what I want in an e-reader

I came late to being an e-reader convert, but yes — I did eventually come around to appreciating the devices. I own a Kindle, and now a Cool-ER, although they will never co-opt the affection I’ll always feel for the good old-fashioned book. But when I do sit down with an e-reader, there are several features I demand. These are just my own preferences, and others may disagree. But if any manufacturers out there are paying attention, and you’re wondering what we readers want, here’s my list.

First, here are the features that are ABSOLUTELY necessary. If the e-reader doesn’t have these, it’s a deal-killer for me:

PORTABILITY. I want my e-reader to be lightweight and easy to slip into my purse. Which is why I prefer a 6-inch screen, about the size of a paperback novel. Any larger, and you defeat the whole purpose of an e-reader — and that’s to take it on vacation, or on a plane. One of the hottest new models I saw at CES is a combination e-reader and electronic writing tablet. It weighs several pounds. Sorry, but I am not going to buy that monstrosity. If I want to take notes on something I’m reading, I’ll just bring an old-fashioned steno-pad. Here is where an e-reader like Interead’s super-portable Cool-ER has a huge advantage. The mantra for manufacturers should be lighter, lighter, lighter!

SIMPLICITY OF USE. I am not a techie genius. Don’t make me puzzle over a thousand different menus. Make the e-reader as easy to use as a plain old book — that is, so easy that any child can use it. Think of me as a middle-aged child. Who just wants to read the darn book without a struggle.

EASILY ADJUSTABLE FONT SIZE. I am of an age where I haven’t yet accepted the fact I need reading glasses. Help me maintain my delusion. Give my an e-reader that, with a mere click of a button, can instantly enlarge the font. And give me a larger font option than the current e-readers do. The print needs to be even bigger! (And for my mom, who has macular degeneration, HUGE font would be great!)

SUPER-LONGLASTING BATTERY LIFE. Luckily, the current e-readers seem to satisfy this particular demand. The Kindle lasted on one charge throughout my entire Turkey vacation. The Cool-ER has an 8,000-page-turn battery life. I don’t want to be in the middle of Africa and suddenly have my battery run out, with no possibility of a re-charge. What this means is that color-screen e-readers are not going to be on my shopping list anytime soon. Their battery lives are way too short. I’d much rather have a plain old B&W screen that lasts me throughout a two-week camping trip.

NON-PROPRIETARY FILE ACCESSIBILITY. Here’s where I have a beef with my Kindle. Sometimes I want to read material that’s not Amazon-mediated. I want to read another author’s galley. Or I want to read a scientific article I’ve got on my home computer. Or my own manuscript in progress. I want to be able to upload that file directly onto my e-reader without having to go through Amazon (and pay for that privilege.) My Cool-ER allows me to do that, as long as I convert my doc file to pdf. I understand that the Sony e-reader also allows this, which is a huge plus.

Now — here are features that are nice, but which I don’t consider necessary for me to consider a purchase:

WI-FI ACCESSIBILITY. I know this is the hot thing, being able to download newspapers and books wirelessly. But right now, with my Kindle, I get no Whispernet accessibility where I live, and it doesn’t bother me all that much. And when I’m traveling, if I want to read, say, the New York Times, I’ll just buy a paper copy. If I’m in an area where I can’t buy the NYT, it’s usually also an area where I can’t get Whispernet either. Besides, Wi-Fi usage really drains that battery fast.

AUDIO. Yes, I know, it’s nice to be able to hear an audiobook on your e-reader. But isn’t that what an iPod is for? (And much smaller, too.)

TOUCHSCREEN. Well, this would be cool. And I would love it. It may be one of those features that I soon consider necessary.

HUGE FILE STORAGE SPACE. The Cool-ER can take up to five gigabytes of data. That’s way more than I’ll ever be able to read. I mean, how many thousands of books do you need to carry on vacation? The current e-readers all have plenty of storage space, so adding additional thousands of books on my device isn’t really a big selling point for me.

WRITING PAD/EMAIL CAPABILITY/BLAH BLAH BLAH. By now, you’re talking about so much weight that you might as well bring your laptop computer. This is no longer e-reader territory.

In short, what I want in an e-reader is the equivalent of a good, old-fashioned BOOK. Something for recreational reading. In the end, there is no device as simple, as uncomplicated, as a book. Give me that old-fashioned experience. Don’t load it up with doo-dads which I don’t need.

11 replies
  1. april
    april says:

    I just bought a nook. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that no eReader is perfect yet and weighed my pros and cons heavily. Then, because my mom gave me a lot of gift certificates, I chose that brand. I haven’t received it yet, but I am curious to see how it will fit into my current reading.

  2. Ginger
    Ginger says:

    Hi Tess – Wow! What a lengthy and interesting blog and I think all the points you have mentioned, are exactly what the average person would look for (not that I am suggesting you are average – far from it), but you do know what the discerning buyer would look for, IF he, or she, was intent on purchasing an e-reader.
    Maybe I’m just not even basically technically minded, but I am satisfied with a good oldfashioned book, where I can turn the pages and place a bookmark to keep my place when I need to stop reading.
    Why, when I go away, would I want to take a whole library with me? One book would be sufficient and I’m sure many people feel the same way.

    Best wishes – Gordon

  3. angel2k7
    angel2k7 says:

    I’ve had a kindle for about a year now and I love it. I guess the new kindle you can download pdf files and is now wireless globally. I am happy with the one I have.

    If I would change anything it would be lighting. Not a back light, because that would be like reading a computer screen, but maybe thin side lighting that illuminates the screen as an option. I like to read before bed.

  4. april
    april says:

    I wanted to add that I chose the eReader for the big reason that I can travel with one small device versus 5-10 books. I will literally not pack clothes in order to take books. I usually go through at least 2 books just traveling and as many as one a day on vacation so this is where any eReader would be huge.

    For my everyday reading, I’ll read a lot of actual books. I like them and I have a lot of favorite authors. I like to collect the physical books.

    I did like that the nook supports documents that are not purchased through Barnes & Noble though it is slightly limited. I only have .pdfs so it will support my current ebook library. I think going in knowing it is not perfect helps. I figure it’s more of an experiment rather than the be all and end all. I did appreciate reading everyone’s thoughts about what he or she currently owns. That helped in my decision.

  5. CarlC
    CarlC says:

    When I gave my wife a Kindle for Christmas, a friend told us about “calibre”, a program that converts between various e-book formats. I’ve downloaded it but haven’t yet tried it, but this might be helpful to you in getting other formats onto your Kindle. Also, her new Kindle (2nd generation) is supposed to read PDFs – haven’t tried that either.

  6. caite
    caite says:

    The points you list are excellent and I agree…but bottom line, I want to actually own the ‘books’ I buy. I want to own them and do with them whta I want, as I can with a ‘real’ book, such as give them away or loan them out, or sell them, as I can with other things I buy.
    Instead, certainly with Amazon, according to the contract you agree to, all you ‘own’ is the right to download the file a number of times. A certain number that they determine.

    Paying hundreds of dollars to buy an e-reader, to then have the limited rights to download a file does not really interest me at this point.

  7. Dru
    Dru says:

    I ordered the nook and plan to use it as my travel and virtual bookshelf.

    I still prefer to hold and turn pages on my books.

  8. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    This is why I like my Pocket Sony Reader so much: it lets me read ebooks, whichever ebooks, wherever I want. No proprietary file formats, no complications. The only thing I haven’t yet tried is the “put it in a ziploc bag” method to reading in the bath.

    Of course I also love the feel and smell of real books, but there’s room in my library for both.

  9. Rhonda Lane
    Rhonda Lane says:

    Thank you for your helpful comparison review. I’ve been curious about e-readers for a while and had wondered which one would suit my purposes the best. Until your article. I no clue as to how to begin looking at them if that makes any sense. Thank you for the good start.

  10. enovin
    enovin says:

    “if any manufacturers out there are paying attention, and you’re wondering what we readers want” I would like to add one function desirable for me most: I would want to read my book on the screen of the reader and continue to listen it in my car and continue again to read it on the screen. Can you do it?

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