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Ask HN: Which DRM-free ebook reader to buy?
50 points by hendi_ 1583 days ago | hide | past | web | 46 comments | favorite
Given that Amazon can remotely wipe your Kindle and revoke your access to your "bought" books (see e.g. http://www.bekkelund.net/2012/10/22/outlawed-by-amazon-drm/), which ebook reader should one buy?

Must haves:

  - some kind of e-paper
  - no remote wipe capability
  - can read DRM free books

Nice to have:

  - possible to install free/libre firmware
  - seller doesn't sell DRM'ed books

A great device fitting your stated "must haves" is this little-known device called the Amazon "Kindle" (without Amazon books).

Between the available devices, they have e-paper displays that are comprable to other devices on the market, so you should be able to find what you want there. They can't lock you from the device or delete books you've loaded onto it yourself. It can read DRM-free books in MOBI format, and there are open-source programs available that can convert from any other format you'd like.

On the other hand: there is alternative firmware available, but I've never used it and can't attest to it's quality. And, unfortunately, the majority of the books Amazon sells are DRMed (AFAIK the decision is left up to the publisher but they almost always opt in), so that's not fantastic.

> They can't lock you from the device or delete books you've loaded onto it yourself.

Is this really true? Given that they can remotely wipe "bought" files how can I know that they can't remotely delete self-loaded files?

It's less than ideal, but if you disable wireless connectivity and only load new books on via USB connection (it shows up as a generic USB volume) I'd imagine you're safe, as that should theoretically completely stop the device from calling home.

This is exactly what I do. The device doesn't have the password to my wifi so it can't phone home. I have no need to connect it to the internet — I just transfer files from my computer over USB. Couldn't be happier with the setup.

I have owned a Kindle since GEN 1. I have always added my own DRM free books. I would say %80 of my library is DRM free. I rarely turn the WIFI on. There are several pieces of software than can convert files into Kindle readable formats.

If you're only going to use DRM-free files why does it even matter? The capacity's only 3GB, you're not going to have data there that isn't backed up anywhere else.

If you're really paranoid you can always load a custom firmware. The Kindle is popular enough that there's a very active scene around developing them (I believe the main one is called duodem?)

The question would be whether Amazon can go beyond deactivating individual titles and lock you out of or otherwise remotely disable the device itself. It would be a rude surprise to wake up one day and discover that your fancy e-reader has been turned into an expensive paperweight, even if you did have the ebook files backed up somewhere.

I'd guess they COULD do that, but it would be a horrible customer experence and I'd guess they would drop a few billion of market cap if they did that.

I'd imagine the remote delete is tied in with the DRM system, but don't quote me on that. Publishers would be pushing for remote delete of everything shady otherwise.

I'm very happy with my Pocketbook Touch (http://www.pocketbook-int.com/us/products/pocketbook-touch). It seems quite hackable, the vendor is responsive (some employees hang out on www.mobileread.com pretty regularly). The touchscreen works well and the buttons for paging are great.

I've bought one or two books off Amazon and used de De-DRM tools available to put them on there, though it even supports the Adobe DRM (not Amazon's, though). It does have some annoyances but I haven't hit any major snags in several months of use.

It looks good, but I cannot figure out how to buy one. Can someone point to where I can order one?

Doesn't appear to offer the Pocketbook Touch. I can't find anywhere but eBay to buy them.

I use a different Pocketbook (model Pro 902) and am very happy with it. I have heard good references about several other models as well. A broad range of formats, good build quality, reasonable usability.

Wow, I haven't heard of theses! Thanks for making me aware, these Pocketbooks look really sweet. I'll definitely have a deeper look at them.

From a first quick glance I've learned that they're offering an SDK so you can even develop own applications. There are also some wellknown apps already ported, like FBReader.

I rather enjoy my Kobo. I'm not sure why it says "Coming Soon" because it's out now.


It's definitely e-paper, I don't believe it has remote wipe, and can read many ebook formats, including DRM-free ones.

Some titles on the Kobo store are DRM-free (and are indicated as such), and the store is massive. If your books are DRM'd, it supports Adobe's DRM scheme.

It is out, in Canada. From what their reps have said they're having supply chains issues surrounding the XGA E-Ink panels (could be the same reason Kindle Paperwhite orders are out 4-6 weeks).

Stateside, none of their listed retailers have anything available. Best Buy comes closest, by actually having them listed on their online store as "coming soon". Currently, a quick jaunt across the border is an option but who knows how Kobo will handle potential warranty issues?

I've been using a Kobo for around a year now.


* They're cheaper than Kindle to buy

* The Kobo store is well stocked and competitively priced

* You can upload your own books easily by dragging and dropping the files as if it's a thumb drive or by using Calibre (see calibre-ebook.com).

* The screen looks just as good as my partner's Kindle.

The Kobo is supposedly trivial to hack: http://ccoffing.net/tech/embedded/kobo/

"Of the three major e-readers out today, Kobo rocks the hardest. Kobo supports the ePub standard, has released code as required by the GPL, and has made the life of the hacker surprisingly easy (not locked down, preinstalled nc and vi, git repos, support forums, ...)."

I have an older model I haven't hacked but started looking into a bit; I'd like to enable landscape display for ePub as the current renderer cuts off long lines in code samples, with no way to scroll horizontally.

As I recall, with that model you can boot from your own OS image by placing it on the external SD card. You can also flash the internally stored OS, if you feel particularly confident.

I haven't done it, so research for yourself, if you're interested.

Just FYI, you can drag and drop files to the Kindle just like a thumb drive too. My biggest gripe is there's no way to manage and organize your content, everything just goes into one folder.

Organization is just via collections.json, there are programs available to edit it (e.g. "create collection from folder")

> The screen looks just as good as my partner's Kindle.

Which kindle though? The screen on the new kindle paperwhite is reportedly a marked improvement over previous models...

The limited reviews are saying the new Kobo glo is very comparable to the new kindle paperwhite. But availability is limited so I am still waiting for more reviews.

Kindle Keyboard. Haven't seen the paperwhite. Not that interested though TBH, the grey screens are fine.

I like my Nook Touch, mainly because the built-in software is pretty good (much better than Kindle 3, though I haven't tried a Kindle Touch) and because it can read epubs. I never buy from any online store that sells DRM out of principle.

The downsides are that the physical buttons are terrible, and since I don't do any online shopping the "home" section of the device is pretty useless. There are also some persistent rough edges to the software in terms of pages read, home page, and some minor typography issues.

I thought about getting the Glowlight version but when I tried it in the store, the contrast was noticeably worse. I'm going to wait till I can see a Kindle Paperwhite or Kobo Glo in person before I decide to buy a new reader. (A built-in light is a big selling point for me, as I often read in bed.)

There's a Python script out there that will easily crack the B&N DRM should you choose to buy from their store after all.

Just keep the wifi off on any of those devices and copy ebooks over as if it were a USB drive and you've foiled their horrible DRM and remote-wipe schemes.

I had a Nook Glowlight for about 6 months and the main downside is that the light screen is incredibly fragile. I am careful with my gadgets and I've managed to break 3 of them just by accidentally knocking stuff onto them (like, slipping and fumbling the Nook onto my keys, etc). Granted, Barnes and Noble replaced all of them for free (even out of warranty) but it was enough that I went and bought a Kindle Paperwhite and (minus the software) it is a generally superior device. Additionally, the Kindlegen software combined with stripping the DRM off of my Nook purchases allows me to read perfect epub-to-mobi conversions of all of my books on the Kindle without too much trouble.

Their remote wipe will wait for your device to eventually come online and as soon as it finds your device it performs the remote wipe.

It only takes an accidental connection for it to happen.

The classic nook. I'm from Germany and one friend brought it for me from the states. The B&N nook store is blocked in Germany, so I'm forced to load DRM-free stuff. Most German eBooks stores do not sell DRM-free books, so I'm really really forced to only get DRM-free books. They really don't want my money... :(

> - seller doesn't sell DRM'ed books

Who cares? DRM is not in itself unethical. If you don't want DRM-files, then don't buy DRM-files. If everyone did that, then publishers would be more hesitant to build a market of DRM files.

I am happy with my Sony Reader.

Also, for DRM free books: if you like science fiction, look at Baen. They are a publisher that sells DRM free ebooks in a half-dozen formats at sane prices.

The Kobo Touch or the new Sony Reader are excellent. The Kobo has a hard time reading O'Reilly books, but you can process the O'Reilly books to make them usable (unzip, remove core.css, repackage) with Calibre.

The old Sony Reader has a glossy, beveled bezel, which catches any available light. The newer model has a curved, matte bezel, making it far easier to read on.

Both use the same eInk Pearl display as the Kindle WiFi, quite readable. The Sony has a beefier processor, and doesn't have problems rendering O'Reilly books out of the box.

The Kobo is the friendliest reader I have used. The UX is simple, as if written by a Mac person. The Sony seems to be written by a Windows person: the layout and abundance of widgets and physical buttons makes the UX a little frustrating at times.

The Kobo's library is trivially easy to maintain: connect with USB cable, drag books to KOBO EREADER volume.

Buy your books from DRM-free retailers, see this (old) list: http://blog.threepress.org/2009/11/10/list-of-drm-free-publi...

I use a rooted PRS-T1, and I use dropsync to sync my ebooks. I did a couple of small hacks, such as removing some buttons that I didn't like and I added two fonts (Caecilia and Garamond). Works quite well with epubs, and it has some dictionaries included in the reading app (being a foreigner trying to learn Dutch, I use the Dutch-English dictionary a lot while reading).

I use a first generation Nook from Barnes and Noble. I have only 3rd party books on it purchased from publishers that make ebooks available without DRM. (O'Reilly, Manning, Pragmatic Programmers, Sitepoint) These are all backed-up up on my Dropbox account, so even if they hit the bit bucket, it would be straight-forward to restore them. This works well for me.

And, of course, gutenberg.org rocks my world with classic books available in epub.

I personally use an Android Tablet (one of these $99 HP Touchpads). It is certainly not as comfortable as one of the e-paper readers, but the added functionality is extremely useful. It is just great to not just read stuff, but work with documents, i.e. add notes and highlights to your books, copy&paste excerpts in a text document for future use, etc.

Nook Touch. It's Android-based and can be rooted to add Kindle, Kobo, other eBook apps.

+1. Nook Touch with glowlight, works perfectly with epub2 off the web.

You can backup your kindle ebooks easliy. just look at this article.


I have a kindle with a doukan installed.

The installation is quite trivial, and there is no more remote wipe. Also it supports pdf ebooks quite well (and djvu, not that well)

Are e-ink readers able to display graphs, tables, and code yet?

A PDF is a PDF, so yes for those. As for EPUB/MOBI, maybe if you're lucky to have a quality book release and a device with a screen large enough to display it properly.

I'd love a large responsive e-ink screen (with some basic colours) to use for coding. Imagine not having to stare at the glowing LCD for coding. I'd be so happy.

E-ink would suck for coding.

Imagine doing all your work over a really laggy SSH connection. That's what typing on an e-ink display feels like.

That's why I said 'responsive' e-ink.

If it is in an ePub, the Kobo or Sony can reproduce it. Just remember that the screen is 6" diagonal, with 600x800 pixels, though the display engine will resize and dither to greyscale in order to suit the eInk display.

My O'Reilly books render code with monospaced fonts on both the Kobo Touch and the Sony Reader.

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