Yes, I mangled the free software movement's handy, pocket-sized explanation Free, as in Beer but the title stays with my minor modification. Free, as in free eBooks are a very interesting medium. They're light on your mobile devices storage, they're very entertaining, and they save trees. What more could you want? A standardized reader? Piffle...you can't have everything, or can you-- well almost. Here's why.
eBook readers are as diverse as the applications they're designed to run on. In this post I'm going to excluding dedicated hardware specific readers like (competitor)'s Kindle or Sony's Digital Reader (I may look at those in a future post), and laptop/netbooks (too big and unwieldy for me).
Instead, I'm going to focus on my experience with a couple of mobile devices and a couple of software options available to them. As well, I'll touch on a few free eBook sources.
The Palm series was my first platform for reading eBooks. My staple eBook reader for my series of devices was Plucker.
Billed as an 'offline web and eBook reader', Plucker is actually two programs:
- a 'distiller' program that lives on your PC (Windows, Mac, Linux)
- a 'reader' program that lives on your Palm device.
To use Plucker, you simply point the distiller at the website or ebook text (either online or stored on your local drive), and it does the heavy lifting of converting the document from the source format (doc, html,pdf, rss, rdf, text, and more) to a common Plucker reader format.
Once the ebook/text/whatever is converted, simply sync your Palm with your computer, fire up the eBook reader and start reading.
iPhone / iPod Touch
My current mobile device is an iPod Touch, which has the native ability to view PDF, doc and other file formats. But for me the eBook reader-of-choice is Stanza - which works somewhat similar to the way Plucker works.
- Load up the desktop version and point it a the eBook.
- Run the Stanza client on the iPhone/Touch.
- Share the book on your desktop version.
- Read the book on your iPhone/Touch -- Stanza copies the eBook to your device.
Interestingly, the Stanza desktop version also hooks into many online eBook stores. Maybe not so surprising then, that Stanza was recently purchased by (competitor)....competition to Kindle? Regardless, it's one of the best iPhone reader apps, and the best I've found for free
An eBook is not a book
One thing to remember, reading on a mobile device is not the same as reading a normal book, you will have to get used to a few things.
One of the first considerations is the screen size. Depending on the screen and the text resolution (and your age -- grumble) , you may have to crank the font size up a bit. Short of the dedicated hardware devices, only anetbook or laptop approach the screen size matched by your average paperback book.
Turning the page - believe it or not, this is one thing that I miss about eBook readers..the actual physical gesture of turning the page, and the feel of the paper. As I read more and longer books, I'd find my hand cramping up as I pressed the button or touched the screen for more text. The Plucker reader offers a 'scrolling text' option, but I never got used to it. Reminded me too much of a teleprompter.
Battery life - even though you're not doing CPU or graphic intensive processing, if your ebook isn't charged up you may find your reading abruptly interrupted as the unit shuts down. Not fun as you were getting to the good bits.
Technical reading - yes, you can read technical docs with these, but I find them better for reference than for full-up learning in this case. Nice to have the text available, but I'd not try and read The Big Book of Key Performance Indicators on it.
What to read, and where to get it
Here's some great resources I've used in the past. In some cases, you'll be able to find more than one format, so do check around.
- The Project Gutenberg collection - The big kahuna of free online books. Well worth browsing through the catalogue of books out of copyright.
- Baen Free Library - free science fiction - here you can get 80+ free full length books.
- Cory Doctorow - Cory has released all his recent stories and novels under Creative Commons licenses. However, Cory is probably even more useful because he tracks other SF authors who also release via CC license.
- Strange Horizons - no cost - a weekly web-based magazine of and about speculative fiction.
So, do you read on a mobile device or have you invested in a dedicated ebook reader? Or is reading on a smaller screen just not your bag? As usual, let me know in the comment below!
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