That preview for Burn After Reading has almost nothing to do with this post as the movie isn’t, despite the title, about reading and this post is. But that was a funny movie. How hard was it, do you think, to make both Brad Pitt and George Clooney look like complete dorks? It was a job well done anyway.
As promised, I got in a review unit of the Sony Reader PRS-505. This sweet little digital book reader has been either in my hands or my purse for the past two weeks. (I haven’t managed to get a Kindle yet so I can’t yet compare the two.) I like the Reader. In fact, it’s a good thing they didn’t send me the Sangria red one or I might lose sight of my technology budget and ante up to keep it.
In the comments on my last look at the Sony Reader and Kindle, Ty said, “I would love a reader but for what they are asking for them, I could buy a small laptop. It seems a waste to spend so much for something that a book does just as well.”
This is an excellent point and has pretty much summed up my take on both of these readers since they launched. But there are a couple of things about this Sony Reader that is making me reconsider:
The screen: The screen technology used in the Sony Reader is not new to this version but it is worth noting that this is the bit about these devices that distinguishes them from a small laptop. A laptop screen is not an eye-friendly technology. Most computer screens are lit from behind and do not have the soft-on-the-eyes aspect ratio that the Sony Reader, Kindle, or a paper-and-ink book have. The Sony Reader and the Kindle use a screen technology invented by E Ink that is closer to paper that any electronic form yet invented. It is one of those technologies that, I think, could change everything. (I covered this back in 2001 in PC Magazine if you care to take a trip in the Wayback Machine.) Though whether it does change everything or not will depend on how it is adopted into devices people actually want to use. So far, we have seen (more or less ) industrial applications and these two devices.
Because it’s a relatively new technology (released around 2003, I believe), E Ink digital paper is still relatively expensive. I would love to have a tiny purse-sized laptop, too, Ty. But that’s not a gadget that would encourage me to read more books because I have no intention of reading full-length fiction on a laptop screen. Reading a novel on this Reader, though, is a lot like reading a book. Though I hit a button to turn pages, it is otherwise a similar tactile experience. I open it to the page where I left off and close it to stop reading. But when I say tactile, I mostly mean the way it feels to my eyes. (If you haven’t read anything on a device using E Ink yet, you may be able to check the Sony Reader out of your local library and take it for a spin so you can see what I mean. Sony announced a partnership with libraries a couple of weeks ago so ask your librarian.)
The Battery. I charged the Sony Reader when I got it two weeks ago. Then I threw it in my purse and have pulled it out to read whenever I am stuck at a doctor’s office, waiting for the kids at a piano lesson, or otherwise in need of entertainment. Today, it still has a half-full battery. This is in part because I don’t use it for anything but reading and in part because the screen requires much less battery than a laptop screen. But the end result is that it is always there for me even though I don’t think about it much. A laptop requires a lot of thinking to make sure it has power and an Internet connection. The reader was pure entertainment whenever I needed it with very little thought beforehand.
So I’m going to compare the reader to the cost and serviceability of books since that seems to be what a Reader would replace in my purse and budget.
The Sony Reader is light. It is much lighter than any book I would throw in my purse. It’s more like carrying a slim novella than a Stephen King tome. (Not that I read those.) Because of this, it is â€“ unlike a book, which I pull out whenever I want to lighten my load — always in my purse. But the Reader â€“ without an additional memory card â€“ can hold 160 books. Add a tiny memory card and the number of books I’m carting could be limitless.
I carried several books I checked out of the digital library and one that Sony gave me. I had hoped that in order to justify the purchase of a Reader, I would be able get by on digital library books for a year. (Can’t check books out of the library to the Kindle so this is an option only for the Sony Reader.) But that probably won’t work. The number of titles available this way, so far, is limited to, according to a press release “popular fiction (29 titles), romance (19 titles) and young adult fiction (24 titles).” I only found a few books I hadn’t read that I wanted to read at the digital library. On the other hand, since the Reader works with Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and text files, I could put my own work on it, which would be a big improvement on printing out manuscripts and carrying them around. And the Sony eBook Store gives you 100 classics when you register a Sony Reader so I could commit myself to catching up on those while I pay off a reader.
At the moment, I spend about $20 a month on books and I only really read when I’m home, tucked into bed, with my reading glasses at the ready. In the two weeks I’ve had the reader, I’ve read one novel I would not otherwise have had time for. The reader â€“ with its leather-like cover — weighs 11 ounces, according to my cheap postal scale. One small novel and my reading glasses weigh in at 16 ounces. (I don’t need my reading glasses with the Reader because I can bump up the print size.) A book I’m actually reading, and my glasses, weighs two pounds. That explains why I never have books in my purse. I want the Sony Reader but this feels like a weak justification for dropping $299. If I traveled more — or at all — I would absolutely spring for one of these. But as Ty suggests, books are already a pretty good technology.
What’s a girl to do?