Product Type: Sony Tablet PCs / eBook Readers
Newest Review: ... computer, install the drivers and I was ready to go. At this point I could transfer up to 160 eBooks to the internal memory, expandable by ... more
Books without paper! (that's an E-book reader)
Member Name: Cat19
Date: 19/05/08, updated on 13/06/09 (1201 review reads)
Advantages: Small, lightweight, capacity, easy to read screen with no glare, help to save the planet.
Disadvantages: Not available in the UK just yet
I am by no means a prolific reader and my literary tastes are not as high brow as his, but I do appreciate books. I like to see books lined up on a shelf and I am fascinated by old books in museums, so a book reader just seemed, well wrong, to me.
But despite my feelings on this and my rather large hints connected to a certain necklace from Tiffany's, it was a book reader that I found myself unwrapping on Christmas Day last year.
What is it like?~~
The book reader is about eight by six inches and just over half an inch thick. I have not weighed it but it is extremely light and definitely lighter and more compact than your average paperback novel. The screen itself is obviously smaller, that is about six by four inches, with the control buttons around the edges as you can see in the product picture. A leather wallet for protection is provided.
The screen uses new technology, so-named "e-ink" which is nothing like the LCD display on your typical PC or laptop. The background is a pale grey colour, there is no glare and the page has a sort of "matt" appearance that really does look like a page in a book. Consequently the prevailing light conditions have no more effect on your ability to read this than they would if it were a paper book. There is no glare or need to craftily angle the reader if sitting in the sunshine for instance and equally at bedtime you will need lights on as the reader is not backlit.
Navigation is intuitive. From the main menu it is possible to browse through the saved books in a few ways namely, by author, by book title or by date and selection of one to read is a simple and obvious press of a button. If you make a selection but want to go back, the "Menu" button can be used, again fairly intuitive and I did not need to refer to the manual to work out how to navigate around.
The reader does have some other functionality which I will come to later, but I just use it for reading. Each time it is turned off and back on, it will remember where it was automatically and there is no need to page through the menus again. Also whilst there is a bookmark function, this can be used if you specifically want to refer back to something, but you don't need to use it to bring up your last read as that will always be remembered by the gadget. Speed of turning the page is something that is very important, I have been perfectly happy with this, it takes a fraction of a second and no longer than turning a page in a real book.
The built in memory of the reader can store well over a hundred books. Additionally there are two memory card slots, one takes a Sony memory stick (can be used in other Sony products such as cameras and laptops) and there is also a slot which will fit an SD memory card, commonly used in cameras as well. Either of these would allow you to have thousands of books at your fingertips. I personally am not sure this is necessary and would prefer to keep it to a more manageable hundred or so. My reason being that when I am choosing my next book to read, I am not sure I want to page through a list of thousands.
Where and how do you get e-books?~~
The obvious starting point is the Sony e-books store, which works in a very similar way to I-Tunes. So you buy books, download to your PC and then transfer to and from the reader at will, either connect the reader to your PC with a USB cable or save the books onto the memory card and the pop the card into the reader. Easy peasy. I have found there to be a decent range of books available, but it is certainly more limited than in our usual book stores. Some authors don't want their books to be made available this wasy, JK Rowling being one such for example.
There are a couple of other options. If you like your classics or should I say public domain books such as Dickens or Shakespeare then you can download these for free from a website called www.mobileread.com, and no doubt some others websites as well. The SONY e-book store will also let me download the 100 classics for free, which is plenty enough to keep me going.
Finally if you are fairly technically inclined you can buy from other e-book stores (I won't name them all but google or wikipedia can help) and then convert the file into a Sony compatible format.
As I am not that technically inclined and do not particularly like reading the classics, the first option works best for me. Sadly there is currently one huge but I believe temporary drawback. The product is not officially launched in Europe just yet and you can only shop in the Sony book store with an electronic book voucher or a US credit card! As I live in Bermuda at the moment, I make fairly regular trips to the US and have a stock of electronic book vouchers that I can use for now. I bought my e-vouchers from Borders, a large chain book store in the US.
The good news is that it is my understanding that Sony will launch the book reader in the UK later this year and at this point, the book store will start to accept UK credit cards.
E-book prices at the moment seem to be pretty much the same as the paperback versions. I was a bit surprised at this as there are no printing or distribution costs. I would imagine that as the product becomes more common place, these prices will start to come down.
Other technical points~~
The battery is extremely long life as it only uses power when you electronically turn the page, the rest of the time it makes no difference whether the screen is switched on or off. So if like me you regularly fall asleep with book in hand (or on head) it isn't going to waste the battery. I have found that my battery will easily last a week or more when reading a few chapters a day. Even on holiday when reading more often than normal it has lasted a good five days. I have never been caught out with a low battery as the icon at the bottom of the screen clearly indicates status.
The reader will store photographs and the display is clear albeit in black and white only. A colour version of the book reader is somewhere in the pipeline but at the moment is very expensive and it takes a long time to turn a page.
MP3 files can also be stored and played. The advantage might be one less gadget to carry around, the disadvantage is that you can't make playlists and would have to tab through all the tracks to get to one you want. No doubt this would also expend battery life at a much faster pace and it is not something that I would bother with myself.
The biggest problem with this product right now is availability in the UK. I bought mine in the US (£150 equivalent) and bought my e-book vouchers in the US as well. But I have written my review with the expectation that it will be fully available in the UK before much longer.
I have definitely overcome my natural scepticism and perhaps hostility towards the product. I was won over by the very easy to read screen, which did not result in eye strain or headaches as I had expected. But the main advantage I found is definitely the size and weight, on a daily basis it easily slips into my handbag unlike some books and on holiday I was able to take this very small and lightweight gadget and have over a hundred books to chose from, rather than carry around four or actual five books.
So, when it does get released in the UK, I would definitely recommend giving it a go.
Update: the product is now available in the UK and usually retails for about £200.
Summary: I'm a convert to the paperless book.
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