Friday, December 25, 2009

Sony Ebook Reader PRS-600 - first impressions

A month or so I bought Suzanne a Kindle. Setting it up was simplicity itself. Turn it on, follow on-screen instructions, pull books from the air (via 3G), and voila. The manual for the device was one of the built-in books. Really, a piece of cake.

But I was a little troubled by the proprietary format, and the rather high-handed way content can suddenly disappear from your device if Amazon gets notions.

So I asked for, and got for Christmas, a Sony. This is the little touch screen. Suzanne also bought a cover for it, with a built-in light. That'll be handy as a bedside device.

Over the next few days or weeks, I'd like to blog about how it is to use. It's interesting to have two librarians, and two ereaders in the same house. We're comparing notes.


I had to plug it in to a USB port on my PC to charge it up. That didn't take long (maybe an hour, I guess) but I couldn't use it while it charged. (I could the Kindle.)

Now we come to the primary design flaw of the Sony. Everything it does well (charging or getting content), it does by being plugged into a computer. And despite the fact that the Sony is running (according to Wikipedia) MontaVista Linux, I learned that I either had to have a PC or a Mac to (a) download Adobe Digital Editions, or (b) run the Mac or Windows installer from the Sony device itself. It appears that at least (b) is absolutely necessary to use protected content on the reader.

OK, at home, I use Ubuntu Linux. I followed this thread on and did manage to get the Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) downloaded and installed in the "wine" virtual environment. It ran. I was able then to go into my library catalog and download an ebook, drag and drop that file on the running ADE. It opened, and I could read it on my computer. Great. But of course, I don't WANT to read a book on my computer, I want to put it on the Sony.

And in the ADE program on Ubuntu, there was no way to do that. The reader was supposed to show up as a bookshelf (ADE terminology for a special booklist). It didn't. So there was no way to transfer the library book to the Sony reader.

Then I got to poking around in files on the reader itself. It did find (under Launcher) some install files for Windows and the Mac. I couldn't get the Windows installer to run -- it just errored out.

Meanwhile, I discovered a program called calibre -- a very slick open source program that runs on Linux, Windows, and the Mac. It's wonderful, and had no trouble recognizing the reader when I plugged it in. It had a big button that said "send to device!" So I did.

And here's what I learned. ADE and (I imagine) the Windows program I couldn't install, handle the Digital Rights Management (DRE) issues. calibre pushed over the file, but the Sony reader wouldn't let me open it.

So that concluded my installation experiments on Linux. I couldn't get it to allow me to use DRM-protected books. (I did learn, using calibre, how to push free and pdf files onto it, though!) Apparently, Linux's 1% market share isn't enough to persuade even big manufacturers to make things work.


Fortunately, there are a couple of Macs in the house. Suzanne let me use hers, and at first, getting everything downloaded was slow, errored out, etc. But the issue, I soon learned, was that a lot of people got Sony ereaders for Christmas, and they completely overwhelmed the servers. Why those other people couldn't have waited till I was done is just one of the many mysteries of life. I eventually got ADE and the Mac installer up and running. I registered on Adobe, and with the special Mac program, tried to drag my library book to the Sony (which DID show up as an option). When I did that, I had to give my Adobe password again. Then, voila, it worked. That is, I could go to our website, check out a digital book, push it onto my Sony, and read it. I assume that in 21 days it will delete itself. That's cool.

Let me point out, by the way: the Sony doesn't have a manual with it. It did have some weird assortment of preloaded books in English, French, and German, as well as a few samples that didn't interest me. But it didn't have a manual. I think that's insane. (Correction: OK, it does have a manual. It's on the Reader, under a Documents folder, in zipped format. You have to copy it to your computer and unzip it, then send it BACK to the Reader. No, maybe I'm right the first time. That's insane.)

And even without the hassle of trying to use it on Linux, the steps were needlessly complex (charge, wait, setup desktop computer, plug in reader, download additional software from another vendor). For setup, for consumer ease, Kindle is a clear winner. You turn on the device, you go to the store (a screen menu item), and you say, that one!

Granted, I won't have to mess with installation in the future, but it's still a process of logging onto a website, transacting business, downloading a file, plugging in the Sony, loading another program, adding the downloaded file to a library, then transferring the file. Clunky.


calibre was a find, though. I was able to do something kind of cool: take a big file (the version of my book, "The New Inquisition," output it to a pdf file, then convert it and push it to the Sony. Oh, and because it had an ISBN number, calibre went online and found cover art and blurb information for it. I did the same thing with an unpublished chapbook of my poetry (which, of course, didn't have either cover art or ISBN).

So thanks to calibre, you can convert content pretty easily from one format to another, including content you create yourself. Points to Sony for using the epub format. (I believe, though, that you can email pdfs to your Kindle by using I haven't tried that.) [Later: yes, you can, and jpgs too.]

On the other hand, the Kindle came with a built-in dictionary. The Sony doesn't have one. That's a point to the Kindle. (Correction: I was wrong. While reading a book last night I rested my thumb on a word and up popped the Oxford English Dictionary definition. Another icon expanded it to the whole page.)

The Sony is a touch screen, which makes sense. The Kindle is button driven. Point to the Sony.

After finally getting a couple of books on it, I set it side by side against the Kindle. And the Kindle is undeniably easier to read: the screen is less reflective, and the letters are a crisper font (both allow you to adjust the font size, but not the font itself). Maybe the white plastic makes the Kindle screen seems brighter than the flashy red metal cover I picked out for the Sony. But altogether, the Sony text seems a little muddy. Both are muddier than print on paper.

Anyhow, those are my first thoughts. Now the test is to see if I will actually read something on it, and what I'll think of the experience. More on direct interface - use of buttons, flipping back and forth, adding notes or bookmarks, etc., in a future post.


Middle Aged Woman said...

And the other issue, getting it to pay for itself. On average (I checked about thirty books, old and new)Kindle books are cheaper than the B&N books by 4-5 bucks each. That's a pretty significant savings, I think.

humblefool said...

Aww, no love for the nook? (Disclaimer: I work for Barnes and Noble, and actually have to try and sell nooks at work. I've got one on order, though, so at least I'm willing to eat my own dogfood.)

Still, nice to see someone actually review the Sony Reader -- I'll be able to cite this post when people ask me how it stacks up to the Sony. Also didn't know you'd written a book, but it looks like it's out of print.

Jamie said...

Yes, it's certainly the case that Amazon charges less for their ebooks. On the other hand, I'm using the Sony to check out and read LIBRARY books (e.g. borrowed, not bought). My interest in electronic readers isn't in building up a big e-collection, but just to read more. And to that end, the use of the epub format "gives Sony's eBook store more than 600,000 titles in total, dwarfing the roughly 245,000 closed-format titles currently available for the ... Kindle." (From an article in the the Register.)

Oh, and humblefool, you can still get my book here:

Mike Cane said...

Sony Reader 101: If You Insist On Buying One…

Sony Reader 101: Borrowing Public Library eBooks

Sony Reader 101: For Mac Users

Leslie said...

I got to play with my Grandmother's Kindle a while back and had to admit that it was largely cool, and I can even see the benefits of such an e-reader, but in the end, I do not know if I can justify the amount of money it would take to own any of the e-readers. And if I were to do so, I would most likely go with a library connection, because the point of spending money on a book is either to give it to someone or to treasure it in a physical sense. At least, I think so.

Jamie said...

Mike Cane: great links. Thanks. Because of them, I saw the manual I hadn't tracked down until then. - Welcome

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