A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 14 April 2013

e-Readers - What to Do?

I own a Sony PRS-505 e-Reader. I’ve had it a few years now. Originally I was really very pleased with it, and I have used it a lot, but gradually it is becoming just another electronic white elephant. It lies about the house, and on the rare occasions I wish to use it the battery is invariably flat. I don’t mean to be unkind to it, but if I stop using something it usually has some significance, if I can just work out what it is. Something like “voting with my feet”.

Much of my disappointment with the Sony machine is a result of the e-book market not moving in the direction that was predicted when I bought it. I bought it because my main interest is in being able to read free downloadable pdf format books – mostly 19th Century memoirs and histories. I have a great many of these, mostly obtained from Google Books or Project Gutenberg. Much of the specification of what I need my e-reader to do is built around things I need and things which I do not like and am not interested in.

* I do not wish to be glued into a single supplier (such as Amazon) – they do not offer the books I am looking for.

* I require scanned pdf’s to be readable – one problem with my current machine is that the pdf’s have to be especially clear to display at all. Another is that the display size is not adjustable for pdf’s, and the simple task of turning the page requires the entire book image to be reformatted or reflowed, which takes about 20 seconds.

* I cannot use epub books for the material I study. It’s a nice idea, but the automatic character-recognition software used to construct these things at Google is mostly a joke. Being American, it has little patience with strange, foreign concepts such as accented characters, or with 19th Century fonts, and it also attempts to interpret squashed insects and footnotes – to very strange effect.

* I am a dinosaur. I do not wish to share my books with all my friends by installing them in a cloud or similar, I do not wish to browse my collection by Genre or Playlist, unless the management software is really intuitive and helpful. I like drag and drop and organised hierarchies of folders, and I wish my portable device to be USB compatible, and to be recognised as a detachable storage device by my computer when I plug it in.

* I do not care for iTunes or RealPlayer – mostly the software for these is banned from our house. Also Creative’s software products – I have a nice little Creative Zen mp3 player, which is almost ruined by the moronic management software. These things, apart from being a pest to use, will usually try to install a whole pile of stuff you don’t want, and make themselves the default for every kind of file you use. Creative even re-installs itself after you remove it...

* More positive – my wife has a Kindle and loves it. She uses it properly, and downloads actual Kindle books, and it is great. It will pay for itself all over again this year when we go away on holiday. We do not know how to install pdf’s on it, and somehow it would feel wrong to have to ask Amazon if it’s all right to download a book which has nothing to do with them. The newer Kindles look even better, though I do not wish to have one which thinks it might be a tablet. I need to find out how easy/possible it is to install my dirty old French memoirs on a Kindle, without passing through my Amazon account and without straining my poor brain, which is almost full.

* There are books available from Sony’s own eBook store, but they are expensive, not very interesting, and the range and scope seems to be much less than was expected a few years ago. Not a promising source.

* For a little while, it seemed to me that tablets might be the future of reading books on screen. The drag and drop and file management arrangements look about right, screen clarity is excellent – I really thought that tablets might blow the Kindle (etc) market out of the water, but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. The trade-off between portability and readability is tricky, and a decent tablet is potentially a bit large, a bit fragile and definitely a bit expensive to shove in your pocket just so you can read a book on the train.

* Of course, I have a friend who tells me that he always has some books installed on his iPhone. Only in his more relaxed moments will he admit that he finds them very difficult to read, and therefore doesn’t use this facility. Bong! [i-Idiot alert]

* It is very unlikely that G4 will ever make it this far out into the forest...

* This morning I watched a couple of YouTube reviews on using Kindle with pdf’s, and they were quite frank about the fact that a 9-inch tablet or a Sony reader (not the one I’ve got, I guess) are a much better option, because of slow refresh and memory issues.

Dirty old French book - no wonder they say I'll go blind
I think some kind of vague idea of what I would like is taking shape. Ideally, I would like to find some miraculous way to make my existing PRS-505 into all the things I hoped it would be. Failing that, I really like the format and clarity of the new Kindles – particularly the PaperWhite, but have not yet read anything that assures me that I will be able to shift pdf’s of Marmont’s Memoires and Sarrazin’s history of the Peninsular War from my desktop computer to the device, and be able to read them comfortably if/when they get there.

Given a Kindle, I’m sure I could also occasionally find something available in Kindle format which I was interested in, and buy it for download in the approved manner. Despite my traditional anti-Apple (for example) posturing, I have a fairly open mind about what sort of device I need, though the cost and practicality have to make sense. Some of the received wisdom online appears to suggest that what I really want for this role is a cheap 9-inch tablet – Nexus? Could this just be the next white elephant? Hmmm.

If anyone can understand what I’m on about here and can offer a little advice (preferably based on actual experience rather than statements of faith from the Apple Chapel, for example), I shall really be very grateful.

Embarrassingly so, perhaps.


  1. While not a total Luddite I have an iPad (used mostly for work). On this I have a Kindle app and can confirm that there is a fair amount of stuff available (some of it free!). I keep wondering about an E-reader - mostly for portability on holidays but haven't really got anywhere with making a decision. I shall follow your deliberations with interest....

  2. I download pdf's and epubs or kindle format to my laptop and then transfer them directly to my Kindle. Almost never go through amazon.


    1. Ross - you could well be a man I need to speak to you. I may inflict a short email on you if you can bear it.

      Cheers - Tony

    2. Me too... Kindle with the free Calibre library management software is the way to go... Calibre allows you to organise your library, but better still allows you to do file translation of any source of book to allow you to read it on the Kindle... only down side of the Kindle is the black and white display (so it's not the device for reading Ospreys etc).. but I still like to buy proper paper books too so that gives me the excuse... this may be interesting.. Ross helped me out with some of the book selections...


    3. That is very useful indeed - thank you, Steve, I've bookmarked that, and will check out the links.

  3. I should mention that I actually use the Kindle App on my Android smartphone than the actual Kindle, just because its with me more often. - while waiting for a friend or at the doctor's etc.

    My laptop is a little better for the pdf's but I keep wondering what a tablet would be like if one ever followed me home.


    1. Thanks very much for extra detail. We've done some experimenting this evening. We successfully emailed a 13 Mb pdf book to my wife's Kindle account, and it subsequently appeared on her (original series) Kindle via Whispernet (how cosy is that?). We also - maybe more validly, since some of these books are 60+Mb - connected the Kindle directly to her laptop, and copied another pdf book from a memory stick and down the USB cable onto the Kindle. Works. I am not sure that it is more readable than on the Sony machine, but it certainly works. It even appears sensibly in the index, which is an aspect I was dubious about.

      Maybe the Paperwhite is a better prospect. Maybe the storage limts on the Kindle might be an issue with these hefty pdf documents. Maybe - I find myself thinking - a 9-inch tablet used in portrait orientation would be a lot better all round. Such a device could replace my current Netbook for travelling Internet access, but I'm nervous about prices. For the cost of an iPad mini I could buy rather a lot of books. I think I would also prefer a tablet with Windows leanings, since I am committed to a number of things which work in that environment.

      More thinking coming up. I must see if I have a friend who could let me borrow a tablet for a day or two. I must think seriously about tablets.

      The next white elephant should be at least as well researched as the last one.

      Thanks very much thus far.

  4. My wife kindly bought me a Kindle for Christmas. I charged it up and she decided to set everything up on it for me.

    She says that she knows someone who knows Chinese and can reset the language from Chinese, but she still hasn't asked him yet.


    1. That, indeed, is another dimension of this problem. We spent a fair amount of time this evening looking through quick start guides and help booklets, including something which turned out to be instructions in Arabic for how to fit the cover on.