Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Favorite Tech-du-Jour


I’m not sure that I was a particularly good girl last year, but Santa Claus brought me exactly what I wanted for Christmas anyway.

Last fall, I took a look around our house and realized that we were being overtaken by books. And it was entirely my fault.

All three bookcases were bulging at the seams (with the topmost shelves hiding things we didn't want our daughter to get hold of). Books that didn’t fit in the bookcases were stacked not-so-neatly on the floor next to the bookcases. More piles of books from my teaching days were on their way from banished garage boxes back into "the stacks," since I was now using them to homeschool my daughter.

Add to these the piles of books on their way OUT of the house – some destined for Goodwill, others awaiting mailing to United Through Reading – and it looked like a library threw up in our house.

Since we couldn't move to a bigger house to accommodate my book-hoarding problem, another solution was necessary.

I had long balked at buying an e-reader. For one thing, I loved the "aesthetics" of books: the way they smelled, the way they felt in my hands, the thrill of opening them up to find the information I needed. And despite my being the family gadgetaholic, I wasn't sure I could wrap my brain around the idea of reading books on a little, electronic screen.

But unless we found a way to defy the laws of physics, it was going to get ugly(er) around here.

I decided that an e-reader was the way to go after all. But which one to buy?

I queried my friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter, and the overwhelming response was to go with the Kindle. Kindle owners are pretty much in love with their Kindles, and that seemed good enough to me. So I headed over to Staples to try one out for myself.

After about 30 minutes of staring at and testing the sample-Kindle, I finally realized that the Kindle was not the e-reader for me after all. The e-ink display really was amazing, and I could see why people loved it... but I didn’t think I could look at that dark-gray-on-light-gray-screen for long without my eyes going buggy.

Plus, I wanted color. I needed color. Not only would this e-reader be for me, but it would also have to work for my daughter. And what fun would Go, Dog. Go! be in gray-on-gray?

I decided to hold out for the NOOKcolor.

The NOOKcolor had recently been released, to surprisingly positive reviews. Nearly everyone who tried it seemed to like it, and most thought that with the Android operating system, bigger and better things – like apps – would soon be coming. In fact, some predicted that the NOOKcolor would eventually perform like a lower-functioning tablet computer. (I used that argument when my husband Santa Claus balked at the NOOK's higher cost.)

Now, I’m not typically an early adopter; I like to let the bugs get worked out of a new tech product before I buy one for myself. But after doing the research, I knew I didn’t want to wait on the NOOKcolor.

Thankfully, I have not been disappointed. In fact, I now wonder how I ever got along before without my NOOK.

What I Love About my NOOKcolor

A library in my pocket. I never know what I'll want to read, especially on long airplane trips. Sometimes I'm tired and distracted, and prefer light reading, like a magazine. Other times, I want to dig into something heavier, like a novel, a textbook, or the latest NGSQ. I would typically travel with several different books, magazines, textbooks – everything I might possibly want to read during a boring, cross-country flight – which makes for a heavy carry-on. So on my most recent trip to Washington, DC, I loaded up my NOOKcolor with all of these items in digital format, including current issues of APGQ, NGS Magazine, some back issues of NGSQ (all downloadable from their respective web sites), and the recent issues of Casefile Clues that I hadn't had time to read yet. Oh, and I added several kids' books since I was traveling with my daughter (if you've ever traveled across country with a 4 year-old, you will appreciate what a lifesaver this was).

Kids "Read to Me" books. These are seriously wonderful. My daughter loves the "Read to Me" books, which have pleasant narration and sound effects, and make her feel like an independent reader. I love them too, since they get me off the hook from reading Olivia or Are You My Mother? one more time. And now that NOOK Apps have been released with the recent operating system upgrade, several beloved Dr. Seuss books are now available as "Read to Me" apps, and are less expensive than regular e-books. Unfortunately, these books mean giving my NOOK over to my daughter for a while, but I’m mostly coping with the withdrawals.

Video. Did I mention the NOOKcolor plays multimedia files (AAC, MP3, MP4, Flash)? My iPod is already loaded up with music, podcasts, and video (mostly movies for my daughter), but I decided to add a few genealogy-related videos to the NOOK to try out on my recent trip. Let me tell you, the bigger screen was a blessing to my near-sighted eyes.

Magazines, Newspapers, and Periodicals. Oh My! Not only can you load magazines and newsletters from your fave genealogy associations, but you can also subscribe to some big time magazines and newspapers, like National Geographic, PC Magazine, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. You don't even have to get up out of your chair to get them, as they will be regularly delivered right to your NOOKcolor. And they look fantastic. My daughter has her own subscription to National Geographic Little Kids, and while it does require someone to read the text to her (no "Read to Me" magazines, she enjoys looking a the pictures of animals all by herself. What really sold me on e-magazines was when I discovered that I could enlarge a single column to any size I wanted. Actually being able to see the text makes the reading experience much more enjoyable.

No nightlight required. I like to read in bed at night. In the dark. Since the NOOKcolor doesn't use an e-ink display, you can still see it in the dark, even without one of those annoying book lights (that always fall off). I'll usually set the NOOK's screen color to gray and turn down the brightness so it doesn't feel like the sun is shining in my eyes. I know; I said I hated gray displays, but sometimes they do serve a purpose.

Read books across e-platforms. The NOOKcolor can support several digital formats, including the ever-popular EPUB, as well as PDF, DOC, TXT, and PPT, to name a few. This makes Google Books and possibly your local library, your friend, as you'll be able to download and/or borrow e-books from these places. I’ve found lots of wonderful, FREE, genealogy-related Google Books – some of them impossibly obscure – and have manually added them to my NOOK library. (This could really be a post all by itself, but I wanted to mention it here.)

What Could Be Improved

Needs a slim down. At 15.8 ounces (nearly 1 lb), the NOOKcolor is a bit on the heavy side. I understand that the extra weight is necessary to accommodate the LCD color display, but depending on how you're sitting, sometimes your arm just gets plain tired. Taking it out of the case helps a bit, but still... I hope the next incarnation loses a little weight.

No 3G. The NOOKcolor has wi-fi only, which can be a huge pain if you don't have access. We do have wi-fi at home, but the security settings are so high (thank you, rocket scientist husband) that the NOOK can't find it unless I set it to "broadcast." Thankfully, the NOOKcolor does pretty well at places like Starbuck's, McDonald's, and other establishments that offer free wi-fi to patrons, but in some places, you'll need to check your browser for a log-in/check-in screen, if it doesn't pop up automatically (like many smartphones). Hopefully the next version will have 3G (yes, like the Kindle). Absent a wi-fi connection, you can manually "side load" items via your computer, but that takes all the fun - and instant gratification - out of it.

Fingerprints. The NOOKcolor screen is a fingerprint magnet, especially when my daughter gets hold of it. I did finally spring for the $16.95 Screen Protector Kit (an anti-glare version is now available), which included 2 pieces of clear film and a microfiber cleaning cloth. Let's just say the cloth has received quite a workout.

Can't always get what I want. Ok, I'll say it: Amazon has a bigger selection of books for the Kindle than Barnes and Noble has for the NOOK. And there are several books I would love to read on my NOOK that are only available in Kindle format, which unfortunately is not compatible with the NOOK (are you reading this, Megan Smolenyak?). But I'm waiting impatiently (and repeatedly clicking the "Tell the publisher you want this in NOOKbook format" link), hoping more books will become available, either via B&N, Google Books, or some other compatible format.

A library in my pocket!

Final Thoughts

Am I happy with Santa's Christmas present? Absolutely. I have already read more books since the beginning of this year than I have since my daughter was born almost 5 years ago. In fact, if it weren't for the cost, I would probably replace a good portion of my "real" books with e-books, as I now find reading with my NOOK to be more convenient and enjoyable than reading "real" books.

While I still don’t have a lot of time to read, I'm now prepared for those stolen moments when I can squeeze in a couple pages of that new genealogy book or an article in NGSQ. I just toss my NOOKcolor in my bag when I go out, and I've got everything I need at the touch of a button.

And I love, love, love the way e-books don’t clutter up my house.

*   *   *

Written for the 105th Edition Carnival of Genealogy: "Favorite Current Technology."

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Print this post

8 comments:

Linda Gartz said...

Thanks for this post, Elizabeth. Very timely for me as I just took a look at a Nook (!) this weekend and am seriously considering getting one. I like that I can use i to search the net, and send emails -- better screen than the smart phone- but not so heavy as computer or expensive as ipad. I'm going to search for an ancestor in Alsace in three weeks and hope to add to my blog on the road, get maps, read restaurant reviews, etc.
So thanks a bunch!

Debbie Parker Wayne, Certified Genealogist said...

Great review, Elizabeth. How difficult is it to read endnotes or footnotes on the Nook? I've heard from some Kindle and iPad users that it isn't easy to access notes while using the devices. Do you have to do a lot of scrolling to see notes? Or can you use links to jump between notes and text?

I haven't been able to convince myself that the benefits of an e-reader outway the problems with notes. So much of our genealogical and historical reading includes notes that are critical to understanding the narrative.

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

@Linda - The NOOKcolor still doesn't have the functionality of an iPad or other tablet computer, but you can surf the web, check your email, and play Angry Birds. You can read MS Office documents, but I'm not aware that you can edit them. You can probably post to your blog via the web browser, but I haven't tried it yet. I keep my genealogy database in my iPhone since there is no NOOK app for that yet.

@Debbie - I think the notes formatting really depends on how the individual e-book is formatted. The books I've read with notes have been very easy to use. The footnote number is hyperlinked to the actual footnote at the back of the book. There is a corresponding hyperlink with the footnote that takes you back to the page you were reading after when you're ready to go back. But I've read some older e-books that weren't formatted that way, and you had to jump from page to page, like you described. If you remember what page you were on, you can easily get right back to it, but the hyperlinked footnotes are much easier to use.

The other problem I heard Kindle owners complaining about was that Kindle books had no page numbers. I think Amazon has since resolved this problem, but that was another major reason I didn't go with the Kindle. Since citations of books are so critical to our profession, I wanted a reader that displayed actual pages numbers, and I've had no problems with the NOOKcolor. When I enlarge the text (which I usually do), the page number doesn't switch until I finish all the text on that page.

The only way you can know what e-reader is for you is to try one out. Borrow a friend's, visit your local Staples, Best Buy, Walmart, whatever, and try one. I'm so glad I did!

Greta Koehl said...

Hmmm ... all of these e-reader things are so tempting. Your house sounds like our house (but I'll bet what's under your piles of books is more stylish than what's under our piles). I've just started a magazine purge and have given away a few books, but it's still pretty bad. Right now I'm leaning toward waiting for an iPad and putting the Kindle app on it. But the Nook does sound pretty attractive.

Linda Gartz said...

Thanks for the clarification on some of the features. I didn't going the CoG this month because I have nothing cool I'm using -- yet! But I'll catch up-- soon I hope. Just my computer. My smart phone was stolen two weeks after I bought it!
thanks for following my Blog. Yours is always informative, interesting and/or entertaining. So much I glean from your posts.
PS Play Angry Birds! Sign me up! :-)

Lori Thornton said...

Kindle reportedly has a color model on its way. It's based on a color e-reader that came out in China a few weeks ago that uses e-Ink of something close to it.

I do love my Kindle!

Sherry - Family Tree Writer said...

What a Great post! I've been looking (rather longingly I must admit) at the different e-book readers, and trying to decide. I have the Kindle and Nook apps on my Droid phone, but the screen is small, and you can't make the text too much bigger without spending more time 'turning the page' than you do reading!

Your post has given me some wonderful insight on the Nook, and why it would make a great addition.

I am also considering buying it because my Mom has macular degeneration, and upsizing the text and the magazines would be great for her, too!

One question that I have, how do you find out/where do you find out what is available and at what cost?

Thank you!
Great post!

findingkline said...

I've been using my iPad as an eReader. I also have a Sony eReader but it's just like you said - a bit bland! So for now I'm reading on my iPad only :)