Skip to main content
November 21, 2013

Are big smartphones the future of e-books?

Stephen King once called books “a uniquely portable magic.” Thanks to mobile technology those words resonate more than ever. Question is, has the e-book revolution already peaked or is it only just the beginning?

When the Kindle first landed in 2007, the book world was set a-flutter. Printed-book aficionados lamented the encroachment of technology onto their papery turf, while tech-heads downloaded more books onto their new e-readers in a day than they could ever had fitted into their homes in a lifetime. Whole libraries had suddenly become portable – and yet the humble paper-and-glue softback persisted. Now, the two co-exist, if a little uncomfortably; the so-called e-book revolution wasn’t quite as Copernican a shift as some would have had us believe.

We think, though, that the see-saw maybe about to tilt, and that the e-book is soon to go stratospheric. Why? Well, the advent of large screened smartphones represents a giant shift in the way we deal with consumer tech on a daily basis. Straddling the smartphone and tablet markets, it means you can combine your portable gadgets, so that devices like the Nokia Lumia 1520 will play the part of computer, phone, media player and e-reader. Let’s take a closer look why.

Screen is everything


One of the main sticking points with electronic books has been screen-glare. It makes reading a book on your laptop outdoors practically impossible, but the lower resolution black-and-white screens of e-readers (which use e-ink to get around the issue of glare) mean that e-books lose the design appeal of traditional print. Illustrations and colour often get left out. Smartphones offered a good work-around, but the smaller screen size was always a compromise: you could only fit so many words on there at a time.

Now, though, large screened smartphones give you the best of both worlds – minimal glare, but a detailed and colourful screen that can handle picture books and magazines as niftily as they can Tolstoy and that give a page-view as big as any paperback. Take the Nokia Lumia 1520. It clocks in with a 6-inch full-colour, full-HD (1920 x 1080) screen, with a pixel density of 368 ppi. And thanks to ClearBlack technology, which works like a polarising lens on your sunglasses, minimizing reflections and heightening contrast, it’s also extremely readable in sunlight.

Size matters

Just like dedicated e-readers smartphones are, of course, very portable. The Nokia Lumia 1520 tips 209g on the scales, which is definitely lighter than most of the recent Man Booker Prize winners and 3 grams lighter than the lightest Kindle. At 6 inches, it has the same screen size as most e-readers; yet with much, much more functionality. Consequently, there’s no need to load your bag up with multiple devices and the chance of mislaying your phone or camera while you’re catching up with your latest Ian McEwan or Margaret Atwood disappears.

nokiaLumia1520e-booksA library in your bag

The ability to carry all your favourite books around with you is one of the selling points of e-readers – no more leaving your trousers at home because  you had to cram your holiday case with new-release hardbacks. Happily, most high end smartphones offer more storage than e-readers, which tend include between 8GB to 16GB. The Nokia Lumia 1520, for instance, comes with 32GB on-board memory and an expansion slot that allows for another 64GB on a MicroSD card. By our reckoning, that’s enough room for 48,000 books. Given that most people won’t quite manage that, what you’ve got is a large screened smartphone with enough room for all the apps, photos, music and document storage you’d like, plus a library-worth of books. Not bad for 209g, right?

Apps galore

Aside from the opportunity to have a vast library literally at hand, the actual reading experience is very streamlined, too. E-book app developers are very conscious that their book-loving customers want a service that looks and feels good. Apps like Bookviser, Freda and Amazon Kindle provide huge amounts of books and reading options no matter what your preference. You’ll be getting stuck into a great novel before you know it.


Easier for audio


Finally, we don’t want you to think we’re all about text on the page; we know that many book-lovers prefer to listen to their favourite stories. Smartphones are enormously well-equipped to cater to that market. Once you’ve downloaded or imported your audiobooks (try Librivox for a bunch of public domain freebies) head to the Windows Store to browse the apps. We’re especially taken with Digital Audio Book, which, as well as playing your books, supports voice commands so you don’t have to start pressing buttons to pause the recording. The on-board speakers on smartphones are designed with music in mind, so you know they’ll be good quality, and a variety of external speakers are also available. If you prefer headphones the Nokia Lumia 1520, for example, is Bluetooth compatible so you can listen wirelessly, eliminating the tangle of cables.

We think these are some pretty compelling reasons why large screened smartphones could drive the e-book revolution to new heights. But what about you? Would you choose a smartphone over a dedicated e-reader?

Image credit: Les Chatfield