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iPad Review: Using the iPad as an eBook Reader

Let me be upfront right, er, up front: I love my Kindle (s). But I was intrigued by the iPad because it was so damned new and sexy and multifuction and did I mention new and sexy?

I had used my iPhone’s Kindle app as a portable ebook reader, for those times when I didn’t feel like lugging my Kindle along with me, and it was more than fine.So I was worried.

I was worried that the iPad was going to be really great and pretty and that my Kindle(s 1) were going to end up sitting on shelves looking like really expensive white bookends.

The iPad IS Really Sexy

There is no denying this. When you turn on the iPad and that gorgeous display lights up and things start whooshing, and the colours are crisp and the text looks good, it is hard to imagine how the Kindle stands a chance against it. I wasn’t sure I even wanted it to.

When I opened up the iBooks app and saw the truly gorgeous (colour) rendition of AA Milne’s The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh I was torn between admiration and regret. How could my beloved eInk compete? So does it?

Using the same rating system I used in my review of the Kindle 2, here are my thoughts on using the iPad (version 1) as an ebook reader:

THE REVIEW

KEY

:(  A Bad Thing

:|  No strong feeling either way

:)  A Good Thing

:D  A Very Good Thing

:( The Weight and Feel

From an eBook reader’s perspective: it’s quite heavy and hard to hold in one hand. There is no way to really hold it centered in one hand and not obscure some of the text. (Kindle 1 had a similar problem in that it was tough to hold it in one hand and not accidentally press the ‘next page’ button). And that rounded back has to go, but that’s a complaint for a different article.

After having used this for a week or so, I’m finding it increasingly hard to hold for long periods. If you are a voracious reader, like me, the last thing you want is something that makes you want to put the book down (it’s why I don’t like hardbacks, to0)

:| The Size

I am undecided on this one. On the one hand, you can see bigger and better books on the iPad, and you can turn it to the landscape view really easily2. But it’s big. It’s not as portable as either the Kindle or the iPhone, and it doesn’t sit easily in one hand.

:( Backlighting

I read computer screens all the time and I wasn’t sure I really bought the whole “backlighting strains your eyes” thing until I had my Kindle. It doesn’t really register as eyestrain, but after a (long)  while staring at a computer screen, iPhone screen or iPad screen I start feeling headachy and sick.

I simply find that I cannot read for as long on a backlit screen as I can with paper or my Kindle. I start wanting to put the book down. And that makes me sad.

:( Readability In Daylight

Aargh. One of the things that really wowed me about Kindle was that when you walk into a patch of sunlight, the text on the screen become EASIER to read. This had never happened on my phones or on my camera LCD screens, so I just wasn’t expecting it. But it is gorgeous in the daylight. Not so the iPad. It is a nice, bright screen in indirect light, but, like any other backlit screen it makes me squinty-eyed and frustrated in daylight. And the fingerprints? Oh, the fingerprints.

:( Touchscreen

Don’t get me wrong, for other applications, the touchscreen is a miracle of technology, a joy, an absolute delight and it warms the cockles of my little geeky heart.

But on an eBook reader?

No. Just no.

While turning pages feels a lot more natural when you can swipe them the way you might with a magazine page, the accumulation of fingerprints on the shiny screen drives me to distraction. I’ve bought a bunch of microfibre cloths and I’m working with my therapist 3 and maybe it’s just me, but I have to say:

A touchscreen on an eBook reader is not the go-to technology.

Unless you’re talking about…

:D Interactive Books

This is where the iPad is going to kick ass, change the world and spawn a new age of creativity and progress.

I know, I sound like an Apple fanboy, which I’m really not.  But the interactive books are new and intuitive and delightful. (And expensive, but you know what? A lot of work goes into them. And a lot of licensing fees!)

The free  Toy Story interactive book is gorgeous, and contains both audio and video clips from the movie, as well as video games (GAMES! In a Book! Heavens!). You can read it yourself or have it read to you. You can read it in your kid’s bedroom at night with no other lighting (This is where my objection to backlighting on an eReader falters. I love this. I’m always battling my urge to keep the lights low at bedtime, with my urge to be able to see what the hell I’m reading). You can give it to your kids who can’t even read yet and they can play, read, learn words. And OK, these interactive books have existed for a while, but usually tied to the computer. Interacting with them on the iPad is just about perfect.

This is, I think, where the real sea-change will happen. This is where the iPad will sing and book publishing will change. Books in the future will have all the interactivity, and none of the clunkiness of websites 4 It’s entirely possible that words-on-the-page only books will eventually go the way of silent films (still loved by a few devotees but regarded with tolerant bemusement by most).

:| The Various eReader Apps for iPad

You should go here to read actual reviews of the various iPad book apps, but always bear in mind that new apps will come and more books will be available and any opinions I voice here will be outdated by the time I push “publish”. I’ve only used the Kindle app and the iBooks built-in one.

:| Availability of Titles

For now, there isn’t a vast availability of titles outside the mainstream bestsellers list. Finding kids’ books and older books is almost impossible, but this will change. For now, the Kindle has, of course, a much better selection, but even that isn’t perfect. But if you’ve ever had anything to do with the publishing industry you’ll know that they’re still living in mourning for the Roarin’ 20s and it’s only in the past couple of years that some younger publishers and agents have started using that new-fangled thing they call email. The pressing need to capturing their backlists and convert them to readable, manipulable data files was met by the publishing industry ten years ago with the kind of uncomprehending indifference shown by the people of Pompeii as their friendly neighbourhood volcano began to seethe and rumble. Even now, I suspect it’s only because Google said, “to hell with you then, we’ll do it”, that the publishers have pulled out any stops at all. And when Amazon launched the Kindle, then B&N (who they all hate and fear) launched the Nook and Steve Jobs started sniffing around, things started to look serious.

The Bottom Line

For an avid reader 5, the Kindle is hands down the best device for now 6.

It is light, it is portable, it is easy on the eyes and the hands, you can annotate books AND share everything across various platforms. It is an absolute pleasure to read for hours and hours, in daylight or indoors. It emulates the traditional reading experience and improves upon it (inbuilt dictionaries, annotation, bookmarking and highlighting without destroying the book, hands-free page turning 7, on-the-fly indexing, searching and on and on). There are lots of titles available.

For whizz-bang and a taste of the future, get your paws on an iPad and have a look.

FURTHER READING

Debbie at Inkygirl.com has collected a bunch of iPad/vs eReaders reviews in this article.

I purposely did not read these reviews (apart from the apps one) until after I’d written mine. I’m off to see who agrees with me…

  1. Yes, I got versions 1 and 2! OK? But I don’t do manicures and expensive hair treatments or shop for clothes much, so gimme a break
  2. But not too easily. It has a hardware button on the side that you can flip if you don’t want the screen to rotate every time you shift in your chair. Nice feature!
  3. Not really
  4. Oh for a time-machine to go back and tell 1996-me that I would one day find hyperlinks on a super-fast fibre-optic connection ‘clunky’!
  5. who lives in the North America or Europe and doesn’t mind if the illustrations aren’t in colour
  6. This doesn’t mean it won’t go the way of Betamax and who-even-remembers-the-name-of-the-competitor-to-BluRay, of course. Sob!
  7. As long as the luddite publishers haven’t turned off the Text-To-Speech function in that title

iPad vs Kindle

So, iPad vs. Kindle. It was the first thing a lot of people mentioned and I’m not sure why.

It’s a bit like comparing a greetings card to a smart phone. Or my beloved blank notebook to my desktop computer.

One is designed to do one thing, and do it well, with all the limitations that implies (i.e. it can’t do anything other than the thing it was designed for, and must be used pretty much in the way the designer specified.) The other does lots and lots of things, with a few compromises that are usually made up for by the convenience factor.

My blank book is pretty much pants when it comes to helping me retrieve information or store photographs or connect with other people. But when I want to jot down an idea, or draw a diagram or entertain a cranky toddler on a train, or make an impromptu origami model, that notebook is my best friend.

Similarly, I LOVE my iPhone and I carry it with me everywhere (yes, everywhere. Don’t think too hard about that). I even read ebooks on it. It is good on the treadmill that lives in a dark and spidery corner of my basement. It’s great in bed, oh yes.

My iPhone ereader (and so, by extension, the iPad ereader) lets me look stuff up, dog-ear pages (not really) and make notes. The iPad will usher in the Apple eBook store.

BUT

I still love my Kindle.

When I want to settle down and read a book for hours (as if I get the chance!) I reach for my pencil-slim, un-backlit, black-on-grey eInk screened, phenomenally long-lived, free Internet access, zippy download, fingerprint-free screened, no-glare Kindle that looks better in daylight than the printed page with none of the ‘holding the book open’ inconvenience.

I love its little cotton socks. I really do.

Just as an email birthday greeting, while more convenient, lacks the appeal of a through-the-post physical card, and the Kindle itself lacks the paper-and-ink-smell tactile experience of reading a dead-tree edition, the iPad ebook reader will come with compromises. The convenience may outweigh those compromises for many people, but I really, really hope that Amazon and the publishers continue to support this device.

The Kindle was designed for people like me, who buy and read books voraciously. We are the ones who will read a book a week, or more. (I have two small children and last year I logged 40 books as ‘read’ in my WeRead profile. In one year! Most of them were bought and read on the Kindle. It’s the most I have read in years. Because it was always easy to find my book, find my place, and grab a new book. Only once did I pick up my Kindle and discover I had let the battery run down, and that was after a particularly busy couple of weeks when I had tossed it in the corner, wireless still connected.)

Dedicated readers appreciate a dedicated device. Casual readers would never have bought a Kindle anyway.

So I’m still not sure why everyone focused on the iPad as a Kindle killer. It might be, but there is so much more to the iPad than ebooks.

My hopes are that

a, the publishers realise that Amazon is trying to sell more books, and respond to their customers’ price sensitivities, not hurt publishers.

b, Amazon starts to support the ePub format so that books I buy from the Apple store will also be readable on my Kindle. I’m grateful to Amazon for the Kindle, but not so grateful that I’m going to forgo reading a book if it is published in the ‘wrong’ format.

And yeah, I still want an iPad…

Other People’s Opinions:
This one talks about iPad vs Kindle very differently

Create Your Own Kindle eBooks

If you’re lucky enough to have a Kindle (or one of the new Kindle 2s that come out tomorrow), there is no need to go spending good money to put your own content on there.

If you have PDFs, HTML docs, word processor documents that you’d like to carry around on your Kindle, you can either pay 10c a doc to have Amazon convert and email them to your Kindle OR you can use this handy, free method.

[UPDATE 1/3/12 – Amazon has announced the latest Kindle format will move away from the Mobi format. Find out more at the Amazon Digital Publishing site]

STEP 1
Download the free Mobipocket eBook Creator software. Install it and fire it up. (Update 1: Txvoodoo, in the comments, suggests downloading the Publisher version rather than the Home Version. That’s the one I used. It gives you more options, and of course a little more complexity, but it’s still simple to use. Update 2: Just discovered  calibre for ebook conversion and library management. I like it. Read my thoughts on Calibre).
mobipocket

STEP 2

Select the file type of your original document (Word, PDF etc.) from the top right group [“Import File Type”].

Browse to the file on your computer, then click on ‘Import’,

mobipocket2

Mobipocket imports the file but you’re not quite done yet.

STEP3

After importing, you should arrive at a screen like this:

mobipocket4

Your publication’s title appears in the main pane. In the left sidebar are links to things you can change about the ebook: you can add a cover image, table of contents, and metadata (that is, information that is not printed in the book, but will show up in libraries and on readers, such as publisher, author, publication date, etc). You should modify as much or as little as this as you need. If yours is a document for your own use, and this is your first time through,  just make sure it has the right title and author in the ‘metadata’ settings and move on.

STEP 4

On the same screen as Step 3, click on “Build” in the top tool bar. The program will  give you this screen:

mobipocket5

You can choose more or less compression and you can choose to encrypt or password protect your book if you want. First timers/Personal users: just use the default settings and click “build”.

STEP 5

All going well, you should end up at a screen like this.

mobipocket6

Make sure “Open folder containing eBook” is selected and click “OK”.

In that folder you’ll find various versions of the file. The one you need for the Kindle is the one with the PRC extension.

Make note of where this folder is (so you can find it again), plug in your Kindle and drag the PRC file from this folder over to the ‘documents’ folder on your Kindle.

NOTES

I’ve found some odd formatting issues occasionally– page breaks not observed, justifications changed — but it’s nothing that bothers me as a casual user. If I was publishing for profit I’d have to figure out the optimal settings, and maybe I will some day. For now, though, I’m just happily converting, dragging and reading.

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