No, I Don’t Want a Bigger E-Reader. I Want an Even Smaller One.

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

e-reader, ebook, e-reading, tablet, e-inkThere’s been some discussion lately around large-screen e-readers. Michael Kozlowski of Good E-Reader launched an Indiegogo campaign for a larger-than-normal e-reader—13.3 inches—and TeleRead offered a couple different takes (here and here) on the hefty price point Kozlowski is proposing: $699.

I should say up front that I don’t use e-readers as often as I’d like to. I own a Kindle Paperwhite, but I probably haven’t picked it up in a month. When it comes to reading books, I’m a traditionalist and I still like the weight and feel of a physical book.

That said, I want to read on an e-reader more often, as I’m sure I’d be able to get more book reading done with it. I live in New York City, and for the 40-60 minutes I commute each day, the train I take is often so packed that it’s downright impossible to hold a book or tablet in front of you. And each can also feel cumbersome or uncomfortable to grasp with one hand while you’re holding onto a pole to steady yourself.

Now, I understand that for a lot of people, bigger screens are better. What I actually want, though, is the opposite: I want a smaller e-reader. More specifically, I want an iPhone-sized one.

Yes, I know: it’s quite easy to read an ebook on an iPhone. But I don’t like reading on my phone or on a similar type of display.

Despite the fact that I prefer print books, though, the bulk of the content I read is digital. All the news I consume through reading comes either via my laptop or iPhone, and I probably spend more time at this point reading articles of one kind or another than I do reading books (I only subscribe to one magazine, and I do indeed read the print edition of it).

Two notes about reading on these screens:

1) They hurt my eyes. I turn my dimness way, way down as a result. Therefore, I actively try to limit the time I read on them, and am in no hurry to start reading ebooks on them.

2) There are different types of reading. When I read a book, I dwell on it. I read it slowly. I sometimes go over a line a couple times. It’s a deep reading. When I read a news article, on the other hand, I shoot my eyes across the screen rapidly. I often just get a gist of what the story is. I do not mind reading this type of content on a screen.

So back to my wanting an iPhone-sized e-reader. As you might have guessed, I want it to be e-ink. In a perfect world, it would simply be a shrunk-down Kindle.

Yes, I’d have to carry around another device, but it’d be small and I could easily throw it into my bag or tuck it into a coat pocket.

But no, I don’t imagine this will ever come to fruition—at least not with the convenience the Kindle ecosystem offers. The Paperwhite (or similar e-ink devices) is small enough, and if most people want to read on an iPhone-sized device, they probably won’t be as picky as I am, and will simply read on an iPhone.

That said, I’d be curious to see if anyone has had similar thoughts.

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22 thoughts on “No, I Don’t Want a Bigger E-Reader. I Want an Even Smaller One.

  1. Daniel BerkowitzDaniel Berkowitz Post author

    Nate, I agree that, ideally, a larger screen is best-suited for reading But for my purposes, a significantly smaller screen, coupled with, like you said, pocketability and one-handed usability, would be best. I’d like to be able to keep a small device on me at all times that I can easily take out (again, though, e-ink).

  2. Robin Anderson

    I love my Kobo Mini. Like you, I am a real book lover who prefers to read books on an e ink device and also prefer something pocket sized for portability. The Kobo Mini is perfect for that. A larger screen would be nice to minimize page turns but otherwise this is my e-reader of choice. I carry it in my pocket or purse for bus rides, doctor’s offices, plane rides where you are too cramped to even reach the bag at your feet to pull out a book, kid soccer pick ups and the beach (e ink works well in bright sunlight unlike most phones and tablets). Plus you won’t break your nose if you fall asleep reading it and the device smacks you in the face – as my ipad once almost did. I am only sad that Kobo does not seem to be making this device anymore.

  3. Catherine Dunn

    That’s interesting. I’ve recently got back from India, where the trend is definitely for reading more on smartphones than ereaders. It’s less about space and more about having one device that does everything (hence reduced outlay), but I can imagine that space might also be a factor in the future, as people are cramped for space in the cities, and public transport is notoriously crowded! People work long hours and don’t have much time for reading, so when they read they tend to do so on their commute. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this concept!

  4. Deborah Emin

    I like my iPhone as a reading device and that is why I carry it with me everywhere. It is great even in grocery store lines where my level has been greatly reduced because I read there too. I think the problem with converting more people to e-reading has to do, and I say this as a publisher as well as a big reader, with how little investment the publishers have put into determining what kinds of devices their customers would be most comfortable using. Again, as a publisher, I see there are so many different problems regarding what kind of device, price points, convertibility of files, etc. But the publishing industry, to my knowledge, has done no studies regarding the use of e-reading devices and has allowed the folks at Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, for example, to set up the terms of doing business. It is not in the publishing industry’s interest to have allowed that to happen.

    1. Daniel BerkowitzDaniel Berkowitz Post author

      That’s a great point, Deborah. It’d definitely be in publishers’ interest to commission some sort of study.

      And if anyone knows of something along those lines that’s available, I’d love to take a look.

  5. Michael Kozlowski

    Thanks for your coverage on our brand new device.

    I think that there are a number of people who are older and don’t have the greatest eyesight. Have you ever tried to increase the font on a six inch e-reader or an iPhone? The screens don’t provide enough of a viewing area to read properly, whereas a 13.3 inch e-reader as plenty.

    Additionally, I think this is a great device for the professional crowd. You can take notes, write on PDF files and save them as new documents. I know lots of people in the legal industry who have supported this device.

  6. Craig Cox

    I would snap up a smaller (four-inch) e-ink e-reader that would fit in my pocket. The Kobo Mini comes very close, but is a bit too large for comfortable pocketability.

    I use e-readers to review longer articles, reports and other items that I save as epub documents for offline reading, and a smaller e-ink e-reader would be a real boon to productivity and convenience. The ability to select larger font sizes is helpful for people with low vision.

    Why e-ink instead of smartphones? Because I want month-long battery life, instant on and off and the ability to read outside in the sun. I would be happy with a smaller dedicated e-ink e-reader that doesn’t have internet connectivity or other battery-consuming distractions.

    Critical to the success of a smaller e-ink e-reader is one-handed operation, as you and Nate point out, just as I use the volume rocker to turn pages when using my smartphone.

    Some department stores use e-ink price displays, and a cursory glance at e-ink suppliers shows that six-inch displays have become commoditized, so I hope that a smaller four-inch screen might similarly become widely available.

    A larger, costlier, 13.3-inch display might be nice for those who need to review PDF documents and other niche uses, but I’ll take the smaller device!

  7. Bob Powers

    Whatever the size of an e-reader, it sure beats physical books when it comes to travelling. Can you imagine what 60-100 books would do to your baggage allowance? Overwhelm it! That said, I agree that a smaller size would be good for lugging around, but if you’re a nighttime reader like I am, a larger e-reader is more convenient. (But best to wear anti-blue-light glasses if reading late at night.)

    1. Daniel BerkowitzDaniel Berkowitz Post author

      Bob, without a doubt. I’ll be traveling overseas next month, and I always stress about what books to bring with me. What if I don’t like them? Then I’m just wasting space AND I have nothing to read. E-reader solves both those issues!

  8. Lee Wind

    I wonder if they could develop a toggle switch on a next-generation iphone that would shift from back and forth from the current lit screen to an e-ink display? (Or maybe, flip the phone over and have the e-ink on the back? Then you still only have one thing, but the option to maximize the way you want to use it.

    1. Craig Cox

      Lee, this sounds like the dual-display Yota Phone running Android. In this instance though, my goal would be an inexpensive e-reader device with a long battery life.

  9. Micah

    Here’s some data that is relevant to screen sizes. Our iOS eReader app “Bluefire Reader” active userbase in the last 30 days breaks down as follows on the iOS platform:
    iPads: 123,344
    iPhones: 29,974

    Now given the vastly greater numbers of iPhones out there, we can clearly see from this data a preference for larger screens when it comes to digital reading.

    That said, I love my Kobo mini the most, and I have many different devices from a variety of platforms.

  10. Scott Richardson

    I have had a Kindle since 2008. I buy almost all my books from Amazon. But my Kobo mini would be my reader of choice -if- it had a light. I love the size, but since having an ereader with a light built in I can’t go back to not having that. If someone came out with a front lit, 4″ inch ereader, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

  11. Nathan Lee Bush

    I’ve been saying this for years. I do get that it’s a pretty specific market: people who don’t carry bags with them (so mostly men who don’t carry bags) and desire pocket portability and want an e ink screen for books. It’s probably down to urban males at that point. But it’s there! I would definitely buy one if they can get the body size down and screen size almost edge to edge.

    I love to just walk out the door with everything I need in my pants pockets.

  12. Chad

    Hey Daniel!
    What about something like the popSLATE2 iPhone Case:

    Solves your problem of wanting an iPhone-sized e-reader but not having to carry around multiple devices.

    I completely concur with you about preferring to read an e-ink screen vs. a backlit display and will be looking into one of these myself.

    RE: the 13.3″ Good E-Reader – I myself cannot wait for it to come out. As a resident physician, I have an entire library of PDF textbooks & medical journals, however finding a good way to read them has been a struggle.

    I hate reading on my computer, and it is tedious enough to read an 8.5×11″-sized PDF page on a super-fast iPad, pinching and zooming and scrolling, let alone on my kindle. Additionally, I’ve struggled to find a good way to read my materials outside, at the pool or the beach (since I live in Miami, it’s actually a perennial situation in which I find myself 🙂 The fact that the Good E-Reader runs an OS like Android is even more of a bonus since I have e-textbooks across multiple platforms (Kindle, Inkling) and this e-reader would allow me to access all of my books from one e-ink device.

    In short, it combines the viewing real estate of an iPad Pro, the readability of a Kindle, and the OS flexibility of a tablet; couldn’t have asked for a better combo!

  13. Prodromos Regalides

    Lol , I thought so too. But since I want to read from books with formats of over 1300 words per page, reading from small
    readers is awkward. Plus my “reading” is not a leisurely activity, but disciplined studying of large quantities of information that need to be systematically, rapidly and accurately absorbed and understood so it becomes functional knowledge.

    Having to scroll over the page is not only awkward but also time consuming and bad for the memory.

    Plus, my eyes are not so sensitive to light. Then again I am not perfectly immune, but a brightness usually at 20-60%(depends on the device) works perfectly fine for me.

    So we want bigger tablets and long lasting ones. Books for recreation and magazines are best read at 8 inches or 10. I would agree with you on this.

  14. Meower68

    There’s at least project on KickStarter to make a case for an iPhone which adds a secondary, e-ink display. With the right app, this would put a 4.x” e-ink display on your iPhone.

    My problem with this: I don’t do Apple. No one seems to be making these for Android devices. Nevermind the fact Samsung sells my Galaxy smartphones than Apple sells iPhones.

  15. Lucas Sawyer

    A Chinese company built and sold an Android based eink smartphone. They sold out quickly and were pulled just as fast because of counterfeit IMEI numbers – this is the ideal device – Phone, SMS, email, MP3, audiobooks, ebooks, static web content, multi-week battery life.

    Alcatel also created a companion 4 inch ereader for one of their Android phones – less ideal because of missing features but what a great size.

    I can’t find any of these devices for sale anywhere.

  16. Dan Baker

    So is there anything out there in the market place to rival my pyrus mini? I love it’s form factor but would like back lighting too…



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