WARNING: Note that e-books occupy a Wild West frontier of rapid development these days, so anything that is written is almost instantly outdated. For example, since 2009, when this was originally written, the iPad has significantly changed the field and the e-book industry is even more in flux than before. Consider this a perpetually historical document! (at least for now)
It seems that with the advent of every new technology, pundits proclaim the imminent demise of the printed book -- yet books remain as ubiquitous as ever (even while their newspaper cousins are going through some hard times).
The e-book may or may not be a true competitor to the dead-tree counterpart, but it has certainly received a lot of attention over the course of 2008. That's because after years of R&D work in the lab, some viable commercial e-books finally popped onto the market.
The one that got the most attention was the Kindle, designed and sold by Amazon, the online book-selling behemoth.
Our experiences at Wheaton
Of course, being librarians, geeks, and college-dwellers, R&I jumped on the Kindle bandwagon and bought one to take it out for a spin.
Frankly, we love it.
Having said that, the Kindle is best enjoyed when reading in a linear fashion -- novels work well -- rather than jumping around, such as in a reference book or newspaper. Navigation is a bit clunky.
The "secret sauce" is the display which is a delight to read under almost any circumstances - even in bright daylight (where a laptop screen is all but unreadable).
Some quick facts about the Kindle
- Like all e-books, the Kindle's screen does not glow -- it is more akin to an etch-a-sketch screen, and cannot be read in the dark. Unlike a typical laptop screen, however, it is quite readable in sunlight
- The Kindle display only consumes energy when the page changes, but requires no energy to maintain an image -- as a result, a single charge can last 5 days easily
- A Kindle can hold approximately 200 books in memory
- The Kindle downloads books via the cell phone network, so that you can download books anywhere you can use a cell phone. The cell phone connection costs are built into the cost of the Kindle itself, so there is no monthly connection fee
- As of this writing (March 2009) the Kindle is retailing for $359. The price is sure to drop.
Will it usurp the printed page? While the experience of reading a Kindle may not be exactly the same as flipping the well-worn pages of a treasured paperback, for most of us in most cases it may well be "close enough".
Our verdict? Keep a close eye on this one.