So I was at the office late on a Monday last month. When I say “late” I mean “until 1 AM”. Since the next day was payday, I decided I deserved a gadget. I found myself at a nearby Sony Style store over my lunch break as a salesman told me about the Sony Reader Touch.
Now, realize that I am a geek. A complete and total geek. I have this deep and abiding love for all things gadgety. So I bought one.
I admit, I opened it as soon as I got it back to my desk. Now that I have reference material at hand, it's about the same size as the Studio Ironcat edition of MT volume 1. The aged MT volume is actually slightly thicker. The Reader is obviously somewhat heavier, and I happen to like the shiny silver color of mine. It comes with a Neoprene carrying pouch that while perhaps less than ideal, suits my needs well enough. The stylus is fairly standard and looks like it could have come from anything in the PDA world.
I had to plug it in – via USB – before I could use it at all. This is where things started to get interesting. I plugged it into my work laptop, which happens to be a mac. I was a little surprised to see two volumes mounted. One is named “Reader”, and contains data files, such as some very probably reversible XML stuff. The other is named “Launcher”, and contains the client software. So I looked at the OS X client.
I got a little suspicious when it prompted for the admin password to install what should be just an application, so I looked at what it wanted to install. The very first item was a kernel extension. For the uninitiated, I was expecting the equivalent of a new shirt, and it wanted to give me a brain implant to go with it. I said no. As a friend of mine pointed out, “A Sony kernel extension? Aren't those normally called rootkits?”. Given Sony's history of rootkitting unwitting users, I took a pass. I don't trust them that much.
So I really can't comment on the Sony Connect store. It turns out the Windows client did me no more good. It doesn't install on XP-64, which is what my desktop happens to run. I went looking around, and found the open source project Calibre. It's not perfect. It did crash a lot before a recent update was released. It can't access the e-store, but since it's not screwing around in places it has no business being, I'm OK with that. It gets the job done, proving that a kernel extension isn't actually needed for functionality.
Aside: I hope someone at Sony is reading this. I'd love a mac client that isn't poorly written. Calibre proves pretty clearly that someone is doing something wrong.
Anyway. A matter of hours later, I'd had at the Baen Free Library, grabbed a number of David Drake and Eric Flint books, and transferred them. I added in some Mark Twain and Thomas Hobbes from Google Books along with an assortment of other books I had lying around. I also set up Calibre to grab news from Ars Technica every day and NASA every week (Calibre has a sizable list of news sites it knows how to grab articles from). I like news, and everything I've put on it thus far barely makes a dent in the built-in 512 megabytes of memory. The ability to add 4 gigabytes of SD card for $10 helps (Sony's memory sticks are about four times as expensive for no good reason, and the Reader has slots for both an SD card and a memory stick).
I've poked around at the extra functionality a bit. The dictionary functionality – activated by double-tapping a word in a book – strikes me as useful in the rare instance that I honestly don't know what a word means. Given the number of hours I've spent between the pages of an old friend, that's a little unusual. There's also the ability to attach notes to a specific point in a book, which might be useful for some things. Notes can be drawn freehand or typed with an onscreen keyboard. The former responds nicely on the e-ink screen. The latter is a bit sluggish, which is probably due to the high refresh time for the screen. Neither bugs me, as this will probably be used the most for leisure reading.
The Reader also does pictures and music, but I find these a bit anemic. It's black and white, which does somewhat limit its ability to display images. I already have an iPod Classic, so I don't need my ebook reader trying to be a music player, nevermind the power consumption or space demands.
After some discussions with coworkers, I have learned of a rather interesting arrangement Sony has produced with local libraries around the country. They let these libraries use their system to lend ebooks... with a few key restrictions. First, DRM is used to make sure that these books are checked out for a limited timeframe only. This, by itself, is a bit weird for books from public libraries. Second, a library is apparently allotted a set number of “electronic copies”, and only allowed to lend out that many at a time.
Stallman's “The Right to Read” got a lot creepier that day. I'll leave that issue there.
After using the Reader for a number of hours in airports in Atlanta and Kansas City and on two flights, I've come away with an overall positive impression. I didn't stress the limits of battery life, but I got a solid 350-400 pages before the battery indicator twitched and suggested I was at 75% charge instead of 100%.
Provided I had good lighting, the reading experience was quite good. The screen is not backlit – which would kill battery like nothing else – and thus relies on ambient light for readability. The angle required varied somewhat depending on lighting conditions. Once I got used to it, finding a good angle was not difficult.
The Reader is light enough that it does not become wearying to hold, and the rubberized backplate proved to be easy on my fingers over the course of hours. All in all, I'm pleased with my purchase. There are shortcomings, but all the ones that stood out to me are addressable in software.
As soon as Sony gives up on trying to rootkit me, that is.