Scott Hanselman

Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle - Will eBooks happen this time?

November 03, 2006 Comment on this post [6] Posted in Musings | Reviews
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I'm sitting in a cab right now on the way to a large NW Bank (I'm using Verizon Wireless on my laptop, which is working quite nicely, BTW) and I am coveting the Sony Reader, or what I personal call "eBooks last chance." At least, until another generation of early adopters lives and dies and forgets (or at least chooses to) the sins of the father.

I remember reading eBooks on my Newton. I really wanted it to work. (In case you haven't heard, I may by an early adopter myself) back then and I struggle to read eBooks (funny thing about eBooks is that when there's no real modern content you find yourself reading Sherlock Holmes again because it's in the public domain and you're SUCH an early adopter that you convince yourself you're really interested in The Case of the Two Blue Shoes and not something with more meat.)

Besides the expense, which is currently US$350, the real issue will be one of content. How many books are available? To quote the guy at Borders "Well, all of them. The whole store." I can't confirm that claim, but I did check out the Connect eBooks Sony Store and it does seem to have a lot of books.

I wonder why Sony didn't just work a deal out with Amazon, who was already dipping their toes into the eBook pool, and may just jump in completely with the Amazon Kindle. The Kindle is looking pretty rough right now, but it's early.

Aside: Kindle? Seriously, could the marketers at ordinarily-savvy Amazon come up with we a limper name? How about Amazon Not-Dead-Tree? Amazon Vue? Amazon Perspective? Amazon ePaperBack, for crying out loud. Amazon Kindle sparks (sorry) images of burning paper, not exactly the kind of environmentally friendly eBook perspective you'd want.

I played with the Sony Reader for 15 minutes at the Airport Borders, and here's my first impressions:

  • It's very light and very comfortable. It has a nice flip around case and reminds me of a larger Palm V - to this day still Palm's most elegant PDA, IMHO.
  • There's too many buttons. There's ten 0-9 buttons that are multi-purpose (multi-purpose buttons are mistake cop-out number one in good design, IMHO). They are used to access the internal menus by numbered item, but their primary function is to quick jump a percentage of the way into the book. So pressing 5 gets you 50% of the way into the book. There's no way to go directly to a page that I could see.
  • There's multiple ways to turn the page, and they are both on the left side of the reader. The two buttons on the left bezel while oriented up/down, are actually left/right page turning buttons. I think it'd have been more thoughtful and innovative to just touch a long line on the far left or far right bezel to turn the page.
  • The memory card slot supports both Memory Sticks and SD Cards - choice is good.
  • The lower right corner features a joystick-like, sigh, multifunction, nubbin. It's a little confusing because I assumed that the page-turning interface would double as the main interaction element for the utility UI.
  • The screen, the screen. It's all about the screen. It's eInk. It's not an LED - that's important to note. It's 170 DPI with four levels of gray, versus 96 DPI (or possibly 120 DPI) on a laptop or PDA screen. The battery is used only to change the configuration of the screen i.e. you only use power when turning the page.
  • You can apparently read RSS feeds on it as well, downloadable via USB. Interestingly, RSS might be the killer app for this Reader, rather than books.
  • It also has volume buttons and headphones so you can use it as an audiobook reader or MP3 Player. This also allows you to read while listening to background music.
  • The guy at Borders said they haven't had to change the batteries on the demo model ever. They say 7500 page turns on a single battery.
  • There's 3 font sizes...each is comfortable, even the smallest, but I'm a big font guy so I think I'd have trouble committing to a size.

If it were US$99 or US$150, sold. $199, eh...getting dangerously out of the WAF range. Considering that I carried 3 books with me on my last three business trips and they were a hassle in my backpack, I could totally see using this little gadget, but it's really expensive at $350, although you do get $50 in free books.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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November 04, 2006 0:45
As a big book fan myself, it is very interesting, but you are right, it is pricey.

In checking the Sony Reader site, on the promotions page, flash panel, or whatever you call it, it mentions $100 cash back if you apply for the Sony Visa card (and you can use the $100 toward the purchase). I couldn't make out the fine print however. It look every blurry on my display. I looked as if the offer expired in January 2005 which really wouldn't make sense.

Anyway, assuming the offer didn't expire in 2005, $250 is better is closer to your range. Still way out of the range for me, but if the product is a hit we'll likely see $99 this time next year.

November 04, 2006 1:49
Reading eBooks... Everybody wants to use it to read eBooks. Am I the only one Earth who's looking for a device to read files in bed or in a sofa ? Yes, RSS but not only: All PDFs, white papers et al. that pile up because I really don't like to just read on a computer screen.
And even though I'm not an early adopter, I'm ready to shell out the money.
November 04, 2006 7:57

I checked the Sony eReader but didn't like it too much. No search or bookmarking features.

The Iliad from Irex Technologies is a nicer one albiet more expensive eink device.
Bigger screen (closer to A4 size), 16 shades of grey and touch screen (great for annotation) and wifi...

I read complaints about broken zoom feartures for pdf on the Sony device. You really need zooming if the font used is too small.

The way I would use the device is to convert html, chm or hxs (MS help files) to pdf. mostly technical stuff. There's also a common complaint about Sony's DRM stuff. You can always upload your own pdf files.

One problem (a big one for me) with current eInk devices is that they have no backlighting. Therefore they are not convenient to use in situations like bedtime reading at night. Probably need to hook an Itty Bitty light on the device. :)

November 04, 2006 17:19
I currently use my wifes laptop for reading in bed / on the sofa it has a 12" screen and weighs only 1.6kg the only problem is it gets a bit warm when placed on top of the duvet. In a couple of weeks I am off to Australia for a four week holiday so it would be cool to take a device like this with all my holiday reading material on it but the price is not viable, as it would eat too heavily into my holiday beer fund. If the did a deal where I could get 10 books included in the price then that make a difference.
November 06, 2006 2:46
I've been reading nothing but e-Books for years now when it comes to reading for fun. Mobipocket works fantastic on phone, PDAs, and desktop, and I've been very pleased with the selection both on their site and on with eBook titles from major authors.

There are still a lot of titles I would like to get in eBook format, but I think a lot of that has to do with ignorance, fear, or superstition on the part of the authors or publishers regarding eFormats.
November 27, 2006 11:38
abdu: actually, bookmarking is a feature on the Sony Reader.

If people balk at $350, what will they think of $730 for the iLiad?

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.