Thursday, 13 August 2009

Review - Sony Reader PRS-505

Reading is something of a static technique. The last cultural revolution in reading prior to the digital age was the invention of the Gutenberg Press which ushered in the analog age of reading by allowing cheap manufacture of books and leading to increased education of the lower classes. But that was in the 1400s and until the late 20th Century, books and reading remained the same culturally and individually: for centuries, people have learned to read as children and then continued in the same fashion to the grave.

That is why the Sony Reader comes across as a refreshing piece of technology: it injects a little dynamism into the static nature of reading. It makes reading slightly different and breaks up the monotony of custom.

When people talk about ebook readers, there are generally the following stock problems:-

1. The wonderful tactile nature of books – feel, smell, skimmability, etc.

2. The sensation of ownership that accompanies a hefty paperback, a brand new hardback, or a treasured personal library.

3. The mantra “Why fix what isn’t broken?”

I understand all these concerns. I love books, I love reading, and I love writing. I work in libraries; I studied philosophy (a book-intensive subject); I have two bookcases stuffed to bursting within a square metre of me; I set the background of this blog to emulate the comfortable look of yellowed paper. It is precisely the love of books that led me to buy a Sony Reader: specifically the desire to carry 100+ books in a tiny device – the convenience of carrying my library with me.

Thus far the device has not disappointed: it is light enough to hold for extended periods, the text is readable, and the menu is simple to navigate. Although the Reader functions better when presenting dedicated ebook formats (ePub, LRF), it handles PDFs well enough: a necessity when you want to read PDFs which, because of headers, footers, or weird formatting, won’t convert properly to a text-based format. The page-turning on ordinary PDFs is not as slow as some sources led me to fear. The only format I’ve had trouble with is RTF. For some reason RTFs seem more susceptible to data errors and even if successfully uploaded they take a long time to format upon first reading.

The most surprising advantage that has emerged is the ability to read with only one hand. It may not seem like much of an advantage and in his interview with Jeff Bezos, Jon Stewart laughed at the idea that the Kindle allows one-handed reading. But it actually makes a big difference: the ability to read while making a cup of coffee or checking your organiser is quite liberating. No more are we shackled by the necessity of using two hands to read. This has always been a problem for me since my reading tastes tend towards hefty tomes that threaten to hobble your wrists or break the straps on those faux-dilapidated student bags that are so counter-culture fashionable. Now I can read my massive fantasy sagas or my complete philosophical treatises anywhere.

It is too early to say whether the Sony Reader will become a fixture for me: an object as necessary as my phone, my USB drive, or my iPod. It’s great to be able to read files that were previously trapped in my computer and download a daily newspaper and carry hundreds of my books around with me. Books have a special charm but now, like music and video before it, text is succumbing to advancement of technology.

Technology marches onward. Ever onward.

3 comments:

hamst3rf1sh said...

I've been toying with the idea of getting a kindle for a while now, I think you may have just talked me into it.

Simon XIX said...

The Kindle looks amazing if only because of this: http://xkcd.com/548/ But it isn't available in the UK and there's been some problems with Amazon deleting people's books and being dicks about DRM.
I'm finding the Reader really good. Play.com is the cheapest I could find and you get a free spare cover.

hamst3rf1sh said...

Awesome, I shall have to look into it when I have enough money together.