One of my favorite summer pleasures is reading. To be fair, that's also the case for spring, fall, and winter. But summer is a great time to curl up with a good read in a hammock, lawn or beach chair, at the beach, or while traveling (as long as you're not driving, of course).
Old-school readers read from actual physical, printed, paper books. There's nothing wrong with that -- I'm still partial to "pbooks." But pbooks have their downsides. You have to go get them either from the store or library (or your bookshelf). And larger books, or a stack of books sufficient for a vacation or long trip, gets heavy and bulky.
eBooks avoid the provisioning and carrying efforts. Purchasing and downloading can be done almost anywhere, on your couch or on the beach. And digital books are relatively small, file-size-wise, so you can store dozens or even hundreds of titles. They do have some downsides, which I'll mention later.
Once you decide you want to give eBooks a try, you need something to read them with. You could buy a dedicated eBook reader, like an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes & Noble Nook, a Sony Reader, Kobo eReader etc. But if you already have an iPhone, you could try using that as an eReader. You already own it, so there's no additional hardware investment; you're already carrying it, so you're not adding to your travel carry overhead, and, best of all, iOS reader apps are free.
It doesn't cost you any money to turn your iPhone into an eReader, just a few minutes of searching, clicking and downloading.
There are quite a few free apps, but I suggest you start with Apple iBooks. It offers a broad selection from the iTunes Store, and you can also use it for ePub and PDF files (Brighthand's sister-site TabletPCReview recently published a review of the iPad version of iBooks).
The Amazon Kindle app gives you access to everything in the Kindle store, letting your smartphone act like a dedicated Kindle. Amazon tries to make books cheaper than Apple does, and it's bookstore has been around a lot longer.
Other options include the Barnes & Noble Nook app, Stanza, Google Play Books, Bluefire Reader, and Kobo from Barnes & Noble. There appear to be dozens of other ebook apps, although many of these are really specific content bundled into a reader app. You can always add these later.
No matter where you get them, odds are that downloading bunches of books via broadband won't make a dent in your data usage. Or, of course, you can get books via WiFi or iTunes-and-cable.
Despite all the advantages, using your phone to read books isn't ideal. The iPhone's display is a lot smaller than eBook reader devices, much less an iPad. Even in landscape mode, it's not as wide as a regular paperback book, and I don't find landscape mode good for reading book text. This may be a dealbreaker for you or it may be just good enough for when you're on the bus or train.
And while there are comic buying/reading apps for iOS, don't even think about trying this on your iPhone... unless your eyes are way better than mine.
While you can get just about anything you want to read through your iPhone or iPad, be prepared to pay about the same as you would for a physical book. I'm one of the legions that find this annoying, and given my book consumption, unaffordable. I don't have the space to hang onto most of the books I've read, once I've read them. So I don't want to buy them, I want to rent them, e.g., borrow them from my local library.
In theory, you can get eBooks for your iOS device through libraries. I say in theory, because the OverDrive app and system that most libraries have adopted is, in my experience to date, a royal pain in the, ahem, fundament from start to finish.
Fortunately, there's no shortage of free books and other content, available through eBook apps/stores, or directly from sources like Project Gutenberg. If you like classics (books no longer under copyright) you've got more available than you'll ever finish, from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens through Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Something for just about everyone.
Additionally, many contemporary authors have made some of their work available free -- stories or samples mostly, but even some full books.
Another great source for free content is the web sites of magazines and publishers. Science fiction fans, for example, should start with the BaenFreeLibrary.com, Tor.com, and Asimovs.com.
If an iPhone doesn't cut it as a primary bookreading device for you, try an iPad. A tablet is larger, carry-wise than an iPhone or eBook reader, and an eBook device's battery is likely to last longer.
But consider keeping a pbook or two available as well. You never know when your device will run out of power, or you're forced to turn it off (e.g. takeoffs and landings). And a book will always survive being dropped or thrown -- there's nothing to break.
Summer Tech 2012: check out our other picks