Tuesday, July 31, 2012

eReaders are great for casual readers, not so great for highlighting and notes

The Atlantic has an essay about the state of eReaders written by Alan Jacobs, an English professor at Wheaton College. Here's a summary:
  • Both eReaders and tablets are making it easier to read at night, with front lights (eReaders) and dimmable backlights (tablets). 
  • E Ink displays on eReaders are still far superior to LCD displays on tablets when it comes to glare. 
  • The contrast of eReader displays has improved considerably. 
  • eReaders have limited typeface options and do a poor job of handling kerning and spacing. (A large part of the problem is EPUB, which emphasizes dynamic page flow to the detriment of just about everything else.) 
  • Highlighting and annotation, which are very important for literature studies, are all but impossible with eReaders. The trend to replace dedicated keyboards with on-screen keyboards has made annotation even more difficult. On the other hand, tablets handle highlighting and annotation much better, although they still have some quirks. For example, it's impossible to extend a highlight across a page break on the iPad (although it can easily be done on Nook and Kindle eReaders.) 
The bottom line is that eReaders and tablets are generally improving for general reading, but for engaged reading, there's been little improvement, and in some ways eReaders' capabilities are moving backwards.

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