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Old 01-16-2010, 03:34 AM   #1
ltamote
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Considerations When Choosing an E-Book Reader

Super-long, I'm sorry...

When I first heard in early 2006 that Sony was coming out with an e-book reader, I signed up for the availability email and purchased the PRS-500 as soon as it came out. Since then, I've also owned a PRS-505, PRS-600, and Kindle 2. I thought I would share some of my observations; hopefully, they'll be of us to new e-book reader purchasers. I write with the obvious caveat that there are lots of devices I've never even seen.

1. My first - and most important - suggestion is to decide, How you want to use the reader?: What kind of books do you read? How many do you read and how fast? Are you an involved reader who likes to comment on, research, or investigate the ideas in books? Or, are you mostly a pleasure reader who doesn't want to buy another bookcase? How you read really does affect your choice.

My experience: When I bought my first device, I thought I could from then on switch 100% to electronic books and stop worrying about bookshelf space. Very quickly, I learned that was not the case. The Sony PRS-500, while great, was a leisure-book device and simply could not replace all of my books. The main problems:

-Many, many books were not available in electronic format of any kind (that's changing)
-It took too long to "flip" through the pages looking for something I just read (Who was that character again? What were the results of that experiment?)
-No way to search the book - for terms, names, or anything
-No way to jump to a given page. You had to mentally calculate the percentage of the book you wanted to go to, then - SLOWLY - page from there
-Basically, too slow and too limited
-PDFs, unless specifically created for the 500 (home-grown, in other words), were useless.

Now, the 500 has been superseded by the 600, 900, Kindle 2, etc., and some of these issues have been resolved - but inconsistently; I suggest you still consider how you'll use the device.

This August/September, I bought the PRS-600. I thought of the 600 as an upgraded 500, but I was wrong. I was so accustomed to thinking of an e-book reader as strictly a leisure-reading device (based on previous tech), that I failed to appreciate new possibilities:

a. It is FAST. You can flip the pages just like a real book (start the swipe with your stylus and continue to hold it down).

b. You can search easily - book titles, phrases in books, etc.

c. You can immediately go to any page number.

d. Phenomenal built-in dictionary. Double-click a word and you're done.

e. Truly (seriously) extensive note-taking capabilities.

f. PDFs work extremely well, no matter what the native size.

In short, the 600 (and, I'm assuming, the 900) is a great academic device, capable of doing almost everything I wanted 3 years ago.

Unfortunately, all you ever hear about is the relative screen contrast. It's a factor, yes, but it is not even close to being the only factor. I don't know why the screen thing became the ONLY thing with the 600, but it's really unfortunate that it did because I think there are a lot of people who would
love the 600 if they didn't only hear about the "screen thing." Because the 600 is my serious device, I keep it on my desk; with the normal overhead light, the "glare/reflection" thing is not an issue. Again, your intended use makes a lot of difference. In low light, the Kindle 2 is best.

After 3 years with e-book readers, my experience is that the speed and flexibility count more than you might think. As an aside, I downloaded all of my electronic user manuals - PDFs from the manufacturers' web sites - and can read them all with ease on the 600 with no tinkering. These include manuals for my TV, Dish receiver, cell phone, iPod, digital camera, iGo devices, etc. They are super easy to read on the Sony 600 (or 900, I presume) with no problems. Virtually impossible on the 505 (and perhaps the Kindle 2, though I've never tried).

In the past two weeks, I bought a Kindle 2. At first, I hated the font and the huge white bezel. Now, I can say that I've really taken to this device. It is so easy to use and to carry around, it works without issues, can read blogs, even some web sites, and so on. So many pluses, that I simply don't use the Sony 505 at all. (By the way, everyone says it, and it's weird but true, the Kindle looks ridiculous in photos but is really nice in person. Still no match for the Sony models, which are super elegant and really, really nice in hand.) To sum up:

-- For leisure reading, I would go with the Kindle 2. Easy, convenient, dictionary, etc.
-- For academic and serious reading, I would go with the Sony 600 (or, theoretically, the 900).

The Sony 900 looks very attractive. I've not used it, but I cannot see a downside from the 600.

2. A big factor, of course, is the availability of books and the format they're in. Amazon pretty much has all the books and pretty much cheaper. Weirdly, the out-of-print public domain books seem to cost a dollar. Sony has those for free, but its in-copyright selection is smaller and costs more. However, Sony's DRMed books are all epub and can be converted easily, with some education. Amazon's content may be converted, depending on whether they're Topaz or not, and I still don't know the exact secret of determining that ahead of purchase time.

3. With respect to wireless: The Sony 600 has none; the Sony 900 does, but I've not used it; the Kindle 2 does, and I've used it quite a bit. Wireless is great for blogs, news, and the occasional Wiki scan. Also great for impulse buys - maybe a plus, maybe a minus. It has grown on me, though.

Again, there are many, many other devices out there, so this is not comprehensive. But please don't base your buying decision on only ONE factor - e.g., "screen contrast." Your satisfaction is likely to depend on multiple factors, and my best advice is to match your needs with the correct device.

[I've not factored in SD storage, MP3 playback, and the like because - frankly - they've never been a factor in my e-book reader usage, EVEN AFTER 3 YEARS. And that should tell you something.]

One additional thing I'll say, very generally, is that software support may become an issue, and fringe companies can't always keep up.

Last edited by ltamote; 01-16-2010 at 03:37 AM.
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Old 01-16-2010, 04:48 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by ltamote View Post
Unfortunately, all you ever hear about is the relative screen contrast. It's a factor, yes, but it is not even close to being the only factor. I don't know why the screen thing became the ONLY thing with the 600, but it's really unfortunate that it did because I think there are a lot of people who would love the 600 if they didn't only hear about the "screen thing." Because the 600 is my serious device, I keep it on my desk; with the normal overhead light, the "glare/reflection" thing is not an issue. Again, your intended use makes a lot of difference. In low light, the Kindle 2 is best.
I agree with you. As you can see from my profile on the left, I have numerous eBook readers; the PRS-600 is my favourite for reading at home. When I'm "out and about", the extreme portability of the Pocketbook 360 makes it the winner. They can both read the same ePub books, which is nice.
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Old 01-16-2010, 08:33 AM   #3
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I'm amazed that you would call the 600 "fast". It's definitely a step up from the oldies, but I still find it awfully slow.
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Old 01-16-2010, 08:48 AM   #4
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It's all relative, isn't it? You can "flip through" pages on the 600 at about 5 pages a second. That's about as fast as I'd want to go and still be able to see what's on the page.
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