Monthly Archives: April 2012

E-book readers – a missed opportunity.

The Nice Sharp E-Ink Screen

I recently bought an e-book reader.  I’m going to be doing a reasonable amount of traveling in the near future and carrying around even a couple of books significantly increases the amount of stuff one has to lug around, an e-reader has the potential to store a huge amount of information in a device that weighs in at around 250g.  E-readers have of course been around a couple of years so I thought it was time to join the revolution…. which turned out to be an idea with mixed success.

The device I chose was the Kobo Touch which as the name implies is a touchscreen e-reader made by Kobo.  On the device there are some good and bad points.

Good points: The device itself is impressive, the electronic ink is very clear and works and a wide range of angles, the touch screen is responsive enough and the device even features a web browser (as an unsupported extra!).  Though browsing the web in black and white is pretty weird and the screen isn’t really responsive enough for web browsing so don’t count on this being particularly useful.

Bad points: You need to provide Kobo with an e-mail, install a program on Windows or Mac OS X and plug in the device to this machine to get full functionality out of the device.  As a long time GNU/Linux user this is a bit of a pain to say the least.  The software on the device also records a great deal of information about your reading habits which you can then share to Facebook if you wish – I guess some people might find this cute but I found it a bit creepy.  I got around these problems by creating an e-mail account I don’t intend to use very much and you only seem to need to run the Windows or Mac software once to update the firmware on the device to the latest version.  Once I did all of that the e-reader worked just fine and I haven’t felt the need to connect it to the desktop computer again.

So to sum up after you have connected to the Kobo mother-ship once you have a cool, capable device – I downloaded a copy of Emma by Jane Austen and had a cracking few hours whilst I remembered how good Jane Austen really was.  Then I looked around for books to buy and this is where the real problem starts – you can only buy a few thousand books with DRM or Digital Restrictions Management on them.  For those not familiar with the concept it is basically a series of restrictions implemented in software and hardware that stops you copying things.  This means that once you buy a DRM e-book it is closed tied to the device and manufacturers have the ability to delete the book in your device.  Most famously Amazon did this with an edition of George Orwell’s 1984 (ironic eh!) and although they have promised not to do this again it does illustrate one of the problems.

The other thing thing that DRM does is surrender control of your computer to other people which is more than a little evil.  Of course I knew this but my plan was to avoid all this by only buying non-DRM books and maybe upgrading the software on the device at some indeterminate point in the future.  Somewhat naively I had though that with the music publishing industry seeing the light in 2007 a whole five years later the dead tree industry might have awoken up to the fact that treating your customers like criminals is a poor idea…..

For reference some places that sell DRM-free e-books:

Note: In real life my e-reader is also in focus, but I guess this is what happens with a camera phone in low light and short range….