Travel Tech

E-Readers are Great for Traveling? Well, maybe only traveling.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to buy an e-reader.  I spent weeks researching the differences between the Nook and the Kindle and then comparing them to non-bookseller sponsored versions, like Sony’s.  So, by the time I was swiping my credit card, I was sure the Nook was the right choice.

Having used my e-reader for a few weeks now, I think it’s a great device for reading, e-ink is really cool, and I can fit my entire library on it without hesitation.  All of these features, make these devices ideal for travel, BUT, having become disenchanted with a few of the features, I would only suggest e-readers for travelers who read in the same way Kobayashi eats hot dogs.  Let me break it down for you, and then you can make up your own mind…when I put e-readers to the utility test.

The Good

The device itself is fantastic.

  • Cool FactorE-Ink If you don’t know anything about E-Readers, think of them as really advanced Etch-A-Sketches.  The grayish-black text is presented without backlighting, so, unlike computers or apple devices, a book light, or other external light source, is needed to be able read.  E-ink also has the advantage of no glare on the screen so books can be read outside in direct sunlight- no worries at all.
  • Battery Life – Though the battery doesn’t last weeks, it does last way, way longer than all of my other mobile devices put together.
  • Huge Selection – Nearly every book has been turned into an e-book.  For travelers, if you can get an Internet signalanywhere in the world, you can get a book. (Tip: Expand your library and convert file formats to best suit your device with Calibre, a free-to-download mac/pc book management program.  Also, with the electronic selection at local libraries, a device can be loaded up nearly for free – this cannot be done on-the-go).
  • Easy to Use – E-readers are capable of changing the font size and style, making it easy to read from a variety of distances as well as adjusting for eyesight (no more searching for a bookstore with a descent ‘large print’ section).  Also, the flat body means that you can lay the e-reader flat down on the ground or prop it up an your legs without having to crease the binding to keep it open.
  • Packing Space and Weight – This really is where e-readers have the advantage over books.  Even in a protective case, most e-readers still come in under an inch thick, and can be packed into luggage or slid into a pocket (though probably not a pocket in ladies jeans).

The Ugly

I would seriously consider the need for an e-reader and how it fits into your lifestyle before making the purchase.

  • Limited Utility – E-books really only do books well (the Etch-A-Sketch could never be a Light Bright…we all know that); Internet usage is limited, no color, very small game selection, but- most of all – it’s slow.  I’m only saying this to point out that if you’re going to be traveling for awhile, you’ll be packing an e-reader in addition to what you’re already bringing with you (ie: laptop, iphone).
  • Very Little Cost Savings –  Most current/popular e-books cost more than their bookstore counterparts.  This will hopefully change sometime, but everyday my inbox is flooded with discount coupons and alerts about in-store sales.  These deals don’t work towards e-books and reduce the physical book’s price below that of the e-book. (Tip: Most booksellers have priced classics and older books much cheaper -under $5 – and there is a wide variety of free books through Project Gutenberg and sites like it)
  • Eye Fatigue with back-lit devices isn’t actually that bad.  Talking with an opthamologist, it turns about staring in the screen of a computer or apple device is no where near as bad for your eyes as I first assumed.  Also, both the iPad and iPhone e-book apps allow for the text to change from black lettering on a white screen to white lettering on a black screen, reducing the eye strain even further.
  • Difficult to share – Love the book you just read? I do, but you’ll have to get your own copy because most e-books can’t be lent.  Also, if you hate your latest read, it can’t be posted on for resale.

Personally, I think of my Nook as a luxury device, which I bring with me in addition to what I already pack.  As far as the importance of an e-reader in your life, what it boils down to is: What type of reader are you?

5 Traits that mean you should take an E-Reader on the Road

E-Readers allow you to tear through a huge number of books without having to stop at a shop along the way or juggle several soft-covers in a carry-on, which is great if you’re:

  • The type of person who always has five books going at the same time.
  • Someone who reads a few hundred pages in a sitting
  • Often read entire book series
  • If any of the above are true and you’re heading somewhere without electricity
  • Someone who frequently references books you have previously read (ie double checking research, facts, quotes)

**While putting this article together, I had a conversation about reading while traveling with our friend PurpleKat99, and was shocked to find that, through book trading and hostel book exchanges, she has been able to turn reading, which I have always though to be a solitary experience, into a opportunity to connect even more with the world around her as she traveled.  PurpleKat said she believes reading works the same way as music, there are popular books and ‘hot reads’ which become part of the cultural zeitgeist.  By letting the factors around her influence her reading choices, she’s able to connect with people, discussing books that are relevant to the culture and opening her eyes to thoughts she might not have otherwise read.  This just reminds me that, despite difference in status, culture, or upbringing, there are themes that are universally human and resonate across all divides.  I’ve spent so much time trying to go to the right places, see the right things, talk to locals, I’d forgotten that there are things that connect all of us and books shed light into those un-travel-to-able spots.

I still stand by my belief that there is definitely a class of reader that will benefit from e-readers, but, even if you fall into that class, I would encourage you to give a little time to traveling culturally, as PurpleKat did.