Sony Reader – oh, go on then

Regular readers[1] might recall me going from extreme scepticism to uncertainty about this little thing, so they probably won’t be entirely shocked to find that I decided to get one. Waterstone’s in Newcastle didn’t have any left when I went in[3], but they ordered one for me, which I picked up on Friday.

And here it is – pictures in the gallery.

So, what’s it like, then? Well, the display really has to be seen to be believed. I’ve seen some people commenting that if you want to read books on an electronic thingy, you should use an old laptop or PDA. Well, those people are completely missing the point. I’ve tried reading lots of text on those kind of screens, and after a while, it gets to be a strain. Staring at a backlit screen with jagged text[4] gets to be tiring after a while. The eInk technology used in the Reader is completely different. There’s no backlight for a start[5], and the text is sharper than a very sharp thing that’s been specially sharpened for the occasion – I mentioned in my previous post that at first I thought I was looking at a mock up rather than a working unit.

Getting material on to the Reader requires a computer – unfortunately, there’s no Mac support, most likely because of the DRM requirement for commercial eBooks. This relies on Adobe Digital Editions, which appears to work well enough. I’ve got it running without any trouble on the Windows XP virtual machine I use for Microsoft Money. The software installed without any trouble, and it automagically captured the USB port when I connected the Reader.

I added a 1GB SD card to my Reader, which will hold a huge number of books before I need to delete anything or change cards. The device will support cards up to 16GB in size, but I suspect scrolling through the index would be a bit slow if you filled one of those!

The Reader came with a CD containing 100 classic books – some I suspect I’ll never read, but there are a few favourites on there such as the Alice books and Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Who knows, I may even read War and Peace one day.[6]

But what about new material? Well, in addition to the slightly overpriced material from Waterstone’s, there will soon be books available from Penguin – their eBooks site will launch soon, but for now there are some free samples available. In addition, there are some good sources of free books – mostly older, out of copyright titles, but also some material made freely available by the authors. I’ve found lots to my taste at Feedbooks, including some classic sf, and very recent short stories by the excellent Cory Doctorow.

Much of the best material originates from Project Gutenberg – an admirable resource, well worth visiting and supporting.

So, my first impressions are very positive. I love the display, the user interface is simple and does just enough without getting in the way. People working with academic texts may find the lack of any annotation function a problem – but for people who just want a convenient way of carrying lots of reading matter, this might be just what you’re after.

[1] Strange beings rumoured to exist[2]
[2] Rumours that they include Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are utterly without foundation
[3] They told me they’re having trouble getting enough to meet demand.
[4] Or artificially smoothed, which just looks blurry
[5] So if you’re reading in the dark, you’re out of luck. There is, however, an optional light available
[6] Well, given the length of it, one year, more like…