Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2012

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The gap is closing as e-readers become powerful enough to run apps and browse the Internet.

At MSBA, we’ve discussed tablets like the iPad and Galaxy at length for their benefit to the legal profession. But there’s a growing class of tablet: the e-reader.

E-readers are smaller and a bit less powerful than a tablet, however the gap is closing as e-readers become powerful enough to run apps and browse the Internet. The newest mini-tablets retain the pocketbook-friendly price tag of an e-reader, usually less than $200 for a function-rich full-color touch screen tablet. You certainly could use an iPad as an e-reader, if you already have one. But the size and weight of an iPad may prove it a bit too bulky for that purpose. And if $500 is about twice the amount you’re comfortable spending, an e-reader may be a great alternative. If you or someone you know is in school, an e-reader can provide a great way to carry multiple textbooks with you without breaking your back and maybe your bank.

With the Christmas season being a little closer than you’d think, e-reader prices are dropping, and you’re bound to see some new gadgets introduced as well. Amazon is due to have an announcement shortly, and Apple is rumored to be releasing an “iPad mini” that will be more appropriately sized for e-books. Barnes & Noble has been dropping prices, also indicating pending updated devices.  Google just entered the market with its fully Android-capable Nexus 7, which ups the ante of the capabilities of e-readers altogether, adding a camera and easy access to Google’s apps.

Below, MSBA’s Website Coordinator, Tanya Roberts, examines her personal Nook e-reader, while MSBA’s Website Assistant, Daniel Pixton, dissects his Kindle Fire e-reader.

Snuggling up to a Nook

I recently purchased a Nook Tablet by Barnes & Noble, and so far I have found it convenient. I find more time to read now that I can read at night, without a lamp to disturb my partner. I’ve rented e-books from the local library, purchased e-textbooks, and started reading for enjoyment again. I receive The Baltimore Sun in my inbox daily, and could also get papers such as The Washington Post or my hometown Cleveland Plain Dealer, not to mention magazine subscriptions, which normally would just clutter my coffee table. On a Nook, I can read anything in PDF format. I can stream from Netflix, Hulu, and Sony’s Crackle video service. Pandora came pre-installed as well.

The Nook Tablet is easy to hold. I can read in the dark thanks to the well-lit screen that is also kind to my eyes, and the web and app offerings help round things out. I can expand the memory of my Nook with a microSD card, which is where it really stands apart from the competition. You are not limited by the size of the device nor need to rely on cloud storage, which is great if you want to read something you’ve been hanging on to for a camping trip or a long flight.

E-Readers in the Simplest Form

If you’d like to spend a little bit less for such a specialized gadget, take a look at any of the Sony, Nook, and Kindle line of “e-ink” black and white e-readers. These devices do less, but resemble reading a paper-and-ink book more closely, and are helpful if you want to reduce internet-based interruptions while you’re reading. Some have wifi connectivity, but it is for attaining new books more than browsing Facebook in between chapters. If you want the benefits of reducing clutter on your bookshelves while spending a minimal amount of money, an e-ink device is the way to go. Check out Barnes & Noble’s Simple Touch with  GlowLight for nighttime reading, or for constant connectivity and no PC connection required, try the Amazon Kindle 3G with free 3G wireless.

My only real criticism is that the Nook blocks apps that are outside its own Barnes & Noble app store. While it is an Android device, not all features are available in the Nook. This can turn the lovely little device in to quite the little money pit. For instance, the free version of Angry Birds isn’t available at B&N, nor can you download it to the device from Google Play. You have to pay a few bucks to fling a few birds.

When I was shopping for my e-reader, I weighed my options heavily between a Kindle and a Nook. In the end, I liked how the Nook felt in my hands a bit better. The case is a bit rubbery and tactile, and feels less mechanical than its counterparts.

Getting Cozy with the Kindle Fire

Many e-readers are available, but for me, the choice always started and stopped with Amazon and the Kindle.  I’ve used Amazon for longer than I can remember, and for so many things I’m sure I’ve paid for at least one of Jeff Bezos’ cars – or surely a wheel, at least.  

From a practical stand point, the Kindle is very easy to navigate and use. The interface is well designed for sorting through your books, or going into the Amazon store and searching for new titles. Battery life on the Kindle is phenomenal. I don’t have 3G on my Kindle, but with WiFi enabled, I’ll only charge my unit once a month, maybe. Regardless of use, the battery lasts and lasts.

The Kindle includes access to the Amazon store for exchanging dollars for words, but also provides many ways to get free content. Collections of books are available for free, such as older books like Sherlock Holmes or Beowulf, which have been transcribed into digital format by Project Gutenberg. You can also borrow books from your local library via the Kindle, and never incur the dreaded library late fee or intense stare of the librarian when borrowing books again.

Amazon’s Kindle is not too different from the Nook, in price as well as features. As part of Amazon’s media offerings, there does seem to be a wider variety of content to download to your Kindle, such as music and movies. With an Amazon Prime membership ($79 per year) you gain access to an even greater variety of content as well as Amazon’s own e-book lending library. This allows each Kindle owner to borrow books for an unlimited amount of time.  The fine print is you can only borrow one book at a time, and only one per month, but one free book is far better than none, regardless of how much you read each month.

The biggest factor in my choice, unrelated to my Amazon addiction, was the Kindle is a simple device.  It does one thing, and it does it brilliantly.  I wasn’t going to be downloading apps, playing games, music (although the Kindle will play MP3s) or watching anything.  All I needed from an E-Reader was something to read.

 

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2012

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