A CUT introduction to ebooks and e-readers....
What are ebooks?
Ebooks are electronic books, where the text, and sometimes pictures, of a printed book have been digitised into an electronic format.
How do I read an ebook?
Ebooks can be read on computers, such as laptops and netbooks, tablets, many mobile phones and on dedicated devices generally called ebook readers (or e-readers).
Phones, laptops and tablets tend to have glossy LCD screens but dedicated ebook readers look slightly different. They use an easy-to read 'electronic ink' display - a matte display designed to be easy on the eye. They are easier to read in sunlight and from different angles than regular LCD screens.
Check our test results for the best smartphone, laptop or tablet to buy for e-reading.
What formats of ebook are available?
There are varying formats of ebooks available, with the most common being:
Adobe PDF - PDF documents commonly used for free content
AZW - Amazon Kindle format
ePub - A popular open standard created by the International Digital Publishing Forum. Most ebook readers accept this - with the notable exception being the Amazon Kindle
Not all ebook readers are compatible with all ebook file types, so check carefully before purchasing an ebook reader or downloading ebooks online. When you buy an ebook from CUT, we supply it in two formats, so that you can read it on any standard e-reader or other device.
How many books can an ebook reader store?
The ebook readers we’ve tested can on average store 2,411 ebooks, according to manufacturer claims. Some let you insert a memory card to store even more.
Are ebooks cheaper than printed books?
Many books and ebooks are similarly priced, but there are variations so it's best to shop around, checking also whether the paper version is cheaper than the ebook. Sometimes it can be.
If you’re not looking for the latest bestsellers, there are thousands of free public domain ebooks online. Project Gutenberg, an online library stacked with over 36,000 free titles, is a good place to start.
Once a book is out of copyright, it’s legal to distribute it electronically for free.
What are the pros and cons of an ebook reader?
Having a Best Buy ebook reader in your bag means that you can have thousands of your favourite books with you wherever you go, in a package that’s lighter than a single novel. They're easy enough to hold and use with one hand, making them a hit with commuters.
Devices such as Amazon’s Kindle can connect wirelessly to let you buy and download the latest books whenever you want – and you can even download a selection of the latest newspapers.
And there are other online features too – you can access Wikipedia, for instance.
But for some people, you can’t beat the simplicity of a traditional paper book. They’re easy to use, cheap, and able to survive impacts without damage. An ebook reader is another expensive accessory that risks being stolen or damaged when you’re travelling around.
What are the alternatives to ebook readers?
Aside from the obvious alternative of using a traditional paper book, there are other options that are well worth a look.
Users of smartphones like the iPhone are able to download ebooks. Smartphone screens tend to be small, around 3.2-4.3 inches, but this makes them more portable.
Tablets like the iPad have bigger screens than ebook readers. This, and their versatility, is making them an increasingly popular way to read ebooks.
However, ebook readers have key advantages over tablets and smartphones. While ebook readers offer a matte display designed to be easy on the eye for prolonged reading even in bright light conditions, tablet and smartphone screens are glossy, bright and somewhat less comfortable to read on. Also, ebook reader screens are far less power hungry, so you'll often be able to go for a couple of weeks or more before needing to recharge the battery.
Our full test results will help you choose which smartphone or tablet to buy.
Are ebook readers accessible to visually impaired people?
Text to speech software converts words on the display into digitally synthesised speech. For most people, text to speech may be useful, or simply a fun gimmick, but if you struggle to read print, it can be an essential form of access. Unfortunately only a few models have this feature.
In comparison to a performed audiobook, which includes the emotion and pace of an author's work, text to speech can sound stilted and mechanical. If you are blind or partially sighted, however, you may prefer it precisely because it is not performed, as it allows you to draw your own interpretation from the text.
There is a wide range of synthetic voices available: some sound quite natural, others sound very robotic but are widely used because they remain intelligible at high speeds.
For more information on ebook readers for people with sight problems visit the RNIB.
How can I make the most of my ebook reader?
The perfect holiday companion? Battery life can last for weeks. Although all the ebook readers we’ve tested will charge up via a USB connection from your computer, if you don’t always find this convenient, you might want to consider a mains charger.
Battery life on ebook readers is quite impressive, though, since power is only used when you ‘turn’ an electronic page. Most manufacturers claim that you’ll get between 6,000 and 8,000 page turns before you need to recharge – that would get you through the complete works of Shakespeare several times over.
The Amazon Kindle is a little different, since it has a wireless connection that can consume more power – expect to get 1 to 2 weeks of use from this before you need to recharge, if you keep wi-fi turned on.
Taking care of your ebook reader
If your ebook reader isn’t supplied with a wallet or case, this is a worthwhile purchase. As well as providing extra protection for your device, helping to prevent screen scratches, a wallet can also make the reader easier to hold, and feel more like a traditional book.