Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pogue reviews Sony eBook

David Pogue has written an excellent article about Sony's new eBoook in the The New York Times: [edited]

“The market for downloadable books will grow by 400 percent in each of the next two years, to over $25 billion by 2008,” predicted the keynote speaker at the 2001 Women’s National Book Association meeting. “Within a few years after the end of this decade, e-books will be the preponderant delivery format for book content.”


The great e-book fantasy burst shortly after that speech, along with the rest of the dot-com bubble. In 2003, Barnes & Noble shut its e-book store, Palm sold its e-book business to a Web site and most people left the whole idea for dead.

Not everybody, however. Some die-hards at Sony still believe that, properly designed, the e-book has a future. Their solution is the Sony Reader, a small, sleek, portable screen that will be introduced this month in some malls, at Borders bookstores and at for $350.

The Reader employs a remarkable new display technology from a company called E Ink. Sandwiched between layers of plastic film are millions of transparent, nearly microscopic liquid-filled spheres. White and black particles float inside them, as though inside the world’s tiniest snow globes. Depending on how the electrical charge is applied to the plastic film, either the black or white particles rise to the top of the little spheres, forming crisp patterns of black and white.

The result looks like ink on light gray paper. The “ink” is so close to the surface of the screen, it looks as if it’s been printed there. The reading experience is pleasant, natural and nothing like reading a computer screen.

There’s no backlight, however. Sony would probably argue that this trait makes the Reader even more like a traditional book, but it also means that you can’t read in bed with the lights off, as you can with a laptop or palmtop.

The Sony Reader has a few kinks to be ironed out.

Like an Etch-A-Sketch, the Reader’s screen has to wipe away each page before drawing the next one. Unfortunately, the result is a one-second white-black-white blink that quickly becomes annoying.

Sony has dreamed up some baffling controls — not an easy feat on what should be a very simple machine. For example, the next/previous page buttons are at 2 and 8 o’clock on a dime-size desk. A circular control might make sense if it had buttons at all four points of the compass — but only two?

There’s no search function, video or clickable links, either. So much for those key e-book advantages.

Still, Sony got the big stuff right: the feel of the machine, the pleasantness of reading, the clarity of type.

Is that it, then? Is the paper book doomed? Was it only a transitional gadget, a placeholder that came between stone tablets and e-books?

Not any time soon. The Sony Reader is an impressive achievement, and an important step toward a convenient alternative to bound books. The masses, however, may continue to prefer the more established portable-document format. Those older reading machines never run out of power, cost about 2 percent as much and don’t break when dropped.

You know: p-books.


Jason Clark said...

Hi Brett, I'm in the US, and just bought one of these yesterday.

It's beautiful to hold, and the dsiplay easy to read, and I'm playing around with reading dozens of document in RTF/PDF and mind maps from my research notes.

Main reason I got it was for that, something small to carry around reasearch on is I hope going to be helpful.

Wasn't cheap but in context of 6 years more study, worthwhile.

Main pain is the need to use windows (but not too muc trouble on my mac), and being able to access the online book store...any news youhave seen about UK access?

brett jordan said...

Hi Jason

i look forward to hearing about your experiences with the ebook

re. uk access, i've heard that heathrow is a popular destination

Jason Clark said...

I've been using it last 3 days with all my notes for teaching and programme's amazing....

Still wish I could get the US online store for books to dowload.

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