be setup like, you guessed it, an easel. This means I no longer have to prop my device up against a box of plastic spoons in the break room at work. There isn’t very much adjustment that you can make to the angle the cover holds the device at but I found it to be adequate for me.
I do have one grip about the cover other than the price. B&N made a big deal about accessing the power button though the cover. The power button is on the back of the Nook and it’s used for locking the screen as well as turning the device on and off. On the back of the cover there is a Nook logo (an n) and you press this to activate the power button. I guess I missed something but when I watched the videos it seemed like there was something special with the cover and the power button, some special technology they developed. Literally all you are doing is pressing down on on the cover hard enough to activate the power button. There isn’t anything special about it.
This is my first touch screen ebook reader and I have no complaints about it. Touch works. It’s simple and for the most part initiative (especially if you have another touch screen device like a smart phone). I didn’t know how I would like my ebook reader having a touch screen but after using it I’m satisfied. It really is the right way to go. For one things it reduces the number of physical buttons allowing the device to be smaller.
One major problem with early touch based e-ink screens were the need for a touch sensitive layer to be put above the e-ink layer. On early devices this reduced clarity. The Nook thankfully doesn’t have this issue. The Nook is using a technology that uses infrared to determine where you are touching instead of a physical sensing layer.
I did run into one oddity while using the device in regard to touching. When you scroll though places such as you’re library you swipe vertically to scroll up and down. When you are in a book you swipe horizontally to turn the page. It just seems odd to me that B&N decided to use different swipe directions instead of keeping it consistant throughout the interface.
The only real issue (more of an annoyance) I found with the touch screen is related to using the dictionary to look up words. You press and hold on the word, then click lookup in the menu that appears at the bottom of the screen. Personally I think it takes too long for this menu to appear. I also think that since the majority of time people will be using the dictionary it should show the definition and the menu at the same time instead of making the user click again to get the definition.
My biggest worry with using a touch screen is it getting dirty. So far I haven’t had the device long enough to really judge this. However, as long as I don’t have to clean the screen daily I think the advantages of the touch screen outweigh having to clean it every so often.
I haven’t had any issues with the touch screen being slow. I’m not a super fast typer but I didn’t have to wait when typing in my WPA wifi key. There is a slight delay between an action and the screen displaying it but that’s more due to the small amount of time necessary for the e-ink screen to update. I’m not seeing any delay in the touch screen itself as an input system.
First Run Wizard
B&N completely messed up the first run welcome wizard. The first run wizard has four steps. All of them are required and there is no way to skip, avoid, or do any of them at a later time.
The first step is agreeing to a 178 page legal document. You are required to agree to the Nook terms of service / use (ToS) before you can even use the device. There is absolutely no reason for B&N to require you to agree to anything before you can use the device. It’s my reader, I bought it, I’m not renting it from B&N, they should not be dictating anything to me about the use of my property! That said reading over the ToS, parts deal with the B&N store, the Nook Friends social service, et cetera. Why you must agree to this will make sense when I explain step four of the wizard.
The second step is setting your timezone. Nothing wrong here and this step actually makes sense.
The third step is connecting to the internet using wifi. At first glance this seems harmless. It is a wifi enabled device. However, again, this step is required. You must allow the Nook to connect to the internet before you can start using it. I don’t plan nor do I want my ebook reader connecting to the internet. Especially after the 1984 fiasco that Amazon went though. To me this step would make sense if it were optional. I don’t want to have my reader download books from my B&N library. I use calibre for managing my ebooks and calibre does a much better job than the Nook or B&N’s web site can.
Connecting to the internet via wifi is not optional. There is no way to skip it. It is required. In cases where you don’t have wifi at home B&N’s customer support and knowledge base recommends one of two solutions. First they say, “you can access Wi-Fi hotspots at many public places”. Later they tell you that you that you can use wifi at a B&N store. Personally I would have said that you can connect at a B&N store first before telling people to look for public wifi in their neighborhood.
Other than being required, wifi is done very well. It does a good job of showing the signal strength. It also connects quickly. Finally, I’m happy to say a WPA2 pass phrase can be used and a WPA2 64 character hex key can also be used. I’m very happy that the hex key can be used because so many devices today only allow pass phrases. My home setup uses a 64 character hex key so this is important to me. I’m not going to change my wifi key and reconfigure every device in my home because one device isn’t going to support a valid key type.
The last and final step is signing into or registering a B&N account. Again I do not want my Nook connecting to the internet. I do not want to download books using the Nook. I do not want to register it with my B&N account. I do not use the connectivity features nor do I want them. The Nook does not make this an option. You must sign into a B&N account which registers the device with B&N before you can use the device.
I realize that for most users none of the above are an issue (aside from possibly the 178 page ToS). I am an outlier who wants a dumb e-ink reading device. None of the above are deal breakers but they are not pleasant steps and I don’t like that to use the device I purchased I have to do any of them (aside from the timezone).
Overall and objections aside the first run wizard is a smooth simple experience. Nothing should jump out as hard and they’ve kept the steps to a minimum. The only thing I could see B&N changing to make it easier would be to tie the timezone into your B&N account so you don’t have to enter it on the device. Otherwise the wizard is easy and straight forward. I just wish they had made the connectivity steps optional.
B&N Integration Required
The Nook is not intended to be used as a stand alone ebook reader. It is fully integrated with Barnes and Nobel’s web site. The closest to avoiding this is, initially setting up the device by register it with your B&N account then turn off wifi and never turn it back on. However, you can’t get rid of the B&N integration within the device interface.
The Nook allows you to deregister the device from your B&N account. This process also removes all content (purchased and sideloaded) and resets the device to the factory defaults. You will have to go though the first run wizard after doing this. Meaning you will have to connect to the internet and register the device with your B&N account before you can use it again.
The home screen looks good. It has a very clean newspaper feel to it. It is divided into three panels, “now reading”, “new reads”, and “what to read next”. Now reading show you the cover of the current book you’re reading and the the page number you are on. New reads is a list of the latest books you’ve added to your B&N library. Anything you buy on the device or add though the web site will be added to the top of this list. What to read next is an advertising list of what B&N recommends you should buy. A full half of the home screen is devoted to advertisements for books B&N recommends that you buy. This list is just the four most popular books B&N is selling at the moment and probably won’t reflect your reading interests. This feature might actually be useful if B&N took into account the books in your library and made recommendations instead of only showing popular titles.
The library is very well done. It’s easy to see what books you have and find the book your looking for. There are a number of filtering options such as only showing books or only showing newspapers. The list of books can be sorted a number of ways too: author, title or most recent. You can show the books as thumbnails (covers) or as a list. You can even search the library. This is very useful and for example can be used to only show books by a particular author.
Side loaded content is treated as a first class citizen in your library. If you choose to show only books for example it will show all sideloaded books along with B&N library books. There is no distinction given in this view. I personally like this a lot. If you only want to view sideloaded content you still can and it even exposes the folder structure so you can have folders if you don’t like using shelves.
One major limitation of the library is it shows all books in your B&N library. It only automatically downloads a few of the most recent books but it will show all books. It marks ones that need to be downloaded so you know if it’s on the device already. If you have hundres or thousands of books you will be relying on search. If you’re the type of person who only wants a few books on the device you can fake it by only looking at sideloaded content.
Another issue I ran into is covers not showing for sideloaded content. The Nook is very picky about how a cover is marked in an EPUB file. If it’s not to the Nook’s liking it won’t show the cover in the library view. Only about one fourth of the books I put on the device showed a cover and one of them showed the wrong image for the cover. A little bit of testing and I found that putting a .jpg file on the reader with the same name as the EPUB did not work. The .jpg file was not used as the cover. It appears there is no way to use an external file as the cover.
The most annoying thing in regard to your library is B&N does not treat your library as if it really is your library. When you register your new Nook with your B&N account, sample books are added to your library. I contacted B&N and was told there is no way to prevent this. My objection to this practice was met with being told I can archive the samples if I don’t want to see them in my library that way I can unarchive them and read them later. Basically B&N is treating your library as another platform to push advertisements in front of you. B&N support was not clear if this is a one time thing when your register your Nook or if adding samples to your library is going to be a common occurrence.
My hope is the samples added to your library are just a blanket one time occurrence when you register your Nook. Many devices come with sample content preloaded on the device. I can see this as the next step with this practice and B&N using your library to make samples available across the board, no matter what device you’re on. I can see B&N having made the decision to add the sample content to ensure a new owner will have something in their library when they first use their Nook. That said, I don’t like this practice and if it is a one time deal to make sure the users doesn’t have an empty library then check to see if the user’s library is empty before adding the sample content!
B&N, I don’t like advertisements. I don’t like you putting samples for books I’m not interested in into my library. I really don’t like either of these because I paid you money to buy an ebook reader from you. I can see why you’re official statement in regard to a low priced “Nook with Special Offers” is, you will never have one because your full price product already comes with something similar. That’s how this situation feels to me.
Reading a Book
Reading on the Nook feels good. Holding it with or without a cover feels good. It has a Perl screen which gives it high contrast. Text does not look muddy and swiping or taping to turn pages works well.
The Nook sports multiple text sizes and multiple fonts. One of my favorite feature is the margin option. The Nook lets you choose how much of a left and right margin you want the book to have. This is very useful for a poorly laid out book which has obscenely large margins. With two taps you can remove the margin completely. You can also control the line spacing. There is also an option to use the publisher defaults for text size, font and what not. All of this is easily accessible by taping the center of the screen (when reading a book) and selecting the text option.
If you use multiple B&N readers (Nook, Android, computer…) then you will be happy to know that the Nook supports syncing your last read position. I don’t have any bookmarks or annotations so I don’t know if it syncs those as well.
One major issue I ran into is in regard to the table of contents (TOC) support. The Nook only supports the first level of TOC items. EPUB supports multi-level TOCs. Meaning the book can have an entry, such as book 1 or book 2. And each entry can have subentries, such as chapter 1, chapter 2. B&N even sells books that utilize multi-level TOCs. However, the Nook only supports fist level entires. So any subentries are not shown in the TOC when reading on the Nook.
Another issue I found was with opening books. It is slow. If you only read one book at a time and leave that book open you won’t have any problems. If you read multiple books at once there is a very noticeable delay when opening a new book. This issue is exasperated by the fact that the screen is completely blank while a book is being opened. The first time I saw this I though the battery had died or possibly my new Nook was broken.
Page changes are smooth and quick. B&N has opted to do a full refresh only every six page turns. Their reasoning is, it’s less jaring to see. I am included to agree with them but this does create a small problem. Since it’s not doing a full refresh, after about the fourth page turn the text starts to look jagged. Basically the more page turns without a refresh the more the text degrades. I’ve only used the default font and I have the font size set to one below the default. This issue might be reduced with other fonts and font sizes but I did not test this because I’m happy with the font and size I’m using. If B&N were to change the refresh (or make it user configurable) to four pages the degradation would be minimal to the point it isn’t very noticeable. As it stands now by the fifth page turn the text looks terrible. It’s still readable but it looks like garbage compared to how it looks after a refresh.
eReader PDB Files
A long time ago I was a devoted Fictionwise customer. Then B&N bought Fictionsiwse and suddenly the books I was interested in weren’t being sold in the Fictionwise store. They were however now being sold in the all new B&N ebook store. Thus I started buying from B&N. Since then B&N has been my primary ebook store. The transition wasn’t a very big deal for me as B&N has been, for many years, my primary physical book store.
Being a Fictionwise customer I have many an ebook in the eReader PDB format. I’ve even received about one fourth of my ebooks from B&N (as recently as two weeks ago) as eReader PDB files. Unfortunately, the Nook does not support this format. The 1st generation Nook is the one and only ebook reader B&N has produced to date that supports this format.
The retirement of the eReader PDB format is inevitable and while I would like to see B&N and the Nook continuing to support it, I understand why they have chosen not to. It’s in all honestly a terrible format and I should know I developed and maintain support for it in calibre.
Dropping support for the eReader PDB format isn’t something I can be angry about. Now, how B&N handled this is something I am still angry about. I’ve written about it previously but the short version is, I received a PDB file for a book I purchased and I was concerned about being able to read it on the Nook I had just pre-ordered. I was under the impression that I received a PDB file because B&N does not offer the book in EPUB (supported by the Nook). I contacted B&N and was basically told that I cannot read the book I just bought from them on the Nook.
I had to go to a third party web site (MobileRead) to find out that I only received the PDB file because I use a Mac. Mac users were / are the only customers getting PDB files. If I changed my web browsers user agent so B&N thinks I’m using Windows or if I downloaded using a Nook (I didn’t have one at the time) I would have gotten an EPUB file.
Some people on MobileRead were concerned as well because they had been told by B&N (phone, email, store representatives) that the new Nook would support the eReader PDB format. The new Nook does not support eReader PDB files. B&N support made a simple question into an ordeal and actually made the situation much worse than it should have been.
By default the Nook will let you buy anything using the device. I don’t like devices having unlimited access to make charges to my credit card. There is a setting you can enable to require your B&N account password to complete a purchase. However, B&N really doesn’t want you using this feature because you are required to enter your password to enable it. I can understand requiring your password to disable this feature but for enabling it? I guess B&N wants to make it easy for children (for example) to be able to spend their parents money by making it inconvenient to enable account protections on the Nook.
When you connect your Nook to a computer it will only show you sideloaded content. It does not show any of the purchased content that has been downloaded to the reader. As a calibre user (and developer) I find this very annoying. One feature I use is calibre’s detection if a book is already on the device. Not showing B&N purchased content breaks this feature.
Kindle 3 Comparison
Size and Weight
The Nook is about an inch shorter than the Kindle. This doesn’t sound like much but it makes a huge difference in the overall feel of the device. The Nook is noticeably thicker than the Kindle. The weight between the two devices is so close that I can’t tell a difference.
To me the Kindle has always felt cheap. This is mainly due to the buttons. They feel stuck on and flimsy. Especially the page forward and back buttons. The Nook by comparison feels like a much more solid device. The added thickness with the Nook also make it feel a bit more durable. The Kindle being so thin and long makes me afraid that it will easily break due to twisting or folding.
Both use a beautiful Perl e-ink screen. Text looks gorgeous on either device. It almost looks like the Nook doesn’t have as dark blacks as the Kindle but I think this might be an illusion due to the Nook having a much darker bezel than the Kindle. Overall both have great screens.
The physical dimensions of the device really do make a difference in how you will percieve it. The screen on the Nook and Kindle are the same exact same size. Holding the Kindle then putting it down and picking up the Nook the Kindle’s screen looks much taller than the Nook’s. Conversely, the Nook’s screen looks wider than the Kindle’s. Again, both devices have screens with the same dimensions so this really is an optical illusion.
Ease of use
I have always felt that the Kindle is just too cluttered due to the physical keyboard. The five way controller also always seemed odd to me. I showed a friend my Kindle once and he was throughly confused on how to use it. The Nook being so similar to a smart phone I can easily see people having less issues using the Nook than the Kindle.
My feelings are the Nook’s interface is easier to use and get used to than the Kindle. Really it’s the touch screen. The Nook is just easier for me to use. I’m not saying that the Nook’s interface is perfect because there is a lot B&n can do to make the Nook better. Navigating with a touch screen makes more sense to me than using a plethora of buttons. I think a large part of this is the touch screen enables the Nook to only show what’s necessary at any given time where as the Kindle always has buttons (5 way controller) showing even when you don’t need them.
One major frustration with the Kindle is it getting hung up and rebooting instead of waking up. I have had several occasions where I’ve toggled the power button to have the Kindle wake from sleep but instead it got confused and rebooted. I realize that holding the power button will turn off the device but that’s not what I was doing. After toggling the button the Kindle didn’t do anything then after waiting a few minutes the device rebooted. Often when this happens the green light under the power switch has stayed on the entire time until it reboots. When this happens it forgets what page I’m on. I’ve not had anything like this happen with the Nook.
Should You Buy the Nook?
If you’re reasonable tech savvy or if you already have a relationship with B&N then I would recommend the Nook. If you’re not very tech savvy you might be better off with something else like the Kindle. B&N support is terrible and will often make you more confused than help you. I am not confident in B&N support and there is quite a bit of miscommunication throughout the company. Now this is just my experience, others might have had more luck.
If you’ve been a long time Amazon customer and have built a reasonable library of Kindle books then I would not recommend the Nook. The Kindle cannot read books from B&N and conversely the Nook cannot read books from Amazon. If you already have established yourself with Amazon moving to the Nook is going to require you to either re-buy or dump your current library.
If you buy your books from retailers other than Amazon, places like Sony or Kobo then the Nook is a good device for you. Ebooks purchased from Sony and Kobo can be read on the Nook. However, The reverse is not true. B&N is taking the Amazon route and trying to create a walled garden to prevent you from leaving their platform. B&N makes it easy to step but hard to leave.
If you’re new to ebooks in general the Nook is a good choice. I do feel it’s better than the Kindle but not by so much that I would discount the Kindle. My recommendation would be to go to a B&N store then go to some place like Best Buy that sells the Kindle and hold each one yourself. I think the choice will really come down to the touch screen.
There are a number of other ebook reading devices out there such as the Sony and Kobo. I don’t have any experience with newer Sony devices and I have no experience with the Kobo. From looking at them I don’t see any advantage they can offer over the Nook. The fact that B&N has retail locations where you can go and ask questions makes me more conformable with recommending the Nook over other devices.
I really like this device and it is now my primary and only used ebook reader. For all of B&N’s faults they’ve made an amazing device. I’ll put up with the Nook’s annoyances because so far it’s the closest I’ve found to my dream device. My Kindle 3 has now been retired to my bookcase. What can I say I need something to put on my bookcase now that I only buy ebooks.
For quite some time now Tati and I have both been using Dropbox to sync files between multiple computers. Recently Tati has been running low on space in her free Dropbox account and said she wanted to upgrade to the premium version that has more storage space. I have no problem with this and looked at Dropbox’s options. I remembered a friend telling me about Spideroak and I also went to their website to compare the two.
On paper Spideroak looks great. For $100 a year you get 100 GB instead of Dropbox’s 50 GB. Spideroak offers backup and sync modes. Dropbox only offers sync and with 40+ GB of data this can be a very long processes. Also, Spideroaks selective sync makes it a much better choice for installing on low storage space systems. Spideroaks backup also lets you backup multiple computers. Another really nice feature of Spideroak is how it handles privacy. It encrypts your files locally and send the encrypted data to their server to be stored. This way Sideroak never sees your data, they never have your password, and only you can decrypt it. Like Dropbox it also does versioning of your files so you can revert changes.
Just looking at the features Spideroak looks great. It does a lot more than Dropbox, you get more for what you pay and the privacy / security is beyond what the average person needs. However, Spideroak falls flat in execution.
Since Spideroak does so much more than Dropbox it is a little more involved with configuration. Dropbox is super simple. You tell Dropbox what folder you want to use as your Dropbox sync folder. Everything in that folder will be synced with the service and you will see files that were added on other computers appear in that folder. Spideroak has a desktop application you have to use for specifying what folders you want to backup and Sync.
The desktop application is where Spideroak starts to show its rough edges. Dropbox integrates right into Gnome and Windows Explorer giving you a very organic indication of what it’s doing. The tray icon tells you if it’s syncing. Each file in the file browser tells you its status. Spideroak does not have this integration. You have to rely on their desktop app to see what is happening. This isn’t terrible except the desktop app is a clunky, horribly complicated, confusing and ugly thing.
You have two options when backing up with the desktop application, basic and advanced. However, they are not well integrated into each other. Switching from one to the other will wipe out your settings. So if you have it set to backup your desktop, and pictures then switch to advances that is lost and you will have to reselect everything in the advanced mode. Even more frustrating is, as far as I could tell, advanced mode only let you select directories while basic only let you select media types. Combining the two would be helpful.
Another issue with the GUI is simply how complicated it is. There are tabs across the top for different and within each tab there are more tabs. Visually it’s very cluttered. Also, they are using their own custom “skin” for the application so it will never integrate with your desktop. Confusing and ugly. As Apple has shown the look of your application is just as important as how well it works.
I also took a peak at the web GUI and it is disappointing. Dropbox’s web interface is full featured. You can pull back previous versions of files, see how much storage space you’ve used, upload files, and share folders. Spideroak’s web GUI let me see a list of files and download them. I’m hoping I was accessing it wrong but it just wasn’t very useful.
Sync is what I really care about and backing up other files would have just been a very nice extra for me. Setting Spideroak to sync was not an easy process. First I went to the Sync tab and was told it can’t Sync. It wanted me to setup a backup first. So I selected a folder to backup. Going back to the Sync tab it would now let me create a Sync. Here is where it got confusing. Selecting a new sync gave me a set of input boxes labeled Folder 1 and Folder 2. Clicking the chooser next to them brought up a list of backups I had created. The instructions in the application said to select a folder on computer one and a folder on computer two. Not understanding how only letting me choose backup locations relates to folders on my computer I trued to the Spideroak help forums. After reading the first five or so threads on the forum I deleted my Spideroak account. Every thread had comments about sync not working. It wasn’t just people having issues setting it up either. One of the comments was by a developer basically saying, “We know it’s broken and we are working to fix it. Don’t worry it will work at some undetermined point in the future.” I see no reason to use, let alone buy, a service that advertise a feature that is unusable simply because they say it might work at some point down the road.
Overall Spideroak was not easy to use, and it did not work properly. The features it claims are exactly what I want but that isn’t enough. The features need to be polished and throughly tested before I can recommend Spideroak. I only used it for about an hour but that was enough time for me to decide to cancel my account and uninstall it. Even though I didn’t use it very long first impressions are important and an hour was more than enough time to waste on this piece of software.
Posted on December 29th, 2009 by John. Filed under Opinion.
My wife bought me an Astak EZ Reader Pocket Pro For Christmas this year. This device isn’t my first or even second ebook reader. It is now my third. The first a Sony PRS-505 having been commandeered by my wife. The second is a Cybook Gen 3 which due to the firmware update shortly before Christmas might stay my primary reading device.
The Pocket Pro (PP) retails for 199 USD and US residents can purchase it at the the EZ Reader website. Mine came with a 2GB SD card, serviceable leather cover, usb cable, AC adapter, and the usual marketing / user materials. All this makes it the best deal I’ve found for ebook readers in the 5″ size.
The PP is a 5″ device and uses an eInk screen like most ebook readers. I did not find the 5″ screen to be too small. It is a good balance between portability and readablility. It does cause a few more page turns than with the larger devices but it was not cumbersome in any way. Overall found the size to my liking.
It comes in a variety of colors and feels good in your hands. The paint gives it a rubberized texture. It’s light while still feeling solid and sturdy. Visually it isn’t the best looking device but the buttons along the bottom work well enough for navigation. It is very similar to how the Sony (non-touch) readers work. However, I do think Sony, having put the buttons next to where they correspond to the screen, makes it a bit more intuitive than matching the number to the button as is required by the PP.
One area where I felt the PP’s hardware design was problem is with the thumb wheel along the right hand side. I had issues using it to turn pages. It would often turn more than one page. It is also a hard plastic nub and after using it for awhile my finger started to hurt. I soon stopped using it and only turned the page using the buttons.
One thing that I really like about the PP is how easy it is to change the firmware. There are a number of companies selling branded versions of the device. It is really a Hanlin V5 made by Jinke. The various companies that sell the device all have their own versions of the firmware that deviate to different degrees from what is produced by Jinke. The LBook has one of the more customized firmwares. I have tried it and found that it is a bit on the usable side because the majority of it is not in English. While there are a number of firmware options I’m going to focus the remainder of this review on the firmware available from Astak as of this writing.
It works. That’s the nicest thing I can say about it. The only thing it does is list all folders in the storage location. You select the folder and it opens it. When you get to a book you want to read you select it and it opens. On the surface this doesn’t sound so bad but compared to other devices (the Cybook and PRS-505) it is terrible.
When listing folders it lists all folders. Even system folders that should and do not contain books. Also, it does not read any metadata such as author or title. You only have the folder and filename to go by. There are no tags, collections, genre views or custom sorting. Selecting books is a slow, cumbersome and painful process.
Another issue I have with the bookshelf is it tries to force the use of an SD card. It displays the SD card and the main memory separately. It also defaults to the SD card when ever the device is turned on. I’ve gotten used to the combined view other readers offer and I don’t care if the book is on the SD card or the main memory. I just want to be able to get to my book quickly.
Fonts are another thing I have an issue with. I like the fact that users can include their own fonts. You can also set a font as your default font so you don’t have to change it every time you open a book (this doesn’t actually work, see the EPUB Rendering section). However, the only way you can add your own fonts is with an SD card. They can only be read from an SD card. There is no way to add your own fonts by putting them in the main memory. I have no idea why this is the case but it is an annoyance.
The bookself falls flat but it’s not the main place a person will be. Reading books is the main purpose of the device. My ebook library is mainly in two formats. .txt and .epub. Lets talk about how well it works with reading these formats.
One major thing it gets right, in my opinion, is justified text. It does a pretty accurate representation of the text. Another thing it does well is you can change the font size easily. Page turns happed very quickly. Much quicker than my other readers which was a pleasant surprise.
However, it does do some fancy auto detection of components and renders them differently. Words are often hyphenated and span two lines. This is without regard to where or what comes on the second line. Many times the last two letters and the period will appear alone on the second line because it is the end of the paragraph. This causes the text to become disjointed and ugly.
Just like with TXT rendering it is very accurate and just like TXT rendering this is also a problem. It’s so accurate that you cannot change the font. Only the font size can be changed. I tried reading two EPUB files with it and found both to be unreadable.
Harry Potter’s Bookshelf by John Granger was the first EPUB I tried. Upon initially opening it, the text was too small to read. Increasing the text size to a reasonable level made it possible to read the text. However. the margins increased as well. The book has small margins included but to have the text at a reasonable level the margins ended up taking up a quarter of the page, each top, bottom, left, and right. This made the screen essentially a small little window with text. The text being justified only allowed for a few words per line with large spaces between them.
Page turning with Harry Potter’s Bookshelf was completely contrary to how wonderful it is for TXT files. With this book, turning the page was very slow and it didn’t always work. 3 out of 5 button presses wouldn’t register. The light lit up and nothing happened. To make the page turn I had to start holding down the button until the page changed and if it didn’t change after a few seconds I would let go and hold the button down again.
The second book I tried was Word War Z by Max brooks. It doesn’t even open. This is not an issue with DRM because it had been removed.
So far the two books I have as EPUB that I want to read cannot be read on the PP. Those same books open and render beautifully on both the Cybook and the PRS-505.
The PP is disappointing. The hardware is nice; I really like the 5″ size. However, the poor bookshelf, the poor rendering, and the inability to even open some books makes it pretty much unusable. I’m going to keep looking into new firmware releases but until I can actually use it to read books it’s not much more than a poor substitute for a paper weight.
Posted on November 30th, 2009 by John. Filed under Opinion.
Robert B, who is Astak’s Director of Bus. Devl., posted a blog entry about user replaceable batteries. I mostly agree with him that they are a benefit to consumer electronics. I mostly agree because I don’t see them as a positive in every case. I posted the following on his blog as a comment but I wanted to post it here as well. This is in response to the statement that reviewers don’t get the idea of user replaceable batteries.
It’s not that most reviewers do not get the idea of a user replaceable battery, it’s that it really isn’t a selling point to most people. There are three reasons I can think of as to why a user replaceable batter does not matter.
1) Sealed in causes the device to be cheaper to produce and thus cheaper for the consumer. This leads into point two.
2) The device is not seen as a long term investment. This is very reminiscent of how Apple positions the iPod by inciting consumers to upgrade to the latest release. In one or two years the device will be replaced with a newer model. As someone who is looking to buy my third ebook reader for the third year in a row I haven’t had to worry about the battery wearing out and needing to be replaced.
3) Worries of availability. While it is very easy to buy a spare battery now what about in 5 years from now. Chances are the product will not longer be produced as the company has moved on to better and cheaper technology. 5 years from now obtaining a replacement battery can easily be impossible or cost prohibitive.
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