The iPad as ebook reader

I have been dreaming of an ebook reader for close to 4 years now and I have spent ages poring over the specifications of every new device that came on the market. I could never decide to go with one or the other. If the device was alright, then the access to books was not, and if the access was alright then the format of the book was a problem. One never has these sorts of problems with printed books. One format, readable by anyone, any time, anywhere. No worries about whether I have enough power or whether I will be able to read the book 5 years hence.

But all the annoyances with ebook and ebook readers fade away for me considering that my biggest problem here in Mexico is of access to books in English. I can order from Amazon, and hope and pray that the package would somehow make its way to the door, or scrounge around the second hand books in Mexico city or Xalapa even, trying to spot the one readable one among the piles of airport thrillers. But in this day and age, when I know that there are all these books available at the click of a button, and can be delivered to your hands in seconds, it seemed silly to keep waiting for the perfect device.

The iPad landed in Xalapa, and I went to check it out. My main interest in getting it was for reading, and especially for pdfs of scientific articles. So I’ve had it for a month or so, and having read two books on it, I can now give a summary of how it performs as a ebook reader. First the format doesn’t matter at all, I read books in epub format with the ibooks app, amazon books with the kindle app, and I have the kobo reader app as well. So between these three I can read in a variety of formats. The device itself is rather heavy and the weight seems to increase with reading time. The books I read, Neil Gaiman’s anthology All New Tales, and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War (which was lying around on my hard disk forever, but which I never read, because it turns out I really really hate reading on the computer) , weren’t too long, so I don’t know how I would fare with say, a Neal Stephenson tome. The battery life is decent, and it was quite pleasant reading in the dark here, when the electricity people shied at a particularly ominous thunderstorm and switched off the current. The clouds are very low here, and the gap between the sizzle of lightning and the rumble of thunder is very small. Of course, I could have read with a booklight, but hey, there is something very futuristic about staring into a glowing rectangle in your hand in the dark. That brings me to my other problem. In the end you are staring into a light source. I spend the whole day staring at a computer screen, and to spend the rest of the day staring at a screen is a bit tiring on the eyes. I reckon that the iPad will come into its own with respect to text books and pdfs but for novels, well, lets say I ‘d rather read short stories than novels on it. The device also doesn’t let you forget how expensive it is, and and so I would really hesitate to take it around, even though it’s meant to be an ultraportable computer.

After having it and using it for a while now, and having seen the newest kindle, I am torn once again. I never expected the iPad to be a good ebook reader, I always thought of it as a device that could also do ebooks as opposed to a dedicated device, but my search for a dedicated device is still on. I was really interested in the Kobo ebook reader, very cheap and none of the frills of the kindle, and was even planning to buy one when I went to the US, but they hadn’t released it yet and I am very loath to buy a device without having looked at it first. And then Amazon released the new Kindle, which actually doesn’t look all that bad, even though it still sports that abominable keyboard. But hey it’s cheaper now, and having bought a couple of ebooks from Amazon, the experience has not been terrible. The kindle is super lightweight, can be charged with AA batteries and can be easy taken say camping while the iPad would definitely stay at home.

So the search continues, but for the moment, I am incredibly delighted with the ability to buy books on a whim, instead of planning for three months for a single purchase. And the iPad is great for writing, there is an incredible feeling of lightness as you tap away on a bluetooth keyboard, with the screen lying around. Frictionless.

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