As a bibliophile with a limited space to hoard dead-tree books and without an access to a well-stocked library, I would like to move on to reading electronic books on electronic book readers. However, I am holding off buying one of the many electronic book readers already available in the market since I feel that they still have some way to go. So what would I like to see in an ideal electronic book reader?
I just want hardware that is well-suited to the task of reading books for prolonged periods. I do not really want features on the reader that are not related to this primary task. I feel that my requirements are modest and achievable in the near future. There are a few technological and business hurdles to cross before these can be achieved though. While there is hope on the technological front, the business of publishing electronic books needs an overhaul. Here are my "must-have" requirements for an electronic book reader:
- Good Display - The display should be sharp, easy on the eyes, of adequate size and able to refresh quickly. It should be able to display black-and-white text at 600 dpi or better. It should be about the size of an A5 sheet so that it can hold enough text to avoid having to turn the page very frequently. Electronic paper displays are almost, but not quite, there in meeting these requirements.
- Affordable - Both the reader as well as the books should be cheap. While the readers have been coming down in price, electronic books are still unfairly priced when compared to their dead-tree cousins - it is unfair because the cost to produce and distribute an electronic book is much lower than that for a dead-tree book.
- Convenient - The reader should be convenient to use. It should be lightweight and portable. It should be easy to charge (via USB and not an additional charger) and should not need a recharge for a long time. It should be easy to transfer books to it under various operating systems - it should just appear as a USB storage device. It should support placing bookmarks within books. It should make it easy to look through a large number of books.
- Flexible - The reader should at least support plain-text, PDF and DjVu formats for books. Books should be available in a non-DRM format.
- Expandable - While the reader should at least have enough space to store a few hundred books, it should be able to expand this capacity using a standard external mass-storage compact device like an SD card.
- Colour - The reader should be able to display full-colour text and graphics. This is really needed for many text-books and coffee-table books.
- Search - The reader should let you search for words or phrases within a book. This would imply that the reader should provide a way to input text. I prefer keyboards to handwriting-recognition. A physical keyboard might eat up valuable space on the device so the display should be touch-sensitive and show a virtual keyboard for this purpose.
- Dictionary - The reader should allow you to highlight a word and look up its meaning using a built-in dictionary.
- Enhanced Reading - The reader should be able to resize text to use a bigger or smaller font, wrap long sentences and substitute fonts for improved readability as needed.
- Pre-populated Library - The reader should come with a pre-populated library comprising the classic out-of-copyright texts and useful texts like the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- Hyperlinks - It would be nice to be able to jump to the referred part of a book from its table of contents and index and from references to footnotes, endnotes, other pages, tables and figures.
- Annotations - The reader should allow adding annotations to the pages in the books.