I got one of these Sony Readers recently and I've been using it rather extensively for a couple weeks now. Don't get it confused with the original Easy Reader, as nothing is cooler than reading.
You need to check out the screen. It has great DPI for a digital display, so text looks very good. If you didn't know any better, it looks like a fake display since it's very flat and doesn't glow which means you need light to read it, just like a real book. The screen, legibility, and overall cool factor is the best part of this; I'm reading 3 books on this right now, and I'm enjoying the experience. You can even change text size on the fly and bookmark pages to your heart's content. Battery life is great since electronic ink is very efficient.
It also seems to do a decent job of showing pictures in black & white. The resolution is good enough such that even with a limited number of grey levels the dithering does a great job of giving you a full range. You just need to make sure that your images are at a resolution that's close to the reader's native screen, otherwise pictures look like crap.
The interface, on the other hand, starts to get a little less cool both on the device software as well as the hardware itself. Why have 2 ways to page forward and backward? Why have the number keys along the bottom when the UI uses them in a list going from top to bottom? It may make more sense to put the numbers vertically to match up with the screen. The extremely slow refresh rate of the screen causes some problems if you're actually trying to use the d-pad to navigate the rudimentary UI. I wonder if they could have removed the need for a d-pad if they had better aligned the number keys along the side. I think they could have easily removed 6 buttons right there: remove the redundant paging buttons and the 4-way d-pad. It feels like such a lost opportunity to have a much better hardware/software experience that is really integrated.
When you really think about it, the industrial design overall isn't amazing. It's okay, but it's not quite there yet. Don't get me wrong, Sony tends to have solid industrial design, but for some reason this one didn't quite meet my expectations.
Where it gets really ugly is the Sony Connect software. You need to use their software and their store to get books, and frankly it sucks. They try to be a little like iTunes and software of that nature, but they fail completely. It has neither the catalog of Amazon or the integrated library/catalog interface of an Tunes or Zune. On top of that, you can download the software to your PC, but you can't create an account unless you have a reader! Why would they prevent someone from checking out the store that way and even prevent them from buying books? What if they wanted to read them on their laptop? Anyway, it makes no sense. The PC software is horrendously bad, enough so that I really don't like browsing for books. I go to the bookstore or Amazon, write down the titles of books that I want, check the Connect store if they have it, and if they do then maybe I'll buy it. Horrible.
And to my earlier point about pictures looking like crap if they weren't in the right resolution, why can't the software either automatically change them when I'm synching or at least tell me that they need to be in a particular size?
Some books have footnotes/endnotes that you can actually go to, but the navigation gets so weird that I've found that I've lost my place by following one. Such a shame.
I don't read product manuals so maybe there is a way to do these things but I just don't know how. Then again, for consumer products I really don't think it should be necessary to read manuals in the first place.
I would love to see future readers fix all of these things with the device and the connect store to either get with the program or we get a standard e-book format that I can download from Amazon and synch with my device. I can bring .doc and .pdf files with me, and I honestly haven't tried to do that yet, but it's not quite the same as getting the latest releases from Amazon or the bookstore. Getting me off of the Connect software/store would make this experience sooo much better.
All in all, if you like gadgets and want to take reading to the next step, give this a shot. It's not cheap (US$349.99), but if there are enough titles in the Connect catalog to keep you happy, not having to lug around books when you travel is a nice feature that your back/shoulders would be happy about. I think electronic ink is a really cool technology that we're going to see used more in the future, and when you get beyond the crappy store and PC software, get used to the klunky device interface, and you're just reading through George Orwell's 1984, it's almost like you've seen the future of books. Almost.
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