Towards a Better eReader

Chances are good that a good number of people received an e-reader of some kind this Christmas. From the price drops at Amazon to the amazing number of really great looking models I saw at our local Barnes and Noble, the opportunity to have hundreds of books in your pocket or bag has never been better. My first Kindle was the fourth generation model that broke the $100 barrier, when Amazon offered it for $80 a few years ago (with ads).

Some time in early autumn of this year, I decided I both liked reading on the Kindle and that the Kindle on which I was reading was not offering the best reading experience. I decided to make the jump from the plain jane Kindle 4 that I had to the Kindle Paperwhite. While reading on the Kindle 4 was pleasant enough, its lack of a built-in light and it’s always *just a bit too gray* screen meant that I didn’t like to read on it for long stretches of time. However, its light weight and slim profile made it much more comfortable to hold than my iPad Air.

*And, yes, I realize that the iPad Mini is out there. My daughter has the newer version, and it’s quite compelling, but I wasn’t quite ready to make the $350 leap to a new reading experience that the iPad Mini entails. And, besides, this note is going to in a slightly different direction, as we’ll see in a moment.*

So I clicked the button and got the Kindle Paperwhite. The higher resolution and whiter screen made a noticeable difference in my reading experience. This was much more like a book. It’s not perfect: the e-ink technology isn’t quite *there* yet, but it is awfully close. So much so that I began to wonder about page sizes, and thus about the size of the Kindle itself.

And here I should note that while I do enjoy reading a fair amount of general fiction and non-fiction on my Kindle, I also enjoy reading any number of technical books that I have purchased from [O’Reilly][], [Packt Publishing][], and [Pragmatic Programmers][], all of whom are generous enough to offer books in any of the three formats of PDF, EPUB, or MOBI that I prefer.

And I often prefer multiple versions: I switch between reading a text as a PDF on my iPad and as a MOBI document on my Kindle, but, to be honest, the shifting nature of the EPUB and the small screen of the Kindle sometimes combine to make me long for a larger Kindle, a Kindle Pro, as it were that would be able to display trade-sized pages, most of which could be acceptably displayed in the blacks and whites of the current e-ink technology.

Yes, I recognize that I am, in fact, longing for a revived, higher-resolution Kindle DX, but surely I cannot be the only academic who likes to read on something as light and easy to use as the Kindle, and academics are not the only professionals who read periodicals, including law, engineering, and medical journals, almost all of which are published in sizes like 6 x 9, 7 x 9, or 7 x 10 inches. If their contents are made available electronically, it is almost always as a PDF, not as an EPUB.

That means a Kindle more the size of the current iPad Air than anything else. To make the comparison more clear, I photographed my Kindle atop the notebook which accompanies wherever I go, an [A5-sized Leuchtturm notebook using the Whitelines technology][lw].

The Paperwhite’s display looks good, but when you compare it to an iPad as well as to a book page, you get a much clearer sense of what you’re missing:

I don’t think physical context should be easily dismissed, but, perhaps just as importantly, the small size of the Kindle “page” means that the kind of larger illustrations or code spans that dominate technical and professional publications are too often truncated or made difficult to follow or parse. A closer look at an actual page versus its representation as a PDF on an iPad is a powerful contrast:

The page is the page, if only a bit smaller — and, in GoodReader, like most apps of this kind I assume, the difference is easily made up through a quick zoom.

The smallness of the Kindle is also revealed when you stack it with a couple of professional periodicals and a technical book. Its mass paperback size emerges pretty clearly:

There’s nothing wrong with that, but I am, honestly, surprised that Amazon, given its interest in playing with market segmentation, as glimpsed with the presence of the Kindle, the Kindle Paperwhite, and, now the high-end Kindle Voyage, as well as the many sizes of the Kindle Fire and the Kindle Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick, has not returned to offer a large format e-reader.

Would I buy one when I already have an iPad Air? My answer is a considered, *yes*. What I like about the Kindle is that with a cost of approximately $100, I do not worry about the device the way I do a $500+ iPad. I throw it in a bag; I slip it in a coat pocket. I carry it by hand, usually face-down against my notebook, when I run errands. Equipped with these two things and a pen or pencil, I am free to read as I like and to write as I like. Combine those things with my smart phone and I have something like a portable office. Include my laptop, and I can work for days.

It is not even clear to me, now, that if I had such a device if I would replace my iPad Air when its time comes, as all such devices dependent on more complex operating systems surely will. As my time becomes more precious, and I want to be more productive, I find that I spend less time watching video and more time reading, using my drive times to listen to podcasts or audiobooks. While many find that an iPad is all the device they need, I find that my MacBook Pro is the multi-purpose computing device I prefer, and what I want as an accompaniment is something which makes my reading easier. And I find that the expense and the screen of the iPad are simply not as comfortable to me as the Kindle, and that is why I want a Kindle Pro, or something like it. Who’s with me?

[Packt Publishing]:
[Pragmatic Programmers]:

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