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SONY Reader WiFi

The fall term is over, and so is the first batch of exams.  I now have a two weeks break, and I need it.  After the gratification of single malt scotch and cigars with a few discerning classmates; after a night at the movies; it is time to catch up with all the things that have passed me by during the last three months in school.  It’s geeky techno time again!

One of the most intense activities in law school is reading.  A lot of reading.  Most casebooks are still of the heavy old fashion variety.  Paper rules.  But we were also assigned about 2000 pages in PDF format to read, and in the spring there is a similar quantity coming.  A few weeks into the term I decided to buy an eReader to help me digest the stuff.  Time is a scarce resources and the eReader helps me make the most out of it.  It fits in my pocket and I can read anywhere anytime there is an opportunity.  And the eInk display is easier on the eye than the best LCD displays, enabling faster reading.  I timed myself 40%-60% faster.

eInk displays are not yet mature.  I wish my display was larger than 6″ and I wish it had higher resolution than 600×800.  The slow refresh rate is acceptable for reading books, though.  I found only two e-readers with larger displays:  the old Amazon Kindle DX (9″7 768×1024) and the new iRiver Story HD (7″ 768×1024).  Both had enough shortcomings for me to decide that they are not for me.

The 6″ format is great for reading e-books, e-newspapers, and e-magazines crafted for it.  But it is barely enough to read full pages PDFs scans, and even if the PDF book is not a scan, when selecting a larger font size the SONY reader slows down considerably when paging.

Nevertheless, the  SONY PRS-T1 is the only reader I came across who I did not qualify as useless, even though I like to think that my selection criteria are plain simple:

  1. Form factor.  I was looking for the most comfortable reading conditions possible.
  2. Must sync easily, ideally without extra bloatware installed on the PC.
  3. Good zooming function (to compensate for the small display).

Some readers would not connect with my Ubuntu Linux.  I was pleasantly surprised by the SONY Reader: once the USB cable is connected, it exposes the relevant storage areas as simple drives, like a USB key, and I can simply drag and drop or otherwise copy the e-book files onto it.  I can even back up the books I bought in SONY’s store, although they are DRM-crippled and if I want to access them on my PC, I must install Adobe Digital Editions, which luckily runs well on Linux with wine.  I ended up installing Calibre as well – it manages my daily news fix from the web and it even gets The Economist on my SONY Reader WiFi.

If it was not for the front bezel, SONY’s hardware feels perfect.  Robust build,  lightweight,  fits in one hand when reading and in the inner pocket of a suit jacket when not.  I can read on the bus, in the car (when my wife drives), in the elevator, and in any quiet corner.  Even in the evening, when fatigue starts showing and I would be tired of holding up a book, holding up the SONY Reader is like holding a feather.

The bezel though is extremely annoying.  SONY’s own marketing calls the Reader WiFi “the world lightest 6” e-Reader with a lovably glare-free, paper-like display designed for hours of comfortable reading, even in direct sunlight.”  I wonder if the product designers actually tried to use it in direct sunlight, or even just under a bedside reading lamp.  The interference from the glare of the glossy plastic bezel is not conducive to “comfortable reading”.  The brushed aluminum plate with the SONY logo feels cold and uncomfortable under the thumb.  I wish they had used the same rubber as on the back for the whole front bezel too, it gives a comfortable warm grip.  My quick solution: stop the glare with opaque transparent cellophane tape.  The guys at the store tried to sell me a case or a jacket.  What for?  it would just make the eReader bulkier and heavier, and my wallet way too much lighter.  No thanks.

The software is a different story.  I wish Apple designed eReader software.  Like all other eReaders I’ve tried (and like all phones before the iPhone, and MP3 players before the iPod) the software is disappointing.  Navigation is awkward.  I can organize books in “collections”, but to do so I have to browse through the whole collection linearly.  The Reader patently ignores the best and simplest way of sorting things: the folders hierarchy that I have created on the flash memory when transferring the files from my PC.  For music (a nice extra on the SONY reader is the music playback functionality) it is even worse:  rigidly organized by albums, I think based on the MP3 metatags.

Sure, pinch and zoom works on the responsive touch screen, but it would be nice if the reader remembered which book I prefer to read rotated; what zoom I have been reading each book individually; and if it would keep the same position of the magnified window when paging.  Simple basic stuff, I think, and yet the SONY Reader, like all other eReaders that I have tried, can’t do it properly.  Sad.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel:  This SONY Reader is an Android device and indeed one of the criteria that tipped me to buy it were the first positive rooting reports.  Once rooted, it is possible to install alternative reader software and alternative bookstores, including Amazon’s Kindle for Android app.  Long live variety and long live competition.  So far I did not have time to toy with rooting.  Maybe over the holidays…

Despite the beautiful hardware, the SONY Reader made an unpolished impression on me. After a few weeks of use, the music player started randomly skipping from the middle of one song to the middle of another.  It became so annoying that I have stopped listening to music on it all together.  Maybe it is fixed with the most recent  upgrade.

Reading on the eReader is really a pleasure.  I even rediscovered recreational reading.  In a moment of despair at the complex legal texts, I hit the buy button and bought this book.  It was refreshing to find out that I can still read at decent speed and retain what I read.

Overall, the device does what I needed it for: it enables me to read in places and at times where I would not have been able to read conventional reading material.

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