Sony Reader Review

02.24.09 | 5 Comments

On Saturday I finally broke down. I went to Sam’s Club and bought a Sony Reader, a portable gadget for reading e-books.

I’d been eyeing it for a few weeks because they were listing it for $30 under the usual $299 price. As I reported last week, I’d placed an order for a refurbised unit that was only $200. Unfortunately the store had an onslaught of telephone orders and oversold. Since it was a special refurb deal, they couldn’t get more in stock. There is definitely some truth about how being denied only makes you want something even more. I WANTED that PRS-505, and I wasn’t going to wait. Nor did there really seem to be much point. I’d been watching ebay and the auctions for a used device seem to be ending at around $250-280. Mine was $270 new.

On to the device itself. It’s a little bigger than a standard paperback but smaller than a trade paperback. It’s thin–about the thickness of a magazine. Only it’s definitely heavier. I was a little surprised by that at first, but I’ve quickly come to appreciate it. It has the weight of a book instead of a piece of plastic.

The e-ink screen is sharp. The screen refresh rates suck. You don’t want to have to wander around menu options any more than necessary because it does get tedious. I have faith that a few years from now we’ll be looking back on this generation of devices and shaking our heads. Fortunately, the Sony’s navigation is pretty straightforward. The numbered buttons down the side make it easy to jump to your selection without “scrolling” through lots of options.

Reading on the Sony has been fine. The first day I had the device, I bought book 4 in the Dresden Files series and am now somewhere around Chapter 9 or 10. The thing about reading on an e-ink device is that if the book is at all worth reading, pretty soon you forget that you’re not holding a paper book. Your fingers rest comfortably on the page flip buttons and page refreshes don’t take any longer than it takes to turn a page in a paper book. Pretty soon you lose yourself in the reading experience and the format fades into the background. If it doesn’t, you probably should be reading a better book.

In terms of visual quality, I would liken it to reading newsprint. The white is a little more grey than what you’d find in a hardback and some paperbacks, but it’s comparable to newprint. The text itself is black and sharp. When Mrs. Flametoad first saw my book open, she thought it was a demo decal on the top.

The Sony comes with only three font settings: small, medium, and large. To me, small is almost worthless. It’s still readable, but it’s a pointless strain. Why bother when medium is so much easier to read? Large isn’t that large, but it helps when you’re reading in low-light conditions like I was last night in bed. If anything, I kind of wish there was an extra-large option.

The most disappointing part of the Sony Reader has been the software. It’s like it wants to be iTunes when it grows up, but it’s just not quite as intuitive or friendly. Fortunately I learned about some freeware called Calibre that is supposed to be way better than Sony’s. It allows you to tag your books, edit the metadata, convert among formats, and sync to your device. It’ll even take results from RSS feeds and convert them to Sony’s e-book format for reading offline.

Hand in hand with the Sony software has been some early frustration with formats. I more appreciate an early statement I heard made about the Kindle. “It just works!”. With the Sony Reader, you have to have a certain amount of willingness to learn about e-book formats, software, syncing, etc. The result is slightly more freedom from DRM and the tyranny of a single, proprietary format. The Sony Reader supports ePub, which is the new non-proprietary format being pushed by elements of the publishing industry. Kindle doesn’t support it, which means that Amazon.com doesn’t support it. That’s disappointing because I can’t spend my Amazon gift credit I got over Christmas on e-books.

Needless to say, I’ve tested a pair of 12 to Midnight PDFs on the Sony. They display well enough to read, although the font size is pretty tiny. One positive outcome of this purchase is that I’ll have a device on hand that I can use for testing and tweeking. Buried Tales of Pinebox, TX will definitely be available in many e-book reader friendly formats.

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Comment by Kyle
2009-02-24 08:55:31

That thing’s going to look great sitting next to your Betamax and Commodore 64….:)

Reading THE DRESDEN FILES on an ebook….sacrilege.

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Comment by Preston
2009-02-24 09:10:46

That’s okay. I hope to sell it on ebay next year when the new, bigger, Plastic Logic device hits the market. When I do, I’ll transfer my books with me.

The reading experience is in no way diminished. I woke up at about 2 am last night and read for two hours on the couch. It’s the words that hold magic, not the paper. I was every bit as much “curled up with a good book.”

Comment by Kyle
2009-02-25 17:29:35

Call me a purist, I suppose. I can still read by candlelight when the power craps out and the batteries die…:) And a real book is a little easier to manuever and see when you’re flipping around on the couch.

But I resisted the Ipod and Iphone as well.

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Comment by Ed Wetterman
2009-02-27 07:51:39

Kyle, just because you live in the butt end of the state, doesn’t mean you have to be backwards in everything! LOL


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Comment by Kyle
2009-02-27 09:31:25

Hey! I resemble that remark….

Actually, somebody described it the other day as, “the choad of Texas.” Quite appropriate.

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