Tech News for Nerds: Living in the Future with Smart Phones and eReaders

Welcome to the first installment of Tech News for Nerds, a weekly peek into the crazy world of gadget and tech geekery from someone who knows, man. I’ll attempt to cull some of the more interesting signal from the vast sea of noise you’ll encounter in the typical Gizmodo feed.

So, a couple of weeks ago I asked a few SF writers to tell us about the tech, gadgets, and software that makes them feel like they’re Living In the Future. It’s fast becoming a cliché to say this, I know, but it was fun to see what John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell, Nisi Shawl, Jeffery Carver, Eileen Gunn, Charles Stross and David Levine had to say on the matter.

Several of them cited the iPhone as a future-tastic device, and in a poll on Laptop Magazine’s blog most users said that smart phones make this The Future, moreso than eReaders or credit cards. I would agree with that except I’ve seen more pretty snazzy eReaders lately (more on that in a sec). Here are the top 5 things that made me feel like I’m living the Star Trek lifestyle this week:

  1. Motorola Devour [Smart Phone] – Android-powered, flip out keyboard, awesome interface, cute.
  2. Windows Phone 7 [Operating System] – Because any improvement over previous Windows Mobile versions feels like a brand new day.
  3. Dell Adamo XPS [Laptop] – Thin. Thin, thin, thin. Thinnest notebook ever made. Yes, MacBook Air people, thinner than your laptop, too.
  4. ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P [Netbook] – 10 hour battery. That is all
  5. ChatRoulette [Time wasting web game] – Nothing says “The Future” like being able to see random strangers doing random things from the comfort of my own home.

Despite the results of the aforementioned poll, I also think eReaders are future-tastic and I don’t mind saying so. It helps when the eReader in question does more than just read eBooks. We’ve had those old things around forever. I know some of you will say “But I have my iPhone,” or even wave some ancient Palm Pilot around. You have fun with that. But the future belongs to better devices.

Here’s a list of eReaders I’ve personally played with, ordered from my favorites to OMG stay away:

Alex eReaderAlex eReader – The coolest part of this device is that it has two screens that are both useful, unlike the Nook. Second coolest thing is that it runs Android, so you can load apps on it, surf the web, and email people in addition to reading books. Check the link for a video of the two screens working together. Now for the bad news: the eBook store isn’t open yet, the app store isn’t open yet, and $399 is a lot to spend.

Entourage EdgeEntourage eDGe – Coolest thing again is the two screens. However, this eReader is a combo tablet/netbook type thing instead of just a reading device. It also runs Android and you can load apps. The eDGe is aimed at students, so most of its features center around interacting with textbooks and other classroom-friendly stuff. A good choice for people who work with documents a lot, too. The bad news: the kinks aren’t all ironed out yet and it’s a little heavier than I like. Plus it’s overkill for someone who just wants to read books. And $499.

Sony Pocket EditionSony Pocket Edition – More of a traditional eReader, this device from Sony gets props for being inexpensive (for an eReader) at $199. Though the screen is smaller than most (5 inches) it’s not so small that it feels cramped. Think mass market paperback as opposed to trade paperback. The bad news: no 3G or wi-fi connection (for those that care), the interface isn’t intuitive, and it’s kinda slow.

NookNook – The coolest thing about the Nook is that it has a less closed and annoying eBook ecosystem than the Kindle. There’s lots of available content from Barnes & Noble and the device itself offers a good basic eReading experience. And the $259 price tag isn’t horrible. The bad news: the interface is a bit wonky and unintuitive and is slower than I’d like. The little screen on the bottom isn’t as useful as it could/should be. Plus, it’s not as ergonomically sound as the Kindle.

Sony Reader Touch EditionSony Reader Touch Edition – The coolest thing here is definitely the touchscreen. Everyone loves touch-enabled gadgets, right? And it’s simple enough to navigate/use. The news is mostly bad, though. That touchscreen comes at a price: readability. The display is a bit dull and has some glare. Not fun. There’s no wireless connectivity. And like the Pocket Edition, it’s slow. Far too slow for something that costs $299.

Sony Reader Daily EditionSony Reader Daily Edition – The Touch Edition’s big brother. Not only does it have a larger, touch-enabled 7-inch screen, the Daily also boasts 3G connectivity for over-the-air purchases. The big screen means more lines of text, which is always a bonus. The bad news is the same as the Touch Edition: dull, glare-y screen, slow response, hefty price tag of $399.

KindleKindle 2 – The one thing I like about the Kindle above all other eReaders is the ergonomic design. The Kindle just fits in my hand nicely, and can fit other people’s hands just as well. I love that you can turn pages with both thumbs, meaning I don’t get repetitive stress action in the middle of my favorite novel. Too bad Amazon’s closed system means that you’ll never be able to take your books off of the Kindle to some other reader should you want to. Nor read books from any number of other stores. And the DRM… arg.

iRex DR800SGiRex DR800SG – I wanted to like this one so much. It has a nice, 8.1-inch screen and flip bar for page turns and 3G and it’s light. However. You need the included stylus to work the device in a way that isn’t convoluted or Stone Age. The stylus does not have a port in the device itself. It will get lost. There’s no note-taking even though the screen is touch-enabled. Trying to navigate the bookstore is like pulling teeth. All this for just $399.

Click the links to see full reviews, pictures, and all the gadget porn you can handle.

So there you have it, eBook lovers. The future of reading… until the iPad comes along. But that’s a post for a different week. Two weeks, to be exact. And yes, I promise to tell you all about it before the official launch day.


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