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Sony Reader Review

Sony_readerThe folks at Sony were kind enough to loan me one of their e-book Reader devices for a review. I've been skeptical about this product since I first saw it in person at CES last year.  I figured I needed to give it a shot before making a final decision though.

Now that I've had it for awhile I have to say the results are mixed and that the cons still outweigh the pros.  Nevertheless, it's important to note that this is really a version 1.0 product and I'm optimistic about the future of portable reading devices.

First, the negatives...  It's too expensive.  $350 is way too much for the resulting portability and convenience.  It's monochrome.  I'm trying to give Sony the benefit of the doubt with a first-generation product; given that this version is intended for books, monochrome isn't horrible, but full color will be required for magazines and other more interesting content.  It has no wireless capability.  Again, down the road this will be a critical component for fast and easy content updates/access.  You can only buy content through Sony.  Sony can't seem to get past this whole, closed, proprietary model of the world -- it seems they only become more closed as the rest of the world continues to open up.

Those are some pretty serious shortcomings, no doubt.  How about the positives?  It delivers on the promise of being a handy, portable device that can hold a load of content and rarely needs a charge.  But the device's single most important attribute is its readability.  I can't say enough about how great a job Sony did on the display design.  I've been reading a book on it for the past several days, using it inside, outside and even in direct sunlight -- the readability is nothing short of spectacular.  In fact, I'd prefer reading a book from this device over a printed book any day.

To be successful, however, Sony needs to figure out how to add functionality while decreasing the price. That's a tough proposition but it's the only way an e-reader will be a hit.  As I've said before, if they can make one that's full color, offers WiFi access, expands beyond books to include newspapers, magazines and other dynamic content (including full web access) and has the same high-quality readability of this first-generation device, all for less than $200, I'll be first in line to buy one.

P.S. -- I hate to have to send this loaner back later this week -- I'm only a couple of chapters into the book I downloaded!


Vincent Isambart

You say that you would like to see normal Web content on this device but I am not sure it is such a good idea. You seem to agree that the best point of this type of device is the screen (even though it's only black and white for the moment). But this type of screen is not made for dynamic content. The refresh rate is quite slow (around once per second if memory serves me right), so having any animated content, forms or anything requiring user interaction would not be very apropriate, at least with this technology. And even if the refresh rate was increased it would probably require much more energy and so lose one of its advantages.
Note that I never used any such device so some of my remarks may be wrong.

Joe Wikert

Hi Vincent. You may indeed be correct...and you reminded me of one other minor annoyance I found with the Reader: the way it wipes the screen and then displays the next page. There's a definite (and awkward delay). I've seen other reviewers comment about it and it's hard to ignore since it happens every time you turn the page. My hope is that they could fix that, along with the potential problem you point out, while still maintaining the high readability level.

Here's another review of the Reader in Time magazine and I tend to agree with the author's overall point of view:,9171,1612700,00.html

Morgan Ramsay
... and other more interesting content.

Wait, did a book publisher just say that his products have more interesting competition!? *gasp*

Sony can't seem to get past this whole, closed, proprietary model of the world -- it seems they only become more closed as the rest of the world continues to open up.

David Batsone in "I Crave Control" published in the May-June 2000 issue of Sojourners wrote, "Information is not always power. Just ask any librarian. In the digital age, wealth and power accrue to those who control the system logics by which data is exchanged."

Let's say that John Wiley & Sons entered the technology business with a similar reader device. Would the device exclusively access the Wiley library? Or would the device provide access to competing libraries, too?

I think the manufacturer-distributor-producer model has a huge impact on how business is conducted by companies using that model.

After all, look at the video game business. Sony manufactures a video-game console. Sony produces video games for its console. Sony licenses competing production companies to develop video games for its console. The competing producers effectively earn Sony revenue thus transforming them into business partners and eliminating the competition in the production arena. Where Sony seems to compete is in hardware manufacturing and distribution, particularly with Microsoft. But even then you can have a producer developing video games for Sony and Microsoft consoles, meaning greater penetration, awareness, and revenues for both companies. What a brilliant racket...

Joe Wikert

Hi Morgan. While the console game market is an interesting comparison, let's look at something that's closer to home: O'Reilly's Safari Library. They developed the platform, or more accurately, co-developed it with Pearson. But are they only distributing O'Reilly and Pearson products? Nope. You'll also find Microsoft Press there along with Syngress, No Starch, Prima and others. So to answer your question about whether a Wiley-produced device would only host Wiley content, no, I don't think that would be a good plan.

Michael Dorsey

Hey, you guys don't seem to get the point. The Sony reader is a paperback book replacement--plain and simple. I can carry up to 80 books in the built in memory alone. Add a SD or DUO memory stick and you can have hundreds if not thousands. You can import rss feeds, txt, doc, rtf, and PDFs natively. And there is active development on freeware tools that convert lit, pdf, doc, and almost all other formats to the device. (The best is currently Book Designer.) If you are a reader like me, who reads a book or two a week, this device is life changing. Similar to the TIVO, its a hard sell at first, but live with one a couple of weeks and try to give it up.

Joe Wikert

Hi Michael. With all due respect, comparing the Sony Reader to TiVo is quite a stretch. TiVo revolutionized the way you can watch television; the Sony Reader isn't revolutionizing anything. I don't find the need to carry 80 books around with me, even if it's convenient to. Lastly, I've had a free Reader for the past couple of weeks and I'm sending it back to Sony on Friday. Sure, I'd love to keep it for longer, but that's because it cost me nothing. If I would have paid $400 for it I guarantee you I'd have no problem taking it back to the store for a refund. Again, it's nice, but not worth the price.

We all have our own unique addictions though. I paid $400 for my XM Radio device and you'll never be able to pry that one out of my hands! Lots of people probably think I'm nuts...but I had the same experience with it that you had with your Reader ("try it for a couple of weeks and see if you can give it up!").

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