Thursday, September 1, 2011

On a Different Note - Tablets

No, not that kind.  This kind:
I joined the iPhone set almost two years ago, and I find that I don't use it so much as spare computer (although I certainly do...) - I tend to use it for reading.  I have the iBooks reader on it, along with the old Peanut Reader, which became the Palm reader - and which I've had in some form for around 10 years.  I don't own a Kindle because I've resisted books in YANF (Yet ANother Format).

The eBook formats are great for reading, and I really resist dead tree format books these days.  My house is literally full of books.  I have two ceiling to floor bookcases in front of me, two in the next room, and then other smaller bookcases in almost every room of the house.  And small piles of books everywhere else.  I'd rather not come up with more silverfish food. 

The problem comes when I port Acrobat pdf files onto the phone.  I have several applications that will read them, but pdf is a page description language, and you get the whole page, shrunken into the tiny iPhone screen.  At my age, I need glasses and an Optivisor or electron microscope.

So tablets are appealing, but the very thing that appeals (the larger display) makes it less likely I'll always have it with me.  (I have literally read entire books on "scrap time":  short breaks, waiting for a meeting to start, waiting for some little task to finish, or even in the bathroom).

Since I know I have pretty erudite bunch that stops by here, I thought I'd fish for opinions.  Tablet computer or book reader (Nook/Kindle) or stick with the phone?  iPad or Android?  If you've gone the Tablet route, do you find you carry it all the time, or do you find it too big?  What do you folks think? 


  1. I'll throw my 2c in for the Kindle. I have mine with me all the time. Great form factor, very easy to carry and use, even on the throne. Awesome battery life, absolutely awesome. To me, the lack of a back-light is very appealing, and it's quite easy on the old eyeballs. And, by far, the fact that it's a single use device, and I'm ONLY reading a book, makes it much more likely that I'll carry and use it. If I had a full-featured tablet, I'd end up jacking around with everything else, and not reading.

  2. If you want to read, go for the Kindle. Why? Focus is on reading. You can browse the web, but it's a bit crippled compared to the iPhone/iPod/iPad's Safari/touchscreen combo. The Kindle's screen is a delight. The battery lasts forever. You can stick the 6" Kindle in your back pocket (or your inside or outside coat pocket) in a pinch, so you are more likely to carry it with you. The 3g version is nice. The other benefit to the Kindle is that you won't be as tempted to go online as often (it's just not as seductive to go check twitter, email, etc. because it's just not as sexy and easy to work with). But if you want to read and not worry about recharging batteries all the time, it's just great. Did I say the display was awesome for reading text? It is.

    The downsides to the Kindle: the weak web browser implementation, no backlight so it's hard to use in poorly-lit environments, and the navigation and input can be tedious (special characters, specifically) compared to the iPod/Phone/Pad.

    It just depends on what you want to do. If online activities and broad web support (Safari is well-supported, the Kindle browser is not) is something you gotta have, get a tablet computer.
    If you want to read books and love doing so, the Kindle is a great alternative.

    (This Mini-Review brought to you by BS Footprint, home of all the BS that's fit to print) :D

  3. So yeah, I guess I'm agreeing with everything @Scott said in his comment. :D

  4. Another very positive thing about the Kindle: You can find scads, oodles, nay, gobs of free out-of-copyright books, formatted for the Kindle (.mobi) on's store. I've downloaded hundreds of my fave old books.

    It's nearly trivial: Visit with your computer, search for stuff by title, sorted by price, and voila: thousands of great old classics ready to deliver, nearly instantly, via wireless (wifi or 3G) -- you don't even have to plugin the USB cable.

    It's habit-forming!

    Now all I have to do is get off the dang computer and spend more time reading (something I've been working on lately... and the Kindle has helped immensely.)

  5. BS or Scott - can you read PDF's on the Kindle?

    Otherwise, you're doing a pretty good sales job. Seen the color Nook? Is there a color Kindle?

  6. BS or Scott - never mind. I went and looked up some more details on the Kindle and see that reading pdfs is one of its selling features.

    The color Nook seems to be a color tablet at $250. I don't know much about trades between the two. It looks like the Kindle might well fit into a pocket of my cargo pants.

  7. I can't add anything, but I recall the uproar a while back when Amazon removed a book from everyone's Kindle over some sort of copyright issue. That would be my only concern - to think I had a book available to read and discover it had been removed without my permission or even knowledge. Or is that no longer an issue?

  8. I have had a kindle for about 8 months.
    Screen is easy to read.
    PDF's still require electron microscope.
    Somewhat easy to carry. I worry about forgetting it is in a pocket and sitting down on it. Screen survives but tends to pop the case halves loose.

    If I had it to do over again. . . I'd do a tablet or a Nook. The extra functionality would be extremely useful. Especially for travel.

    I would think an unlocked android system would have a lot of possibilities.

  9. I have used PDFs on the Kindle. One of the reasons I bought it was for technical docs, which I never use it for BTW, as I'm always on the laptop when I need a technical doc. As I recall, the best results were achieved by emailing the PDF to the Kindle conversion service and letting them re-format it and deliver it back to your Kindle.

    I don't think there's a color Kindle. Again, I think Amazon do a great job of differentiation here with the eInk. It's really amazing how legible it is in what you would consider normal book-reading lighting (including outdoors.) I can't stress enough how nice the no-backlight thingy is. My eyes get weary from backlit screens in front of me almost 100% of the waking day.

    I think the book removal was because the publisher receiving payment for the book removed didn't own the copyright? Yes, it's an issue, but considering the locked-down nature of the iPad and the carrier versions of Android tabs, I think it's not alone in being vulnerable to remote manipulation.

  10. Kindle is great to read on. It also has some neat tools like highlighting/annotating, quick dictionary lookup, and a text-to-speech that can make for a poor man's audiobook. In a pinch, the browser is adequate. I find that I don't carry it around as much as I thought I would. I'm not sure why. It doesn't help that I can't have transmitting electronics where I work.

    I've heard that the Nook color can be hacked into a functional Android tablet and that the process is fairly robust by now, but I can't substantiate that talk. As far as getting a tablet, I'm holding out for more detail on the Amazon rumors - rumor has it that it will be under $200 and come with the same cellular access that the Kindle does (which would be a huge advantage as far as I'm concerned).

  11. PDFs can be a problem. It depends on the PDF file's formatting, if it has wide margins or two columns (sadly, many technical documents or formal papers do) then the PDF may be inconvenient to read on the Kindle (there may be ways to reformat the PDF, but I've not investigated that.)

    Regarding Amazon pulling books, that was an anomaly, and I'd bet it won't happen very often if at all. (Yes, it was a copyright issue, so Amazon had to do it -- tempest in a teapot, really.) If you're worried about it, the smart thing to do is to use something like Calibre on your PC, which makes keeping your E-books backed up on your PC a snap (lots of other great features, and it's free).

  12. @Graybeard --- oh yeah, you can fit the kindle in your cargo pants. It's bigger than an iPhone/iPod, but smaller than an iPad or other full-sized tablet. It's really a remarkable e-reader.

    As far as I'm concerned, it comes down to this: do you want a scaled-down computer (iPhone/iPad/Android) or do you want a book-reading appliance? If you value computer-ish things over book reading, you should think about a tablet. If you want something that focuses on book reading, the Kindle (or similar, though I dislike the Borders Kobo compared to the Kindle) is probably a good way to go.

  13. Last point: Once you go to a color LCD display, with a backlight, you lose the battery life advantage that the Kindle or similar E-Ink readers have. The E-Ink reflective displays require little (no?) power to operate unless they're updating. Anyway, it's nice not to have to charge a device once or more a day under moderate or heavy use. I charge my Kindle's batteries once or twice a week at the most.

  14. Thank you to all.

    My history on computers is that I've always gone for the color display, even back in the days of CGA. I understand the trades of power consumption, but I guess I'm just a sucker for a pretty face. Today, the Nook color is the winner in the book reader category because it is an Android tablet, and I've read the same things Xenocles has about it being hacked to allow upgrades. In addition, the electronics design resources are full of the rumors of Amazon coming out with an equivalent color tablet version of Kindle also in Android. Amazon seems uniquely positioned to be able to lead that market segment.

    I still have lots of looking to do. I'd rather not loose older books in eReader format. I can read iBooks and Kindle on my phone; I would like "one tablet to read them all, one table to bind them".

    That would render my iPhone as a phone again. Which is now a strange concept.

  15. A few things:

    - the Kindle can handle .mobi eBooks. I don't know what kind you're used to reading. Like all standards, there are many to choose from.

    - I can testify that the Nook can be rooted to Android. You get an underpowered Android tablet.

    - Amazon is almost certainly going to come out with it's own branded Android color tablet.

    - Seriously, you're not going to realize the difference the e-Ink makes unless you look at one for the duration of a book or a short story. Borrow one if you can, for that purpose.

    I've futzed with a few tablets, and find them sorely lacking from a reader's perspective. I love to read novels, and I've always got a bunch queued up to read on the Kindle. I've tried reading on an iPad and a hacked Nook-ish kind of thing in my Barca or in bed at night, and honestly, it's not the same. They're heavier and larger and again, for me, that backlit display is a strain on my eyeballs.

    Now for Twittering and reading the Book of the Face and blogs, they're OK. But I'm thinking if I have to have an in-between, I'm gonna get a Chromebook with a real keyboard.

    Anyhoo...have fun with all this hooie!

  16. There have been some rumors floating around the web about Bezos & Co. offering a tablet by YE 2011 (timed, probably, to capitalize on the Christmas marketing season); one can reasonably assume it will be Kindlized.

    Libraries use a proprietary software for ebooks named OverDrive, which can be downloaded and installed on PCs (and, I assume, Macs). Bezos is on record as being involved in negotiating with the OD people to make the Kindle compatible with OD.

    It's not a huge leap to assume that the Amazon tablet will be Kindle, OverDrive and iPad compatible, and if licensing allows (or sufficient fees paid), Nook and Sony Reader compatible as well.

    Robert James Bidinotto ( has blogged in some depth about the impending changes to the publishing industry being driven by ebooks; I'm not convinced the dead tree folks understand it yet, but they will get that opportunity in coming years. Borders may be the first large brick-and-mortar book retailer to go under - or undergo a massive transformation - but I suspect they won't be the last. Looking at Amazon's self-publishing program and 99 cent to $2.99 books, I certainly don't want any stock in B&N or a paper publisher.

    For right now, I'd say a 3G Kindle is the best choice, with the caveat that a massive change in content availability is on the horizon that will probably require a major hardware upgrade rather than the periodic SW upgrades Amazon does with Kindle.

  17. Anon 0747 AM - thanks for an excellent comment. I suspect the dead tree publishing business is perilously close to the buggy whip industry about 120 years ago. There are plenty of reasons to want paper, but none that are unsurmountable.

    I expect one day to talk with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren about back when we had paper books, paper comic books and the paperback rack in the drugstore.

    Scott, the format I called the Palm Reader format is now and seems to be linked to B&N and the Nook reader now.

    It seems possible that there might be a tablet that reads every format. It doesn't seem right to have a reader that will only read books from a particular store, like B&N or Amazon. I can read iBooks, Kindle and eReader books on my iPhone, so why not?

  18. Dennis - to be honest, I figure if an hour a day isn't getting me there, another few minutes ain't gonna matter.

  19. Good luck, Graybeard. Waiting a while and thinking more about it can't hurt you. Lots of changes coming, I imagine. I'm developing an anti-gadget mentality (trying to de-tech my life a bit, as these things are starting to take over).

    So the Kindle purchase had a business purpose (programming reference materials, etc.) -- if it had to be a personal outlay, I doubt I'd have purchased anything. Getting tired of upgrading every few years...

    Having said that, the iPad is sexy, and I'll probably acquire a non-Apple tablet in the coming years (if there are no other major upheavals to deal with by then... :P )

  20. The nice thing about the iPad is whatever you've got on your phone will go over to your iPad also.