Friday, May 30, 2008

Looking for a satisfying eBook reader

Amazon's Kindle was a product that caught my interest so I began investigating to see what other options there are and which is the best value. I currently use my Treo phone to carry ebooks with me. The screen is small, but I have read many books this way. I really like how it will scroll the page reminding me of the speed reading machines I used in the early 60s. It seems that the current crop of e ink readers will not have this feature due to the technology of the e ink which must refresh the page rather than to continuously scroll it. At present, e ink technology requires a pause of a second or more with a black flush of the page to load the next page. In the case of a person who reads fast, that pause will seem an interruption in the flow of thoughts.

This blog entry will compare the Kindle with both a Sony Reader PRS-505 and the iRex iLiad second edition--all of which use the e ink technology. Day-to-day use of any product will make a person wish he or she had been more careful in looking at the details before purchase, so details are important in this review. Over the course of June 14 - 17, the original blog entry review about the Kindle and the Sony was reorganized to include the iLiad. A comparison of just the Kindle and the Sony has been done by many others: Gizmodo with photos and hands-on experience (about Nov. 2007), C|Net by a Sony Reader owner without having touched a Kindle (Nov. 19, 2007), Wired with some misinformation that is corrected in the comments (Nov. 19, 2007), Popular Mechanics provides a comparison of the stats of 4 ebook readers including the iLiad (Nov. 19, 2007); Edward Baig's comparison in USA Today leans in favor of the Kindle (one week after the Kindle's introduction, 2007); and Travis Hudson of PC World (June 13, 2008) looks at marketing primarily the Kindle, but says the Sony sales are also up. He says the Kindle sales are "no more than 50,000" so far since its release. However, A Kindle Homepage says that sales by early July have been 300,000.

The first good article on Amazon's Kindle that I found is at MacWorld (November 26, 2007). One commenter informs that Amazon does convert PDFs to be read on Kindle (link is to an Amazon Kindle page), but some more complex documents may not format correctly to the Kindle page. The Newsweek's cover article came out the same week (Stven Levy, November 26, 2007). It is worth it to read Steve Gibson's review. Kindle reviews on Amazon are at 3,218 (1,682 with 5 stars and 660 with 4; 2,342 with 4 or 5 stars) [compared with Sony silver's 84 (53 with 4- or 5-star) reviews and Sony blue's 55 (41 with 4- or 5-star) reviews)! In looking around at the state of the art of ebook readers, I discovered iRex's iLiad. See also a review by ZDNet and the i-to-i blog, which has my buddy Scoblizer listed on its blog roll. Amazon, which markets the iLiad through third parties, has reviews of both the Book Edition (4 reviews) and the Second Edition (3 reviews). There is some indication that there were more reviews at one time.

Jeff Hastings of the School Library Journal reviews the Kindle and iLiad in the February 2008 issue and has a video comparison. He also reviewed the Sony Reader PRS-500 in January. Be sure to check Paul Krugman's article on new technologies including e-books, which also mentions my friend Esther Dyson.

PRICING AND WEIGHT (and maybe a little more!)
The Kindle is currently $359, which is 10% less than it originally sold for when it sold out all available units in 5.5 hours. There was a period (before April 21, 2008) when people had to wait 6 weeks to get a Kindle prompting Jeff Bezos to make an apology. The Kindle weighs an ounce more (10.3 ounces) than the Sony (about 9 ounces), while the iLiad weighs almost a pound (15.3 ounces).

The Sony Reader is $220 to $330 across 23 stores. However, if you purchase the Sony from SonyStyle for $299.99, you can have two lines of laser engraving to personalize your silver, dark blue, or red James Patterson special edition ebook. SonyStyle is also running a special where you get 100 free ebook classics (a $199 value is claimed) if you purchase before Sept. 30, 2008 where you must download the books by the end of October. The PRS-505 is an upgrade of the PRS-500 [505 has faster refresh and better resolution, improved navigation, jog button replaced by 4-way arrows with a center enter button, the listing of books is easier to search, 2 parallel slots for SD (still 2 GB) and Memory Stick Duo (raised from 4GB to 8GB) for a total of 10GB storage (larger means slower), supports USB 2.0, can be charged from any PC (even without software), and the 505 acts as a mass storage device that you can transfer data to without using the eBook Library software (SonyStyle page, Tricks & Tips, scroll to 2nd from the bottom)]. The Sony weighs about nine ounces.

The Dutch iRex iLiad second edition is $699 (USA) and can also be purchased on Amazon for the same price (Amazon owns Mobipocket, a format that iLiad uses). Note that you cannot convert from EUROs to USA dollars as the people in Europe also have to pay VAT, which is included in the EUROs price (see Update). The increased cost is actually somewhat understandable as the iLiad also uses "Wacom Penabled technology" in a B&W environment (the 8 x 6 Intuos3 color tablet costs $329 and weighs more than the iLiad; not to imply that the iLiad is anything close to an Intuos3--more on this later). However, the price is twice that of the Kindle! Reviewers favorably compare the iLiad to a tablet PC, but other reviewers also say that at just under a pound, it is heavy for a reader. You have to consider that the iRex second edition is multifunction equipment combining an eBook with a Wacom tablet that can be used for drawing, marking the pages of a book, and taking notes in a lecture that can later be converted from handwriting to text. It also is a mass storage device that can access the iRex Delivery Service (iDS) on the Internet independent of a computer. There is also a Book Edition (introduced May 7, 2008) of the iLiad that is $100 less loaded with 50 Free classic books and does not have WiFi or the nifty protective cover, a.k.a. shoulder bag ($16.95), otherwise it is the same as the 2nd edition. Both editions weigh 15.3 ounces, give 15 hours of reading on a single charge, and are expandable to 8GB memory using MMC and CF cards. You can load both iRexes with anything that you can print from your computer as well as PDF / HTML / TXT / JPG / BMP/ PNG formats.

Kindle User's Guide, pdf, version 1.1. Although the User's Guide states that one can link to topics from the Table of Contents, it does not work within a browser or when you save the User's Guide to your computer. Maybe it works on the Kindle itself. There are only the page thumb nails within the file and no listing of links. Support page; The Complete User's Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle by Stephen Windwalker available in Kindle format for $2.39, which is a work in progress and it is constantly growing. Windwalker also has How to Use the Amazon Kindle for Free Wireless Email & Over 100 Pages of Other Cool Tips (The Complete User's Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle) (Kindle Edition, $2.79; pamphlet, $4.99). As with any book for Kindle, the first chapter is free. There is a companion web site for the book, A Kindle Home Page, which bills itself as a vast public domain compendium of useful Kindle links. Other resources: Wikipedia, MobileRead Wiki, RapidRepair for the Kindle, the eBOOK DAILY with an emphasis on Kindle (formerly the Kindle Report). Mike Elgan keeps a Kindle page updated with latest news and finds. See also, his opinion article on Amazon Kindle does e-mail and more. Kindle forums: MobileRead, Amazon (see also) (both Amazon forums have1023 discussions).

Sony Reader User's Manual for the PRS-505 (the link is the support page); Sony ebook Library software is used in managing files. By the way, the Sony manual is easy to use since they made links from the Table of Contents to the pages in the listing. Resources: Wikipedia (article is rich with info and links to conversions of data and third party tools) and MobileRead Wiki (also very rich source with links to information on the forum). Sony Reader forums: MobileRead,

iRex iLiad User's Guide in pdf format (Flickr photo from Jan. 17, 2007). See also support (scroll to bottom of page where there are links to the iLiad Companion Software Manual, the Mobiocket Viewer Manual as well as Quick Reference and How to make content for your iLiad). Please note from this point forward that the iLiad's User Guide has information pertaining to reading PDF files while the Mobipocket Viewer Manual covers the addition of the Mobipocket reader that came later (April 2007); hence, it is sometimes confusing unless one sorts out which part of the iLiad is being referenced. It is a good thing that the iLiad's tool bar is context sensitive and thereby less confusing. In each of the manuals. there are links to topics within the Table of Contents and each manual has bookmarks implemented so links within the manual are visible on the left side of the pdf page. Resources: Wikipedia and MobileRead Wiki. iLiad forums: iRex Technologies, MobileRead,

[Note: Amazon has an ebook Readers' Forum that includes these 3 ebook readers and more.]

I haven't bought a Kindle since it is pricey, but I had not realized it included a wireless network (EVDO) for cell phones using Sprint called Whispernet. This means that anywhere you can get a Sprint cellphone signal, you can go on the Internet with it. You can download a new book from the Internet on an air plane after takeoff. Free Internet access is to the Amazon Kindle Store (130,000 ebooks including 98 of 112 current New York Times Best Sellers and a wide selection of US and International newspapers, which are free the first two weeks) and Wikipedia. You can download first chapters of books to see if you really want to read them. You can subscribe to 300 top blogs (with no comments) updated throughout the day through the Amazon Store where the cost is to offset the access fees or you can use the Basic Browser, but you will be charged for access. The Basic Browser supports cookies, JavaScript, and SSL, but not "plug-ins like Flash or Shockwave or Java applets" (Mike Elgan, ComputerWorld and Mac World, November 21, 2007). When there is a link to the Internet (underlined text with a page icon next to it) in the text of a book, use the scroll wheel to move the cursor besides the line, select the link from the pop-up menu, and if there is a fee to access the page, accept the charges (Accessing Basic Web). It would be really nice if there were a set price for unlimited access, but I have seen no mention of this. You can email MS Word documents and photos to your Kindle. Kindle also backs up every book you purchase to "Your Media Library" on the Internet so that you can download it again without repurchasing it. No other ebook reader gives this much access to the Internet.

The Sony Reader PRS-505 can be attached to your computer and used as a mass storage device so you can copy saved Internet content from your computer or save directly from the Internet to the Reader, but it cannot access the Internet itself. You install software called ebook Library on your computer from a CD-ROM. The ebook Library software is where you backup and store all your ebooks. If you add memory cards, then each time you disconnect from the USB, the Sony Reader reorganizes your ebooks, which can cause lengthy waits (worst case: one reviewer reported as long as 2 hours for a listing of 1,500 books).

The iRex iLiad has its own global iRex Delivery Service (iDS) for their Mobile Office Service or for newspapers (French and Chinese and also others that are not mentioned as evidenced by this photo with BBC News) updated throughout the day anytime the iLiad is connected to the Internet via Ethernet using the travel hub or by the built-in Wi-Fi® 802.11B/G wireless networking. The connection using WiFi is as simple as pushing a button. After downloading from iDS, the iLiad disconnects to save power. Note again that the iLiad connects to iDS, not to the whole Internet. The iRex network solution is not as sexy or as comprehensive as the Kindle, but it should work in most places. This is a push system where iRex partners can push subscribed content to the user. Any user him/herself or anyone else the user authorizes can also push information to the iLiad through iDS from any Internet connection.

It is surprising that after a couple of years there are not more newspapers and magazines signed up with iDS, although there is some evidence that other newspapers not listed on the iRex web site are available. The explanation may be that eNews is available to the iLiad through Mobipocket content saved to a flash drive, MMC or CF. iRex envisions libraries partnering with them to push content to iLiad users through their iDS, but there is no indication that any libraries are using it yet. However, users have reported that the new RSS software works really well, although RSS content has to be loaded from your computer using the Mobipocket software with the iLiad connected via USB (See comments, Henk van Ess or search on RSS). Also, you can save a Simple English Wikimedia in under 100 MB to an USB flash drive (or other applicable media) to use on the iLiad.

For those with a more technological background, one commenter says you can add an 18GB-CF card and use a Linux swap file and applications from that card. Then you can "listen to Internet radio, use a spreadsheet app, control iTunes remotely, database all your stuff, have a big music collection, use Linux multi-thread technology to switch between applications like books, notes, web pages, and audio controls." The iLiad has "13 button functions that can be altered to do many different things." Each button can have two functions, one activated by a short click and the other by a long click (See comment by Anonymous or search on Linux). The iLiad is the most open of the readers. It is the only one that allows the user to run exe files with the result that programmers are writing programs to extend its usability.

Just as with the Sony Reader, the iLiad can be used as a mass storage device holding content that you have accessed through your computer while connected via USB port on the hub (not the USB port on the iLiad itself, which is only for a flash drive). You could also just save the information to a flash drive and inset it into the USB port on the iLiad. Since adding Mobipocket books in

All three reviewed ebook readers use e ink. Here is a list of Ebooks using e ink. The technology behind e ink is called electrophoretic technology. Computerworld has a June 6, 2008 article on "The Future of e-paper."

The Sony Reader 505's screen has 8 levels of gray with 170 pixels per inch (Sony's 500 screen is 4 levels of gray) while Kindle's screen has 4 levels of gray with 167 pixels per inch (these ppi figures are essentially the same; the Sony figure is probably rounded off). Otherwise the two screens (Kindle and Sony) have the same dimensions (4.9" x 3.6" with a 6-inch diagonal, 600 x 800 pixels) (CNet, 11/19/07). Too bad the Kindle opted for 4 levels losing the extra clarity that the Sony is reported to have. The difference is disputable as other reviewers say the Kindle fonts are clearer and in another place it is said that increased shades of gray makes a difference primarily in the pictures. Sony says the Reader has a near 180° view angle. Since Kindle and iLiad share the e ink technology, I assume this would be true for the Kindle and iLiad also.

The iRex iLiad eBook reader uses 16 levels of gray on its 8.1" diagonal screen with 768 x 1024 pixels at 160 dpi. Because it is a larger screen, the dpi is a slightly lower number. The ultimate plan is to make the iLiad have a color screen (from a PowerPoint presentation listed by the moderator on on TeleRead, slide 25 and others). I am sure that all the ebooks will want color.

[Aside: FLEPia by Fujitsu (FLexible Electronic Paper; generic term is e paper; and the technology is cholesteric LCD) has a color screen now with limited sales (lots of 10 for $13,303) in 2007 and promise to begin general sales in 2008 with the price lowered by the increased production. Photos of various manufacturers' products that use cholesteric LCD are provided on Flickr.]

[Aside 2: The Astak Pro Mentor 9.7 (see also the MobileRead Wiki; joint project with Netronix EB-900) due out in October 2008 has a 1200 x 825 pixel screen at 170 dpi, 4 gray scales, a touch screen, but no mention of drawing capacity. The introduction of the 9.7 is being delayed as Astak explores a flexible screen as a way to reduce crackage to the "glass substrate." It also plays stereo MP3, has 2 USB 2.0 ports - one with charge function, SD card slot up to 4GB, runs on Windows CE 5.0, projected price is under $350. (although another source says $589 dropped to $450 in 3 to 6 months and selling at Costco and Walmart, both of whom want full-solution ebook stores.) Their 5-inch model is to be introduced to the market on July 28 at under $200 or for $299.]

What files can a Kindle read? Kindle (.azw); Text (.txt); unprotected MobiPocket (.mobi and .prc), Audible (.aa) and MP3. Users comment that they are miffed that the Kindle will not read a protected mobi file causing them to have to purchase a book they already own in protected mobi a second time to access it on the Kindle. There has also been some dissatisfaction that while a Kindle will read a MS Word file as a doc, and it will read a txt file, it will not read a rtf (rich text format).

Amazon will also convert some files types to azw (a flavor of mobi which Amazon owns) including MS Word (.d0c), structured HTML (.htm, .html), JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and ZIP (Kindle User's Manual, pp. 77-78). They also have an experimental process where they convert a PDF to azw where some of the results may be unexpected. They deliver the result to your Kindle using Whispernet for 10 cents a document, which represents an access fee for the Internet. However, They will also deliver to your email address for no charge a link from which you can download the converted-to-azw document. Kindle users comment that they will not send private documents to Amazon for conversion. They complain that the documents are archived on Amazon's servers when they would like to opt out of that service.

[Note: The mobi format is based on the Open eBook Publication format specified by the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) with some proprietary extensions. Amazon augmented those mobi extensions to create their azw file type. It would be so nice if Amazon would help end the format wars by going with the standard. This business of creating proprietary formats to lock users into purchasing content from a specific company is part of what is keeping people from going with ebooks in the first place. The concept is certainly part of both Amazon's and Sony's business model.]

What files can a Sony Reader read? pdf, rtf (rich text format), doc (Word files will be converted to rtf), BBeB, MP3 (with specific specifications), AAC file (mp4, m4a, mov, or qt) with stated specifications, bmp, gif, jpg, png (Sony Reader User's Manual, pp. 25-26). The process of importing the files is through the provided ebook Library software. One Sony Reader owner reports that since it is difficult to read pdf format using the Adobe, she converts pdf to rtf using the Adobe Acrobat function.

What files can a iLiad read? Using Mobipocket viewer, it can read mobi books (.prc) and eNews (.htm and .html), [which may explain the photo of the BBC news on the iLiad as well as why more newspapers are not using iDS since they can be accessed through Mobipocket]. In addition, they can read PDF / TXT / JPG / BMP/ PNG. There are also graphic files that are more suited to the iLiad environment such as FAA Flight charts in a specialized version of iLiad called an eFLY book with 21 participating dealers in the USA and an eFLY forum (presently 88 users with over 470 posts). [Other Flybook implementations are on a tablet PC starting at $2449 (probably in color).]

Fixed formatted documents such as PDF were designed for printing, not for the ebook reader environment. Each of the readers handles this problem differently. Each reader also has a more free flowing format for reading. The two different types of files usually demand different controls for adjusting print size.

Kindle's documents are free flowing by default. To change the size of the letters on the Kindle, you press a button (text key at the bottom right of the keyboard) that pops up a menu with 6 sizes of letters pictured from which you select the size you want using a scroll wheel that moves a little light up and down along the right side of the list. There is no mention of being able to change the page orientation.

To view PDF "fixed formatted" documents on the Kindle, one needs to convert to "free flowing" documents, such as azw, doc or mobi. Conversion is either a do-it-yourself task or you can let Amazon run their experimental process of converting PDF to their proprietary azw file. The do-it-yourselfer can use the free MobiPocket Reader to convert a PDF to a mobi, which the Kindle can read. A PDF document can also be converted to a MS Word doc. To deal with the small font size, one can increase the font size after the conversion, and certainly before sending the document to the reader.

The Sony Reader allows you to change through three sizes of letters (S, M, and L indicated at the bottom of the page) using the size button, which is conveniently located to the top and left of the buttons that turn the pages (bottom left of the reader). The button is marked with a magnifying glass with a plus on it. It is really nice that Sony does not require a user to go through a menu system to change the letter sizes. The first two presses increase the size of the letters each time with an icon showing the size at the bottom of the screen. The third press returns you to the default size. Kendrick Adams, in reviewing the Sony Reader, further explains that the first time you request a size change, there is a pause while the Reader reformats the pages at the size requested. He says that by opening the file on your computer and increasing the font size and reloading the file into the Reader, you can further increase the size of a font on the reader.

When viewing a PDF document, the size button alternates between "Fit width" and "Fit visible" (Sony Reader User's Manual, pp. 39, 56). To view the largest print in a PDF, change from vertical to horizontal orientation by pressing and holding the size button, then select "Fit visible." Sony Reader users say (in reviews and forums) they get around the problems of small print in a PDF file by converting it to either MS Word (saved in rtf) or to the Sony proprietary lrf format (Google "pdf to lrf").

The iLiad gives access to its features by a context sensitive tool bar of icons at the bottom left of the screen which are accessed using the stylus (Wacom Slip Pen). Be aware that there are different icons for a Mobipocket file (.prc) and a PDF file.

First, the PDF file will be reviewed. Tapping the landscape view icon rotates the screen counterclockwise to the landscape view and inverses the shades of gray on the icon to show it is active. Tapping the icon with inversed shades will return the screen to the portrait view and the icon to its original shading.

The other viewing controls for PDF files are Continuous mode, Fit to screen, Zoom, Previous zoom, and Pan. Continuous mode is recommended when reading horizontal view so that the pages are presented end to end in a continuous vertical reading order. This has the effect of the usual fit-to-width command for a PDF, i.e., the horizontal window has continuous feed of the width of the file. Fit to screen is another familiar mode for PDF and is the default when a PDF document is opened on the iLiad. It is useful to use when leaving a zoomed view. To activate a zoomed view, click the zoom icon and use the stylus to indicate the area to be zoomed (even a line or circle works which the iLiad converts to rectangular coordinates). Previous zoom allows a person to switch back and forth between the last two zoom screens. To pan, click the icon with the stylus and draw a line in the direction of the desired pan.

Of course, there are back, forward, and search icons. In the search mode, a small keyboard appears at the bottom of the screen allowing tapping with the stylus to enter search phrases. Multiple search strings can be used even in multiple files (multiple files are available from the content lister). A single file is searched from within the document. Repeated taps on the search icon continue to the next item found for the search. While in the content lister, the files can also be sorted by name, extension, size, date, or information tags (title or description).

However there is not book mark function in a PDF document. Programmers have created bookmarking additions to the program. If you want to add programs, you must start by reading all of this page. After that step, you can add the bookmarks program. Included in the listing are MP3 playing software, browsers, games, calculators, file management, organizer software and more.

The iRex and Mobipocket agreed to have the iLiad read Mobipocket files around April 2007 (Announcement in iRex forum). With this addition came an additional manual, and additional tool bar icons that appear in a Mobipocket file including: 1. Table of Contents, 2. Begin Reading, 3. Look Up (to look a word up in one or more dictionaries click on icon, then click on word in reading), 4. Dictionary search (a keyboard appears at the bottom of the page for you to type the word to look up, words appear as keys are entered, click on the word, and definitions appear), 5. Increase font and 6. Decrease font. Clicking on the Increase font will make the font larger and increase the number of pages. Clicking on Decrease font will make the font smaller and decrease the number of pages. Thus, it appears that there are 3 font sizes: the default, one size larger and one size smaller.

On the Kindle, you can highlight and add notes using the Annotation menu at the top right of every page. Highlighting involves marking a beginning point, pressing "Add Highlight ..", scrolling to the end, and pressing the select wheel (Kindle User's Guide, p.44). The highlighted area is enclosed in a box.

The notes you make (annotations) can be viewed in the order they appear in the book in a listing that includes your bookmarks. They are also stored in an area called My Clippings (also backed up on the Amazon servers) and can be downloaded to your computer later. Even when you delete (remove) the book that a clipping came from, the clipping file will not be affected. A note icon appears to the right side of any page with a note. It seems that the note icon means there is at least one note on the page; however in adding the note, one indicates the line the note is attached to, which appears to be an aid for the Kindle to order the notes in My Clippings file. It would be better if the note could appear on the page, but you can easily view the note without changing the page as one must do with end notes in a book. There was no mention of how to view actual end notes of a book, but I imagine that the use of bookmarks will prove helpful in navigating. Bookmarking a page is as simple as selecting the dog-eared icon at the top of the page or using a menu to select "Add bookmark." You can see all your bookmarks by selecting "Go to bookmark..." from the menu. The Kindle automatically saves your place.

There is no mention in the Sony Reader User's Manual of the possibility of highlighting or making notations within the text on the Sony Reader. There is also no mention of being able to copy quotations from the text, as a student would do in the preparation of college papers. However, you can bookmark pages using the Mark button. Holding the Mark button down causes a list of all bookmarks to appear. While there does not appear to be a way to export the bookmarks, they are saved when you move the book from the Reader to the Library. The Sony Reader automatically saves your place.

Often I underline both a word and the same word a few paragraphs later with a light pencil line connecting them. I am not sure how to duplicate that on the Kindle, but I could do it on the iLiad with its Wacom technology. One can vary the shade of gray and the width of a line, by using menu options as this system is not pressure sensitive, and erase the lines. Is is possible to draw on the text or create drawings on a blank page. The notes taken on the ebook pages are saved in a file separate from the ebook file. However, using your computer, you can use the iRex-provided, free iLiad Companion software, (XP version) that will merge the two files in a pdf document. With a pdf document, you can easily select quotations to copy into a college paper without having to type information from the book. Your notes and mark-ups will continue to be visible when you view the book on the iLiad.

In addition, you can use the iLiad for drawing with any jpg, bmp, or png file serving as a template that can be used under numerous drawings or notes such as crossword puzzles. Ars Technica has provided photos of sample mark ups on the iLiad showing sketching on a grid template, making notes over a photograph, writing notes over a musical score, and writing over the Sudoku template. The iLiad templates also include lined paper. Any of these drawings or writings are saved as a new file of the same type using the original name followed by the date and time. The new file is easily transferred to your computer for printing and viewing. In addition, the free companion software will merge a series of images into a pdf document making it easy to combine several pages of notes into a single file. Handwritten notes on a blank or template page such as the lines template can be converted to digital text using handwriting recognition software such as the MyScript Notes 2.1 that iRex sells for an additional $70 making it possible to take notes in a college class and have them translated into text. The probability is that other character recognition software could also be used.

[Note: As far as taking notes in college classes, the LiveScribe Pulse digital pen ($149 for 1G memory capacity for 35 hours of audio at the highest quality setting; $199 for 2G; both pens come with a 100-page notebook of the special paper) looks like a better choice. This cigar-sized pen uses special paper, but LiveScribe plans to add the capability to print your own paper in August. The pen is about a half-inch in diameter. However, the standout feature is its audio recording. Later when you are reviewing your notes, "you can tap a place in your notes, and the pen will play back what it was hearing when that was written." This is what is calling me to investigate the pen farther. Sometimes I miss a word, but with this pen, I won't! Check the LiveScribe web site and Gizmodo review. Since my feeling is that there is no satisfying ebook at the present for me to purchase, this digital pen is a good alternative for note taking. ]

I was very excited to find that the Kindle also plays audio books. I was hoping that an audio book would show the text or that at least one could view the text from a purchased book while playing the text from a purchased audio book. A phone call to Kindle's tech support (866-321-8851) let me know that neither was now possible. My best bet is to continue using text-to-speech software on my computer, which also has the added advantage of highlighting the word or word and sentence being read. One advantage of using my Treo as a book reader is that the text can also be viewed on my computer where it can be read by the text-to-speech software. The Kindle does not allow an ebook to be moved to a computer. However, others are asking for ebooks that can be read to the user with some sort of text-to-speech enhancement.

On the Sony Reader PRS 505 you can listen to a file of the book being read while reading the book, but there are no convenient controls for starting, pausing, fast back or forward, or stopping. There is a control for the volume (Sony Reader User's Manual, pp. 53-54).

For now, I will wait on purchasing a new ebook reader and continue to use the one in my Treo. However, I have to admit that I appreciate the thinking that went into the Kindle. Maybe in the next year I will get one. It will be interesting to watch the developments in the ebook world.

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