Ebooks and more

Barnes and Noble just announced their new 6″ ebook reader, and update to their old e-ink technology reader. This thing looks tits. Whoever they have doing their industrial design is really on a roll. The Nook Color has a great little loop that gives it a distinctive look in a sea of “beige box” tablets. My buddy pointed out that it also helps you instantly recognize which end is up. The new e-ink Nook is less distinctive, but has a sensible bezel, ambidexterous pageup/pagedown buttons and in addition to a rubberized case, has a grippable case. The videos show a snappy, responsive GUI that steals the best ideas from the best iPad apps, and includes smart e-ink refresh technology so you don’t have it angrily blinking at you every time you flip a page. E-ink readers are almost at the point where they’re ready for consumption on school campuses. This one seems sturdy enough (finally). Oh, and it runs android 2.1. For $130. Brilliant. I want one.

I’ve had an Android smart phone for about three months now but never got around to using it as an e-reader. Four inches is a small screen to do a lot of reading on. Actually, I haven’t really paid much attention to the whole ebooks phenomenon at all, really. I was more excited about the NYT coming to the Kindle DX than anything else.

I was interested to learn that despite my lack of interest, an impressive ecosystem has evolved around ebooks and the epub format. In addition to the Amazon.com reader and B+N reader apps, there are third party apps designed to read the near-universal EPUB format, notably FBReader.  Barnes and Noble uses a DRM version of the EPUB format, which apparently is easily cracked using a series of scripts. My buddy has been purchasing his books via bn.com and cracking them before adding them to his private online library.

Which leads me to my final point of interest, Calibre, an “iTunes for books”. Most brilliant is it’s web front end. This allows you to host essentially your own public or private book store or collection. Which my DRM-stripping friend has done, and shared with several friends now. As a result, we now have a virtual shared reading room that we can share and back up our purchases with one another, behind a passworded web wall. The second half of this final point is that readers like FBReader offer integration with online libraries like Calibre, meaning you can download books right from your private library from inside the app. Apparently they’re working on authenticated folder support for the next release, but it’s rather impressive how smoothly all of this works.

Maybe I can finally finish Doctor Zhivago.

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