Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Kindle and The Sony: A Couple of Electronic Book Readers

[Here's a recent piece I wrote for my monthly technology column in La Prensa, a Western Massachusetts Latino newspaper. To read previous La Prensa technology columns go here.]

Amazon recently released a product called the Kindle, a 10.3 ounce electronic reader with a 6 inch grey-scale screen. The Kindle allows users to connect wirelessly and shop the Amazon Kindle store electronically – a computer is not required. According to Amazon, more than 90,000 books are available including 100 of the 112 current New York Times Best Sellers with most selling for $9.99 each. Newspapers are also available including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post along with top magazines including TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes. Monthly subscriptions to newspapers cost between $5.99 to $14.99 per month and magazines typically cost from $1.25 to $3.49 per month.

The Kindle uses a cell phone data network and works just about everywhere your cell phone works. There are no monthly wireless bills – wireless charges are included in the cost of the content being downloaded. Users can also email documents and pictures to a Kindle. A Kindle is not cheap at $399 for the device.

Sony also has a product called the Sony Reader. The Sony Reader is a one-half inch thick e-book reader that weighs around 8 ounces. It holds about 80 books worth of content and has a rechargeable battery that lasts approximately 7,500 page turns. It has 64MB of internal memory and an additional memory card slot. The screen is very pleasant on the eyes, using a technology called e Ink® from E Ink Corporation. E Ink uses micro-capsules instead of the glowing LCD cells on computer screens that appear as black or white depending on the charge associated with page content. The Kindle uses the same E Ink screen technology. According to Sony: "The result is a reading experience that’s similar to paper - high contrast, high resolution, viewable in direct sunlight and at a nearly 180-degree angle, and requiring no power to maintain the image."

The Sony Reader requires a computer for book purchases and transferring files (via USB cable) to the Reader. The Sony Reader also displays documents, blogs, newsfeeds, and JPEG file pictures (like the Kindle - just black and white) and plays unsecured MP3 and AAC audio files through an external audio jack. Books are primarily purchased by users using Sony’s ebooks website. The Sony Reader is currently selling for around $300 on Amazon.

Back in September I wrote here about the weight of my two daughters book bags and the Sony Reader. In the September post I calculate both of my daughters Book Bag to Weight Ratio (BBWR).

I see great potential for ebook products, especially in our classrooms. If you also have children (or grandchildren or know children) in school you likely have concerns about the weight of books they are carrying around every day in their bookbags. An electronic reader like the Amazon or Sony products could be a perfect solution. However, I don’t think we’ll see widespread use in our classrooms until the price drops and a color screen is included.

UPDATE (12/6/07, 12:30PM): A buddy, John W., wrote to me this morning. Go to eBay and do a search on Kindle - check out those prices!

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