Back to e-reader basics

Alan Wallace
| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 9:27 p.m.

When it comes to reading e-books, less can be more — especially as many e-reading devices have become more like full-fledged tablet computers. But take heart, e-reading purists: Among new devices that will be competing for Christmas shoppers' dollars are a couple that revitalize the basic approach.

One already has been announced officially: Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite. It's roughly the same size as the plain old Kindle but boosts plain old black-and-white “E-Ink” display technology with built-in lighting and higher resolution for its 6-inch screen, improving sharpness and contrast.

The Paperwhite does have some web capability; Amazon describes its built-in browser as “Experimental” — an indication that it aims to excel as an e-reader above all else. So it has much to offer those who find bigger, heavier devices geared to do much more — such as Amazon's new, higher-resolution 7- and 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD models, and Barnes & Noble's new Nook HD+ — less than ideal for e-books.

Readers do need to be aware of wrinkles in the Paperwhite's pricing. It's $119 (Wi-Fi only) or $179 (adding “free 3G” cellular connectivity) — but if they don't want ads on their Paperwhites' lock and home screens, they'll need to pay $20 more.

The other intriguing new e-reading contender hasn't been announced officially: Apple's much-rumored, much-anticipated “mini” iPad — a full-fledged tablet, yes, but with size and weight advantages for e-reading much like the Paperwhite's.

Reports from The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and myriad other sources say Apple's mass-producing a new iPad with a 7.85-inch screen — albeit with lower resolution than the newest full-size iPad's 9.7-inch “Retina” display — that will be announced officially before October ends and available in early November.

The “mini” should benefit from the full-size iPad's benchmark status and sales leadership in the tablet market. Its pricing's unclear, but if Apple stays true to form, it'll command a premium over competing devices.

Of course, there's more to such purchasing decisions than just price — especially what e-books various vendors make available in various formats for different devices and the ability to continue using e-books already bought.

For those who primarily want a new device that excels for reading e-books, the Paperwhite and the “mini” iPad should provide new options.

Government as it is, might be

These new titles offer looks at government present and future:

“Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Feds” (Center Street) by Rand Paul — The Republican U.S. senator from Kentucky paints a picture of Big Government run amok — dictating how much water Americans' toilets and showerheads can use, snooping into their lives under the Patriot Act, arresting raw-milk drinkers, fining and jailing property owners who run afoul of bureaucratic environmental rules — and with no accountability. He also offers ideas for reversing regulations' runaway expansion under the Obama administration and reclaiming Americans' freedom from outrageously improper searches, seizures and arrests. His father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the libertarian-leaning Green Tree native whose outspoken views have resonated with younger Americans, contributes the foreword for the book.

“Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government” (Palgrave Macmillan) by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins — Brook, the Ayn Rand Institute's director, and Watkins, a fellow there, co-write a column on business and capitalism. In this book, they ponder whether, if Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are victorious on Nov. 6, they'll implement Rand's ideas to transform politics and the economy — and what America would be like if all that happens. Noting that Rand's “Atlas Shrugged” returned to best-seller lists during the financial crisis in 2008 and Ryan has spoken of her writings' influence on him in his youth, they call for a free-market revolution in health care, regulation, entitlements and morality that would bring about separation of economics and state. To them, it's a revolution that's not only possible but necessary.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or

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