Part 1: An Brief Overview of an E-book reader

March 7 to March 13 is Read an e-book week. For more information about the event, including notices of free and discounted e-books, visit

What is an e-book reader?  Also called an e-reader, it is a device specifically designed for reading electronic or digital books. These readers have screens made out of e-ink, or electronic paper.  These devices are not backlit like a computer, so it is possible to read in bright sunlight, but a light is required for reading in the dark.  Since the devices are not backlit, they have a long battery life, especially when compared to PDAs and cell phones.

Some of these devices are wireless such as the Kindle and the Nook, and can download content directly into the device.  These e-readers are tied to a particular store or website for wireless purchases. Others require a computer to download books from the Internet and use a USB cable to load content onto the e-book reader.

Each brand of e-reader also has its own proprietary format for encoding the books.  This means that books encoded for one reader are not be able to be read  on another brand of reader.  Some readers can read Adobe PDF files and there is some movement towards the standardizing formats. The EPUB format seems to be evolving as a standard, although it is not yet implemented across the board for e-readers.

Content for the devices varies from reader to reader.  Beside books and short stories, there are also blogs, magazines and newspapers available for subscription and purchase on e-readers.

So what are the benefits of an e-reader? Probably the number one reason that people say they buy an e-reader is for the convenience.  One e-reader can hold a large number of books, which makes it great for traveling. No huge stack of books to lug around.  No leaving a book at the hotel or the airport terminal.  Some of these devices can hold up to 1500 books.

The ability to be able to purchase books wirelessly from almost anywhere is a great feature, especially if you travel at lot.  A new book can be purchased and downloaded in a matter of minutes.  I have downloaded books while sitting in the doctors office or at the airport terminal.

The ability to change font sizes is a great bonus for those with vision problems.  The Kindle also has a text-to-speech features which allows the device to actually read a book aloud to you. This feature does not work for all books and must be enabled by publishers in order to function.

Some of these devices also have limited capabilities for other functions.  The Kindle, for example, also contains a rudimentary web browser and can play MP3 files.

Here’s a great video showing how the software for the Kindle works:

The number of e-book readers is really exploding right now, with new readers entering the market at a astonishing pace. Prices for the devices, however, still tend to be somewhat high.

Anyone have questions about owning an e-reader?

In Part 2: A look at content, formats and accessories