Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

my e-reader wishlist

My ideal e-reader would have

  • the battery life of a Kindle Paperwhite
  • the weight of a Kindle Paperwhite
  • the screen resolution of a Kindle Fire (I won’t even ask for it to be color)
  • the (free!) cellular connectivity of a Kindle Keyboard
  • the hardware keyboard and navigating system of a Kindle Keyboard
  • the highlighting/note-taking UI of the Kindle for iOS app
  • the glare-freeness of a paper codex (or, failing that, of a Kindle Paperwhite)

Just a few random comments on this wishlist:

1) I want “the hardware keyboard and navigating system of a third-generation Kindle” because touchscreens handle such actions pretty badly. (Much of what follows goes for typing on a virtual keyboard also.) The chief problem is that when you’re trying to highlight using your finger — and to an extent even when you use a stylus, though even if a stylus helps it’s one more thing to have to deal with — that finger blocks your view of what you’re highlighting, which means that you have to guess whether you’re hitting your target or not, or else pivot both your head and your finger to try to get a better look. With all touchscreen devices I am regularly overshooting or undershooting the terminus ad quem of my highlight. With the good old Kindle Keyboard your hands are not on the screen, so you can see it fully and clearly — and you have the additional benefit of being able to highlight without moving your hands from their reading position: just shift your thumb a bit and you’re there.

2) In commending the Paperwhite, Amazon says “Unlike reflective tablet and smartphone screens, the latest Kindle Paperwhite reads like paper — no annoying glare, even in bright sunlight.” This is not true. The Paperwhite screen is far, far less reflective than a glass tablet screen — but it’s still considerably more reflective than a paper page, and when I’m reading on it outdoors, which I love to do, I often have to adjust the angle of the screen to eliminate glare.

3) The latest Kindle Fire is an absolutely beautiful piece of hardware: solidly built, pleasant to hold, significantly lighter than earlier versions, and featuring a glorious hi-res screen. Its response time is also considerably faster than the Paperwhite, whose lagginess can be occasionally frustrating. But the software is mediocre at best. The video app works flawlessly, but reading can be frustrating if you’re doing any highlighting or annotating. It’s hard to select text for annotating, and if a highlight crosses to the next “page” it can sometimes take me three or four tries to get the selection to end properly — often I end up selecting the whole of the next page, with no way to back up, or else I get a pop-up dictionary definition of something on the page. For someone who interacts a lot with books it’s maddening. Also, the Kindle version of the Instapaper app, which I like to use to read online posts and articles, is really buggy: when you try scrolling through an article it flickers and shudders madly, and it crashes too frequently. The overall reading experience is much, much better when using the Kindle app and Instapaper app on iOS. (Also, the iOS Instapaper app plays really nicely with other services, like Tumblr and Pinboard.)

All this said, I’d be happy enough with a Kindle Paperwhite with a hi-res screen. I read outside a lot, and when I do that device is my only (digital) option, so I just wish its text were nicer to look at and easier to navigate through. I suppose I could also wish for a Kindle Fire or iPad Mini with a totally nonreflective screen, but as far as I know that’s impossible.


  • I want a great big one, with an e-ink screen, that can handle PDFs well and has good battery life. Amazon made the DX but gave it a super-high price and then let it wither. I feel like there's no technological reason they can't make an 11 inch e-ink table that's thin and light and not super expensive.

  • Sony have a great big reader (at least I think they have. It was being trialled last year but I haven't heard anything about it recently):


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