So for Christmas, I scored a Sony PRS-505 Portable Reader System (aka a shiny eBook reader). I’m increasingly interested in eBooks for both personal and professional reasons. As an Electronic Services Librarian, I’m always thinking about digital formats and one of the most interesting parts of my job is looking after our eBook collection. Personally, I really want to stop accumulating so many print books – I’d rather accumulate ‘special books’ (ie coffee table books and fiction and non fiction prose that I’ve read and enjoyed). They take up so much room and they are such a pain when moving house!
Anyway, I thought I’d jot down a few things here based on having read a couple of books on my reader now. I am, in a nutshell, exceedingly happy with it. So happy with it that I want to start with the few negatives, so I can finish here on a positive note:
- First and foremost, as someone who would always choose Mac over PC (but who has access to both), I am disappointed that I can’t use the supplied software on my computer of choice. I’m also disappointed that the process (a workaround) for transferring purchased DRMed Adobe content to my reader via my Mac is so clunky. And most of all, I’m peeved that I cannot transfer Adobe DRMed content borrowed from my library to my reader using my MacBook – there isn’t even a laborious workaround (that I can find), because there are additional files that need to be passed to the player, which on a PC, is handled by Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). Because Sony do not support Mac, neither does Adobe, hence ADE for Mac does not do the job. But I knew this before I bought the device, so I can’t complain too much.
- Adobe PDF eBooks don’t display quite as well as I’d like on the reader (or at least, the ten or so I’ve looked at don’t seem to). I have good eye sight, but even I can’t read the teeny tiny text without zooming in, and when I do, I end up with between one and five ‘orphan’ (can I call it orphan if it’s more than one?) lines of text on a second page. You’re already turning the page more frequently with an eBook reader, because you don’t get the two page spread. To add an additional page turn is a bit annoying. For the first 30 or so pages (which doubled to 60 pages because of this annoying formatting problem) of the first book I read, I was really peeved. It took me about that long to work out timing for page turns – ie you don’t have to read to the very last word before pressing the page turn button, because it takes a moment to render, allowing you to scan the last words – but then I got into a rhythm, and so this quirk began to bother me less. Still, I wish we could get to a point where there was a standard format for eBooks. It would make the reading experience much more seamless.
- The fact that I can’t buy from the Sony eBook store is really, really annoying. Despite the awful exchange rate, the prices of eBooks at the Sony eBook store are reasonable (though, I really think eBook prices in general could come down a bit, compared to prices for print books – but that’s another issue). But I can’t take advantage of that, because the store is only available for use by customers in the US and Canada (you can’t buy the PRS-505 in Australia either, or rather, Sony doesn’t sell it here. You can find it on eBay, of course, and I got mine from B&H Photo, who I would not hesitate to buy from again). Apparently, I can use the store if I get a gift certificate. I just have to figure out how to get a gift certificate! I didn’t have any problems claiming my 100 free classic books from the Sony store, though.
- I knew that you couldn’t read these things in the dark without a book light, but I was still a wee bit disappointed at readability in low light. I like to read in bed, and with my bedside lamp on, some angles are a bit tricky.
And on the upside:
- Readability in bright light is excellent. My laptop screen is all but unreadable in direct sunlight; the PRS-505 performs very well.
- The device comes with a neat cover that happens to be the exact same colour as my current favourite handbag. Way to go!
- The screen is easy to look at – my eyes don’t get tired the way they do looking at a computer screen.
- The device is pretty comfortable in my hands. I would make one ergonomic suggestion, and that would be to position the page turn keys that are on the left bottom side of the device closer to the middle, so that they fit under your left thumb better. Actually, make that two suggestions: the right hand page turn buttons are a little high for my hand – it would be slightly more comfortable for me if they were a fraction lower, but then, I guess guys use this device too, and lower wouldn’t work for them.
- Minus charging time, from unpacking the shipping box to reading a book took me about ten minutes. That includes installing software and working out how to get a library book onto the device with Digital Editions. I did not need to use any of my techie skills, but I did need my techie / library knowledge to know that I can get library eBooks onto the gadget with Digital Editions (and that this can be done on a PC but not a Mac). If you were going to rely predominantly on getting books from the Sony store, you could use this gadget with some pretty basic computer skills. And really, transferring library books with ADE is dead easy too – you just need to know that it’s possible. I guess that’s more a marketing issue for libraries than a usability issue for PRS-505 owners. My decidedly low-tech mum is interested in getting one, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to her.
- Battery life is impressive. I’ve read two novels (albeit young adult novels, so perhaps not the longest I’ll ever read) and about 60 pages of a third, and the battery has only just dropped a bar. I’ve also done a stack of show and tell spruiking about my new toy – generally showing off all the neat features and flicking through books – and yet the battery has held up incredibly well. I’ve read a couple of hours a day, every day, for a week, and I’ve got three out of four bars left on the battery. I don’t know about you, but I seem to have to charge my iPod an awful lot, so I wasn’t expecting fabulous battery life out of this gadget, given that I use it for a comparable period each day. I’m impressed, and surprised.
- The device is very light and adds negligible weight to my handbag. The result is I’ve always got something to read. I’m of the kind who chucks a book in their bag when they walk out the door, just in case there’s a minute to spare. It’s especially great when you’re near the end of a good book to know you’ve got a backup in your bag, without having to add the weight of a second print book.
- I haven’t travelled with this thing yet, but I can only imagine it’s going to be great. My bag is always overweight – I don’t travel light as a general rule, and I always like to have my current fiction and nonfiction reads with me, as well as an extra fiction read for ‘just in case’. Now I’ll pack one slim device instead of three books. The one thing I suspect will be annoying is that I’m sure you’re meant to turn your eBook reader off along with all other electronic devices for take off and landing… Maybe I’ll have to read the in-flight magazine?
What I’ve learnt from my experience with my new toy thus far:
- I can’t see myself reading an eBook on a screen any smaller than the PRS-505 screen – you won’t see me reading eBooks on my mobile phone just yet. My feeling is yet more page turns might start to get on my nerves. I also find the PRS screen infinitely easier to look at than a computer or phone screen.
- Having an easy and convenient way to read eBooks is not going to be good for my budget. When you’re reading a series, it’s all too easy to jump online and buy the next book, when you’d usually just borrow it from the library. This is especially true when the library has the first two books in the series as eBooks, but not the third, and you simply CANNOT wait to get the print book. Impulse shoppers beware.
- As far as I can tell, if publishers get on the eBook bandwagon, if the industry comes to an agreement about a standard format, and if some smart marketing of portable reading devices (dedicated eBook readers or otherwise) is embarked upon, then the eBook will not be the end of publishing, as some naysayers have predicted. It could, rather, re-energise the industry.
So, in a nutshell, I love my new toy. I’m all for multifunction devices, but I really am not bothered by carrying this extra device. I understand the appeal of being able to read a book on, say, your iPhone, but I’m not bothered by the extra gadget in my bag and I really think the reading experience is far better on the Sony than it is on touch screen phones, at this point. There’s certainly a big enough difference in quality of experience to warrant carrying an extra device (but then, in my handbag at any given moment you’ll find a three metre data cable, a wireless presentation remote, a couple of thumb drives, two mobile phones, and very often, a sub notebook, so perhaps I’m not the best example…). It was a pricey acquisition (I really wish I’d bought it a couple of months ago, when I was thinking about it, before the bottom dropped out of the Australian dollar) but I do think I’ll get a significant amount of use out of it.
To finish on a funny note, go check out the Unshelved strip written especially for all those library customers who got an eBook reader for Christmas. Tee hee! There’s a lesson in it, as well as a laugh. When these things eventually do sell in Australia, and they pick up some traction in the market, I’ll be looking at running classes on using them, just like we do for customers with computer training and our “Get the most out of your MP3 player” classes. We might think they’re dead simple to use, and they might actually be that, but there’s a lot to be said for helping people develop confidence with gadgets.