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Advanced Life Support Group, London: BMJ Books, 2000, £22.00, file size 3221 Kb, ISBN 0727915541
The majority of readers of Archives of Disease in Childhood will know this book very well. My task here is not to appraise the content of the eBook, which is the same as the (now famous) paperback, but to test how well it serves its purpose when used in the eBook format, and specifically on a personal digital assistant (PDA).
There are some books that you wish you could have with you at all times. The well known format of the APLS manual is an A4 size book with plenty of free space, large diagrams, and comfortable font size. There was clearly no intention to compromise any of these for the sake of portability; the manual does not aspire to be pocketsize. The APLS manual in paper form is published by BMJ Books and luckily this forward thinking publisher has now brought out several of their publications in electronic format. Once you buy the PDA version of the APLS manual it can be used on your PDA as well as on your desktop PC. BMJ Books use Mobipocket Reader for their eBooks. This is a very good choice because Mobipocket is the only one (of the three common PDA friendly formats that support encrypted eBooks) that runs on Palm OS, Pocket PC, Psion, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson P800. The PDA world is still divided into those with palm and those with Windows operating systems and it is important that the book is available for both platforms.
Mobipocket Reader can be downloaded free so you do not need to pay anything more once you have your PDA and have purchased the book from the publisher’s website. As commonly happens with PDA software you are given a full version of Mobipocket for two weeks which afterwards converts into a basic version unless you purchase the full one. Just as the makers of Mobipocket hoped, I became so fond of the features available in the full version that I decided to pay. My reason was the ability to read in horizontal view, an option available on the full version (Mobipocket Pro) only.
As I mentioned earlier the content of the PDA book is the same as the paperback. The only difference I found was a somewhat shorter (but still satisfactory) index. The eBook also contains all the diagrams, tables, and graphs of the paper version. Unfortunately viewing them on the small PDA screen is not easy. You can either view the whole table or diagram on the screen (and it is so small that you cannot see the details) or you can enlarge it and then you will be able to see clearly but only part of it a time. You can swap between the two views easily by tapping on the magnifying glass icon. To move to the other part of the graph you simply touch the screen and drag in the desired direction. All this works very well but, admittedly, it is not the same as simply viewing the whole picture, and this is perhaps the main inconvenience I experienced reading this book on a PDA.
Using Mobipocket Reader Pro I was able to rewrite the text; this is done using the “Modify” button. Parts of the text can be highlighted, copied, and pasted into other documents. For those who like colouring their books there is a “Highlight” option. In fact one can choose colours of the background, font, and highlights, a function of little practical use but entertaining. You can also add notes (“Annotate”) and create links whereupon a tap on a chosen word will take you automatically to the selected page. This last option is especially useful in the eBook situation where the pages are living beasts. Read horizontally this book has 1367 pages with the smallest font and 5808 with the biggest; in the vertical version these numbers are 1408 and 6099…
The links to the chapters or figures have been adjusted to the new format. This is where the new format is an advantage. To follow “For a more detailed description see chapter 5”, one click is enough to open chapter 5. However, links using the paperback page number are redundant. In a chapter about shock, the sentence “A discussion of the relative merits of fluids can be found on page 114” is misleading; going to page 114 you will find a discussion about various types of laryngoscopes! The solution is to annotate. The request I would put forward to the publisher is to readjust these links to suit the digital format.
It is lovely to be able to have the book with me all the time. By nature of its content, it is the type of book that you would always like to remember in detail or have access to. I agree though, that there is a comfort (psychological and physical) in opening a large and fully visible paperback when dealing with difficult clinical situations or learning about procedures. Pros and cons considered, if I could only have one I would go for the digital version. Luckily, there is no need to choose between them. I anticipate that both forms will happily coexist, the paperback among emergency treatment guidelines on the ward and the eBook in my pocket.
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