Sunday, August 28, 2011

eReaders: The Ultimate Digital Back Pack

eReaders: The Ultimate Digital Back Pack

In January of this year, online retailer, Amazon reported that ebooks outsold paperback books 115 to 100. That’s not to suggest that paper books are irrelevant today, but that eReaders offer readers so much more than paper books could ever offer. At the very least eReaders offer students an alternative to back breaking book bags jam packed with three pound text books, loose leaf binders and a half dozen assorted pens and pencils.

eReaders are thin, hand held, electronic reading devices.  eReader screens are  approximately 6 inches diagonal and weigh less than 8.6 ounces. The Kindle DX boasts a 9.7 inch diagonal screen. 

The three most popular eReaders are the Kindle, the Nook and the Sony Reader. A single eReader can hold hundreds of books - thousands if the reader sports a micro SD card slot. Most eReaders come with a dictionary built in. Highlight any word you are reading from an eReader and the definition appears instantly on the screen. That makes for one less book you need to carry with you. Students can compile notes on an eReader, read the local newspaper, share book highlights over Twitter and Facebook, make calendar entries and of course, buy more books at the tap of a button.  

Most eReaders include a text to speech feature. The text to speech feature allows the eReader to read your books to you aloud. This is especially handy if you are driving and want to stay up with your reading while your drive. It's also a plus for students who now can listen to their assigned reading while traveling back and forth to school on the bus or on the train.

The Nook (Simple Touch), the Kindle and the Sony eReader all use an E ink Pearl Technology displays. The screens are not back lit. E ink displays have light gray backgrounds and crisp black text. You can’t read from an E ink display in the dark but you can read it comfortably in a lighted room, or outdoors under direct sunlight, like on the beach.

If gray scale doesn’t do it for you, there are many eReader/tablets with color displays for you to consider. Children's books, magazines and newspapers seem to come alive when viewed in color. The Nook Color, for example is a back lit color eReader that also doubles as a tablet computer. 
I expect that by the end of the year there will be many more color eReaders on the market.  Just about every tablet available today has an eReader feature built in, from the Coby Kyros to the iPad.

There are many advantages to color eReader/tablets. One, they are multi-dimensional. Paper books are basically one-dimensional, in other words,  what you see is what you get.

Another reason you might want to add an eReader/tablet to your back to school shopping list is that eReader/tablets heighten the learning experience by also delivering video, audio, pictures, and links. Try tapping on a word in a paper book - nothing happens, but when a student taps on a hyperlink in an eReader/tablet, the reading experience jumps beyond the page. Instead of just reading about the great contralto, Marian Anderson, students actually get to see and hear her singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The ability to access rich multimedia, instantly across eReaders, tablets and cell phones (which also have eReader apps) expands the learning experience by bringing the subject into a more focused and relevant context.

I personally own several hundred of books. I like thumbing through over sized coffee table books and I’ve got a couple dozen autographed books that I’d never part with, but I’m honestly ready to donate the rest of my collection to charity. I’ve run out of space and the dust on more than half of my books keeps piling up. It is so much easier to access my books, my notes and my audio recordings on a nine-inch eReader/tablet than it is for me to carry all of that poundage around in one, possibly two backpacks.

Today, mostly all of the eReader/tablets are WiFi ready. Several models have 3G, which means you can purchase (or download for free) textbooks, novels, magazines and newspapers anywhere – on the train, on the beach or in the classroom.

Color eReader/tablets weigh slightly more than the same sized e-ink models both on the scale and in the pocket book, but if color images and video are important to you, then a color eReader/tablet is probably worth the added weight and cost.

Rumor has it that Amazon is working on a color eReader/tablet, possibly similar to the Nook Color or the iPad. But until then, or even beyond that, it wouldn't be impractical to tote around an eReader, a tablet an even a laptop. The three combined would still weigh less than those bulky text books and trapper keepers most students lug around today. 


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