The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, December 01, 2011


Working in publishing, I've come across lots of discussion about ebooks in recent years. They tend to range from hand-wringing about the death of the book, to excitement about the opportunities thrown up by new media. I don't really have a strong feeling either way. Personally, I love books - the feel of the them, the smell of them and seeing them lined up colourfully on my shelves, but at the same time, I've got nothing against the principle of ebooks and other electronic media - I'm happy to use online journals, for example, for research.

As I've seen Kindles (and their like) cropping up more and more, I've wondered whether I should give one a try, especially for when I'm away. Because of a dodgy shoulder, when I travel, I always aim for the lightest possible hand luggage. I didn't use to have too much trouble fitting a paperback in my bag, but as I've got into photography lately, my lovely new SLR camera has taken up more of my precious carrying space and on my last trip away, I found myself opting for a particularly slim book that I'd finished well before the flight home. Could a Kindle be the answer?

I'm a bit wary of electronic gadgets because they're not generally very kind to my hands - which are often quite painful because of RSI. Anything that's awkward to hold and involves fiddly finger movements is a no-no. I chose my mobile specifically because it has nice big buttons and even then, on a bad day, texting is quite uncomfortable. So rather than rush in and add a Kindle to my Christmas list, I borrowed one from a friend to test drive first. The funky matt screen was easy to look at and once I'd found the best font size, I found it quite nice to read from. Sadly though, even at a time when my hands are quite settled and pain-free, after about 20 minutes, I was starting to find it quite uncomfortable to hold. However much I fidgeted about and tried different positions, it seemed to involve an awkward thumb position, mainly because it has such a narrow border around the screen to get hold of. It was just a bit too much of a stretch to grasp across the width as you would a mobile:

And trying to hold it around the edges without putting fingers or thumbs across the screen, I just couldn't find a relaxed position in which my thumb wasn't tensed and uncomfortable:

I did wonder if you could perhaps put it in a case that would provide something chunkier (and softer) to get hold of, but I couldn't see a way of doing it without covering the buttons on the side that you use to turn the page (which I also found a bit unnervingly like nasty mouse clicks!). So it looks like I'm not going to be dumping my paperbacks just yet. Can someone please come up with a nice ergonomic ebook reader that's easy to hold for folks with dodgy hands? Hmm, perhaps that's a new business opportunity ...

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