March 5, 2009

Sony Reader Update

As promised, here's an update on my experience with the Sony Reader. I've owned it for about a week now.

Short version: I'm torn.

Long version:

I love my new Sony Reader PRS-700 because:
  • it lets me store, carry, bookmark, highlight, and annotate hundreds of books in one sleek, lightweight package (and believe me, for a Victorianist, the contrast with carrying around the 'real' thing is substantial)
  • it also stores easy-to-read versions of Word documents
  • in these ways it makes it possible to have a large percentage of the material I need for my ongoing research (and teaching and just plain reading) handy in any location, while also letting me interact with it in ways that make the electronic device feel a lot like working with paper
  • the touch screen is cool (actually, the whole thing is cool)
  • there aren't a lot of buttons cluttering up the unit and the page-turn button in particular is conveniently located
  • overall, then, it is a remarkably user-friendly and practical device for someone in my line of work...except,
I hate revised to struggle a bit with my Sony Reader PRS-700 because:
  • the cool touch screen results in glare that makes it difficult to read the books--which is, after all, the primary reason for owning the thing in the first place
  • the display, though impressively crisp, has poor contrast compared to the less expensive PRS-505 model (which also does not have the same problem with glare)
I'm also not fond of the software Sony provides (but there are alternatives, including this one which is Mac-friendly), and all the reviews that say the Reader is no good at handling PDFs are quite right. But I knew these things going in. I also knew that some people had complained about the glare and the contrast, but others had said 'no problem,' so the annotation functions seemed likely to outweigh them. But do they? That's where I'm stuck.

Do I keep this one for its multi-functionality (there's a nice techno-geeky word), accepting the trade-off of the text not being optimally visible? (Depending on the lighting you're working in, the LED lights that Sony has added to this model help with the contrast problem, but not with the glare, and as one of the other attractions of the Reader was the e-ink technology which I hoped would not tire my eyes the way back-lit screens do, I'm annoyed at resorting to this. Also, the lights run down the battery faster.)

Or do I trade down for the earlier version, so that I can store, carry, and really read the books, and just keep on taking notes by hand or on my computer? Maybe Sony was right the first time: an e-reader should do that job well, not try to be all things to all people.

I think I have to go back to the Sony store and do some side-by-side comparisons. I've read (on my computer, until my eyes were bugging out) all kinds of reviews and comment threads on these and other e-readers, but it does seem to come down to how well it works for your individual eyes and purposes.

Have any of you tried an e-reader? Or do you just read electronic books on your computer? And it's no use recommending the Kindle (1 or 2) because it's not available up here.

Further update, in case anyone cares: I did a more sustained reading test last night, reading the final volume of Silas Marner all on the Reader. In the right light, it was no problem at all to read it: what you need is fairly bright diffuse light. As the best location I found was actually in one of my usual favourite reading chairs with a good lamp beside it, that doesn't seem an insurmountable problem. So, most likely I'll hang on to this version, though I'm going to try a couple more experiments just to be sure.


R. T. Davis said...

Your assessment of the Sony Reader fascinates me but not enough for me to move out of my Neanderthal aversion to technology, especially as that technology seeks to replace books. I think I could never be persuaded to surrender what I call the tactile aesthetics of books. However, I remember some hackneyed advice that one should never say never. After all, I finally had to surrender my IBM Selectric III typewriter and accept the ubiquitous reality of computers.

JaneGS said...

I'm interested that you can highlight and annotate books with the Sony. I read S&S on my iphone recently using the Stanza app, and liked it pretty well except I couldn't figure out how to highlight or annotate any of the text.

I assumed since I couldn't figure out how to do this, it couldn't be done...but I could be wrong, of course :)

I downloaded the Kindle app for the iPhone and am looking forward to trying a book on it soon. I have a lot of travel planned over the next few months, so settling into an ebook format that works for me is essential.

As I anticipated, I found myself frequently checking the TOC to find out how many pages I had left in a chapter. I tend to like to read in complete chunks and not to stop mid-chapter, though with some books that have long chapters that's hard to do.

My experience with ebooks is that they don't give you that sense of where you are with regards to a good stopping point.

Rohan Maitzen said...

Jane, it's true that you can't really tell where you are, though there's a page counter at the bottom of the screen that at least gives you a sense of your overall movement. I do like the bookmarking option--I think other apps have that, but I don't know if they also allow annotation or highlighting, which is nice for someone who reads for work as well as pleasure.

R.T., I too love the tactile experience of books, but this little thing isn't bad to hold (it's in a nice solid leather(ish) cover, for one thing, and has about the heft of a serious paperback. I have already found that I don't mind the blip as you turn pages, and once I get into the book, I'm not that aware of the technology--not as much as I am when reading on a computer, certainly. It is pretty cool to have a lot of different things right there to hand--and a search function, for locating that elusive quotation for your paper or lecture.

Here's something else that I've been noticing. It is a bit disconcerting at first to have so little text per 'page' (note: this is because I have selected M or L sized fonts for most things as my eyes are not great). But a side-effect is that you can't skim as easily, or aren't perhaps as tempted to: each paragraph or so is presented, framed, on the screen as you go along. Again, this seems to me a good thing if you read for work. Sure, Barchester Towers, which is one of the books I'm currently going through on the Reader, comes up as 2384 pages (I'm not kidding), which is initially an overwhelming prospect, but I'm on 185 already and I feel that I am looking at each one a bit more precisely than I would be in the conventional book format. It's like a built-in cure for the wandering eye so many of us have (or is it just me?) because we are surrounded by so many distractions so much of the time (speaking of which, have I checked my email in the last 5 minutes?)