March 3, 2021

Deciding on a Book, and How to Read It

This might not sound so extraordinary, but I didn’t just read a book in print, on an e-reader or even on a mobile phone. Instead, I read a book on dozens of devices.

I was not trying to set a Guinness world record or paying off on an obscure bet. I wanted to answer a question I often hear: which e-reader or tablet is the best for reading books?

So I set out to try them all, reading a chapter on each: the Amazon Kindle, the first- and second-generation Apple iPads, the Barnes Noble Nook, an iPhone, a Windows Phone, a Google Android phone, a Google Android tablet and a laptop computer. To be fair, I also read a chapter in that old-fashioned form — a crumply old print paperback.

The book I chose was “The Alienist,” by Caleb Carr. It’s a New York City crime novel set in the late 1890s and involves a serial killer, a New York Times reporter and Theodore Roosevelt. This seemed the perfect group of misfits to bring on my reading journey.

For the first chapter, I turned to an Amazon Kindle ($140-$190).

In a quest for the right e-reader, the software for the device and the simplicity of buying a book play crucial roles. Shopping on Amazon for the Kindle is simple; you go to Amazon’s Web site and purchase the book, which is then sent to any devices with Kindle software installed.

Reading on the Amazon Kindle is a joy in many respects. The Kindle is light, weighing under nine ounces. Its six-inch screen is the perfect size for reading, and reading on its black and white E Ink display over extended periods doesn’t strain your eyes.

Battery life is outstanding; on average you charge the device only once a month.

My only complaint with the Kindle design is the placement of the keyboard at the bottom of the device. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, played a crucial role in the design of the Kindle and has noted during past product announcements that the keyboard is there to help people take notes or search. But to me, it seems like a waste of space.

The Kindle also has other limitations. It is a dedicated e-reader, so you can’t hop off to the Web to look up facts, which I often wanted to do when reading a historical novel.

On the plus side, the Kindle software works on almost every device with a screen and an Internet connection. After reading my first chapter on the Kindle, I read subsequent chapters on a number of mobile phones. The Kindle app syncs your reading location between devices, so whichever one you pick up, it knows exactly where you left off.

Despite the small screen on a mobile phone, I find reading on one to be simple and satisfactory. Maybe this is because I have become accustomed to mobile screens, using them for hours at a time to check the news, sift through e-mail and navigate social networks.

All of the mobile phones on which I read chapters felt somewhat similar, although screen brightness and the size of the phone’s screen did vary. For example, I began Chapter 12 of the book on a Google Nexus S Android phone, which is made by Samsung. This phone is much lighter than an iPhone, but the screen felt a little less crisp. Reading on a Windows Phone 7 felt smooth, most likely because the Kindle app meshes well with the phone’s slick operating system.

If I had wanted to, I could have bought my book through dozens of e-book apps in the Apple App Store. Most are free and offer access to thousands of free e-books or paid versions. But the big downside for many is that you can read them only on Apple devices.

Apple also offers its own reading software, iBooks. Although iBooks looks beautiful, with a design that feels more like a traditional book, with sepia-toned paper and stylistic typography, again, it is available only on Apple devices. So if you own an iPad and an Android Phone, you won’t be able to jump between the two devices if you buy books through the iBooks Store.

For the next chapter, I downloaded the book from the Google eBookstore and read it on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a Google Android tablet. The text was clean and easy on the eyes, but over all the experience wasn’t quite as satisfactory as I’d had with the Kindle, the other Android phones or the iPhone. The software hid menu screens in places that I had difficulty finding, and its design felt a little too rigid and even clunky.

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