Sony eReader – first impressions

I have got my eReader on 30th December, so after few days of playing with it, here are first impressions. I managed to read one book and played with it quite a bit, but I am still learning.

The quality of the display and “electronic paper” look and feel is great. It actually looks like paper, not like screen. The non-glossy texture surface has same visibility from every angle and it really reads like paper. I have no problem with the speed or lack of it – the page turn takes about 1-2 seconds, switching to full black and then redrawing is kind of cool when the page text “emerges” from the page. The picture is perfect, steady, does not strain the eyes, perfectly readable in sunlight. It is the best feature of the reader.

Disclaimer: I have not tried the Sony eBook store, did not buy any DRM-protected eBooks and have no intention doing so. Actually I am going to avoid it like a plague. The prices of their eBooks are ridiculous (e.g. Michael Crichton Next costs $15.96 in ebook format compared to $25-$27 in paperback). If you think about economics, production costs and actual author’s cut – this is pure greed. I only hope that the market will teach Sony a lesson and force them to get real – why would sane customer buy ebook which is locked to a new-to-market device with uncertain future ? Especially from company with such disastrous record when it comes to customer’s right protection – anybody wanna rootkit ? Fortunately, there is enough content available without it.

I have inserted SD card (thanks, Sony for not forcing us to go with otherwise useless Memory Stick) and loaded about 200 books in text, RTF and PDF format. The loading works only with supplied CONNECT software, so if you hoped (as I did) that you will copy the files on the notebook on the card and insert it, just forget about it. The CONNECT seems to be the only way how to get content on the device.

The same way as the screen of the reader is great, the CONNECT software is terrible. It tries to look like iTunes, but it fails in every aspect. It is sluggish on P4-3.2 GHz with 1 GB RAM (XP-Pro, do not blame Vista ;-)). It seems to “freeze” or lock up without visual indication while copying – and then it moves on. Uses 60-70-80% of CPU time. SO after about half an hour, I managed to have some content and started reading.

The absolutely best results are with TXT books, as long as you do not use hard line breaks, because – despite the many CPU cycles consumed – CONNECT did not bother reformat the paragraph and device obviously did not either. The device allows 3 or 4 sizes of the font. It does not allow to actually set the font, but the default font is OK.

Reading PDF files – which was one of the three main reasons I bought the device (next to large paper-like screen readable outdoors and long battery life) – was not so great. Imagine the lettersize page of PDF shrunk to the size of small paperback – less then half of the original. The characters are minuscule, very thin and pretty hard to read. Unlike with text, you have only two size options with PDF – bad and worse. Bad displays too small letters with no page margins, the worse adds some empty space around and makes the letters even smaller. Ouch. The only (partial) workaround is to switch the screen to landscape (by holding the size button for 5 seconds). In landscape the width of the page makes the characters almost well readable – for the price of seeing half of the page at once. I also noticed that one or two bottom lines in landscape appear to be “grayed” – probably software bug ?

The menu system looked strange at first, but then I got used to it. The device has limited bookmarking and navigation capability – you can store bookmarks, but you cannot search or jump to a given page. Partial compensation for it is history feature that remembers last pages per each book. If your books’ file names are long and start with the author name, and you have several books from the same author, the book list display will be pretty useless – because all you will see is the first 15-20 character of the file name. There is also no option of annotating or marking anything in the text. I guess I can understand why. Combination of touch screen and e-ink is probably very hard problem to solve and features like search or annotate require user input.

The device offers option of viewing pictures and play MP3 (unprotected). The images look pretty good for the B&W screen – the grayscale is quite nice. I did not try the MP3 -IMHO the user interface is too impractical for real usage as player when you are used to iPod, and of course CONNECT is a bad joke compared to iTunes …

If the above sounds like this is pretty terrible device, and I am sorry I spent about $450 CDN ($349 US plus Florida sales tax) – it is not true at all. I am very happy to have it, I actually like it a lot and use it as much as time permits. True, I had very high expectations, and except of the screen, Sony did not quite deliver. But it is version one – and not a bad version one. Let’s hope there will be better firmware and most importantly better desktop software sometimes soon.

Here is my wishlist of changes and improvements (in case somebody listens):
– reformat TXT files during conversion to remove hard line breaks
– “reflow” the PDF files to make shorter lines and readable font size
– selectable font type and more font sizes
– allow bold/italic for font selection
– allow transfer files on SD card without CONNECT software – at least for TXT files
– network capabilities – ideally wireless or at least Bluetooth – allowing either to access it as drive or (ideally) to use it as client to access network files
– more intuitive navigation with “breadcrumbs” – showing where you are
– show long filenames in two lines
– thesaurus (for us non-native speakers of English)
– paging buttons on both sides of the screen, not only on the left
– text-to-voice (like Apple Macbook has)
– clock, showing you the time in case you dive into book too deep 🙂

In the meantime, if you are preparing the content for reading yourself, you can do several things to improve your reading experience: Format your text files and DOC files to avoid hard breaks and use only paragraphs. If you can generate PDF, try format and “print” it for custom page paper sizes – e.g. half-letter. This way the characters will be large enough to be actually readable.

Happy reading.

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9 Comments on “Sony eReader – first impressions”

  1. philobuster Says:

    The grayed line at the bottom of the PDF in landscape mode, is the line that appears first on the next page. I guess it’s not a bug – it’s a feature 🙂

  2. sort of satisfied Says:

    hey i bought one for my g/f because she loves to read and is tired of havign a library and this is a nice one size book , so big or heavy is not aproblem now.

    i also have no intention of buying books from there store.
    and there connect software is garbage and i also thought horrible itunes rip off that sucks the first time i saw it.

    ( i couldnt belive that sony allowed them to make software this bad )
    also she couldnt read any of the pdf books i d/led off various sites and torrents.

    again she still loves it 🙂
    so this is what i did maybe it will help
    i scoured the internet for a pdf-rtf transfer program
    and i found this ABBYY PDF Transformer
    which works very well

    it seems rtf shows up perfect on the ereader
    and this prog makes nice test pages, but when i do the whole book and transfer to ereader the conenct software seems to hang, but i guess you had the patience to let it sit for a long time 🙂

    so i will try lettign it sit there forewver as well

  3. Miro Says:

    Thanks for the hint on PDF converter. I will the PDF->RTF conversion a try. I was looking at the ABC Amber product, which is much cheaper (~ 16 CAD vs 99++ for the ABBYY). I used their other free products – to convert Palm doc PDB format to text and HTML and they were working just fine.

  4. sort of satisfied Says:

    i tried to give a subtle hint to the fact that you might be able to find it on various torrent sites. with the name being the actual name i found ,.

  5. Ken Says:

    It find it odd that people who work with information, Don’t value it at all. They aren’t charging you for the paper in a printer book. You are paying for the content. As you pointed out the paper printing is not as big a cost as it used to be. You are paying for editors, and the writer, the legal team, all their assistants and yes the marketing costs so you know about the book enough to choose it.

    Removing the paper does not make the business cost go away. It would be nice if we lived in a worled where people got that… and didn’t post work on the net for download then the publisher would not want to spend the money on DRM.

    I assume you have a job.. and if it is like mine.. the work product is not often physical.. are you greedy for getting paid for something not made of paper or wood?

  6. Duane Says:

    I agree that there are some costs involved, but this large media companies don’t understand that they will make more money (as will the authors/artists) if they bring down the cost so more media can be sold.

    iTunes is successful because of the price point (and the software and hardware integration). The Sony eReader has done a nice job of making a product that digitally mimics a book. I love the device (although agree wholeheartedly at it’s shortcomings).

    The software it comes with has some major flaws and the books should cost less. Fix these problems and they would make a lot more money—just like iTunes does with multi-media.

    Print still costs money, especially the nice hard cover books. Not just the printing, but the delivery/shipping and all the middlemen are also expensive. All that adds up.

    Music got cheaper because Apple pushed the price point down— and it worked. Somebody needs to do that for digital books. I agree, this is greed working against itself.

  7. Alejandro Garza Says:

    An alternative way to convert PDFs…

    I have ABBY Finereader (which is a full-fledged OCR package that, among other thingsm can “repackage” PDFs into other formats) and tried to make “better” PDFs for the eReader from existing PDFs.

    You can, in ABBY Finereader, mark sections of scanned or PDF documents as sections of text, images, and tables. Thus, you can capture different blocks on text and mark the order in which they should come out, say, in an .RTF file without layout (but retaining images, fonts and type sizes). You can then import that into Word, set the paper size to A6, and then in Word print out to PDF using the excellent “PDF Converter” open source software so that PDFs come out as A4:: you set PDFConverter to print to A4 AND SET THE ZOOM RATION to 133%.

    This produces nice readable output. =)

    In the end you do need the ABBY software (Finereader in my case) and some manual work… but not too much. Hope this helps somebody!

  8. elsa Says:

    I got mine 12.25.08 (the 700 model. It does have search capability, the light works well on airplanes and in dark rooms so that it doesn’t disturb others that are sleeping.
    The PDF digital software download, included with this model on the software CD, allows you to download PDF digital files that read easily on the Sony Reader.
    Audiobooks also play well on the reader.
    AND…..what is very nice is that you can listen to music while you read! A plus in my opinion but to each his own.
    Search for some of the other sites that sell ebooks and you might find better pricing and discounts.
    Sony also allows up to 6 users to connect and share the same books and it appears that you can add/remove (authorize or deauthorize) others as you desire. This expands your library and reduces the overall costs of reading ebooks if you know friends that also use the readers.
    Suggestion: check your local library(s) for ebooks and content that you can use ont he reader as well. I was very surprised to find several titles available.
    Hope this provides some additional information that will help make better decisions.

  9. Tempo Dulu Says:

    I have one too; i’d give it 7/10. Useable but not as easy as reading a normal book.

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