Best e-readers for the summer holidays

If you’re travelling this summer, an e-reader is an essential companion. Instead of cramming your suitcase full of books, an e-reader can save your valuable luggage space. The average e-reader can hold at least 1,000 books at a time, so you’ll never be stuck for something to read.

Kindle-Touch

Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle is the most popular e-reader on the market. Buyers have a choice of model, ranging from the basic Kindle, to the Kindle Touch with 3G. The Amazon Kindle Store has millions of free and paid books, as well as newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and Kindles support MOBI and PDF documents. Weighing in at less than 370 grams, and small enough to fit into your pocket, the Kindle is the perfect companion to a long journey.

The Kindle is available from £89.

Sony Reader

Billed as the ‘world’s lightest ebook reader’, the Sony Reader is perfect for anyone who wants to go digital, but doesn’t want a Kindle. The Sony Reader has a 6-inch screen, and stores up to 1,200 books or documents, including EPUB and PDF formats.

The Sony Reader retails for £120.

Kobo

The Kobo comes in three different models: the Kobo Vox, Kobo Touch and Kobo Wifi. The Kobo Vox offers coloured books, a multi-media screen, and access to Google Play, while the other models use E ink. Books start at 99p.

The Kobo e-reader range is available from £59.99.

Bookeen Cybook Opus eReader

The Bookeen Cybook Opus e-reader is perfect for both novice and experienced digital readers. With  5-inch screen, 1GB memory (enough to hold up to 1,000 books), and up to two weeks battery life, the Bookeen Cybook Opus e-reader has something for everyone.

The Bookeen Cybook Opus eReader retails at £109.98.

iPad

The Apple iPad isn’t technically an e-reader, but it’s still worth a mention on this list. As one of the leading tablets on the market, the iPad is designed for people who want to be able to work and play on the go. The built-in iBooks app gives users access to a huge range of free and paid books that you can download directly into your iBooks library. The iPad doesn’t have E ink, and instead uses a backlit screen, but the device is compatible with a variety of formats, especially when using apps like Stanza.

The iPad is available from £329.

Nuance OmniPage 18 document converter review

OmniPage-18

For an academically inclined nerd I have a surprising amount of upper body strength, a fact I attribute solely to lugging weighty tomes regarding 18th century agrarian poetry around campus for three years. But if you already have a sensible exercise regime in place, you might be looking to cut down on the amount of paper you heave from room to room. Like the cute boy in American teen movies who offers to carry your books for you between classes, Nuance have shyly coughed and are pointing you in the direction of their new OmniPage 18 software.

I know, I reeled you in with that amazing opening sentence that involved nerds, muscles and 18th century agrarian poetry (now there’s a movie idea) only to Sucker Punch you with document conversion software! But wait! Read on! OmniPage 18 really is much more exciting than it sounds.

OmniPage 18 is a conversion and scanning application designed to handle high volumes of documents from multiple devices, document archiving to popular ECM systems and document conversion in Cloud storage – including the ubiquitous and mostly wonderful DropBox. If you have any household or business critical documents and need to store them, OmniPage is your guy.

Check out a tutorial here:

A wide range of scanners are supported so if you have one of those kicking around it should be able to help out. The conversion algorithm has been improved, so the level of accuracy is high and document formatting of tables and charts is preserved – I once worked pdfing financial documents and the production department would often throw a fit when pdf conversion bugs would throw a table out of alignment or change the colour of a chart – so software you can trust matters.

What excited (yes excited) me most about Omnipage is that you can capture text from your iPhone (or any camera) and it will convert it using the magic of OCR into electronic files you can edit, search and share. Omnipage have made document conversion fast, flexible and , dare we say it, fun.

Yours to own for £79.99 from www.nuance.co.uk

Nuance PDF convertor for Mac review

After all the excitement of making How to Train Your Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, the team at Nuance decided they would look at something a little more down to earth with the PDF convertor for Mac.

As someone who has had to both read and write scripts on a regular basis, I’ve seen more than my fair share of PDFs. Unfortunately this has led to a lamentable amount of tears over “final” drafts of documents riddled with errors or last minute corrections. The Type Tool in Acrobat Pro has saved my life so many times, Adobe should replace the cursor icon they currently use with some sort of cape.

Nuance-PDF
Image courtesy of Flickr user ExeterAnna

But the full version of Acrobat is shockingly expensive (just shy of £200) causing my former finance director to do an impressive spit take all over his monitor when I told him we needed copies for everyone in the office. His monitor may have remained coffee free had he known about Nuance PDF convertor (NPC) for Mac, a high performance, low cost PDF convertor.

Unlike free PDF creators, NPC supports a range of high end PDF functions. Whilst all Macs can print to PDF automatically, NPC allows you to edit directly within the PDF file – allowing you to fiddle with text and move, copy, resize or delete images. Bring able to convert PDFs back into fully formatted source documents is also pretty special. Nuance claim support for Word, Excel and WordPerfect files, although I wasn’t able to check the WordPerfect files Sorry WordPerfect fans. As if you haven’t suffered enough.

Other features include the ability to save to searchable PDF – much like Acrobat’s OCR feature. You can also create PDF forms that you can fill in, moving us ever closer to the laughably far away dream of the paperless office.

If you use Macs in business and do a lot of worth with documents then NPC is definitely worth checking out.

Sony Reader vs. Amazon Kindle

Everyone loves a good face-off. The iPhone vs. Android, for example. Or Xbox vs. Playstation. John Travolta vs. Nicholas Cage. In the UK e-reader segment, it’s Sony vs. Amazon. Both are offering better, cheaper e-readers than ever before. The problem is, like mobile phones, one e-reader is plenty – not even decadent French Kings would want one of each. That means there needs to be a “best” option. Which is it? Having had our hands on both devices, we’ve made a decision.

There’s no standardised e-Reader test, so we’ve chosen the categories that are most important to us to judge the devices. We’ll also only be referring to the most premium offerings – the Sony Reader Touch and the Kindle 3 + 3G.
Kindle

Unfortunately, neither Sony nor Amazon were keen for us to drop-test the devices – so that section had to be left on the cutting room floor (unlike the e-readers, which were neatly placed on the desk and definitely were not dropped once, even by mistake).

SCREEN: DRAW

Luckily for consumers, the bit that you’ll spend most time looking at is equally good in both devices. The technology is licensed from E-Ink, so both readers have the same 50-percent-better-contrast-than-last-time display.

PORTABILITY: DRAW

The newer Sony Reader Touch is the smaller of the two, looking much more like a paperback book than the Kindle. It’s also a tiny bit lighter – 220g as opposed to 241g.

The Kindle is more like a supermodel – the taller and slimmer offering. Realistically, however, there is no usable difference between the two. They’ll both fit in most bags and are light to hold with one hand. Any definite answer in this category would be disingenuous – no-one would really care about the little differences between the two.

USABILITY: SONY

This is the first category with a proper winner: Sony. The touchscreen makes navigating extremely easy, especially if you’re used to a touch-capable smartphone. It feels intuitive, lets you browse by book covers (like a low-tech Cover-Flow) and generally makes using the device a pleasure.

The text-based interface of the Kindle is neither as pretty nor as accessible. After having used the Reader, you’ll often end up foolishly poking the Kindle’s screen. That’s not to say the navigation buttons of the Kindle are bad, but nothing beats an easy poke.

FORMAT SUPPORT: SONY

Amazon is very keen to lock you down into their proprietary format – AZW. Sure, you can load on PDFs and text documents, but they all have to be DRM-free to run.

If you want a more democratic hand-held, you’ll love the Reader. EPUB, PDF, BBeB, Text, RTF, Word, JPEG, PNG, GIF and BMP are all supported. And while the Kindle is limited to the Amazon Store (which still has an impressive 420,000 books), the Sony lets you buy from any eBook retailer, as well as “borrow” eBooks from the library.

The impact of Amazon’s restrictions is lessened by the software Calibre, which lets you convert various formats to become Kindle-compatible. It’s an extra hassle, though, and one that sometimes creates strange formatting errors.

CONNECTIVITY: KINDLE

Only one of these devices lets you connect over 3G and wifi, and that’s the Kindle. The Whispanet service, for free wireless delivery of books and newspapers, works in over 100 countries, too. Add in a cute-if-limited web browser, and the Kindle will let you hit up the most popular book of all – Facebook – wherever you are.

The Sony has a nice USB cord, though.

BONUS FEATURES: KINDLE

Both devices pump out a huge range of features that their rival is lacking. Sony has excellent PDF support, utilising “re-flow” to rearrange PDF text so that it is easy to read on-screen. It’s a similar technology to that found on the Android web browser. Amazon offers PDF-conversion, but again, the process can do some funny things – especially with pictures.

Sony’s PDFs also benefit from Quickview, which instantly loads up a low-quality preview of the page you are browsing through. It’s feels like you’re actually flicking through a book and improves PDF navigation immensely.

Add in the ability to borrow books from local libraries, write annotations on-screen, highlight text, touch a word for a definition and double-tap to translate it into one of ten languages and you have some really interesting features on Sony’s side.

So why does the Kindle win? It’s certainly not for the paid-for subscriptions to magazines, newspapers and blogs. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice that the options is there, but you’re not saving much money and are getting quite a cut-down experience.

The jewel in Amazon’s bonus feature crown is the Kindle software. Thanks to a massive expansion, you can read your Amazon-purchased books on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry phones and the soon-to-be-released BlackBerry Playbook. Wherever you are, even if you forget your Kindle, you’ll be able to continue reading from where you left off. The software not only synchronises your download library between devices, but also remembers the last page you were reading.

PRICE: KINDLE

On unit price, the Kindle comes in a lot chapter than the Reader. £149 for the 3G version beats the £199 price-point for the Reader. The £109 wifi-only version runs cheaper than the £129 for the Sony Reader Pocket, too.

In terms of book pricing, the Amazon store frequently undercuts other eBook retailers by as much as 50%. This may change, but at the moment it is certainly very one-sided.

OVERALL CHAMPION WINNER: KINDLE

With battery-life and storage options almost as equal as the screen, the real differentiation between the two comes from the eco-systems, bonus features and price. If you don’t mind being locked into Amazon’s cheaper system, you’ll lack some format support options but you’ll definitely save money.

As for bonus features, the Kindle has the only killer one – the variety of platforms you can read your purchases on. The Sony Reader’s annotation feature isn’t fully-formed, instant word translation doesn’t add to the reading experience and highlighting is another pretty minimal innovation.

If you’re going to read a lot of PDF’s, the Sony Reader is by far the superior option. The cheaper price, however, should kindle frequent readers’ interest in the Amazon device.

Sony e-reader – hands on

I attended the Sony Reader demonstration with one thing in mind – to buy an Amazon Kindle later that day. Somewhere between seeing the Sony Reader and forcing the European Product Manager outside to demonstrate its display in bright sunlight, I changed my mind. I realised quality eReader devices were not just novel to Amazon. I turned a page.

sony-e-reader

On paper, the products are pretty similar. They both store more books than you’ll ever need, although the Sony Reader Touch has an expandable memory of up to 32GB (perfect for listening to music). They’ve both got massive battery lives of about three weeks, and they both have eInk displays.

Despite these key similarities, the first thing that strikes you about the new Sony Reader is how un-Kindle like it looks. While the Amazon device seems to imitate a piece of A4 paper, both the Sony Reader Touch and the Pocket look and feel more like paperbacks. Aluminium paperbacks.

Then you turn it on. When it boots up (in less time than the Amazon reader) you realise that the screen is very Kindle-like. Which is a great thing. The two devices uses the same eInk screen, with massively improved contrast and faster refresh rates over the older version.

The result is an almost identical reading experience, brilliant reading in bright sunlight and the feeling that you’re reading from tree-originating paper.

Unusually for eInk displays, Sony’s addition of a touchscreen has absolutely no effect on the quality of the display. Normally, a resistive touch layer dulls the screen (as screen on previous models), but Sony has innovated their way out of this constraint.

They use a Sony-unique infra-red touchscreen technology to ensure that you can flip pages with your fingers, or annotate with the included stylus, without hindering the reading experience. There is no screen dulling at all.

In fact, the addition of a touchscreen makes the reader a complete delight to use. Not only can you swipe to change page, but you can also double-tap words for definitions (or translations in up to 10 languages), highlight text with your finger and perhaps most importantly, use the new image-heavy interface.

Books can still be chosen by clicking the titles, however there’s also the option to choose books based on their cover image. Sure, the images are in black and white (they’re not miracle workers!) but it’s a nice addition, one that makes it feel like you’re choosing a book from a shelf, rather than opening a text document on the PC.

Of course, you shouldn’t judge a book reader by its cover, which is why Sony have been working on some massive book deals. Not only can you purchase books from any major book publishers in the UK (except Amazon – those fiends!), but you can also download books from Google at www.sony.co.uk./reader. That means 500,00 free books are at your disposal, and are easy to download.

They’ve also started a library scheme. Which may sound dull, but it actually enables you to digitally download eBooks from libraries in 50 councils around the UK. You don’t even need to go into the dusty building – perfect for asthma-suffers and lazy people.

Digitally find the book, chose to download and it is yours for 14 – 21 days. After a set period, the book will automatically return itself. If you’re not quite done, simply click “re-borrow” and it’ll be delivered back to your device.

Strangely, publishers are still running this like a normal library. The institutions will have to buy a certain number of licenses, each representing a book. When all of them are rented out, you’ll not be allowed to borrow the book until a previous copy is returning. A bit archaic, perhaps, but its up to the publishers and libraries, not Sony, to sort that out.

The Sony Reader also promises “intelligent PDFs”, where the text reflows to fit the screen’s zoom level – something the Kindle sorely lacks. Sony also claims that PDFs are quicker on the Reader – and they are quick – but we didn’t get to try a side-by-side with the Amazon offering.

As well as reflow, the Reader offers page a quick-display of pages when you’re scrolling through. Hold down the page change button and it’ll preview the up-coming pages with no visible refresh time, making browsing for a certain page a cinch.

All in all, the new Sony Readers are pretty exciting. If Amazon hadn’t decided to dramatically undercharge for the Kindle, massively undercutting the rest of the market, then the Sony Reader may be the perfect choice. As it is, the £109 Kindle is more pocket-friendly than the Reader Pocket, which rolls in at £159 with a smaller, 5.5″ screen and no music playback.

The Reader Touch is full-sized and fully-featured, but will set you back £200 – an extra £50 on the premium Kindle.

The final chapter on the issue will come next week, when we’re getting an extended hands-on with the Reader. We’ll let you know whether the added functionality is worth the premium price.