Test-driving the Sony Reader Pocket Edition

Sony Reader Pocket Edition (loaned to LiteraryMinded for two weeks)

Visit the Sony website to check out the Readers available. US readers, see Amazon.

There are about three reasons I haven’t bought an e-reader yet (actually, let’s remove the hyphen and call it an ereader – remember ‘e-mail’?). The first reason is that they’re expensive, but at $229 this little guy is one of the most affordable yet. The second is that I dog-ear my books and take notes while reading. How can an ereader live up to that? Well, this one does to a point, as I’ll explain. The third reason is that in Australia there isn’t yet a wealth of ebooks available and there are issues with territorial copyright often in attaining them from overseas suppliers. But it’s beginning to change, as epub is emerging as the dominant ebook publishing format and Australian publishers and booksellers are establishing standards and getting on board.

Let’s just clear up a few things, too. An ereader as a device is nothing like a computer or an iPhone/iPad because it uses e-ink and is not backlit. I’ve found myself explaining this to almost every person I’ve talked to when discussing ebooks and ereaders. Thus, the screen looks like a page, and does not hurt your peepers. If the light dims while reading, you’ll have to switch on a lamp, just like a book.

Since the Australian arm of the Apple iBook store went live this week, some people will be reading books on a backlit iPad. This would be a different experience to what I’ll be describing here.

The other thing to clear up is that not all ereaders are Kindles! Since in the general press we mainly hear about Amazon’s Kindle device, many assume that it is the ereader, but what you have to remember about the Kindle is that you are locked in to purchasing your ebooks from Amazon.com. This might be fine for some folks, but many books, including many Australian and indie press titles, are not available on Amazon. So a non-dedicated ereader in the end may provide more options.

The other thing I’ll mention is that an ereader is a dedicated device intended mainly to simulate the experience of reading a book (or in some cases, a magazine). I used to think I’d hold out for a device that had further functionality, but I’ve decided now that it’s awesome that the ereader is dedicated to reading long-form content and narrative. There are enough distractions out there, and if you want to listen to music, look something up, or tell someone about what you’re reading, I’m sure your other device/s aren’t far from reach. The fact that I couldn’t just click through to something else meant I was immersed in the book I was reading, just as I would be with a print book.

Now, to Sony’s Pocket Reader. At first I thought I was going to be reviewing the Touch ($299), but I’m glad now I was sent the Pocket Edition. It’s so light and it fit in my smallest handbag so I could read it on the tram. (Covers and other accessories are also available from Sony.) It has a touch screen so you can just glide your finger across the screen to turn the page. You may also choose to use the buttons. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, double-click and the inbuilt dictionary will pop up at the bottom of the page.

I didn’t have to use the dictionary much for George Orwell’s wonderful Animal Farm, which I have now finally read! Orwell writes with such clarity and I found this book so compelling I barely noticed what I was reading it on. Generally when I am reading something, as mentioned, I’ll dog-ear the pages and take notes, especially if I’m reviewing it. Well, luckily the Sony has note-taking capabilities. You can scribble notes on the page itself, highlight lines, or save a memo to that page. The notes are then listed in a menu (by page order). You can use your trotters, or the Stylus (a kind of pen) included with the Reader.

One small qualm on that note: the Stylus is very inconspicuous. It’s mentioned briefly in the Quick Start Guide that comes with the Reader but it took me a minute to figure out how to access it. If a consumer does not know the word ‘Stylus’, they may never know it’s there at all!

I haven’t had the experience of uploading books but Sony told me to pick something from a RedGroup retailer website (Borders or A&R) and they’d preload it. So I can’t really report on the ease of this, though the retailer websites say it is one quick and easy download. The books all seemed to be very valuably priced, too, compared to print books.

There are a couple of issues here. What if I want to support my local indie bookseller? I guess if I start reading more on a Reader I would encourage them to get on board, and I believe the process will become easier with the bookseller system TitlePage getting set to (one day) integrate the ebook supply chain into their system (source). This is over-the-counter as files but possibly also through their websites, I’m not sure how it works exactly. And of course, I could continue to support my indie bookstore by buying print books from them, as I will. In fact, I think if I really like a book I’ve read digitally, I’ll probably want a print copy still – to have in my collection or to give to someone lovely.

The other issue that is still being worked out, I believe, is payment for writers and sustaining the industry. Lucky in Australia we get to watch the battles happening in the big book markets of the US and the UK before we set our own models. But hopefully ebooks, after an initial period of costly development and transition, will be able to be sold fairly cheaply and the authors, publishers and booksellers will still get a fair share and be able to continue to provide wonderful content for us booklovers.

But I can honestly say, after trialling the Sony Pocket Edition I can see it in my near future: on my bedside table, loaded up with new gems and classics, and definitely in my luggage. I always travel with books and this device would certainly lighten the load. The Sony Pocket is the only ereader I’ve trialled so I don’t have much to compare it to, but it’s a perfectly adequate substitution for a print book in terms of the reading experience. The screen is the size of a paperback book and you can increase the font size to however large you need it. It tells you what page you’re up to and keeps your place. The battery was still on full bars after finishing Animal Farm and playing around with it.

Of course it doesn’t project your literary identity as a bookshelf or book cover would; and it doesn’t have that lovely stink of pages. But in my life I think the rough and smelly, and the sleek and silver, can coexist. This guy’s on my Christmas list.

20 thoughts on “Test-driving the Sony Reader Pocket Edition

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Test-driving the Sony Reader Pocket Edition – LiteraryMinded -- Topsy.com

  2. I finally took the plunge a couple of weeks ago (with a Kindle), and overall the experience has been great – they are very readable. I wonder if there will be a bit of a resurgence in shorter fiction because of ereaders? It would potentially be easy and cheap to buy individual stories, I guess the way magazines used to publish them in the past. One disadvantage is that the experience of reading doesn’t vary between books the way it does on paper – it would be great if each book looked a bit different with different fonts or something.

  3. Pingback: Lastest Sony Touch News | Best Electronic Ebook Reader

  4. I have a Touch and will be reviewing it myself soon after I’ve read with it a bit more, but the availability of books is still a real problem.

    Loading books onto it isn’t a huge pain in itself but DRM means you have to do it a special way after your device is authorised to your Adobe Digital Editions program.

  5. I bought one of these a couple of weeks ago. I’m totally in love with it, and have had no trouble loading books onto it. I also own an older style Hanlin V3 with a 6″ e-ink screen, and the Sony Pocket is a mile ahead – much faster page turns, on board dictionary, note taking/drawing capability, and the smaller footprint (which makes it easy to fit in the smallest handbag).

    ePub format books are available from Borders online (which means at least *some* Australian content), and out of copyright stuff is widely available for free (eg, Project Guttenberg).

  6. Thanks for your comments, guys.

    Dekay23 – some kind of subscription service with short stories would work so well.

    Ben, let us know when your review is up.

    Jane – thanks for your input, v. helpful 🙂

  7. I’ve just upgraded to a smartphone (a Samsung Galaxy S with Android 2), and added the apps from Amazon (ie “Kindle” – free) and the Aldiko ebook reader (included with the phone, but costing a couple of dollars). I am blown away with the experience. I thought reading on the 11cm / 4″ screen may be a problem, but it’s not at all. The phone is light and you can hold it and turn pages in one hand. In fact, it’s a better reading experience than a paperback, I feel.

    Ebooks are plentiful, and generally much cheaper than with paper. Some books on Amazon will not download to Australia for copyright reasons, but there are enough others not to make this much of a problem. There are lots of independent publishers who will sell ebooks direct using epub – these go on the Aldiko (eg see http://www.webscription.net/) . And you can take notes, add bookmarks and look up a dictionary using these applications really easily and elegantly.

    Getting the Galaxy is the best thing I’ve done in years… And I’ve probably saved money, in that I no longer buy a couple of $20-$35 books a week; instead I download to the smartphone a couple of $6 -$15 ebooks instead. Well, back to Bill Bryson’s “At Home” via Amazon…

  8. I got a Kindle a few months ago – I’m still getting to know it and as you say, there will always be a place for hardcopy books, but it definitely has a role, espcially for travel. It doesn’t have a stylus which is is a shame but you can write notes using the small qwerty keyboard. I really like that it has wifi so that you can buy books on the kindle itself and they download straight away. Otherwise you can download books to the computer and transfer via usb, which is straightforward enough. It also has a dictionary and you can track parts of the text that have been most commented upon by others – fortunately you can also turn this off, so that your reading experience isn’t hampered by these underlined sections. I’ve mostly been downloading free out of copyright books, so I haven’t noticed the lack of Australian content too much.

    I was first drawn to the Kindle by hearing of authors (mostly US to my knowledge) uploading self-published books and the communities online dedicated to discussing these – I heard of these via the independent author Elisa Lorello, whose books are about to be released by Amazon for Kindle – it interests me how this new forum will ultimately effect the industry and I hope Australian authors participate so we can get some local content that way – and that they in turn get exposed to a broader international audience.

  9. I think e-books are a great invention and exceptionally convenient to purchase books at a great price that are delivered in minutes. However the greatest aspect is the electronic ink, it reads just like a printed page and it can be read in direct sunlight, unlike backlite devices.

  10. The big question, of course, is when will Crikey become available in an ebook-compatible format? Currently I use my Kindle’s browser to read it, but the 1996-style HTML (tables for layout, hello!) Crikey uses means some parts scroll off the page. Most annoying.

  11. If you buy a kindle you aren’t necessarily locked into buying books from amazon. If you have epub books (with no DRM I assume) then you can convert them very easily with the free Caliber converter. It works very well from e-pub to mobi (the kindle format).

    Further, I have the Kindle DX because I liked to read a lot of PDF material, and I can do that on the big kindle (though not the small one because there is no facility to alter the font).

    Had a sony e-reader before that, but the screen resolution was lousy (nothing like the latest kindle) and the screen packed up anyway after a few months. I assume though that it’s latest one is fine.

    Latest kindle from the US is $139 and add another $20 for shipping. Amazing.

  12. I have had a Kindle for some time now. I think it is especially good for newspapers (there are not enough) and magazines. I also like the wifi availability. I do not think being with Amazon is a problem at all.

  13. So will this affect local booksellers, publishers and authors?

    The catalogue of Australian books on Amazon for Kindle is woeful.

    Theoretically, it is possible to imagine that the economies of electronic publishing enabling a greater variety, and thus bespoke local books. But these have to break into the existing networks. Would we be happy for someone like Amazon to provide for this – a ‘North Carlton’ section, for instance?

    We wouldn’t be bumping into each other at Readings or Glebebooks would we? They wouldn’t be sponsoring literary events. But even these familiar local institutions are still captive to what existing publishers are willing to back.

    Local e-publishing would endanger our literary sites. It would only be worth doing if we had something to fill it with. What might that be?

  14. Pingback: Which ereader to buy in OZ? « READINGPOWER

  15. I have had my Sony ereader for a year or so and I love it. It hasn’t replaced books for me – I still read from both the library and books that I buy, but I am also downloading books to read as well. I think I am probably reading 1 in 4 as ebooks at the moment.

    It is perfect for reading on crowded trains as well as anywhere where you really need to be using one hand to do something and the other can be turning the page!

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