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How do we define an e-reader?

19 January 2016

From The eBook Evangelist:

How do we define e-reader anymore? Or the term e-reading device? I ask this in all seriousness, because I think the way the terms are being used (or mis-used, as the case may be) creates a lot of confusion….

During CES2016, there was a lot of coverage about the new Samsung “Super Fridge.” The fridge featured cameras and a touchscreen and would allow you play music, stream TV, check if you are out of milk and even order groceries. Everybody was talking about this thing.  It has been mocked and joked about on the Internet.  This refrigerator is, in a way, both the poster child for everything the Internet of Things has the potential to be and, simultaneously, a symbol of status and decadence because of its expensive price tag.

Not surprisingly, shortly after the first announcement of this “Fridge of the future,” ebook blogs Teleread and The Digital Reader both asked the question, “Can you read books on it?” After, all isn’t that one of the first things we ebook lovers think of when we see shiny new electronic things?

. . . .

It used to be that when someone referred to an e-reader, they meant a dedicated device, probably e-ink, that was used almost exclusively for reading ebooks. Over the last few years, that definition has gotten quite a bit looser.

. . . .

Please don’t get me wrong. Reading on cell phones has totally revolutionized the way we are able to read. But there is no getting around the fact that that device’s primary function is to be a phone, not an e-reader. The fact that it is capable of e-reading is definitely a bonus factor. But just because you  CAN read ebooks on a device like a phone does not mean that we should call it an e-reader.

So what’s the problem with calling a phone or a an iPad or any other tablet an e-reading device? In my opinion, quite a bit.

. . . .

How many articles have you read that slam e-readers for the blue light or the backlight that keeps someone awake at night? What about all  the distractions that keep you from reading or complaints how difficult it is to take notes on a device? Each one of those questions has a different answer, depending on the device we are reading on. But the fact that all of these attributes is linked to the generic term “e-reader” can cause a great deal of consumer confusion.

If you are extremely tech savvy, the distinction probably does matter. But if you are someone looking to purchase a device, believe me, the definition does matter. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with someone who says they are looking for an e-reader. When I question them about what they want to do with the device, it becomes quite clear that what they are really looking for is a tablet that they can also use to read ebooks.

Link to the rest at The eBook Evangelist and thanks to Chris for the tip.


38 Comments to “How do we define an e-reader?”

  1. Thing is: does it even matter what we call it or how we use it?
    Some people hate the distractions while reading on their phone. Others not so much or they ignore them until they finish reading. Some people only read when they can do so for an hour straight, sitting in a comfy chair with a paperback. Others, like me, can read just as well on their hone while bored out of their minds standing in line at the DMV or equivalent bureaucratic purgatory.
    What works for one might not work for another. Thanks to Whispersinc, I can read on my tablet, phone, laptop, whatever and pick up where I left off on any one of them the time before. I never owned a Kindle.
    I’m perfectly fine with the term “e-reader” or “e-reading app”. Most people will get it. The current generation of teens and twenty somethings of today understand all this perfectly well, even if some authors/pundits/industry-consultants don’t. If those want to argue that the decline of E-reader sales means paper is the future, then by all means. Anecdote is not evidence, but I see my e-sales and paper sales figures every day and it’s pretty clear which way things are going…

  2. This seems like a really long-winded “blame the customer” complaint.

  3. Lately, I’ve read some ebooks on our TV, using the Apple TV to mirror my iPad’s display.

  4. It makes a difference. Especially with app-locked ebooks like those from the TARGET “Book club” or some of the subscription services.

    I prefer to be precise and distinguish between the dedicated ebook readers and multifunction devices and reading apps because they are not interchangeable. Especially now that so few eink devices come with audio. And, of course, as the source says; the display tech and the reading experience will be different.

    • I came in here to say the same thing. It’s dedicated e-ink that’s the device of distinction.

      I still think there’s another tipping point to be reached once Amazon starts handing out devices for free with a Prime membership, although I’m guessing they’ll be Fire pads and not Kindles.

      • I used to lump everything into one pot, add salt and stir vigorously.

        Now, at least to me, an e-reader is a device dedicated to reading such as a Kindle.

  5. “How do we define an e-reader?”

    The first time I hooked a computer to the internet (at a whooping 2400 bits per second!) and downloaded a story the PC was now an e-reader.

    Next silly question please …

    • I did that back then too, but reading on the 14″ CRT screen gave me a whopper of a headache.

      • Heh, it was all in the monitor! My first color one was the (for the time) whooping 1026 by 768 with a nice graphics card. Reading on it was no problem for me.

        Now, a buddy of mine at the same time had a (to me) rather blurry 800 by 600 — ten minutes of trying to read info off that was enough to give me a blinding headache.

  6. This may be wildly inappropriate, but I was wondering if any PV readers have thoughts on the Amazon Fire. I have a Kindle, which is okay, but am eyeing that $50 Fire. Any pleased or not-so-pleased Fire customers?

    • I have mixed feelings. I like it as a reading device, but I don’t like how the menus are designed arouynd selling me stuff.

    • I have a second gen. Fire HD and really like it for reading but the internet experience it provides is, for me, sub par.

      From perusing forums I know others have had similar experiences. The native browser, Silk, loads slowly and crashes/freezes often. The same is true for the others I’ve tried, Dolphin and Chrome.

      Amazon might have corrected these issues but for $50 give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, return it.

    • I’m enjoying mine. I think it was well worth the $50. There is info on line on how to add Google play so you can download regular android apps. I did this mainly so I could add Chrome as the browser. The Amazon browser isn’t very good IMO. I enjoy it as an ereader.

    • We gave my daughter the $50 Fire when it was briefly marked down to $30-something before Christmas. Runs well, very compatible with their app store, and when she’s not using it to listen to music she uses it as a white-on-black e-reader rather than lighting pBooks and keeping her siblings up at night. The one-two punch of Kindle + Overdrive really gets you lots of content.

      Put it in context. $50 is two new hardcover books. It’s a tank of gas (until recently.) It’s dinner for 4 at a medium priced restaurant. $50 for a good device that you will probably use for *years* is a phenomenal bargain.

    • We own Four Fires from various generations, an e-ink Kindle, a Nexus 7, and several android phones.

      The new Fire is by FAR the worst display for reading of everything we own. That’s not to say its BAD. It isn’t. Its just not as good as any of the others. Resolution isn’t high enough. I’d rather read on my HTC One, which is only a 4.7″ screen.

      My Nexus 7 (2nd gen) and my wife’s HDX 7 are about the same for reading. Pretty darn good, and I love the night setting. Not so good for reading in the sun, however.

      But my dedicated kindle sits in a drawer, unused. Because it doesn’t do anything else. I’m not carrying around multiple devices. So, when I’m out, I read on my phone, when I’m home, I read on my tablet or facebook or whatever.

      I want less devices, not more.

    • I think it really depends on what you want to use it for. I’d held off on buying a tablet because it wasn’t worth the money just to have something in between my laptop and my iPod Touch. But for $50, I figured it’d be worth it just to have a dedicated streaming-music player. For that, plus quick browsing, it does the job, especially given the low cost. But it can be wonky for other uses. (It won’t pair with my new Square reader, for instance, when the iPod Touch pairs without any problems. And it can be a pain when entering text and such.)

      I have a Voyage that I use for my reading, so I can’t speak to that. But overall, for a cheap extra network device, it’s fine. Just don’t expect an iPad for that price.

    • Depends what you want to use it for. For straight up reading, I don’t think anything beats the most recent Paperwhite.

      For pretty much anything else, tablets and apps are better. But I find reading on LCDs inferior to reading on e-ink.

      • I agree, Will. Until the strain on my eyes using a multi-purpose device becomes comparable to eink, they’ll only get my eink Kindle by prying it from my cold dead fingers. 🙂

        • Yep.

          As a matter of interest, I suspect my Kindle Keyboard might be nearing the end of its natural life. Should I replace it with the Paperwhite, or the Voyage?

          I’m leaning towards the Voyage because one of the features I love about the KK is the page turn buttons. I also have a Kobo Touch which I rarely use, because the KK buttons are so much easier to use than the touch for turning the page.

          Thoughts, anyone?

          • I don’t have the answer, Iola, but am in the same situation and leaning the same way.

          • I love the Voyage — for me, it’s the best Kindle available. I’m thinking of buying a second one so I can keep one in the bedroom and one in the living room. Amazon has a multi-month payment plan: get the Voyage now, pay for it with five monthly payments of forty bucks.

          • I just made that choice a little bit ago, and went with the newest Paperwhite. It’s worth noting that the Voyage doesn’t actually have page-turn buttons; it’s got four capacitive sensors that mimic buttons.

            Some like them. Some found them mushy.

            Given that the Paperwhite now has the same resolution (if not exactly the same screen) but costs substantially less, that’s where my cash went.

            Worth noting: order both and return the one you don’t like. Amazon makes returns a ridiculously great experience.

            • I had a bad experience with two Paperwhites. This was early on when they were introduced and had screen problems (weird smears of color, poor lighting). I’ve heard they’ve solved those problems, but I didn’t want to take a chance so I ordered the Voyage. I’ve seen reviews that say the Voyage is better than the Paperwhite, but not enough better to abandon a Paperwhite if you already have one.

              I like your suggestion to order both and return the one she doesn’t want.

              Edited to add: I turned off the sensors for page-turn feedback and just tap the lower right corner when I want to turn the page. Turning off the feedback does not disable the “buttons” which poses a problem once in a while when I hold the Voyage in the wrong place and find the pages are turning without my wanting them to. That’s operator error, not Voyager error.

            • I just purchased a couple voyages for my nieces to replace kindle keyboards that broke. after I selected the 3G version of the paperwhite, it was only $10 less than the voyage, so I figured the lighter weight was worth it

      • I’ve found my Nexus 6 smartphone actually does beat the Paperwhite, at least where sharpness is concerned. The Nexus’s text is crisper and sharper (a 1440p screen in a 6″ form factor will do that), and the six-inch screen holds only a word or so less content at the same font size.

        How crazy is it that the highest-resolution display I now own is the one on the smartphone in my pocket? Or that I can now shoot 4K video without having any way to display it in its native resolution?

        • Oh, definitely, there are higher resolution screens. But they’re all LCD. For reading, I find e-ink more pleasant, and especially more readable than LCDs in situations of extreme lighting (daylight and darkness. Not bright enough in the former, too bright in the latter).

          I’m looking forward to an OLED screen at some point. That’ll be something to see.

          Also, iOS9.3’s new night reading mode. F.lux used to do it, and I know Amazon has the . . . Blue Shade, was it?

          But yes, it’s very crazy.

          (You might want to check the image links in that post. They were all broken for me. I was disappointed not to see the Nexus 6 side by side with the Paperwhite. When I clicked I got a 404.)

    • I picked up one for $35 during the Black Friday sale. It’s a pretty good tablet. Fast and responsive for what I do, good viewing angles on the screen, good battery life. The screen is low resolution compared to most $100 tablets, but it’s not bad at all to read on.

      The one major drawback is that it uses the Amazon appstore, which is a bit limiting. There are ways to install Google Play, but it takes a bit of work. I found it quite a bit easier to just sideload the missing apps that I wanted, like FBReader.

  7. I bought one of the early Nooks, read 4 books on it, and haven’t touched it since.

    I bought a Kindle Fire and read 2 books on it, now it’s just my kids’ media device.

    I bought a cheap smartphone and have read 30 books on it in the last year or two. It’s always in my pocket, it’s a convenient size/weight, and the distractions are very manageable.

    Everyone’s mileage will vary, but this experience has convinced me that the future of reading will skew toward multipurpose phone-sized devices, especially as today’s children grow into serious ebook consumers. These young people will (I believe) rarely pick up a paper book or lug around a dedicated ereader/e-ink device.

  8. Golly! Guess I’ve got to stop reading e-books on my two 7-inch HP Stream 7’s, since they’re NOT “e-readers”. Ditto for my two Dell laptops, smartphone, and Surface Pro 3.

    Oh, wait…

  9. Next, perhaps we can find out how we define a word processor?

  10. PG, thank you for featuring my post!

    I wanted a conversation about the definition because I perceive that it is confusing when people discuss e-reading devices’ strengths and weaknesses under one broad umbrella term. The perception of what e-readers actually are is definitely growing and changing and that is a good thing I just think that the precise language is more productive in the long run. 🙂

  11. I had some things to say about this article when I found it. So what if “e-reader” is a general word? You know what else is a “general” word? “Book.” How do we know, whenever someone mentions a “book,” that they mean a trade hardcover, rather than, say, a Gutenberg Bible? From the context. If there’s not enough context, we can ask them for more.

    Same principle applies to “e-reader”.

  12. What’s a radio these days? You can listen to radio on a dedicated device (a “radio”) or on a computer, or on a tablet, etc. Many activities that used to require a dedicated device now use a more general purpose device.

    So, I say an e-reader is anything that can be used to read an ebook.

    • And a computer and a smartphone is a TV, and cars, trucks, and motorcycles are horses, and an oven is really a fire, a lightbulb a lantern, and so on.

      One thing doesn’t become another thing just because they can accomplish the same task.

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