When it comes to reading books, I used to be an old school guy. Nothing but printed pages and hard covers for me. I scoffed at new fangled e-readers.
After first dipping my toe into e-reading a few years ago using the widely available Kindle app (which works on most tablets, smartphones), I am now at the point where I would hardly even consider reading a real book.
Simply put, e-readers are perhaps the greatest invention since, well, the printing press.
These things are so cheap now, there's hardly anyone who can't afford to try one.
The cheapest route, if you already own a smartphone or tablet, is through the aforementioned Kindle app (or if you are a Barnes & Noble fan, the Nook app). Both are free. Just go to your favorite app store, download the app, set up an account and start reading. Or use the built-in Google Play or Apple iTunes bookstores on the respective tablets and smartphones. It doesn't get much easier than that.
This perhaps highlights the most important reason why e-readers are so wonderful: convenience.
No more driving across town to the library or bookstore. No more waiting in line to check out. No more disappointment when the book you want is not in stock. With an e-reader, you can browse the biggest bookstore in the world online and download the book you want in just a few seconds -- assuming you have Internet access. It's almost magical.
But I can hear the skeptics now: How do I know if I really want the book? How do I know if it's any good if I can't read a few pages first? Here's another great advantage. In most cases, you can download the first chapter, or at least the first few pages, free. If the book is not your cup of tea, it costs nothing.
"Oh sure," the skeptics will say. "But what about the reading experience?" Many avid bookworms may fear the e-reader will never replace the subtle emotions and tactile experience attached to reading an actual book. I worried about that too -- until I actually tried using an e-reader. For me at least, the advantages of e-reading more than outweigh any pleasures that come from reading a bound collection of printed pages.
What kind of advantages? Aside from the huge convenience of getting your hands on almost any book imaginable with almost no effort, consider these wonderfully user- friendly features:
Adjustable font sizes: If you are getting old like me, you may find it much harder to read books than you once did, especially small paperbacks. No problem with an e-reader. You can make the type as big as you want, and often have a huge selection of fonts to boot. And on color tablets and smartphones, you can opt for white on black or sepia pages if you don't like the standard black on white. Very customizable to almost any whim.
Lose the weight: Dedicated e-readers only weigh a few ounces but have enough memory to hold hundreds, sometimes thousands of books. It's much easier to lug around a small device than lots of heavy books.
Instant dictionary access: Don't know the definition of a particular word? No problem. Most e-readers have a built-in dictionary. Tap the word and a definition will pop up almost instantly.
Keeping track of characters: Avid readers know this can get complicated in some books. Amazon's Kindle readers solve the problem with something called x-ray. Access it at any time and it will give you a brief description of the characters on the page you are reading. (Not available in all books)
Free narrator on demand: Eyes tired? No problem. Most e-readers have electronic narrators built in. Let your book read to you. This is different from the old "books on tape" concept where the author or professional narrator reads the book (although this feature also is available at an extra cost on some e-readers with some books.) The free narration is an electronic voice. It lacks the emotion of a human voice but it works.
More than a book: if you opt for a color tablet instead of a dedicated e-reader, you have a device that will do far more than any book. Those from Amazon and Barnes & Noble can also stream movies, TV shows and the like, as well as play music, check e-mail and even be used as a traditional Web browser in a pinch. They also run a growing collection of apps, similar to those used on smartphones.
Prices on e-readers have plunged dramatically since the first Kindle went on sale in 2007 for a whopping $399. A similar, but much-improved black and white model now sells for $69. And I was able to recently pick up a 7-inch color Kindle during a one-day promotion for $129. All have wi-fi built in for downloading books. Expect to spend more if you want a 3G cellular connection, which will allow you to download books from almost anywhere at any time.
Go for a dedicated black and white e-ink device if you plan to read at lot outside. Color screens are nearly worthless in bright sunlight but e-ink devices, such as the Kindle and Nook, have screens that look just like printed pages. Some newer models have backlights for reading in low light or in bed.
Keep in mind there are multiple stores from which to buy books. Amazon's library is perhaps the biggest, but you can also access books via the Barnes & Noble store, Apple's iTunes storefront or Google's Playbook store. Opt for a generic Apple or Android device if you want the most options. But many probably will find it easier to buy a dedicated device and buy books only from the attached storefront.
E-books are often cheaper than their hardcover counterparts, but not always. Shop around before you buy. Also be sure to browse the large collections of free books -- classics usually that are no longer under copyright.
Tony Briggs has been writing about technology issues in the Daytona Beach area for more than 20 years.