With just one exception, all the books I read in 2014 were ebooks. I was a very late convert, but I really see the appeal now. Having an unlimited number of books at your fingertips is incredibly handy, and should mean that you’re never without something good to read. Here’s some of my preferences that have emerged over this first year:
I’ve read books on my iPhone, several different iPads, a 10″ Samsung tablet, my MacBook, an old, old original Kindle Fire and currently (and mostly) my Nexus 7. I got the Nexus for my birthday in July, so I’ve spent about half the year with that. It’s a truly terrible device if you compare it with an iPad, but it isn’t too bad overall for reading and light usage otherwise. It has a strange lagginess that makes it infuriating to use beyond any light web browsing, but is overall great for reading books. The screen is bright and thankfully “retina”, so on the plus side it’s a beauty to look at, if not use.
I’ve surprisingly been fairly happy overall when reading on all of these devices. Everything from the iPhone to the laptop — given the right (compelling) book — has proven great for reading. I thought the 10″ Samsung and the iPad 4 were going to be too big to read on, but they definitely weren’t. I just had to change the margins and I was basically back to the same line-width that I was used to on all my other devices.
Overall, the Nexus 7 has been both the best and worst device. It’s so frustrating to use for most things other than reading, but this has a beneficial side effect of me using it just for reading, hence I read more. So I’d call that an overall win.
The one device I’ve never used is an actual eReader — a Kindle or Kobo. I’ve played with them, but I’ve never read a full book on one. I’d love to borrow one and compare. The ones I’ve seen though have been slow, laggy, jaggy and pixely, so I’m not really too excited about them.
After reading 20+ books on an eReader, you come to require certain features:
Almost infinite adjustability. I need to be able to adjust the line-height, font, font size, background colour and margins. I tend to get very frustrated in readers where I can’t do all these. I’m looking at you iBooks. I’m actually trying to take a screenshot of the reading app on my Nexus 7 right now to show you what my settings are, but it won’t work. See? Infuriating.
Scroll. I read using scroll instead of hard page turns. No idea why really, but I like to read this way. It’s not an absolute must, but it is my preference. I’ve yet to find an eReading app that does this on iOS, and I use Moon+ Reader on Android. Despite random, weird and frustrating issues, Moon+ is my favourite reader at the moment. If you know of an iOS equivalent, please let me know.
Multi-device. Whenever possible I buy and download ePub versions of ebooks. I save the file to my dropbox and sync it across all of my devices. I may only read a few pages of a book on my phone, but when I’m waiting at the doctor’s office or somewhere, it’s really handy to have it with me.
Variable adjustment backlighting. I’m always adjusting the level of backlighting on my tablet. In different rooms, different times in the day, and when I read in bed, I turn it down extra low. I’ve seen older eReaders with actual lights (not backlight) that have 2-3 dimness settings. I don’t think this would cut it for me. I’d always want a setting in between.
If I could design my own eReader today, it would have all of these essential features:
- Easily adjustable backlighting
- Automatic syncing of all books across all devices. Likely Dropbox-powered
- Retina eInk (absurd I know, but still)
- Text adjustability as described above
- Scroll mode
- A web browser for looking things up
That last one is what keeps me from getting a Kindle or Kobo. I read Into Thin Air last week, and spend as much time reading as I did googling maps and photos. Having a tablet as an eReader is a double-edged sword: I have access to everything I need on one device, but I also have the infinite distractibility that comes with it. Having Twitter and Gmail installed on my Nexus, means I’m constantly fighting the urge to just check in for a second. I recognize that I could just uninstall these, of course. Maybe just having a Wikipedia browser would be enough for me. Who knows.
Overall, eReading has meant that I’ve read way more in 2014 than in the last few years. Though not without all kinds of issues, the Nexus 7 has proven a decent companion.
The one area where I’d really like a meaningful experience boost is in actual reading. I tend to do almost all of my reading horizontally — in bed, in the bath, on the couch, etc. Holding up a tablet — even one as light as a Nexus — while lying down is a pain. I tend to prop the tablet up on my chest while I read, which causes my eyes to strain, so I’m really looking for a solution here. If I could invent some kind of magical tablet holder that worked in bed, I’d be rich. Stay tuned for prototypes.
Finally, I’d be remiss without a few recommendations. The best book I read last year was hands-down Middlesex. It’s impossibly good. So clever, so funny. Extremely well tied-together. After that, The Headmaster’s Wager was also exceptional. It took me a while to get into, but it’s well worth it for the devastating twist.
Postscript: This year, I also tried Spritz, though it really just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve also listened to a few audiobooks, all of which, without exception, have made for a dreadful reading experience.