Amazon also, without warning, removed copies of George Orwell's 1984 from customers' readers that it had inadvertently sold in contravention of copyright. More recently it shared harvested information about user highlighted passages with other readers of the same book. Especially for businesses, this generates security and privacy concerns. And Amazon is not the only e-book vendor whose licence allows it to monitor its readers. Privacy advocates from the Electronic Frontier Foundation have published a comparison of the privacy stances of several popular readers and e-book providers.
Plastic Logic's coming QUE reader targets business users specifically with its 10.7-inch diagonal display and WiFi or 3G connectivity. It has partnered with publications such as the Wall Street Journal to provide downloadable subscriptions so busy executives can keep track of the news.
Other readers have no Internet connectivity at all, wireless or otherwise, and must be loaded from a personal computer - a little less convenient, but more secure.
Analysts are divided on the future of the standalone e-book reader, with the advent of connected devices such as the iPad (dubbed Mobile Internet Devices, or MIDs) prompting predictions of convergence as prices fall for MIDs. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research firm In-Stat's senior analyst Stephanie Ethier notes in an In-Stat Information Alert, "The differences between the two device segments will blur. They will be defined by either application or the device itself."
Two of the lower-priced offerings are prime examples of basic readers that need never see a commercial book to insinuate themselves into their owners' lives.
First, we have the Kobo eReader, created by a Toronto company whose majority owner is Indigo Books and Music. It hits the Yankee Group's sweet spot at a price of $149 (Cdn.).
It tips the scales at just under 8 ounces, with dimensions of 7.2 x 4.7 x .4 inches. Its display is a 6-inch (diagonal) E-Ink screen, like that of more expensive units, set in a plain white bezel adorned only by a large blue button that's the primary control for book selection and page turning. Four more tiny buttons let the user return to the home screen, pull up the menu, adjust display settings and back out of books or menus occupying the left edge. A quilt-textured rubberized back lets it sit easily in the hand without slippage.
The Kobo comes populated with 100 free e-books (out-of-copyright classics), but has plenty of memory left for additional documents (the preloaded books occupy a fraction of its 1 GB or 1,000 book capacity), and it also has an SD card slot that can cope with up to 4 GB additional storage. Battery life is rated at about 8,000 page-turns (remember, power is consumed only when the display changes).
Readers can select from five font sizes, in both serif and sans-serif typefaces; all are easy on the eyes.
Documents are added via either a USB connection to a PC, or over a Bluetooth connection. The Kobo appears to the computer to be a USB storage device, so it's easy to copy files to it. It comes with its manual and both Windows and Mac software that allow it to connect to the Kobo online bookstore stored on the reader.
The reader supports ePub and PDF formats, as well as Adobe DRM (a copy protection technology). I found that some PDF files did not display well, and required panning to see the whole page; the ePub volumes all worked perfectly.
I did manage to lock up the reader at one point, and had to do a hard reset. The issue turned out to be a corrupt e-book file on my SD card that confused reader software; error handling could definitely be improved. These problems may be a function of the newness of the device, which hit the market only at the beginning of May. There is to be a software update at the end of May to address several such issues, including the impossibility of removing any of the 100 pre-loaded books, which have arisen since the product launch.