Inching closer to the perfect e-reader for students

Inching closer to the perfect e-reader for students

Summary: What would we want in an ideal e-reader to jam in our students' backpacks? I've talked about it before (there are links to my other e-textbook musings in this particular post, too), but we'd certainly want color and high-resolution images.

TOPICS: Security, Hardware

What would we want in an ideal e-reader to jam in our students' backpacks? I've talked about it before (there are links to my other e-textbook musings in this particular post, too), but we'd certainly want color and high-resolution images. Touch and note-taking capabilities are obvious choices. And we'd sure as heck want open file formats and a reasonable approach to DRM (if not a whole lot of DRM-free content).

Sony's new e-reader products are definitely getting closer on many of those fronts and are certainly more education-friendly than the Kindle. They've been well-covered on ZDNet and elsewhere, so I won't spend much time extolling their features.

I'm also not heading out and purchasing a bunch of them for our students (although I know what's on my Christmas list this year: the Reader Touch is just what my stacks of books-in-progress ordered). However, aside from the color and resolution issues (which the natural progression of this technology will solve soon enough), Sony seems to be getting this right.

Their partnership with Google and the New York Public library, as well as their switch to the EPUB format means that Sony is getting much closer to putting full library resources into students' hands (literally). As PCWorld notes,

Remember libraries? If you buy a Sony e-reader, you won't have to give them up thanks to the company's partnership with OverDrive -- an e-book providesony readerr that works with a network of public libraries.

Touch capabilities allow direct marginal notes on the two higher-end models of the Reader and Jason Perlow told me yesterday that he didn't think his Shrek hands could break this one (his Kindle didn't stand a chance).

It wasn't long ago that I was not feeling particularly hopeful about electronic textbooks. While I still think we have a long ways to go, particularly with dedicated reader devices and publisher adoption, competition and innovation in this segment have me feeling quite a bit better.

Topics: Security, Hardware

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Give it away, just like Cell Phones

    If Sony,Amazon,Plastic Logic, IREX, etc... want people to start reading content on eReader devices, they need to start giving them away for free... with a service contract, much like the cellphone industry.
    Most people already understand these types of contracts and will feel like they are embarking on a reading plan and not purchasing a device that will become obsolete in a couple of years. This way readers could bundle content and keep it simple. For example you could sign up for a 24 month plan where you pay $20 a month for the right to download one book a month and two magazines or one book and a subscription to a newspaper. This type of Sales model is proven to work well with cell phones I think it would work even better with eReaders. I predict that the company that adopts such a sales model will become the industry leader.
  • RE: Inching closer to the perfect e-reader for students

    Note taking is fundamental for a student. In fact the idea of an e-reader is simply a subset of the device that I, as a former student and now researcher, want. Since my domain is physics I would like to be able to enter mathematical equations and have them solved for me with graphical representations. That is, mathematica, but with pen input and high quality typesetting output. Yes, of course, I would like to be able to read text books but also would like to be able to copy equations to combine into research papers for publication.

    Alan Kay had his dyna book way back in the early '70s. Why has it taken so long to approach his ideal?
  • RE: Inching closer to the perfect e-reader for students

    The Kindle and the Sony reader are so old-school.

    Digital textbooks shouldn't just provide static, digital copies of paper pages. They should utilize the amazing power of computers and the Internet to provide Web links, animations, videos, interactive exercises for learner feedback, assessment, and polling. The leading edge of the digital textbook revolution isn't on the Kindle or the Sony--it's available for your PC, your Mac, or your Netbook.
  • Pixel Qi & Android

    I think an eReader with a Pixel Qi display (for grayscale & color) would be awesome!

    Android, as the OS, would be another great feature. That would enable access to all of the existing Android apps PLUS, the educational community could use it as a platform to develop other educational materials.
    • won't work

      I am in love with Pixel Qi, but its screens won't work for e-readers. That is because, while they use less power than standard displays, they still use far too much for an e-reader.

      In mono mode, a Pixel Qi uses a good deal more power than e-paper because it uses a liquid crystal and so it requires continual power. For color you also have to turn on the backlight, and so it is nearly as bad as a standard laptop.

      The best explanation I have found of how the Pixel Qi XO display works is at
  • Daylight readability

    I seem to recall a lot of talk about students getting outside more (sunshine, Circadian regulation, SAD, stuff like that.)

    So naturally we switch their reading assignments to require a device that can only be read in low light, right?
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Learn something about it before you say something next time

      eInk is reflective technology, and was developed with one of the main goals being readability in bright conditions. Check the Sony website, among other places.
  • Another temporary product

    I've been reading books on my smartphone for years - and no that's not the low resolution iToy.

    As true smartphones get better and better resolution - 800 pixels wide now and getting bigger - yuo will already have your book reader in your pocket rather than having to carry around a large tablet.
  • RE: Inching closer to the perfect e-reader for students

    What some posters don't understand is that eReaders use a different technology than iPhones or other SmartPhones. The eInk technology uses much less battery life (the battery is only drained when you turn a page or otherwise refresh the screen), and they're much easier on the eyes.
    • And don't forget

      eInk is very STATIC - you sacrifice moving images for low power use. Not to mention that this doesn't really lend itself to color - except maybe very basic color text.
      Roger Ramjet
  • RE: Inching closer to the perfect e-reader for students

    There's at least one serious flaw in the Sony reader. It's made by Sony.
    Sony makes excellent products. BUT, if there's a problem, you have to deal with Sony service and I don't know of a worse high tech company to deal with. If you do purchase anything from Sony, be certain to keep a file with records of your purchase and the names and dates of anyone and everyone you talk to and of every attempt you make to resolve the problem. This will be crucial if the problem occurs near the end of the warranty, because one minute after the end date, you have no warranty and are fair game. If you receive it a gift, ask for the receipt because without it, you have no chance. If you buy it for XMAS, and shop early, get the store to show a delivery date of Dec 25 on the store receipt.
  • RE: Inching closer to the perfect e-reader for students

    Given that some of these e-readers can store around 1000
    books, it would be great to have an integrated search
    capability that would search the text of the books and
    any notes that were taken while reading the books.
    Believe it or not, Microsoft's One Note has some great
    features that the e-books could incorporate.
  • No upload capability

    In order to keep the DRM intact, there can be no way to transfer any file OUT of the reader. You could take notes - but not share them. And because of the eInk tech, you wouldn't have much video capability.
    Roger Ramjet
    • Read the Sony site before you complain

      It also works with un-DRMed PDF's (and other formats). You store stuff on a SD card (up to 16GB), so that sounds pretty portable and transferable to me.
  • BIGGER, Please!

    I can't effectively use one of these mini-paperback readers, I really need an 8-1/2 x 11 or so display for the material I work with. I just hope that when Plastic Logic (with B&N?) comes out with their product, it will have annotating/highlighting capability, too.
  • RE: Inching closer to the perfect e-reader for students

    Why do you want colour, Chris? Surely black n white and shades of grey would do the job just at well. And bring the price down too.

  • Color ebookreader with hiliting and marginal notes shipped in 2001

    I love mine. Why doesn't someone make one like this now?