NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2011
By Wil Wakely, President,
Seniors Computer Group, CA February 2011 issue,
Bits and Bytes, The Official Electronic Newsletter of the SCG
wilw(at)adnc.com (click to email author)

It took a long time for e-books to arrive on the scene, but now they are here in a swarm, offering many styles, file formats and displays. In a few years, when standards are established, this confusing variety will disappear. Currently, the major players are Kindle by Amazon, Nook by Barnes & Noble, Sony eReader, and a lot of fledglings trying to get their foot in the door.

The concept of the e-book is great: a portable electronic book containing hundreds of titles; low cost books in digital format so no paper printing is required; variable type font selection for ease of reading; immediate downloads for impulse purchases; access to the Web for blogs, magazines and newspapers; audio text-to-speech for when your eyes are tired. And I know of other advantages besides these. Recently, there has been a price war and Amazon and others have slashed prices drastically. I predict that Walmart will have an e-book for $39.95 in the not too distant future. The e-book concept has been around for years; I recall promoting the idea 25 years ago, but at that time the technology was not yet available to make it practical. What was missing was an inexpensive low cost display; cheap large memory; a fast computer chip; and a small, lightweight, powerful battery. None of these existed at that time, but now they are here and the concept has been actualized.

Several types of displays are now available: Kindle uses a black/white display called e-ink. It is low power for long battery life and reflective so sunlight doesn?t fade it; in fact, it is viewed best in bright light. The downside is that a book light is required to read in bed without disturbing your bed partner.

The Nook is a color display using liquid crystals, which is poor in bright light and a battery power hog. However, it is color and can be viewed in the dark, the darker the better.

Qualcomm has developed a color display called Mirasol that uses interference colors like butterfly wings or oil-on-water; it also uses very little power for long battery life. Like the Kindle, it is reflective for viewing in bright light. Although holding great promise, it is not yet on the market, but is due later this year in some e-book. Every day hundreds more books become available in digital format. Google claims to be converting almost every book in print to digital format, and they have the resources to do it. Amazon and Barnes & Nobel offer huge book selections on their Web sites. Surprisingly, Amazon sold more digital books last year than printed ones.

A major problem is the plethora of file formats that are too numerous to describe here. For more info go to: http://bit.ly/fznE77 In time, these will boil down to just a few standard file formats. In the meantime, there are free conversion programs which will allow you to read almost any file format on your e-book, regardless of the model.

If you are an avid reader, I would recommend that you consider an e-book. It will save you money in the long run on the cost of books (NY Times Best Sellers, $9.99 and many free ones), Plus, all the neat features make it a joy to use.

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