Barnes & Noble Announces Nook Tablet

Today during their press event, mega-bookstore chain Barnes & Noble announced the successor to their Nook Color. It’s called the Nook Tablet and it’s set to take on Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Just like any successor device, the Nook Tablet picks up where the Nook Color left off. Underneath the 7-inch LG 1024×600 IPS display is a 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP4 processor and 1GB of RAM, as well as 16GB of built-in memory with a microSD slot for more space if desired. The whole package weighs less than a pound and can last for 11.5 hours on battery.

The Nook Tablet runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but just like the Kindle Fire, it uses a custom UI. This means that it’s not an all-purpose tablet that can run any app from the Android Market, but rather a tablet that’s geared towards specific functions such as books, magazines, email, web browsing, video, etc. However, B&N has partnered with a handful developers to create specialized apps and games for the device.

The company says that millions of books and over 250 magazines will be available at launch through Nook Books and Nook Newsstand services, as well as a large selection of Marvel comics and graphic novels. The device will also have Netflix, Hulu and Pandora integration.

You’ll also get free cloud storage service with the Nook Tablet, which will store your purchases and downloads. This way, you’ll be able to delete and re-download content whenever you want, if you have a WiFi connection.

Barnes and Noble claims that their new tablet has a better screen, more RAM and storage, and is lighter than the Kindle Fire. However, all that comes with a higher price. The Nook Tablet will cost $249, which is $50 more than the Kindle Fire.

Pre-orders are starting now, with the device actually shipping out to customers on November 17th. The Nook Color has been discounted to $199.

A Quick Look At Author Neal Stephenson’s Latest Project: The Mongoliad

Any self-respecting geek has heard of the author Neal Stephenson, and many have read at least one of his works. Author of books such as Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and most recently Anathem, Stephenson is known for not holding back when it comes to technological descriptions.Cryptonomicon, for example, contains a multi-page explanation on the intricacies of Van Eck phreaking. It definitely isn’t light reading.

Stephenson recently unveiled his latest project, the online subscription-based serial novel The Mongoliad. The Mongoliad is much more than just an online book, however. Along with weekly chapters, you can also find illustrations, maps, a user editable wiki, and a collection of forums to discuss the novel with other subscribers.

In order to manage such a larger undertaking, Stephenson has teamed up with other writers and artists, forming the Subutai Corporation. The writing talent behind The Mongoliad includes Stephenson himself, Greg Bear, and Mark Teppo among others, forming the literary equivalent of a supergroup.

The Mongoliad takes place in the thirteenth century, in a world much like our own. Genghis Khan’s armies are sweeping across Asia and Europe, conquering everything in sight. A small group of warriors, members of a millennium old order, have plans to stop him, however.

Is it worth subscribing to this new form of literary content delivery? For $9.99, or roughly the cost of a standard paperback novel, you gain access to a year’s worth of DRM free Mongoliad content, which will supposedly cover the release of the entire novel. If you choose not to renew your subscription when it expires, you retain access to everything that was released while you were an active subscriber. If for some reason you aren’t happy with your subscription, you can get a full refund within 45 days. Sounds like quite a bargain to me!

An iOS application with access to The Mongoliad is currently going through Apple’s approval process, and an Android application is supposedly in the works as well. If you’re at all interested, a small bit of content, including a prologue chapter, is available to anyone who takes the time to look.

Image Credit: AMagill

Amazon Releases Kindle for Android App

In another big step towards expanding their grip on the E-Book market, Amazon recently released a version of their Kindle software for Android.  The Kindle was originally a hardware device for reading digital books, and Amazon has since made the software available on other devices like the iPhone and iPad.

The Kindle software is free and gives you access to Amazon’s library of 600,000+ digital books, which typically cost $9.99 each.

The Kindle for Android app is my first experience with E-Books; even though I read a lot, I just haven’t been able to give up my printed-on-paper books yet.  Since the Kindle software has been expanding to other devices, though, I’ve been much more eager to check it out, and I like the idea of having my entire library available digitally on a single device.

I’m impressed with Kindle for Android, which I’m told is almost identical to the Kindle app for iPhone/iPad.  I was extremely leery about using it on a small screen (I use the app on a Motorola Droid with a 3.7″ screen), but I was pleasantly surprised to find a good balance between readable text size and keeping as much text as possible on the screen at once.

Upcoming Android devices like the Motorola Droid X will offer much larger screens (the Droid X has a 4.3″ screen), which will dramatically improve your reading experience.

Kindle books can be downloaded pseudo-directly from the application.  A mobile version of the Kindle book store opens in your browser where you can view the Kindle library and purchase books.  Those books are then instantly sent to your device, and I was very impressed with how seamless the process was.

If you already have purchased Kindle books, you can view your personal library directly from the application.

You can also check out a free sample of Kindle books before making a purchase, which is great to see how the book translates to a small screen.

Now like I said, I’m pretty new to the whole E-Book thing.  If you’re a little more serious, you should check out what Kevin has to say about why the Kindle sucks (regarding the copy protection Amazon uses on their books) and his review of the Aldiko E-Book reader for Android, which gives access to a huge library of DRM-free books.

To download Kindle for Android, search the Android Market for “Kindle” or scan the QR code on the right with the Barcode Scanner app.

Read E-Books On Your Mobile Phone with Aldiko for Android

E-book readers have changed the way we think about books, but if you own one you probably can’t carry it with you everywhere you go. Cell phones, although they have much smaller screens, are a much more portable option and can serve as an adequate e-book reader for short periods of time. 

Aldiko, available for free in the Android Market, gives you a way to read e-books on your Android device as well as access to thousands of free books.

When you first open Aldiko, you can check out some of the books that come preloaded with the application or browse the list of freely available books available for download.  This free list of books includes classics like The Count of Monte Cristo, Moby-Dick, and Treasure Island. If none of those pique your interest, Aldiko also lets you import your own e-books.

Opening Other E-Book Formats (Including DRM Protected E-Books)

Since Aldiko only supports non-DRM protected ePub books, you might have to do a little bit of work to make books you already own available in the application. If you own e-books in formats other than ePub, Calibre can be used to turn them into an Aldiko readable format. Calibre accepts quite a few formats as input, including PDF, RTF, HTML, and TXT (a full list of input formats can be found here). PDF files don’t always convert nicely, but they’re usually readable.

Scan to download Aldiko

If you want to import a DRM protected e-book into Aldiko, such as most books available through Amazon, you’ll need to work harder still. First convert the DRM protected file to an unprotected format supported by Calibre (here’s the complex process for doing so for Amazon’s AZW format). Then you can feed the resulting file into Calibre to get the ePub file that Aldiko requires.

Once you have the ePub files for the books you want, the next step is to import them into Aldiko. Thankfully, this is a fairly simple process. On your phone’s SD card you’ll find a folder called ‘eBooks’. Inside that folder create a folder called ‘import’. Move all of the e-books you want to import into that folder. On Aldiko’s main page press the Menu button on your phone, than click Import. Click Import again, and Aldiko will scan the folder you just created for e-books and import them into your bookshelf.

Now that all of your e-books have been imported, it’s time to start reading!

Using Aldiko as an E-Book Reader

On Aldiko’s main page you can see some recently read books (you can remove books from this list by long pressing on them and clicking ‘Remove from Reading List’). Click on Bookshelf and you’ll find a list of all books available to read.

Once inside a book, the controls are pretty simple. You can either tap on the right or left hand side of the screen or swipe left or right to turn pages. The brightness of the screen can be adjusted to your liking by scrolling up or down on the far left hand side of the screen.

Even more options, including font selection, bookmarking, and searching can be accessed by pressing the Menu key on your phone. Once you’re done reading, clicking the Back button on your phone will bring you back to Aldiko’s main page, with your place in the book saved for the next time you open it.

Aldiko can be freely downloaded by scanning the QR code above or by searching the Android market for “Aldiko”.

Want to see more?  Check out the video below.

Why the Kindle Sucks (and What Can Be Done About It)

Over the holiday season, Amazon’s Kindle became the most gifted item in Amazon’s history. On Christmas day, Amazon sold more Kindle copies of books than actual physical books.  Without a doubt, E-readers are the future of the book industry, and the Kindle is leading the way. Or is it?

Unfortunately, it isn’t.  The Kindle sucks.

The Kindle, which was one of the first mainstream E Ink readers and easily the most popular E-book reader out there, allows you to download digital copies of books, newspapers, and other publications for reading on an E-ink display. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, archaic DRM restrictions and totalitarian actions by Amazon have prevented the Kindle from becoming a worthy purchase.

What Exactly Is Wrong With the Kindle?

Since it’s impossible to have an article about the Kindle without talking about the 1984 debacle, we’ll get that out of the way. In July of 2009, Amazon remotely removed titles (including 1984, ironically) from consumer’s Kindles without their permission. Customers were refunded the purchase price, but no immediate explanation was given. It was later revealed that the publisher of the novels didn’t own the rights to publish, but does their mistake grant Amazon the right to digitally intrude into consumer’s devices to correct their mistake? If a bookstore sold paperbacks that were later found to be illegally sold, would they have the right to come into your home and take it back? Of course not, that’s ludicrous. However, Amazon had no problem doing the digital version of just that.

If you ever decide to move to a different company’s E-reader you’re out of luck, none of the books you bought through Amazon will work.Amazon sells E-books in their own proprietary DRM protected format, AZW. Much like the DRM protected music of days past it lets Amazon restrict how you use your purchased material. If you ever decide to move to a different company’s E-reader you’re out of luck. None of the books you bought through Amazon will work. If one day Amazon decides they don’t want you to own a book anymore, as in the 1984 incident, they can go ahead and take it from you. Similarly, the Kindle supports very few formats other than AZW. Of course you can convert from these formats to AZW using external tools, but then you run the risk of losing formatting.

In many ways, Amazon’s business model is similar to that of the digital distribution service Steam. Steam allows you to purchase video games and immediately download and play them. Purchases are tied to your Steam account, which means you can play them on any computer as long as you are logged in to Steam. Many people are fully rejecting Steam’s business model, arguing that Valve can pull the plug on Steam at any time, rendering all of your purchased games unplayable.  In my research I found claims that Valve has said they would release a patch allowing people to play their games offline, but I could find no official statement.

The same could happen for the Kindle, albeit slightly differently. If Amazon ever decides to change the format of their DRM protected books, or for some reason the Kindle stops being produced, your purchased titles are only good for as long as your Kindle lasts. I own books purchased 15+ years ago, but how many people who own Kindles today will still own one 15 years from now? Thanks to the DRM protected books Amazon sells, if anyone decides they want an E-reader other than the Kindle all of their purchased material will become unusable.

One of the advantages of E-books is that they can be sold at a cheaper price than their paperback or hardcover counterparts since there’s no overhead of printing costs. This works great when the E-book you’re buying is in an open format that you’ll be able to keep and use forever, but for something in Amazon’s AZW format it just doesn’t make sense. How long will Amazon support files in the AZW format? What happens to the E-books sold in this format if Amazon decides to move to a different format? As we’ve seen with DRM protected music, this can cause problems such as people not being able to access the content they’ve purchased. About a year ago iTunes finally stopped selling DRM protected music, how long will it take before E-book sellers see the light as well?

There’s Still Hope

Sony Reader

Thankfully, not every company shares Amazon’s archaic views. Sony’s Reader Store recently changed so all of the content sold by them is in the wonderfully open, DRM free EPUB format. Also, four leading magazine publishers are now trying to come up with a DRM free standard to distribute digital magazines.
(UPDATE 1-25-09 – It has come to my attention that the Sony Reader Store does not, in fact, sell their books DRM free. They use the EPUB format, but unfortunately are still protected by a DRM solution provided by Adobe. Looks like we’ll still have to wait for DRM free books.)

At least one author has even found success by selling his book DRM free. David Pogue offered one of his books for sale DRM free for a year and compared the sales of it to the previous year’s DRM protected book’s sales. While piracy of his book did increase, sales also rose over the previous year’s numbers. As was found in the music and PC gaming industries, you can make money even without DRM.

The Future

What does the future hold? What can we as consumers do? Amazon has dominated the E-book market up until now, but 2010 looks to be the year of the E-reader. Everyone is trying to get into the market, and we can only hope that pressure from competitors forces Amazon to rethink their current stance on distribution. Until then, the only thing we can do is purchase E-readers from companies who support open formats, and if you already own a Kindle, protect your investment by converting your legally purchased books into a DRM-free PDF file.

Author’s Note: If you find any factual errors in this article, please let me know in the comments. I did my best to research everything thoroughly, but the possibility for errors still exists.