Yes, as you might have guessed, I was fortunate enough to receive a Sony Reader amongst my gifts from Santa this year. As regular followers of this blog will know, I have been banging on about e-books quite a lot recently, mainly because they finally seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough on the market. After years of being seen as a niche product, the release of a number of increasingly affordable models has led to a growth in their popularity. As I have said before, I do not envisage e-books replacing paper books, not for a long time yet anyway. Instead, I see e-books as an alternative to the paperback, a different format but not necessarily a competing one as very different markets will be interested in them. So, that said, how does Sony’s Reader measure up?
Well, the Sony Reader is certainly an impressive bit of kit. The design is attractive yet functional. There has clearly been some thought put into making the Reader as comfortable as possible for the user. On the top of the Reader, there is a power switch plus memory card slots for both Sony’s Memory Stick Pro and an SD card. The Reader already has enough internal memory to store around 160 books (obviously dependent on size), the addition of an 8Gb card means you could probably carry an entire library in one portable machine!
To the right hand side of the screen, there are a series of numbers designed to help the user navigate through the menu screen, as well as jumping to a specific page number. Sony have also cleverly placed two buttons almost exactly where your thumbs would naturally rest to allow the user to turn the page (one to turn back, one to turn forward). Personally, I really like the positioning of these buttons as they feel perfectly natural and allow the user to comfortably hold the Reader whilst reading.
At the bottom of the Reader, there are small number of neatly laid out buttons that help the user to navigate around the reader. On the left hand panel, there are left and right arrows that turn the pages of the book (much like the
buttons on the right-hand side of the Reader). Above these buttons and slightly to the left, there is a magnification button that enables the text to be magnified through three different font sizes. This has obvious benefits for those that have problems with their eyesight and are unable to read the smallest font size. Slightly to the right of these buttons, there is a ‘Bookmark’ button which does exactly as you would expect – marks the page to enable the user to easily return to it at a later date. The right-hand series of buttons simply allows the user to navigate the menus as well as returning to the previous menu via the ‘menu’ button.
So that’s the layout, what about the machine itself? Well, the screen is incredibly easy to read from. As the Reader is not backlit, it puts no strain on your eyes whatsoever. This is also means that, should you wish to read when you go to bed, you will still require a light in order to read. As it isn’t backlit, the Reader also has a very long battery life. According to the blurb on the back of the box:
One battery charge is equal to 6,800 page turns (that’s enough to read War and Peace five times over on a single charge!)
Whether this is true or not is a different matter, but it is still quite impressive. The page turns themselves may initially cause the reader some frustration. The screen has a slight delay before the page turns and flashes rather distractingly before the next page appears. However, this is only a minor irritation and I am not sure that the time it takes to turn the page is that much different from turning a page in a physical book.
Navigation through the menus is also pretty straightforward. The menu enables the user to view their books in title, author and date order. There is also the facility to congregate books into Collections if you choose to do so (which can be handy with .pdf files if you want to group together your journal articles). Bookmarks for all of your texts are also accessible from the main menu and you can also access bookmarks for individual texts by selecting the text from the menu. It is also possible to change the screen orientation and read horizontally rather than vertically, but I found this rather uncomfortable and decided to stick with the standard layout.
In these multimedia times, it is also possible to upload music and photos to the Sony Reader. Luckily, there is a headphone socket on the bottom of the Reader so you won’t disturb those around you whilst you are reading. As for the photos, due to the nature of the screen itself, any images uploaded to the Reader are only viewable in black and white. Although it would be nice to share colour photos on the Reader, it is not really a great loss as the primary purpose of this machine is to read books, not to share your photo collection.
Much as I like the Sony Reader, it does have some slight flaws. Firstly, unlike many other e-readers (Amazon’s Kindle for example – although this is still not available in the UK), it does not have a wi-fi connection. Downloading books means physically connecting the Reader to a computer via a USB cable rather than just pressing a button on the Reader. This is a pretty major flaw as I think this will be a standard feature of all future e-readers. As well as lacking wi-fi capability, the Sony Reader also has some problems with .pdf files. One of the things that makes an e-reader so desirable to me, is the ability to download a whole load of journal articles rather than waste hundreds of sheets of paper printing them out. By downloading them, not only do I save paper, but I also make it easier to carry a large collection of articles around with me when I am travelling. As I often go to Spain to visit family, it would be useful to take a few e-journals with me to read and study while I am away. Sadly, the way the Reader displays .pdf files is hardly practical. At the normal font setting, the text is far too small to read without putting a massive strain on your eyes. However when the text is magnified, sentences are broken in two with full lines of text alternating with three words of text throughout. Of course, it is still readable, but it is a little annoying.
There is one other problem with e-books at the moment, but it has nothing to do with the Reader itself. At present, there are still not many e-books available on the internet. Waterstone’s does offer a selection of e-books via its website, but it is by no means a comprehensive selection and is not exactly user-friendly. This is bound to change over time and I am sure that there will be increased competition in this area once e-reader sales take off (which appears to be imminent).
Overall, I really like Sony’s Reader. Yes it does have some limitations (lack of wi-fi being the most glaring), but it is a nicely designed piece of kit that is very easy to use. It is still early days for e-readers, and they are sure to advance way beyond this first generation reader, but I have no problem recommending the Sony Reader to anyone who thinks that the e-book might be the next big thing. Those who are not entirely convinced may need to wait for the next generation of affordable e-readers to hit the shelves before they are finally convinced. Whatever your view, it looks like e-readers are here to stay.
Pros: Excellent screen, long battery life, functional yet attractive design
Cons: No wi-fi capability, some difficulties with .pdf files