Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sighting a Rare Beast - the E-Book Reader

Coming down onto the Canada Line platform after work today to take the train to meet my wife, I saw a woman with one of the Sony e-book readers. Not a common sight in these parts. In fact, it's the first I've seen around town.

I never gave the absence of the 'readers much thought though... always figured they were late in entering the Canadian market (even in Vancouver, new toys can be delayed) or that if they had, no one cared (and rightly so, in my books).

But this was a first. And not only that, it was someone putting it to what's probably one of its ideal uses - as something to ease the long commute to and from work without the weight of a book.

I didn't have time to ask her how the thing handled, so I don't have an owner's perspective, but as an observer, I've gotta say I wasn't terribly impressed. Not sure what model it was, but even though it was nearly the same height and width as a paperback, it was thicker than my Apple iPhone, and the screen wasn't much larger than an iPhone's either.

It begged the question: if the hardware is larger but the screen isn't significantly larger, why bother? I can download all kinds of ebooks (both free and for fee) for the iPhone, and the phone is infinitely more flexible in terms of its abilities than an e-book reader. Why spend the money on the extra toy when the phone can do the job just as well?

Makes me think the e-readers may be an evolutionary dead-end in technology. After all, if there are models of 'readers with larger screens, you're losing out on the portability factor, and if you're at home you can just read off of your normal computer screen. On holiday? I suspect it won't be long before you'll be able to load a book onto your phone and plut it into or beam it onto your hotel room screen.

And that's all beside the point anyway. I'm a die-hard fan of real paper. Reading off the phone (or any other device) is an option of last resort. Nothing equals the comforting weight and smell of a good book in your hands, and the sound of its pages turning. And aside from some of the more gigantic series installments these days, most books are already pretty portable and don't require a power source. Will economics or environmentalism put the kybosh on paper-printed books eventually? Possibly, but for now, the fact that they're around and they're cheap means there's no reason to waste money on an e-reader.
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