In Defense of the E-Reader

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Flashy tablets and mobile phones get all the attention. After all, they’re amazing, multi-purpose devices that seem to be able to do nearly anything. Nowhere in that description, however, does it suggest they do everything equally well or are the best. Take the simple pleasures of reading. The idea of carrying around an entire library in our pockets or purses was the stuff of science fiction 20 years ago, but now it’s commonplace. Your phone or tablet can do fine as a reading device in a pinch, but if you truly love the act of reading and want the closest technological equivalent to holding an actual physical book in your hands, there’s only one choice: the e-ink based e-reader.

Kindle’s Still On Fire

Original Kindle
Original Kindle

While there are a few competitors on the market – the Kobo, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and an e-reader line from Sony – the dominant player in the market is rightfully Amazon with its Kindle line. Over the years since that first, strangely blocky Kindle appeared, Amazon has invested a lot of time, effort, and money into refining the device’s design and making them lighter, more versatile, and closer to the printed page. Of course, all these e-readers feature online stores offering millions of titles for sale right from the device. So, you’re unlikely to ever be without something to read.

There are some significant reasons to go with e-ink for reading over your iPad or Android tablet. The most important selling point is e-ink technology allows the device to create an image that looks almost identical to a printed page. If you love reading novels, whether paperback or hardcover, e-ink is without a doubt the best way to recreate that aesthetic.

Of course, e-readers can do so much more than your average paper-based book. Since the older we get, the harder it tends to be to read the average text in a book, Kindles and their like allow us to customize the reading experience. Chief among these options is the simple act of changing the size and font of the text on the fly, which makes a huge difference in the quality of your reading enjoyment. With models like the Oasis and Paperwhite, which offer a softly lit screen, adjusting the level of light to suit any given situation is just as easy.

Granted, these are options that any mobile device offers with reading software, but there are a couple other important distinctions e-readers offers over a full-on tablet. Unlike standard LCD-based screens, you can easily read the glare-free screen in full sunlight or – with the lighted screens included on models like the Kindle Paperwhite, Oasis, and Voyage – in total darkness. The battery life is also amazing. Three generations in my own household have owned Kindles for years and we end up charging them maybe once or twice a month even with daily usage. They’re also much more portable than a standard 8-10” tablet.

The third consideration in favor of the e-reader revolves around new studies that suggest the blue light spectrum emitted from almost every other screen in your house, pocket, or the outside world has some notable health effects – especially when it comes to winding down for the night. Even standard light bulbs have this problem, but the crux of it is that exposure to lights before sleeping can really mess up our circadian rhythms and melatonin levels. The blue light spectrum, in particular, is devious about keeping you up at night and holding the average tablet close to your face in bed exacerbates the issue.

Amazon Sees the Light

Kindle Paperwhite

E-readers without back lights, such as the basic Kindle, don’t have this problem at all, but do have the problem of still needing another light source (which sort of counters the beneficial qualities of not having a lighted screen to begin with). The Paperwhite and new Oasis Kindle models, however, offer an effective middle ground. The problem with backlight screens is they are essentially throwing light directly out into your eyes. Amazon’s method is for lighting the screen is different. It uses a handful of tiny LEDs to create light, but those lights are aimed inward to just light up the screen, not shine from behind. So, the amount of light exposure you’re getting is considerably lessened. Also, the level of light, like every other aspect of the screen is entirely adjustable. So, for those that like to read right before bed, the Kindle is much more likely to have a negligible effect on your sleep patterns, whereas a traditional tablet could cause problems.

That said, there is one distinct disadvantage to the relatively diminutive 6” Kindle screens compared to your average 8-10” tablet screen – you can only effectively zoom in text so much before it becomes unusable. So, while the maximum font size on the Kindle might be 24 point, using anything close to that means not even getting a complete sentence on the screen. While e-readers do a great job of adjusting font for their own native content, that’s not the case when you go to content on the Internet, such as that in the e-book stores. For those who need even a minor bump in text size, this issue means that text in the Kindle Store can look a bit squished, making the online store user unfriendly.

New Kids On the Block

Kobo Aura ONE
Kobo Aura ONE

If you aren’t particularly excited to jump on the Amazon bandwagon, Kobo just announced their latest e-reader, the Aura ONE ($229.99). What’s really special about this model is its size. The Aura ONE sports a nearly 8-inch sized e-ink screen, which is the largest we’ve seen since Amazon discontinued their 9.7 inch Kindle DX. It also advertises very low blue-light emission, so if you haven’t already gone with a brand already, it’s definitely worth a look.

My best advice is to take a little time to check out e-readers in stores. Alternatively, Amazon has an excellent 30-day return policy if you’d prefer not to brave the local retail jungle.

What e-reader you choose is really up to preference, but remember that you’re not just buying a single device, but a whole platform. Of the main three makers of e-ink readers – Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Kobo – each supports its own bookstore ecosystem. So, once you pick one and start buying books, you’re likely to have to stick with that company or risk losing your collection since you can’t, for instance, read Kindle books on a Kobo reader.

In my case, I’ve been a Kindle user since the original came out in 2007 for a whopping $399. Compare that to the latest Kindles – which start at $59.99 (without a lighted screen) and $99.99 for the fantastic Paperwhite (which has a gently lighted screen) – and these devices have come a long way. Amazon released the flagship of the Kindle line this year with their rather pricey Kindle Oasis. At $289.99, it is significantly more expensive than the rest of their e-readers, but also represents the state of the art in reading technology.

oasis
Kindle Oasis

The Oasis still features the same high resolution 6” e-ink screen as the other Kindles, but in a much lighter, tinier package that easily fits in all kind of places. The Oasis also comes standard with a leather bound book jacket-like cover that acts as a second battery, which helps to offset the smaller battery in the unit itself. It still amounts to weeks of battery life, but the base battery life without the cover is noticeably less than the other models. There are a lot of minor touches in the overall design as well.

Buttons on the side let you flip pages less obtrusively than tapping on the screen (which you can also do). And the image will flip to accommodate lefties and righties. Finally, unlike the Paperwhite, where even the lowest light setting still emits light, the Oasis lets you turn the screen light all the way off. It’s not clear if these little touches are enough to justify almost three times as much as a Paperwhite, but the Oasis is easily the most elegant and technically impressive e-ink reader I’ve seen.

No matter what model you decide on, owning a dedicated e-ink-based electronic reader can really improve your overall reading pleasure. With glare-free screens that are much easier on the eyes than traditional tablets, this is the closest thing to actual paper but with the added benefits of modern technology to adjust the reading experience to suit you.

 

About the Author

20160818_175224Jason D’Aprile has been writing about technology and entertainment for the last three decades. His bylines currently also appear on such sites as Playboy, Paste Magazine, Motherboard, UploadVR, Greenbot, and various other places. He lives out in the woods of West Virginia in a multi-generational house of avid readers and avoids social media as much as possible.

1 COMMENT

  1. The Sony e-reader has been defunct for over 5 years. Kobo has taken all of Sony’s reading clients and welcomed them into its store enabling them to continue to use still working Sony readers and to add new books. Kobo also enables previous Sony users to continue access to books purchased through Sony’s now retired bookstore.

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