May 7, 2009

the kindle DX, e-book readers, and the halls of academe

here in the sociology department, we've been discussing ebook readers since december. every graduate student and faculty member in the natural and social sciences can be seen on a daily basis hauling around large stacks of printed, dog-eared, torn, coffee-stained PDFs.

some of us resort to extreme measures to reduce the number of pages we print. for a 290-page article, i once printed 8 sheets to the page. i cannot recommend it as a reading solution. what i really need is a good e-reader for these stacks of PDFs: all i want is a large screen (at least 90% of letter-size), the ability to annotate (for PDFs, ideally generating a new PDF text layer), some kind of standard connection system (USB would do), and a sensitive design for the shell. sell it to me for under $275, and i'll be happy for at least a month.

except, i've been waiting for such a thing for literally years now. the original kindles are great for reading books, except i will probably never read a book for pleasure on the kindle. kindle 2 is slightly better designed, but still way too small to display full-page PDFs well, and anyway they lack native PDF support--having to go through a complicated email conversion process just to read a PDF is not cool. the irex iliad reader does everything i need it to but the shell is poorly-designed and i would have to sell a kidney to pay for one. i went and poked at the sony reader at a best buy; it does almost everything, including supporting PDFs natively, but is too small for full-page PDFs and something about the design of the shell again spoils it for me. once again, it is more money than i would shell out for something i didn't love deeply. plastic logic's reader looks and sounds like it could be the real deal, but of course has been delayed to market several times and do i really want to buy the first version of anyone's reader?

so when i saw the kindle DX*, i immediately sent a volley of emails off to the many and various people to whom i've complained about technology's propensity to overpromise and underdeliver. is it possible that amazon has finally made something that inadvertently gives me everything i want in an e-book reader? there's no way to tell, of course: it isn't available yet, and it costs almost $500 (plus i would feel compelled to shell out for the 2-year extended warranty, a mere $109 extra). with the thousands of pages of PDFs i'll have to read over the next 4 months, this is a travesty of cosmic proportions. someone at amazon please read this and send me a unit to test.

* i find it incredible that the kindle DX is being contemplated as a viable replacement for hardcopy textbooks and newspapers--as many people have pointed out, kindle+textbooks is not cheaper than used textbooks+selling textbooks, and newspapers aren't dying off because people need a better thing to read them on than paper.

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