Well, I finally succumbed and got myself an eBook Reader. I am certainly not one of those who take up new technology early. Mind you, eBook Readers have been in New Zealand only since last May, so I do feel like a rapid uptaker in this case.
Of course the late arrival in New Zealand has more to do with rights management than technology. But the wait means that now eBook Readers have arrived many of the technological problems have been sorted. (And it has given me time to research the subject).
So far there are just four eBook Readers on the local market (the Kobo and two Sony models), plus the Kindle from Amazon. And they aren’t easy to find in local shops! I did my own comparison and decided on the Sony PRS-650. Here are my comments on this model, together with my general experience of using an eBook Reader overt the last few weeks. It’s not a detailed review (I haven’t had hands-on experience with other Readers) but you might find it useful if you are contemplating purchase of an eBook Reader.
Why the PRS-650?
The idea of a touch screen appealed. Ease of bookmarking, annotations and note taking was important. I didn’t want to be tied to the Kindle format and wished to use Word and pdf files easily, without the hassle of conversion. Direct WiFi access by the Reader was not important. I had an opportunity to handle both the Sony Readers and decided the PRS350 Pocket Reader was a bit small. And the ability to add extra memory also appealed. The price, problems with emitting screens and distractions of a multi-purpose device ruled the iPad out for me.
I have yet to do the classic reading on the beach but the current electronic ink screens appear excellent. There is no problem with glare and the new Sony Readers have used a new technology for their touch screens. This has detectors on the rim of the screen which removed the need for extra layers that reduced the contrast on previous models.
The Reader comes with a stylus which I find helpful when typing. Page turns by touch and by installed buttons are both easy. And there is a sleep mode which overcomes problems of unexpected page turns when the screen is touched while carrying. Adding bookmarks (turning over the corner of the page), highlighting text and adding annotations are straightforward – just what I wanted.
I also found that I can export highlighted text, annotations and separate notes as rtf files. An unexpected and really useful benefit. Of course their are limits to text export for books under digital rights management (DRM) – but this is still useful. (The limits are 2,000 characters of highlighted text for non-DRM content, 100 characters of highlighted text for DRM protected content, and 2,000 characters for comments). It’s going to be ideal for reviewing purposes.
For me the biggest negative is the desktop Reader software. This is necessary for downloading eBooks, establishing a library of eBooks and documents and transferring these to the Reader. All this works well and it also enables one to read documents and books on the desktop. However, it also enable one to synchronise the desktop library with the Reader library. That creates problems.
For a while there I was finding multiple copies of books on my Reader. Worse, I found that I was losing the notes I made in an eBook, or not being able to find the specific copy the notes were attached to.
Mistakes like that are there for learning. So I have turned off the sync actions and keep well away from it. Things are working fine now. I think Sony acknowledges some problems with their software. Clearly problems like this are caused by the rapid introduction of these devices to the market.
A small hassle with the Reader is that some actions can be slow. This appears to happen when changing books, taking notes, referring to notes, etc. page turning itself is always rapid. I think these other actions also make greater demands on the battery. A single charge seems to last several weeks with actions restricted to page turns.
What’s it like to read?
Certainly reading most books is very comfortable. Contrast is good. Once the basic procedures have been learned notetaking and annotation is simple. Text size is excellent, and anyway can be adjusted. Looking up one of the dictionaries is a dream – just tap the word.
Page numbers are displayed (really useful) and clearly only about half a page is displayed at a time. One can display full pages but the type size would probably be too small for most people. Being smaller than most normal books Readers must compromise between showing full pages at a time and readable text size. So far this has only been a hassle when reading documents with tables and images. These may show up later than expected. One can also zoom in or change to full page size to view documents – a bit of a hassle.
I can see a market for the larger Readers (not yet here) for people specialising in technical books and reports. Colour could also be an advantage here too.
Purchase of books is also straightforward. So easy, in fact, that despite being cheaper than hard copy books I think I may end up spending more. I have noticed that I am currently reading a lot more fiction and the ability to browse on the internet must be encouraging this. On the other hand, I no longer feel, in my visits to the big smoke, the need to purchase a book because it is there in the shop knowing it may not be there in a later visit. Now I can put off that purchase until I have the time to read the specific book. That’s assuming the accountants don’t invent something like limited time access. Ideally there should be no problems of eBooks going out of print
Another indication of the rush to market is that at this stage the desk top reader only enables purchases through Whitcoulls for New Zealand owners. While the Sony Readers are being marketed through Borders, as well as Whitcoulls and Sony Style, eBook purchases via Borders from New Zealand are not yet permitted. Hopefully this will change soon.
The whole business of DRM is a pain for the consumer. It’s annoying to find eBooks available on publishers’ websites, or from bookshops in other countries but find that without a credit card with a local address these cannot be purchased. It is possible to find some sites with international access (eg Books on Board) and I guess these will, in time, force the market to open up more. There are also quite a few sources of free eBooks for classics and other books out of copyright (see for example eBooks@Adelaide). I have a few old philosophers and ancient Greeks to read over the holidays!
I think eBook Readers will take off in New Zealand, as elsewhere. They are not going to replace hard copy books – especially with problems caused by DRM. There are likely to be marketing issues due to competing formats which could create some frustrations for consumers.
It is a pity the the concept of Espresso or print on demand books has not taken off (see Bright future for books). This could provide easy access to hard copies for any book where there are existing digital files. I guess one hassle with their introduction has been DRM again. I don’t think the delay is technological.
So, I am enjoying using my ebook Reader. I am sure I will be using it a lot but at the same time will still be using, and purchasing, hard copy books. The Sony PRS-650 fits most of my requirements, but I imagine the other Readers currently available on the New Zealand market will be of similar quality. The purchaser could probably safely select the one which fits their requirements in other ways – type of reading material, WiFi access, annotation and dictionary requirements, touch screen etc.
Those who would like a larger screen and colour for magazines and technical books might like to hold off for a while. New Readers like the Sony PRS-950 (Daily Edition) or the Nook Color may soon arrive in New zealand.
Or they could invest in an iPad.
- First Look Video: The Nook Color e-book reader looks like a winner (blogs.consumerreports.org)