An Un-“touch”ing Experience with E-Readers

by Mary Ann Mazey

Published at 2014-05-21

For months, I’ve been pondering the notion of buying an e-reader: should I buy one, and if so, which? I’m so late to this party, and still, I’m standing outside on the porch, my index finger hovering in front of the doorbell, reluctant to push it.
When I mentioned my ponderings to TEC senior editor Beth, she offered to let me borrow TEC’s resident e-readers, a Kindle Touch and a Kobo E-Reader (Touch Edition), to aid my decision-making journey.
It made sense to compare in the e-readers the same qualities I value in books. But here’s the problem I very quickly discovered: it’s next to impossible to properly consider the merits of new suitors when, really, you’re still longing for your first love.
1. Reading experience
For readers like me who, when making their way through a book in which they’ve discovered unfamiliar words, keep a notepad or book darts or a smartphone with an open dictionary app/website nearby, having a dictionary literally at my fingertips so that I could look up words without noticeably interrupting my reading was great. Score one for the e-readers’ facilitation of vocabulary enhancement — although I must note that on these particular devices, the Kobo e-reader’s dictionary was much easier to access than the Kindle’s.
When it came to page turning and other touchscreen actions, though, the Kindle was far superior. While I liked being able to choose from a variety of page-turning functions on the Kobo, it was inconsistently responsive to both tapping and swiping, and at times lagged for many seconds before completing requested actions such as opening a menu.
Both e-readers had easy-enough-on-the-eyes pages that look to me sort of like old, yellowing paper pages preserved behind glass. Like many people, I spend almost all of my working time staring at computer screens. As a copy editor, I am often staring particularly intently and intensely at computer screens. I’m not sure I want to give up any of the pleasure-reading time I spend with real pages — the e-reader screens might be eye-friendly as screens go, but they are still screens.
2. Tactile experience
Along with the actual reading experience, this tops the list of important factors. How does the e-reader feel in my hands when I read? I strongly preferred the Kobo device to the Kindle, for two reasons. First, the Kobo e-reader is slightly smaller and lighter, which made it a better fit for my hand; and second, I am a sucker for the rubbery, quilted back of the Kobo device (but it’s definitely a matter of taste, since my husband preferred the feel of the Kindle for the exact same two reasons).
And yet, neither holds a candle to the feel, and smell, of a book (although perhaps it’s another checkmark for the e-readers that they would stand up better to having a candle held to them).
3. Voyeuristic/exhibitionistic potential
Some of us love to know what others are reading. Some others of us love for others to know what we’re reading. I fall especially into the former category, and e-readers deny me the pleasure of experiences like this one, or of peeking at covers on the streetcar or subway.
However, as TEC editor Lesley-Anne recently pointed out, that privacy can also be a good thing, e.g., someone who might feel self-conscious reading a paperback copy of Fifty Shades of Grey on his daily GO commute can do so more comfortably with an e-book.
4. Environmental impact
This consideration seems to be a balanced scale in terms of purchasing items for personal ownership, because both book production and e-reader production (and disposal) have a significant environmental impact. If I want the greenest option, all signs point to the local public library.
Obviously, there isn’t an either-or choice to be made between books and e-readers. When I’m out walking, I sometimes listen to music on my phone. But at home, I’m just as likely to haul out my ’90s cassettes as I am to open iTunes. (Why would I “upgrade” these particular albums to another medium when I still have a working tape player?)
I can definitely see the advantages of an e-reader, especially for day-to-day or holiday travel. But for now, I won’t be buying one, because I’m just not sold.
Here’s a humorous video TEC editor Barbara shared when she learned the topic of my post! It’s about a technological wonder called a Bio-Optically Organized Knowledge Centre, or BOOK.