I was wondering if the current generation of e-book readers (like the Kindle, or Sony's Reader) are big/high-res enough that you can comfortably use them for large paper-size PDFs, like most programming and other technical books? I've bought a few PDF books from Pragmatic Bookshelf lately, and it would be nice to have something to read them on that is smaller and cooler than a laptop and not backlit :-)

Does anyone have experience with this?

+2  A: 

Here are a couple of posts on this topic by a very technical guy:

This should answer your questions.

+5  A: 

My experience is that they are not quite there yet, and are still pretty overpriced. I have an iRex Iliad, which I am very much in love with. The screen is just amazing. So easy to read, even midday outside in the screaming sunshine. I use it a lot to read both regular books and technical papers, hell sometimes even long web pages or html-based documentation / tutorials.

However with good tech books I find that I read very differently to more normal "serial" material. I often skip to read or re-read parts of chapters that could be a long way back or a long way ahead of my current position. I often also use them as reference. This is where most of the reading software in these devices falls down. Bookmarking and search is generally very weak, and this impedes the way that I like to "read" tech books.

This is improving, and I like the Iliad as it is a pretty regular linux device with an X server, so better custom reading software is being compiled and released by the community all the time. Sadly, it's also the most expensive by far, as it has a much larger screen and a wacom pen tablet built in.

Unless you want to treat yourself with a new toy to play with -- because the technology is awesome, in the very real sense of the word --then my advice is to wait for the next generation, as there are still some issues to be ironed out in the current gen of these new devices.

* Edit *

Additionally, whilst the screens look very impressive, most e-readers have a screen update time of around the 1-2 second mark. So flipping pages to find that paragraph or table you want to look at again, is really not a very good option. :-( Hopefully in the later releases of the e-ink technology, this will improve.

I lusted after an Iliad but ended up buying an OLPC XO-laptop at about half the price. The OLPC doesn't have an e-ink screen but the smart LCD in monochrome mode is reflective so works fine outside. It's faster to refresh than the e-ink, although not a particularly fast machine.
Andy Dent
I bought an iLiad iRex in second hand and I enjoyed very much reading technical book during transportation. Sadly, somebody pushed me in the subway and broke the screen which is very expensive to replace (about $200~300)... So, I wait for the new (and hopefully cheaper) generation.
+2  A: 

2nd hand experience here - my husband the uber tech had a Sony reader for just his prupose for 19 months, for cisco and other router/switch hardware technical publications. He recently "upgraded" to a kindle. No more technical books on paper for him, he says, if they're available as ebooks. With the sony, he had to futz with the margins to make it work, but the Kindle adjusts automagically.


While I generally agreed with Cheekysoft, I wanted to provide my experience with the Sony PRS 505. The Sony doesn't have a touch input or as large of a screen as the Iliad, but it is much more affordable. I love mine and use it all the time.

Books are the best when you can get them in the base Sony format (lrf), but the selection is limited. I've read a few books in pdf and it's not bad. The best way I've found to read pdf is to put the device in landscape mode. This way, you see the full width of the page, half of the page at a time. I've read a few books like this and have thought it went pretty well.

Like Cheeky said, the big issue is that you can't jump around as easily as you can in a paper book. The prs505 has a book mark feature that helps, but it is not as easy and being able to put a sticky note on a page and flip back to it whenever you want to.

When I find a large pdf that I need to read, given the choice between reading on my laptop, printing it off, or reading it on my ebook reader, the reader wins every time.

+2  A: 

The Kindle DX was just announced and is explicitly designed to handle pdf documents well. The initial reviews look very promising. It's also a whole lot cheaper than the Iliad mentioned above. This looks like the one to get for technical materials.

Steve Rowe
+2  A: 

I have a Sony Reader PRS-505. It has a reasonably small screen but that's fine for its intended purpose: reading novels largely to and from work.

You can put technical books on it but the smaller screen tends to be a real issue. There are larger models like the iRex iliad and the newly announced Kindle DX but I think these readers are still unsuitable for several reasons:

  1. I find myself flicking around a lot in technical books. I will look for a particular topic in the index or just flick through the pages of a particular chapter until I find what I'm looking for. Paper really still is the best for this and a computer is the next best thing;
  2. The displays are slow to refresh;
  3. They lack colour. This isn't usually important in programming books but could be in say Web design books, books about Photoshop and so on;
  4. Even if I'm reading sequentially I'll often refer to code snippets, tables, charts, etc on other pages; and
  5. Searching is hard (or at least harder than with a paper book).
I hadn't thought about the slow seeking time. The keyword search doesn't offset this?
Steve Rowe

The thing that intrigues me is the Kindle platform and what it can be. Just recently I've started to think that hard cover (especially for reference) isn't needed anymore with searchable alternatives. Kindle Reader is free and on the Kindle, Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, etc. and to me that makes it very worth buying a tech book and having my PDFs readable and searchable anywhere I find time to browse.

I'd hate to sound like a Kindle fanboy, because honestly I don't give a hoot about Amazon, but when they offer this, it definitely piques my interest.

Shawn Strickland