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Old 05-31-2009, 04:24 PM   #1
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My letter to Consumer Reports

Dear forum,

Some of you may be subscribers to the US magazine "Consumer Reports," which claims to be an unbiased consumer resource. Unfortunately, they have failed in living up to their own standards this month. I obviously can't duplicate their article due to copyright (and it hasn't been posted to their web site), but I think you'll get the gist from the following letter to the Editors that I have just submitted:

Quote:
Dear Consumers Union

As an 18+ year subscriber, I normally (and expectedly), see your magazine as a resource for honest and objective information on products; information that I can use to help me make educated decisions on the things I might buy. However, your article ("E-readers: Kindle beats Sony," July, page 39) comparing the Amazon Kindle 2 to the Sony PRS-700 Reader is so extremely misleading to your subscribers that I wonder if there is some other agenda going on within your organization. It utilizes half-truths and outright deceptions, and additionally ignores basic facts in coming to the conclusion that the Kindle is a superior device. I would like to see you justify these conclusions in a future issue, or publish a much more careful re-examination that takes into account all of the actual facts. A short summary of the problems I found in your article follows (in the same order as your article headers).

Convenience: Saying that the Sony is "not Mac compatible" is a half-truth at best. While it is true that *Sony's ebook store software* is only available for Windows, the hardware itself is platform-agnostic. When you plug the Reader into any computer, the storage will mount just like any other external Flash-memory based drive (and the Kindle as well). From there, the user can add ebooks from dozens of commercial stores (http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/E-book_stores) and free resources (http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/Free_eBooks), using the standard "drag and drop" paradigm for file transfers that we are all familiar with. In addition, there is an excellent open-source software package offering a wonderful interface to the Sony reader. It's called "Calibre," (http://calibre.kovidgoyal.net/) and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Navigation: Your article gives a "slight advantage" to the Sony for its touchscreen, while disregarding the fact that the very same touchscreen permits the use of an in-screen keyboard, making the bulky hardware keyboard of the Kindle completely unnecessary. I'd call that more than a "slight" advantage.

Portability: The size comparison was the most shockingly disingenuous, if not outright dishonest, advantage assigned to the Kindle 2. Your summary misleads the reader into thinking that the Kindle is smaller overall, touting the fact that it is "thinner" than the Sony. It is in fact TWO ONE-HUNDREDTHS of an inch thinner than the Sony, while simultaneously being 1.2 inches taller and 0.3 inches wider than the Sony PRS-700. Shame on you.

Availability of titles: Your article only takes into account the "first-party"ebook store titles. Overall ebook format support is an area that your article completely ignored. The Sony has excellent native support for PDF, while Amazon's on-line PDF-to-Kindle conversion utility is still "experimental," (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/custom...deId=200140600), somewhat buggy, and requires the use of the computer that your reviewer was so happy to discard. Native PDF support will only be included in the new Kindle DX.

In addition, the Sony device offers support for epub, the de facto ebook standard, in both unencrypted and encrypted version. This means that you can use a Sony Reader to "check out" library books from the many public libraries that offer this convenience (http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/EBook_Lending_Libraries ) (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/Dige...oads-52277.asp). Kindle offers no option for lending library support.

As a consumer, I have additional concerns. In recent months, Amazon.com has taken a disturbingly anti-competitive stance on content use and restrictions within the ebook industry. It has invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in issuing takedown notices to web sites that have published information on how Kindle customers may load ebooks that they have LEGALLY and LEGITIMATELY purchased from other ebook stores onto their Kindles. See one example at http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=41929 . The main effect of this move is to force Kindle owners to use *only* the Amazon Kindle store for their DRM-protected ebook purchases, in what appears to be an attempt to develop an ebook monopoly. In the meantime, Sony has been perfectly willing to permit their customers to load compatible content from any ebook store (see the list above) onto their devices.

Versatility: Another aspect that your article fails to mention is that the text-to-speech, or "read to me" feature of the Kindle is neither universal nor lifetime. This feature is not available on all titles; it is enabled tor disabled at the discretion of the publisher. In addition, as has already happened, it can be disabled by Amazon AFTER purchase through the wireless network capabilities of the Kindle. Your mention of the web browser within the Kindle also fails to mention that Amazon has reserved the right to restrict access to the web and/or start charging for content at their own discretion. The blog, newspaper and wireless feeds of the Kindle are also available on the Sony, through the use of the Calibre software package I mentioned above. Both devices play digital music files, but the Sony is compatible with AAC audio, the format used by Apple's iTunes store, the #1 supplier of legal digital downloads, while the Kindle is not.

Bottom line: You waited until here to mention that the Sony has a built-in light? Why not under "screen," where it would have shown the clear advantage?

To be perfectly honest, the Kindle 2 does offer one advantage that your article does not mention: Amazon's 30-day return policy on electronics, as long as the hardware is kept "in new condition with original packaging and accessories". If, at any time during the first month, a Kindle buyer is unsatisfied with the user experience, it can be returned for a full refund. It would be nice if Sony offered the same perk.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am willing to tell you that I am a Mac user and a very satisfied owner of a Sony PRS-505. The addition of PDF and epub support turned my Reader from a great leisure device into something that is also useful at work for providing quick and easily-understood access to the multitude of technical documents that I use on a daily basis. I educated myself on the capabilities, advantages and disadvantages of all of the devices out there (including the Bookeen Cybook, which you don't even mention) through the mobileread.com web site, and made my purchase decision based on the information I gleaned from that site. I am not employed by a company with ANY connection to the ebook industry. So while Sony is not blameless in this area of digital restrictions issues (the CD/PC rootkit fiasco), so far they seem to be acting in the best interests of the consumer in the ebook market. I purchased my Reader from Borders, and I buy most of my content from Fictionwise.com, now a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, and I appreciate and celebrate this freedom of consumer choice.

The tech blogger on your web site, Paul Reynolds, is obviously very enthusiastic about the Kindle 2, to the point of ignoring every other electronic reader on the market. I sincerely hope that your magazine's editorial staff did not permit his enthusiasm to cloud their objectivity for this report. In light of all of the information I have provided, I strongly believe that it would be in the best interests of CU and its subscribers to research and publish an update/correction/retraction to the July article.

Thank you for your time.

Curt Wiederhoeft

P.S. You should also be a little more careful with the use of your stock photo library. Your short discussion of Regular and Premium gasolines ("Ask our experts," page 5) is accompanied by an image of a DIESEL fuel nozzle.
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Old 05-31-2009, 04:31 PM   #2
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that is quite a letter, curtw. i can guess what the article was like... thanks for setting the record straight. i hope they'll take your letter into consideration and post some sort of correction. please let us know if / when you get a reply.
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Old 05-31-2009, 04:36 PM   #3
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I get what you're saying, I do..... And I've not read the article. But my initial reaction is this, and I don't say this to be a jerk because I'm one myself...

This is mostly tech nerd crap, and the average consumer and the average consumer reporter isn't interested in this level of detail. They weren't comparing "Crap you can manage if you do other things" they were talking about the devices and the systems themselves.

Someone else will no doubt and do some sort of point by point thing, I don't care enough to get into it myself (again, not trying to be a jerk I'm just tired of these things).

But I sure as heck wouldn't talk about the touchscreen.... the distortion is terrible (at least in the ones I have seen!)
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Old 05-31-2009, 04:46 PM   #4
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Oh, and yes... it is certainly possible they were being short sighted, but I doubt they were being maliciously short sighted.

But I use the "mother test" when it comes to these things. Can I explain the difference to my mom in a useful way? Does she care? Does the article sound like it probably covers the basics for the sort of consumer my mother is? (Can work with Macs, PCs, but not tech savy aside from basic usage) This really has to be applied to any tech reporting before I get angry about it. And there's a place for discussion of these limitations in a real way - but it's not going to be in your standard consumer reporting or news.

The same also applies to religion, economics and politics. If I got in a tizzy every time some idiot reporter said something outright wrong about these issues I'd be having fits. But that's just more than the average consumer is interested in/needs to know. Most those things you mention really require quite a bit of "but...." if you want to clarify them.

Those distinctions are important. That's what mobileread is for, and ideally, some of the better tech magazines. But generally speaking, they pass the 'mother test' and that's the best you can hope for.

It's like trying to get into why people should use ogg-vorbis music players or something. No one cares except its proponents because most people don't understand the underlying issues nor care to - they just want to play their music.
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Old 05-31-2009, 04:48 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gideon View Post
I get what you're saying, I do..... And I've not read the article. But my initial reaction is this, and I don't say this to be a jerk because I'm one myself...

This is mostly tech nerd crap, ...
Yes, mostly, but when they say the Kindle wins the SIZE battle for being 0.02 inches thinner, when the other dimensions are much larger, I had to call BS. We'll see how they respond.

C.
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Old 05-31-2009, 06:03 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gideon View Post
I get what you're saying, I do..... And I've not read the article. But my initial reaction is this, and I don't say this to be a jerk because I'm one myself...

This is mostly tech nerd crap, and the average consumer and the average consumer reporter isn't interested in this level of detail. They weren't comparing "Crap you can manage if you do other things" they were talking about the devices and the systems themselves.

Someone else will no doubt and do some sort of point by point thing, I don't care enough to get into it myself (again, not trying to be a jerk I'm just tired of these things).

But I sure as heck wouldn't talk about the touchscreen.... the distortion is terrible (at least in the ones I have seen!)
You are right on... Consumer Reports directs itself at the lowest common denominator. Over the years I have continually seen them completely ignoring anything more complicated than is listed in the basic instructions for the item under scrutiny. My bottom line, if you have more than a half a clue, you are going to need way more than what Consumer Reports reports to come to a real understanding. Proceeding on CR information alone is like choosing your brain surgeon based on the font on his business card.
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Old 05-31-2009, 09:27 PM   #7
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Yes, mostly.... the size issue is pretty obviously a screw up.

And I don't mean to undercut your criticisms in general, either... Just that you may be expecting more than consumer reports is going to provide (or even care about.)

For instance ... Mac compatible. I had a Sony Reader with my mac and it sucked. Not only did I have to run their god-awful software (I believe it is somewhat better now, this was over a year ago) in virtualization but if I updated my firmware I'd brick it! So if you're not going to go into details about disk mode, etc... it's better to say it isn't Mac compatible because it isn't, not really. Someone who buys a Sony Reader and thinks they can just use that bookstore, update their hardware, etc... are in for some nasty surprises.
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Old 06-01-2009, 02:45 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by curtw View Post
Dear forum,

Some of you may be subscribers to the US magazine "Consumer Reports," which claims to be an unbiased consumer resource. Unfortunately, they have failed in living up to their own standards this month. I obviously can't duplicate their article due to copyright (and it hasn't been posted to their web site), but I think you'll get the gist from the following letter to the Editors that I have just submitted:
I thought it was an excellent letter and I applaud you. I also think it is not appropriate to only compare the K2 with the Sony 700. What about the PRS 505 and whole barn full of other readers out there? It would be like in their car issue they only looked at GM vs Ford ignored all the other players. Granted, the market share of the others is probably relatively small compared to Sony and Kindle combined.... unless you start looking at the European market (which I suppose they don't care about).

I really hope they respond in some manner. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 06-02-2009, 12:41 PM   #9
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Old 06-02-2009, 07:58 PM   #10
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Quote:
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Yes, mostly.... the size issue is pretty obviously a screw up.

And I don't mean to undercut your criticisms in general, either... Just that you may be expecting more than consumer reports is going to provide (or even care about.)

For instance ... Mac compatible. I had a Sony Reader with my mac and it sucked. Not only did I have to run their god-awful software (I believe it is somewhat better now, this was over a year ago) in virtualization but if I updated my firmware I'd brick it! So if you're not going to go into details about disk mode, etc... it's better to say it isn't Mac compatible because it isn't, not really. Someone who buys a Sony Reader and thinks they can just use that bookstore, update their hardware, etc... are in for some nasty surprises.
I'm just sayin', yes Kindle clearly wins for convenience of book-buying with whispernet. But to further downplay the Sony, calling it "not Mac compatible" is only piling on. The Sony is no more and no less Mac-compatible than the Kindle. The mechanism for adding and removing books from Mac to device is exactly the same. and they're tricking your Mom into thinking it won't work on a Mac.

(P.S. *My* Mom would want to know about library books.)
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Old 06-03-2009, 10:29 PM   #11
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Got a response...

...form letter. Still no idea if a human being has read the letter yet.
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Old 06-05-2009, 03:39 PM   #12
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Quote:
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I'm just sayin', yes Kindle clearly wins for convenience of book-buying with whispernet. But to further downplay the Sony, calling it "not Mac compatible" is only piling on. The Sony is no more and no less Mac-compatible than the Kindle. The mechanism for adding and removing books from Mac to device is exactly the same. and they're tricking your Mom into thinking it won't work on a Mac.

(P.S. *My* Mom would want to know about library books.)
(fair warning, Kindle owner)

I read the Consumers Reports Kindle 2 vs Sony PRS 700 comparison, and while I might quibble about a thing or two myself, I think CR got it mainly right. Really the Kindle's built in cell makes the host computer, Mac or not, moot. The Kindle screen is more readable, and if you want to compare it with the Sony 505 model, then the support chipset is more advanced. It's easier to deal with the Amazon store than the Sony one (although both could use some improvement). And basically, CR arrived at the same conclusion that NY Times and other reviewers have also, that while close, and each has its pros and cons, the Kindle has certain advantages overall.

I think they may read your letter, certainly some of the points are valid enough, but don't expect miracles, or some sort of retraction, "we've seen the light" type of thing as a result. Probably they get similarly long, passionate, highly technical letters on anything they rate, from Cars (and Sony vs. Kindle reminds me of the Chevy vs. Ford pickup arguments I used to hear all the time back home, man did that get boring, but people sure got passionate about their trucks), to Towels, to Detergent, and so on. If CR agrees with us, it's a good operation, if not, run by idiots. Comes with the territory, I suppose.
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Old 06-05-2009, 04:12 PM   #13
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...form letter. Still no idea if a human being has read the letter yet.
I think you have many valid points and I don't mean to be a smart a, but that was totally predictable. A form letter is as much as you will get from them.
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Old 06-05-2009, 04:36 PM   #14
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Don't want to be a jerk here, Gideon, but
Quote:
But I sure as heck wouldn't talk about the touchscreen.... the distortion is terrible
!!

I understand that is your opinion, but as a Kindle, PRS 505 and PRS 700 owner, I think your opinion is a terrible distortion.

Last edited by Donnageddon; 06-05-2009 at 04:39 PM. Reason: Changed wording.
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Old 06-12-2009, 02:13 AM   #15
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Wow, I thought that letter was a tour de force. Great job!

Almost makes me want to get a Sony reader, except I'm looking for something smaller and more portable. Maybe that new 5-inch Aztec. Or my dream Readius if they ever manufacture it....
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