Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eken MID -- the not-an-iPad

I've written before of the tremendous difference between the Kindle (and other eInk-based eBooks) over normal computer screens in terms of usability for reading. Current firmware on my Kindle has some very strong PDF viewing capabilities (despite the unsuitability of the PDF format for eBooks), but they tend to fall down on anything with a lot of color -- either because you can't see the color and need to, or because it makes the text muddy and hard to read.

And unfortunately many of the RPG products published these days make heavy use of color even when it doesn't add anything to the content: consider the strikingly beautiful but also very heavy-handed art of the Dresden Files roleplaying game as perhaps the high end of the spectrum. Which is a shame, for a few reasons. First, a lot of good RPGs are available as PDFs these days, due to companies not being able to justify big print runs or digging out old out-of-print materials as eBooks. Second, the notoriously poor indexing of RPG materials lends itself well to the advantages of full text searching and bookmarking. Third, going to a con with ten pounds of books is always a back-aching endeavor, and sometimes forces one to choose which things to bring and which to leave behind, but if one device can have all the supplements (including the ones you know you'll need and the ones that you didn't expect to need but which unexpectedly came up during the game) and weigh a pound, that would be lovely. And fourth, the possibility of throwing in some software that helps you do the gruntwork of the games on the same device is compelling.

That's why I've thought, if the price on an iPad had been around $100-$150, I might buy one solely to be an RPG-eBook-reader with possible expansion into being an RPG software development platform. But at $450 plus the chance of being tied into a monthly service plan for Internet access, on top of all the usual "being caged inside Steve Jobs's idea of where and how one should do stuff" that comes with most Apple products, it's so not worth it.

Recently, though, I heard about a similar device being sold on eBay at a much more reasonable $100 postpaid. When I say "similar device" of course the iPad-lovers will certainly start to scream. It doesn't have 3G, only Wi-Fi; it doesn't run the iPhone OS; it's a bit smaller; and it lacks other features the iPad has (though it does have some the iPad lacks, notably a camera).

But it certainly has the bits of the iPad experience that are germane to my RPG-PDF-reader idea. It comes with PDF-reading software (Documents To Go, which also handles Office stuff), and the usual Android OS stuff including a solid browser and email client. Sure, it's got the multimedia software (though a few quick tries at playing AVIs and YouTube video didn't work but I haven't really tried yet), a few games (and more available online), social network software, and a pretty typical set of PIM applications. All of this is as solid as any Android phone, both pretty and functional. But I don't expect to use this a lot for those things.

(Though it did occur to me, on seeing Rover running on it, that mounting one on my wall might make a lovely "home control panel" for my home automation system. I'd probably make a variant of Rover that was more finger-friendly first though. I will seriously consider the possibility.)

Now Siobhan has to knit a sleeve for it. And I have to start learning what's out there on the market for Android. Maybe I'll even learn how to code for it and write my own software for it.

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