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What I want from an e-book reader

April 24, 2009

I know about the kindle.  It seems nice and all, but problem one is that I’m in Australia, and we can’t get it here.  Aside from that fact it doesn’t do some of the key things I want to do.  A big need is to accurately display PDF documents.

UPDATE Fri Oct 9, 2009:  I just pre-ordered my International / Australian kindle.  It will ship around Oct 19th.  Order through this link…


my current e-book reader

This post shows my wish-list for a device that I’d like to use as an e-book reader:

There are two main things I want to be able to do with this reader:

  1. Read novels. I have a large collection of novels (mainly sci-fi/fantasy) that I’ve downloaded from the web.  I used to buy a new novel every other month at around AU$25.  Now I download them and read them on a laptop turned 90 degrees.  There is one thing I just never would be able to do with any kind of e-book reader and that is read in the bath.  But that’s why I still have paperbacks!
  2. Read technical manuals. It seems almost anything work related that I need access to is available as a PDF manual.  In fact things have changed to a huge degree from when I started my career in Information Technology.  I used to have shelves full of technical manuals just on the off-chance that I’d need to refer to a specific two page section about a particular obscure function.  Now I go to the PDF and do a search.

MUST HAVE features:

  1. Operate mainly in portrait mode with NO AIR VENT at the bottom edge.  A vent will be obstructed by my lap while I’m sitting down.
  2. Also can operate in landscape mode with NO AIR VENT at the bottom edge.  This will be mainly be used for novel reading with the pages shown side-by-side.
  3. The other two edges should contain all the connectors; ports; and openings with the possible exception of a dock connector.
  4. Low thermal output.  For this reason (and to increase battery life) you’d want to aim for this device to have just enough processing power to perform it’s primary purpose and no more.  Mainly here I’m hoping for a system that does not need to be vented.  Vents are a real problem when you’re sitting down with a reader of any kind balanced in your lap.
  5. A dock (or at least a stand) that will allow the reader to be set-up at a good viewing angle next to my normal laptop on my desk for “all day” use.  The dock should have a power connector; 2 or more USB ports; network (RJ45).
  6. Wireless connection with a range of standards supported including “n”.
  7. Back-light.  I want to be able to read a novel in bed in a darkened room.  This means that the screen will have to be a conventional LCD (perhaps with an LED back-light) and not the electronic ink we see on the kindle.
  8. Standard LCD screen mounting points on the back of the reader and also on the dock.  With the dock this would mean that the mount might be off-center in landscape mode but this should be avoided if possible.
  9. Battery life can be an issue with a device like this but there is one way which is quite revolutionary; this is the use of ultra-capacitor technology.  A battery based on this will only take a minute or so to charge up and then run for a few hours.  It is real and available today.  For an idea of how it works have a look here…
  10. Hot-keys for page turning and basic navigation.  I’d like to think that with a variety of keys that can be customized to emulate key-clicks then the basic functions built into an e-book reader would be catered for.  Here I’m talking about: page-up; page-down; up; down; left; right; select; screen rotate.  Perhaps that’s all.
  11. USB connection so it can act as an external hard-disk to another computer.  Hopefully it can get a trickle charge for the battery through this.
  12. On the software side, I am most familiar with the mobireader e-book reader that I used to have on my old windows machine.  This was able to sync e-books down to my Nokia E90 phone.  As a reading platform it wasn’t too bad for short periods.  One thing is that it NEVER forgot where I was up to in a book regardless of shutting down the application or rebooting the phone.  What I’d like is to be able to sync the big e-book reader with the E90 via bluetooth so that I can pick-up reading at the same point if I’m on the bus/plane/etc.

NICE TO HAVE features

I’d happily sacrifice these to get a cheap & light e-book reader.  The hard part is working out what is essential for the primary purpose of the device and what would just be nice.  Some of these items are:

  1. touchscreen:  Besides this will really push the cost up DRAMATICALLY.
  2. multi-touch:  This would have to be expensive to implement.  If it’s a cost consideration I’d happily use a button to turn the page instead of a swipe.  It might be cool but i don’t want to pay for it.
  3. I really want to devote screen space to the image I’m reading rather than controls so I’d prefer to have the controls as separate buttons along the rim of the device.  I’d like to think we could get away with not having a mickey-mouse keyboard like the Kindle if we were able to use a blue-tooth or USB keyboard when needed.
  4. progress bar:  As I’m reading a novel I want to see where I am in the book.  A separate little LED bar with a progress indicator would be nice.
  5. fingerprint reader.  I’ve heard these are not that secure but I haven’t researched it very thoroughly.  What this would give is a way to “log-in” to a web page without having to connect a keyboard.
  6. Bluetooth to allow the use of an external keyboard and mouse.
  7. Bluetooth to allow syncronization with other portable devices such as my Nokia E90.  See the E90 here…
  8. A general mobile focused Operating System linked to a major Linux distribution like Ubuntu.  I use Ubuntu for all of my machines so this would be ideal.  Here I’m thinking something like:
    1. Ubuntu Mobile Internet Device (MID) Edition which you can see info on here… ; or the
    2. Ubuntu Netbook Remix which is focused on netbooks.  Details are here…
  9. A Firefox web-browser would be ideal for use with a mouse connected.  This would make it a thin-client machine that could have many uses.
  10. Basic speaker with an earphone jack.  I’d like to have my pod-casts downloaded onto this.
  11. A web-cam.
  12. dual microphones to pick up voice from different locations.
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