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eBooks & MP3's for Business

As I mentioned in my post this Friday, I have recently started my subscription to Soundview's Executive Book Summaries service which to my utter delight provides both PalmDoc (ebook) and mp3 audio versions of its summaries.

As Soundview's ebooks and mp3's use a completely 'open' standard with no digital rights management whatsoever I was free to choose among any of the available ereaders and mp3 players on my Treo.  My immediate question therefore became which one to select. 

I quickly settled on Pocket-Tunes (which Jonathan reviewed yesterday) to playback my audio summaries because it was the only one that allowed me to easily navigate to the 'Soundview Audio' folder that I had created on my SD card so as not to get mixed with my music mp3's.  Then, after taking six ereaders for a spin I settled on using eReader Pro 2.5.3 ($9.95) and Mobipocket Reader Pro 4.8 ($14.95) for my ebooks.

My main selection criteria for the ereaders was that I wanted to a) have the ability to change the text and background color from the standard black & white because I had previously found this to make a huge difference to reduce eye-strain over prolonged reading sessions on my small Treo screen and b) have the facility to add highlights, bookmarks and notes while reading as well as to be able to export these for later editing.

Both eReader and the Mobipocket Reader allow me to change colors easily but when it comes to the critical issue of adding and managing notes or highlights (which I frequently use and find essential for reference in traditional books) I unfortunately found that their features and functionalities beyond the basic stuff was extremely poor.  In fact I would argue that if you want to do anything more than just read they're currently not up to the task of being useful business tools.  There is no doubt that if these companies expect to grow out of their niches and appeal to a wider audience they will have to address these and other issues first.

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to speak with Mobipocket's CEO who confirmed that a simple export functionality was an issue that has been widely demanded by its customers and stated that his company will introduce a complete notes export functionality in the upcoming version 5.0 of their software to be released in the first quarter of next year - I will eagerly await this release.  In the meantime, only eReader currently provides some notes export functionality but it falls short in terms of overall usability and needs much improvement.  I was unable to reach people at eReader for comment about possible future developments.

Setting these limitations aside, let me take you through a quick tour of the current annotations process within both eReader and Mobipocket.  I'll be using Soundview's free sample of Lou Gerstner's "Who says Elephants Can't Dance" to demo on both.

Let's start with the highlighting of text below which in both cases requires that you use your stylus to a) select all the text that you want which b) automatically brings a pop-up window providing you with different annotation options and c) selecting 'Highlight' which will be set to the color that you have selected in your preferences. 

          eReader                              Mobipocket

In both instances, the 'Highlight' action has automatically created a bookmark that you will be able to access at any time.  However, eReader only retains the first few words of your highlighted text which means that if you intended to keep the entire portion for reference (as would seem logical) you'll now have to also select 'Copy Quote' then open your 'Notes' again then select the relevant bookmark, open it and then finally paste it into the note (please tell me that I'm not the only one that finds this a complete waste of time...).  Mobipocket on the other hand performs the action very well and your entire highlighted text is automatically added to your bookmarks.

          eReader                              Mobipocket

Let's assume that you made a mistake and that you actually didn't want to highlight this text after all.  In eReader it is again a somewhat painful process requiring you to open your 'Notes', finding the relevant bookmark (there's only one here but imagine you had 50...) and then manually deleting it.  In Mobipocket on the other hand all that is required is to select any one word within the highlighted area and choosing 'Delete Highlight' from the pop-up menu which will promptly remove all of it.


If you have a need to write notes both applications allow you to do this.  However, eReader's annotations can only be viewed from within its 'Notes' which means that you don't have the benefit of reading them within the context of the book.  eReader also makes it painful to access its Notes repeatedly because each time you have read one you'll need to go through all steps again as it reverts back to the eBook.  Mobipocket (all images below) on the other hand has a very elegant solution for this.  After writing the annotation it inserts a small zig-zag line to the left of the text which can be tapped on to bring it up to view, edit or delete.  Furthermore, both the previous 'Highlight' and current 'Annotation' is added in consecutive page order within the 'Bookmarks' section.


Mobipocket also has another neat way of navigating across all your bookmarks within the text.  At the bottom of the screen you'll see a very thin line with arrows at either end and an overlapping red line telling you where you are within the text.  As you add bookmarks the thin line will become dotted with 'pointers' and pressing the arrows either way will navigate across these quickly.

However, eReader (all images below) is the only one to offer the crucial 'Export Notes' functionality even though as I described before I can't imagine that I would be writing many notes considering that the entire process is so tedious.


I have to conclude that at present neither eReader nor Mobipocket can be considered particularly useful business, education or reference eBook tools if you have a need to annotate your reading and then export these for additional editing.  If you absolutely must do this today then eReader is your only choice.  However, overall I consider Mobipocket's usability to be far superior and once it integrates a notes export functionality in its forthcoming version it will clearly be the better offering.  I can't wait...

Treonauts live the future...

Posted by Andrew on December 6, 2004 at 02:52 PM

Treo Software | EBooks

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by hannah | Apr 7, 2005 8:58:05 AM

When downloading the mobipocket, which type do you click for the treo 650 - high resolution, low resolution, or sony Os palm application? I also had a sony clie with mobipocket with e-books I would like to transfer to the Treo. Do I need an expansion card for books?

by idleloop | Mar 29, 2008 6:17:41 PM

Unfortunately, as March 2008, Mobipocket has not released any reader that export notes...
But, there's a free program (a Perl script), that can export them: http://www.angelfire.com/ego2/idleloop/mbp_reader.html

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