eBook readers for children have been largely ignored. The e-reader market has been growing in leaps and bounds, yet the vast majority of devices have been designed for adults. Not a great deal of thought appears to have been given to what is potentially a large market: children. Not only would eBook readers for children appear attractive to parents, but schools struggling for cash would find it less expensive to provide eBooks than hard copies – at least once the initial expense of the e-readers had been met.
The problem with the Kindle and the Sony reader is that of size and color. They are not in the right format to make attractive eBook readers for children. Children want color, and they want illustrations, although it is not outwith the realms of possibility for such devices to also include animation. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project’s green and white creation certainly looks attractive for kids, but world-wide it is struggling against economic problems and other setbacks. Although not initially intended as an eBook reader, there is no reason why it can’t be, and there are some open source projects that could accelerate this usage.
It is perhaps a bit clunky to be used as a portable machine in the same way as a Kindle, but it is a fully functional computer, and does bring that advantage over dedicated e-readers to the table. However, there are problems, not the least of which is the books. While the OLPC computer can read PDF files, there have been no books specifically formatted for it. Free public domain books are available through the Gutenberg project and Feedbooks. According to the article “A Review of Websites About eBooks”, Gutenberg is a great source of eBooks if you are seeking material to read on your e-reader, and the books can be used to modify and republish as your own, to provide free of charge to your website visitors (Digital Book Readers). But how many of these ebooks are suitable for educating children?
Let’s put that on the back burner for now and use it as a banker in the event of nothing better showing up, and check up on what else is available on the market. Incidentally, that term ‘on the market’ is another problem with the OLPC computer: they are intended for the developing world and are not on open sale. However, that can possibly be overcome, particularly if they are desperate to increase sales.
The Taiwanese have come up with a nifty offering in the form of the AIPTEK, whose Story Book in Color offers a number of stories that do not require a connection to the internet. It is in the form of a book, with a fold-back cover, and offers the genuine experience of reading a book. In addition to English, the translations available are Traditional and Simplified Chinese.
This is more like what eBook readers for children should be like, and the price is selling online at $179.99 US , and at Chinese retailers for TWD 6900. Books are priced at $4.99 to $9.99, and plans are to open stores in Europe and the USA. A great feature is the icon that suddenly pops up after 20 minutes reading time and tells the child to rest their eyes. It is in full color and supports illustrations and animations, and a number of motion formats can be used.
However, VTech Flip is even better, and is a true eBook reader for children. It is the kid’s version of the Kindle, Nook or Sony reader, and is in full color with animation and illustrations. One drawback is its size, with only a 4.3 inch screen, and it also has a built in touchscreen and QWERTY pad so kids can get distracted. However, the pad can be used to search for words using the inbuilt dictionary, so it is educational and hence makes up for the possibility of distraction.
Vtech Flip offers a good range of books from Dora the Explorer and Mickey Mouse to Shrek and Toy story, and they can be either downloaded or purchased in cartridge form. At just $60, this is amazing value, and will not only help your children to improve their reading, but also their vocabulary and keyboard skills. It is certainly the best eBook readers for children yet.
Its main fault is the small screen size, but what can you expect for such a slow price. In any case, perhaps children would prefer a small screen than be faced with a large screen full of words. Maybe not, but time will tell because this is a very new product and not yet on the shelves in the USA. Perhaps when this is published it will be, but if not you should be able to purchase it online. The OLPC can be removed from the back burner because it is not needed – yet!
By Marco Gustafsson
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