The digital age has revolutionised the way in which we read. In fact, it almost destroyed the reading habit before rising, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of the print medium to digital devices, thanks largely to the success of the tablet computer and later, the Amazon Kindle.
Today, we have portable screens ranging from 3” to 10” all around us, apart from the laptops and computers and the oh-so-smart televisions. It is estimated that Wikipedia alone holds over 4.3 million articles, and Amazon claims it has more than a million digital books, magazines and newspapers available. Our regular newspapers - including the one you are reading now - are available online. Digital reading is clearly the future.
So let us look at a few options in reading a book without a book.
The pioneering digital bookstore brought its services to India earlier this year, though their Kindle e-reader has been available for some time. There is also a free Kindle app for Apple’s iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and even the personal computer. The Amazon Kindle gives you access to books, periodicals and newspapers through the device. Books are priced as per the publisher policies, and may differ in different countries, just like physical books. The Shiva Trilogy by Amish, for instance, starts at `127. Some books are free, and some are discounted. Magazine subscriptions can be cancelled within the first 30 days for free.
Books on Amazon are mostly English, though some Hindi is also present. Kindle lets you mark the spot where you stopped reading to resume later. On your PC, you can annotate, take notes, and even see popular highlights other readers are making, and share all this on social media. There is also a built-in dictionary.
Magzter is available for iOS, Android, Windows 8, Amazon Kindle Fire and the Web, and is primarily targeted at magazine readers. Magzter lets you buy a single issue or subscribe to the magazines, and has both free and paid magazines. The screen appears as though you are looking at a real print edition. But you cannot select text or bookmark a page, nor look up words in a dictionary or select text from an article.
Also designed primarily for magazines, Zinio has over 5,500 titles that you can read or subscribe to. It works on the iPhone, iPad and Android phones as also your computer browser. Zinio too does not let you select text, but you can bookmark a page, and write notes about that page. It also has a ‘Click and Browse’ option, so you can skip from one article to another via the table of contents. There is no way to preview a magazine, but they do give you a couple of articles to read for free from interesting magazines.
This is a made-in-India product. It focusses on both magazines and Indian books, with books on offer in Hindi, Marathi, Urdu, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi and English. The books are attractively priced, and download much faster than magazines. In books you can select the text, change the type size and look up a dictionary. You can also share text, though this is not possible in magazines.
Rockstand does not offer subscriptions, and you would need to buy issues just as you would buy physical magazines. It does not end up charging your credit card every month for magazines you may not have read.
The downside with Rocks-tand is that it works only on Android devices, and your login works with only one device.
Each of the above option has its strengths and weaknesses. Downloads are the fastest on the Amazon Kindle. Zinio’s table of contents is great, though it does not have much Indian language content. Magzter offers similar features, but for Indian language content, Rockstand wins hands down, though it works only with one device.