Friday, 20 May 2011

High Noon!

Kindle, iPad or ASUS Transformer? This house ain't big enough for each one of 'em. And never mind the house, neither is my budget. But which should you get if you want to read an eBook? (And plenty do: following the news last January that Kindle sales had outstripped those of paperbacks for the first time, Amazon announced yesterday - less than four years after their introduction - that Kindle eBooks are now outselling physical books of all kinds for the first time ever.)

All three devices have a lot going for them. And I've had a chance to try each one of them for size. I like the fact the Kindle is small, extremely light and has a screen you can view in the brightest sunlight. What I don't like is the way it 'flickers' momentarily from positive to negative as your 'turn' the page, not to mention the fact that you can't do much more on it than read a book. (Ok, so you can play MP3s and even surf a black-and-white version of the 'net if you really want to, but this isn't what the Kindle is for and it shows.)

So, if you want to surf the 'net, watch videos, store and view your photos and do a heck of a lot more besides (and in colour, too) it's going to be an iPad or Transformer. (In the interests of objectivity I should point out that there are other 'tablets' out there but I haven't had the chance to handle them, so can't comment.)

Now the iPad is a seriously sexy piece of machinery. I'm a fan of Apple; I love my iPhone (though it's being given a run for it's money by the HTC desire at the moment) and although my admiration isn't unqualified (I'd never buy a first generation Apple product, especially at the price they charge. If they want me to be a Beta-tester they should be paying me, not charging an arm-and-a-leg for something that soon appears only half-cooked. Ok, so with iPad2 some of these gripes are now sorted: it's slimmer, faster and has some of the features (like Facetime) that the iPad1 should've had all along. But. Price is still an issue, as far as I'm concerned. Especially as here in the UK we seem to be paying more than the equivalent price in U.S dollars.

Of course, getting back to books, the iPad has both iBooks and Kindle software, and has access to all the eBooks published on the Apple store in epub format. And if I was forced to choose on ebook software alone  I might well plump for the iPad. I really enjoy the way it mimics a physical page-turn; the layout is good and the settings allow for about as wide a range of reading preferences as you could wish for.

But then, so does the Kindle app both for the iPad and for Android devices like the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. Of course, both suffer by comparison to the Kindle in bright sunlight. The screens reflect badly, and you aren't going to do much web-browsing or social networking in the garden on a bright, sunny afternoon. But you can read quite comfortably, using the Kindle app, by switching to the white-text-on-black-background setting. Indoors I find the 'sepia' setting easiest on the eye, but that doesn't really cut the mustard in bright sunlight. But switching to a negative of the text works really well, and allows you to read in pretty much the same conditions as the Kindle.

So much for reading books. But what about writing them? (My novel, Writing Therapy - should you be interested - is available on the Kindle for just a little over £2! ) Anyway, if you can read on both the iPad and the Eee-pad I find it less than straightforward inputting large amounts of text on either machine used purely as a tablet device. The touch-screen keyboard is good: but not good enough on either device for high-speed, accurate typing. You know, of the kind you used to be able to hammer out on an old typewriter. But for a mere(!) £439 the ASUS EeePad comes with a keyboard that nearly trebles your battery life and has a couple of USB ports. You're paying about £20 more just for the tablet alone if you want the iPad 2. And adding an Apple keyboard will cost a further fifty quid, although you can get them slightly cheaper if you shop around.

But are you paying more for something better? Well, in some ways - maybe. As an iPhone user, I like the App Store and I'm not as familiar with its Android equivalent. But in every other way I'm beginning to think that the ASUS Eee-Pad is a serious challenger. And for reading - using the Kindle app - I've found it just about perfect. Not as light as the Kindle device, maybe, but an awful lot more versatile.

And I can write on it! Ok, it's not quite as visceral and enjoyable as the old Imperial Good Companion Model T as shown on the cover of Writing Therapy. But it's quick, clean and downright sexy!
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