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Ebooks and Ereaders

Ebooks and Ereaders

Kobo Mini vs. Nook SimpleTouch

ETA 6/19/2013: Hi, everybody who keeps hitting this post from search engines! Gracious, there are a lot of you. I’ve been seeing this post get something like 8-10 hits a day for a while now. So y’all say hi, won’t you? If there’s anything I don’t talk about in this post that you’d like to know about, or anything you’d like me to post about in a future post series on how to read ebooks, drop a comment and let me know!

ETA 6/20/2013: Also, if you haven’t seen this post yet on a few followup remarks I’ve got on the Mini, go check that, too.

Third Place Books, my indie bookstore of choice, has joined up with a bunch of other US indie bookstores to sell Kobo ereaders. And since Third Place currently has the Mini on sale for Valentine’s Day, I decided to scarf one and play around with it. This is partly an experiment to see whether I want to commit to making Kobo (and through them, Third Place) my primary ebook source, but it’s also general geeky interest in comparing ereaders. The Nook so far has been my only e-ink device I’ve had firsthand access to; I was quite interested in playing around with another one, just so that I can speak with at least a little more authority on what the various devices are like.

My first impression on pulling this thing out of the box is ZOMG tiny. It’s even smaller than the Nook and lighter as well. Weight-wise, it even feels lighter than my iPhone 5, though that may change once I find a cover for it.

Kobo and Nook Side by Side

Kobo and Nook Side by Side

Setup was super-easy. All I had to do was plug the thing into my computer with the provided USB cord, point a browser at, and download their desktop app. Then, running the desktop app, I had to log in with my Kobo account.

It promptly began syncing up with my existing Kobo library, pulling down my small number of purchases as well as a great number of samples I’d added. I noticed though that the Help button down at the bottom was cut off, and there didn’t seem to be a way to resize the window to make that button completely visible. (Hi, I’m a QA tester, I notice these things!)

But what if I want to click on Help?

But what if I want to click on Help?

Sideloading was just as easy as with the Nook, since I just had to launch Calibre and send files to the device, the same way as with the Nook. Also, Kobo’s site Help does confirm that you’re able to just drag and drop files directly onto the device if you want to.

The Kobo Help says this thing talks epub AND PDF, so I tried sideloading a PDF onto it as well as an epub. That worked just fine. I suspect though that this device would have the same issue that the Nook does with a PDF–i.e., that even if the device can read a PDF, depending on how it’s formatted, it may or may not look nice on the screen. The PDF I tried came through with the text showing up really tiny.

And, as I poke around Kobo’s Help, I see that you cannot in fact change the text size of a PDF on this thing the same way you can on a Nook. You CAN use a two-finger double-tap gesture to zoom in on the text–but then, the text is too big for the page to fit on the screen at once, and you have to drag the page around to see everything. This is a sub-optimal reading experience, so I’d have to say that when it comes to reading PDFs, the Nook wins slightly. (But I’d still not recommend reading PDFs on either device.)

Comparing Faerie Blood on both devices, Dara and I find that the Kobo renders the cover ever so slightly more smoothly. I’m also seeing that the Kobo device is a bit weirder about rendering the centering of the title page–it looks good on the Nook but a bit weird on the Kobo.

Response time seems to be slightly better on the Kobo but not enough to really notice. So far I’m liking the page transitions a bit better, though. Not as much obvious screen flash, and you can adjust the settings as to how often it does a full screen refresh. Right now mine’s set to the max of every six pages.

You can make custom shelves on the Kobo, like you can on the Nook. I note with pleasure that the shelf functionality on the Kobo includes the ability to let you search for specific titles or authors or keywords, when adding books to a shelf. This is extremely helpful if you don’t want to have to page through dozens of pages of books, as you would have to do in a library as large as mine.

I also note that if you kick over into the mode that shows a list of books rather than the cover grid, the books will show whether they are Read or Unread. COOL. I don’t see a way to make a shelf of books that are Read or Unread, but if there’s a way to do that, that would be awesome.

I notice that if you connect the device to your computer via USB, you have to remember to tap the Connect button on the screen before the computer acknowledges its presence. That’s an extra step to take that you don’t have to do on the Nook.

And hmm. As I add more books to the device, the response time slows down a bit. So yeah, it’s pretty much neck and neck with the Nook.

I’m seeing some screwiness in metadata on the Kobo that I don’t see on the Nook–some titles coming through in all caps, and one or two books that came down off my Kobo library that don’t have a known author shown. But that, I think, is a question of the store not being quite as thorough with its metadata as the B&N store is.

Overall though my impression of this device is positive. I’d say it’s a decent competitor with the Nook SimpleTouch, if you’re in the market for an e-ink device.

Anybody have any specific questions about either that you’d like to me to clarify, let me know! I’ll be happy to post updates in the comments or in future posts.

ETA: Ooh, this is an important thing to note. The Kobo Mini talks more file formats than the Nook does. To wit, it understands mobi, txt, html, xhtml, and rtf. VERY good to know.

Ebooks and Ereaders, Publishing

Like indie bookstores? Like ebooks? Now you can have BOTH!

So I saw this firing up a few months ago and it tickles me deeply that this is happening: while Amazon and Barnes and Noble have been duking out in the US ebook market, Kobo has swooped in to team up with independent bookstores to sell devices and ebooks through them!

Which means that two of my favorite indie bookstores, Third Place Books and the almighty mecca of bookstores that is Powells, are now additional places where you can get Faerie Blood in ebook form if you have a Kobo account. And if you buy through their sites, you then do your part to support these lovely indie bookstores.

How awesome is this? PRETTY DAMNED AWESOME.

It particularly tickles me to see Third Place doing this, since as y’all may recall, their Third Place Press IS my printer for the hardcopy edition of Faerie Blood! And now you can also buy the ebook from them as well!

Now, of course, you’d need an actual device to read them on. I have yet to handle a Kobo reader of any sort myself but online friends of mine who are Kobo customers have spoken well of them. (Alternately, I know you can also run the Kobo app on iDevices and one presumes there is an equivalent for Android devices as well.) What experience I do have with Kobo though is this–I do have an account with them, kept because sometimes I want to get ebooks that Amazon and B&N don’t have. Oftentimes I’ve found that they might have, say, the UK release of something before Amazon or B&N gets the US release.

But man, now that I know Third Place has teamed up with them, I may have to seriously rethink my ebook buying patterns. And if I grow weary of the Nook, I’ll have to put serious consideration into jumping ship to Kobo. Because I loves me some Third Place, and I’d love to see this effort of theirs pay off!

Ebooks and Ereaders

Meet my new Nook!

I’m not normally one for needing to get the next revision of a device I own as soon as it comes out, but in the case of the new Nook Simple Touch, I’ve made an exception. I was interested by it as soon as I heard it was coming, and what finally pushed me over to get a new one was discovering that the software on the original Nooks (now called Nook 1st Edition) is not going to be updated any more after the current rev, 1.6.

So I went out and grabbed one of the new Nooks yesterday. And I’ve gotta say, if you’re interested in the Nook at all as your reader of choice, the new one is a significant improvement over the old.

Cool Things:

  • It’s smaller. The actual screen size is comparable, but since they’ve lost the clunky color touchscreen on the bottom, the overall device is noticeably smaller and a bit lighter as well. This is a win, given all the stuff I typically carry in my backpack.
  • It’s a full touchscreen device now. This was one of the things that always confused me about the first Nook–I’d keep forgetting that I’d have to tap on stuff in the bottom area to navigate around on the device, and would try to tap the e-ink portion of the screen instead. Now you can do that. And so far I’ve found it satisfyingly responsive, especially when turning pages, which actually works a bit better than the page-turning buttons on the side.
  • Big big big win: they’ve combined the B&N and non-B&N book lists. So now all your B&N purchases and all your sideloaded content show up in the same overall index. This means that the Shelves functionality is now much less stupid. I’ll actually use Shelves on it now.
  • They’ve ditched some of the superfluous stuff from the first Nook, like the “Nook Daily” icon I never read anything on, the games, and the browser. I cared absolutely zero about any of these things. I don’t need my ereader to play Sudoku or let me listen to music; I just want to read books on it. What icons are available now, Home, Library, Shop, Search, and Settings, seem much more intuitively arranged to me.
  • The new Nook is significantly, and I mean significantly, less expensive than what I put down for the first one. It’s roughly $140. (But then, the prices on the 1st Edition Nooks have also come down hard, and B&N’s selling those still for cheaper than the new ones. So if your budget is tight, you may still want to look at the old ones. Just be aware that the software on them will not get any further updates.)

  • The page turning buttons have been entirely redesigned. They’re a bit harder to press now but given how they’re set into the sides of the device, they should not have the same problem the first generation devices did with the buttons cracking under extensive use.

Potential minuses for previous Nook owners:

  • PDB support has been dropped. This was mostly a problem for me since I have a couple hundred titles I’d bought from Fictionwise, which only sells in epub format if the titles are DRM-free. So I had to take Certain Steps to get those titles onto the new device. If you’re not a customer of a site that sells in PDB, this’ll be less of an issue.
  • The Shelves functionality is still not as awesome as it could be. I can’t find any immediately obvious way to add a single title to a shelf; what I have to do right now is to edit the overall Shelf and then page through my entire list of books to find the one(s) I want. Given that I have several hundred books on the device, this takes a while! So they really need to add a way to just click on the options for a single book and choose what shelves, if any, you’d like to add it to.
  • If you actually liked the segregation of B&N and non-B&N content, you’ll have to recreate it manually yourself via Shelves. Which, given the previous point, may take you a bit. There were times that I actually kind of liked having the lists separate, just because I like to keep track of what books I bought from what site.
  • While much is being made of the improved screen contrast on the new device, so far I haven’t actually noticed much of a difference. I need to compare in different light conditions though, given that the only place I’ve compared so far was in my usual corner of the couch in the living room and that’s one of the dimmer parts of the house unless the lights are on. More on this as I have it.

  • This device doesn’t talk 3G, so if that’s a dealbreaker for you, be aware. It’s wi-fi only.

Other stuff you may or may not like:

  • Better selection of fonts for displaying a book’s text. The old Nook had only three to choose from; this one’s got six.
  • There’s new social networking functionality that lets you hook into your Facebook or Twitter accounts to share data about what books you’re reading. You can also import Google contacts onto it.
  • Relatedly, there’s also a new “Nook Friends” thing they’re setting up where you can make a little social network with other Nook-owning friends. This is supposed to let you see each other’s reading lists, lend books, and such. This will be interesting, I think, only if it means you can loan books more than once. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from ebook readers all over the Net is the stupidity of being able to loan a book just once; I hope they have addressed this. I haven’t found out yet though.

  • The settings for connecting to a Wi-Fi network seem better laid out; it was a lot easier to see what networks the new Nook had already memorized.

So overall: a significant win, I feel. userinfosolarbird and I will probably amuse ourselves with rootkitting the old Nook, unless somebody expresses interest in buying it off of me; if anybody wants to, let me know!

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 6.2: Adobe Digital Editions on Linux

I’m dedicating a small post to this just because userinfotechnoshaman asked me about this a while back, and I never did answer his comment on that. (Apologies, Glenn!) He asked me at that time:

Any word on how tricky it is to get ADE to run with Wine? This is, of course, relevant to my interests!

I waffled on answering this in no small part because I didn’t actually know. I don’t normally run Linux as a desktop OS at home, although I have an Ubuntu VM on my Macbook, so I had no firsthand information. But that said, one of the lovely things about the Linux community is that if you have a question that needs settling, chances are somebody out there has investigated that problem and has a solution or at least a workaround.

A judicious bit of Googling therefore got me this thread on the Ubuntu forums, wherein users are discussing ADE on Linux via WINE. It dates back to 2008-2009, but given that I still haven’t heard that Adobe plans to do a Linux version of ADE any time soon, (and, for that matter, I haven’t seen a new build of ADE in a while either), I’d say it’s a safe bet the information therein is still reasonably current.

Anybody out there who does have firsthand experience running ADE on Linux, or who is aware of any Linux-based solutions for checking out ebooks from libraries, do speak up!

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 6.1: More on checking out library books

I totally fell over finishing these posts up, but would like to get back to this series of posts now that I have new data to add to them courtesy of my recent iPad. And, conveniently enough, that ties back into the last post I did, which was about how to check out library ebooks!

I have discovered to my pleasure that there’s an iPhone/iPad app called Overdrive Media Console. This thing talks to Adobe DRM, and will go out and yoink down ebooks for you from any library websites that are compatible with the app. Here’s what you do:

  • Go install the app from the App Store.
  • If you don’t have one already, create an Adobe ID so you can authorize your i-Device to unlock Adobe DRM books.
  • Log into the app with your Adobe ID, and let it authorize your device.
  • Click the “Get Books” button up in the right hand corner to search for library websites. I found mine with little effort, and once you’ve found your library, the app should add it to your list.
  • You can then use the app to load your library’s website (it’ll open in Safari). In my case, that loaded in Safari and gave me a mobile version of the site, hooked into the app.
  • Log in with your library’s website credentials so you can get at your account.
  • Use the website’s systems, whatever they may be, to download items you check out. In my case, when testing this tonight, I had two books checked out and was able to simply tap the Download button on each to have them come straight down into the app.
  • Read!

This was, in short, awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I actually prefer reading on the Nook (for various reasons I’ll get into in the next post in the series), but getting the library books onto the iPad was so much easier and less headachy than getting them onto the Nook that I will probably do this for all future library checkouts. The main point of headache for Nook-based checkouts, the painful ADE app Mac-side, is completely bypassed this way. I would definitely recommend this for my fellow i-Device owners.

Now, here’s the best part: this app is not exclusive to i-Devices, either. There are desktop versions for both Windows and Mac, AND there are mobile versions for Android and Windows Mobile users as well. Check out these other versions, people, and report in on how well they work for you!

All of this does of course assume that you have a valid account on whatever library system you’re checking out books from, so be sure and handle that separately from getting the app installed. You may need to hunt around a bit to find a library system you can use, if your local one doesn’t support electronic checkouts. Y’all please feel free to report in on what library sites you like, whether or not they allow checkouts from persons who don’t live in the area, and anything else you’d like to share!

As a last note, thus far my library experiences with ebooks are limited to the Nook and to my iPad. So if folks out there are aware of other systems that allow interesting ebook checkouts, share those too!

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 6: How to check out library ebooks

This is part 6 of my posts on how to read ebooks. Here I’ll get into how to check out ebooks from libraries that support that, and what you need to be able to do this. Basically, you will need two things: Adobe Digital Editions, and an account with the library of your choice (which must be set up to do ebook checkouts).

I mentioned ADE in my previous ebooks post, so will just briefly repeat here that ADE is supported on Windows and Mac computers. (Linux users, you’ll have to run it via WINE, I fear.) It supports both EPUB and PDF files, and the list of ereaders it supports is over here. The major ereaders I’m aware of that ADE supports are the nook, the Sony readers, and the Kobo.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: the Kindle is NOT supported by ADE, and to the best of my knowledge, that’s because of Amazon using its own proprietary DRM format. So right now, Kindle users aren’t able to use ADE to check out library books. This may change if the Kindle picks up EPUB support, though. Kindle users, if any of you are aware of alternate means through which you can check out ebooks, drop me a comment and let me know!)

Now, in order to be able to check out books from an ebook-capable library, you will of course need an account with that library. You’ll want to check out the website of your local library and see if they have a “Downloads” or “Digital” or “Ebooks” section, and if so, you should be able to follow their procedures for getting an account set up. (Some libraries may allow out-of-area access to users who want to check things out over the net as well, so even if you don’t live in the area of a library you’re interested in, find their website anyway. You may still be able to get an account.)

Once you have ADE set up on your computer and an account with the library you want to get content from, you’ll basically want to follow the library website’s directions for how to check out a digital book. You’ll want to look for either EPUB or PDF files, depending on what ebook format you’re better able to read.

What you’ll wind up downloading though will be a stub file, not that actual book. Once you’ve downloaded that file, you’ll want to open ADE and then doubleclick the stub file download, so that ADE can then open up the actual book with the timestamp on it that says how long you’re allowed to have it. (Note: On my system, I’ve had to be careful to open ADE first, otherwise I get error messages that claim I need to download an update I don’t actually need. Your mileage may vary depending on your system.)

Once ADE has the book, you can read it right there on your computer. However, if you want to copy it down to your ereader, you can also do that via ADE. If your ereader is plugged into one of your computer’s USB ports, ADE should see it (one more note: you may need to plug in the device first and then launch ADE; I have that problem with my nook). And if ADE can see it, you should be able to just copy the library book right down to the device.

And then you can read! You should be able to use ADE to delete the file off the device when you’re done with it, and you can also use ADE to “return” the book as well.

For the next post in this series, I’ll talk a bit about various technical differences between devices I’m familiar with, and how difficult it is to get books onto them.

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks page added!

It occurred to me that I should have a top-level page about how to read ebooks on my site, so I have now added one. If you hit the index, you should see it now on the menu.

If you like, please feel free also to refer people interested in the topic to

Comments on all the posts welcome, and I’ll edit and update the posts to reflect any errors I might have made. Please especially feel free to share your experiences with the reader clients of your choice on my previous post, folks!