Bye-Bye eReader. My iPad Wins!

It’s no secret that I’ve had a Sony eReader.  Well, that’s not quite true, because I have two Sony eReaders – a first generation and a second generation.  It has been my trusty companion on all my trips in the past two and half years and I’ve read probably well over a hundred full-length novels on it.  I dare say that it might go into the junk electronics drawer now that my iPad arrived Saturday.

The free iBooks application from Apple is pretty minimal, but what it does do it does right.  Instead of the one font that comes on my Sony eReader I have five and instead of three font sizes I get up to nine.

If you rotate the iPad so that it’s in landscape mode, iBooks creates two pages instead of one and formats the text rather nicely.  The eReader requires going into the Settings menu and changing the orientation and even then it doesn’t do much reformatting.  The iBooks format looks very much like a real book.

The Sony eReader has physical buttons to turn the page.  Granted, it has two different sets to turn pages, but it in no way compares to the iPads touchscreen where all you have to do is tap anywhere on the right side of the page to turn the page.  Alternatively, you can swipe your finger across the page to accomplish the same thing.  Of course the iPad renders the page turn in drippingly gorgeous detail.

Perhaps in one of the few spots where I’ll give the Sony eReader the nod is that it has a specific button to bookmark a page.  In iBooks you have to touch a word and hold it for a while (like you’re trying to copy text) and the popup menu has bookmark as an option.  But, since the bookmark is tied to the word, reformatting the font or font size won’t change the bookmark.

The contrast of the text (black on white) on the iPad is, in my opinion, better than the black on gray of the Sony eReader.  After reading for several hours I did not have any eye strain.  In fact, I felt as if I could have continued to read for a lot longer.  After several hours on the Sony I sometimes feel like I’m straining a bit.  You can control the brightness level directly from within iBooks which is nice since you don’t have to quit the application and open the Settings application.

I haven’t tried reading at night yet, but I expect it to be a better experience than the Sony eReader.  For my Sony I have an LED light attachment that is okay, at best, because using it cuts down the contrast ratio thus causing more eye strain.  I suspect that the iPad’s active screen will do better though I did see over the weekend that some users have found an issue with the automatic brightness control.  In my brief test I can confirm that my iPad does not appear to adjust the brightness going from bright light to a darkened room.  Hopefully this is a software issue and not a hardware issue and can be corrected soon.

If you like to read in the sunlight you might be disappointed in the iPad.  The glossy screen of the iPad shows a lot of reflections and in my brief hour on the deck this weekend using it was painful.  The Sony eReader wins hands down in this respect.  I’m hoping that someone will sell a film attachment that will cut down on the glare but not affect its touchscreen capabilities.

The weight of the iPad is definitely heavier than the Sony.  It is also slipperier.  Since I did not buy a cover with the iPad the slippery metal requires you to grip a little harder and it bites into your fingers and hand a bit more.  While it was a little heavier, I didn’t find it to be any heavier than a largish hard-bound book.  This didn’t really annoy me very much but your mileage may vary.  Based on comments from other iPad owners I talked to, the standard cover will solve this problem.

iBooks easily lets you look a word up in the dictionary.  Tap and hold the word in question (just like the bookmark) and select the dictionary option.  A nice scrollable popup occurs with the word definition.  You can easily search for a word or phrase in the same manner and you also get the option of searching Google and Wikipedia.

In a nutshell, despite the few negatives, reading a book on the iPad is a much more pleasant experience than on the Sony eReader.  The only real question is will I be able to find the iPad when I want it or will my sons be playing games on it (which it does nicely) or will my wife be using it for recipes when cooking (the glass screen is easy to clean)?

eReader Devices: You’re Dead To Me

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I really like my Sony eReader.  Well, I used to really like my Sony eReader.  Now that the iPad has been announced I look at my eReader with fond memories and can’t wait for the iPad.  My Sony eReader is now dead to me.

The eReader is fine for what it does but it’s a one-trick-pony.  I’ve grumbled on more than one occasion that I don’t like seeing book graphics in 16 shades of gray and the slow refresh rate is annoying (but livable).  Not being able to zoom graphics is annoying too.  The ability to play MP3’s on my eReader is totally worthless (to me at least) since I always have my iPhone with me.  I’ve never used it so why pay for it?

I have an accessory that allows my eReader to be read at night that works fairly well.  But, it uses regular batteries that wear out in a couple of weeks and it makes using the eReader during the day a pain because it makes the text less readable.  The iPad won’t have those problems.

Let’s talk briefly about software.  The Library application that comes with the Sony eReader stinks.  It’s not a native Mac app, it’s not a native Windows app.  It sucks on both platforms.  In fact, I hate it so much that unless I buy a book through their store I use an application called Calibre.  I hate it too, I just hate it much less because it manages my books much better.  iTunes does a great job of managing my music, movies, and podcasts so I can’t imagine that it would suddenly suck at managing my books.

I thought that selling the iPad to my wife was going to be hard but it turned out to the be exact opposite.  She wants one in the kitchen.  Why?  A little background is needed first.

My lovely wife is also a very talented cook.  She’s adventurous and is always trying a new recipe or even making one up from several she’s found on the internet.  She prints the recipe out and then takes it into the kitchen.  Imagine being able to do that from the iPad which she just puts on the counter.  If there’s not an iPhone app for a chef (I bet there are several already) there will be a couple of specific ones for the iPad (soon)!  And with a nice glass screen, there’s not too much worry about getting the device dirty.

The iPad has one huge advantage for me – the app store.  Our family already has 3 iPhones.  Don’t make me count up how many apps we’ve downloaded (both free and commercial) but I’d bet that it’s probably close to a hundred.  When we get our iPad we’ll already have the software for it.  No researching and purchasing new pieces of software that may or may not do what we want – we already have them!

I think the iPad will be awesome for Boomers.  How many of you have Boomer friends or relatives that call you for tech support on the Windows or Macintosh computers?  Show of hands?  Thought so.  The iPad is so for them.  Do any of your friends and relatives call you on how to use their iPhone or iPod Touch?  Didn’t think so.  The iPhone is so simple that hardly anyone has issues figuring it out.

Anyone who says the iPad won’t be a huge for business is nuts.  I have clients, right now, that could sell an iPad application if we converted their app to work on it.  Imagine an HVAC service technician, rather than lugging around a ton of paperwork and a big, clunky laptop, showing up at your house, logging all of his work, including when he arrived, what tests he performed, results, and then showing you the iPad display showing all of this and then billing your credit card directly (though an add-on card reader) and then emailing your the results?

Another example:  My doctor is all electronic and the interface to his current tablet stinks – they all hate using it!  They spend minutes clicking and doing crazy things in the interface.  I can imagine them using an iPad with the keyboard attachment and being more efficient with their time when they use an interface designed around a touch screen rather than an interface meant for a desktop app that’s been forced onto a tablet.

The list goes on but the possibilities are limitless.  You think Apple demonstrating the iWork apps on the iPad was a fluke?  Nope.  Apple thinks this thing is going to sell like hotcakes to business and I happen to think they’re right.

What do you think?

eReader Explosion Cheat Sheet

If you’re thinking about an eReader for a Christmas gift you should probably read this:

http://technologizer.com/2009/10/26/the-e-reader-explosion-a-cheat-sheet/

I’ve been more or less happy with the Sony eReader.  It works ‘good enough’ but if something better comes along I’ll drop it in a heartbeat.  I’ve not been happy with either their Mac or Windows software that lets you purchase from their book store and sync to your device.  ‘Abomination’ comes to mind….

Of course, IF Apple ever does a tablet device of some sort, all bets are off.  Plus, the iPhone, despite its size, is really a very good eBook reader and it’s always with you rather than one more device to carry with you.

Sony eBook Library for Macintosh

Yay!  It’s about flipping’ time!  Sony finally came to their senses and released a version of the eReader software for Mac OS X.

The installation is fairly onerous as it makes you restart your Macintosh.  When’s the last time you had an installer do that that wasn’t part of the operating system?

Once you restart your Mac and start the eBook Library application (version 3.0) looks just like its Windows counterpart even down to the non-standard (on either platform) scroll-bars and generic listbox.  On the left side of the application you have a typical listbox with your library, a link to the eBook Store and a search field.

At the bottom of the listbox is bevel button that allows you to create a new collection.  The developers left a few things out that would have been handy like being able to right click in the listbox and a menu command to do the same things.

One of the things that I really dislike about the eBook Libarary software (on either platform) is that it makes absolutely no attempt at managing the book files.  Whether you import a file or a folder full of books it keeps track of its currently location.  So if you move your books or delete by accident the eBook software won’t know it until you try  to access them.

Perhaps worse is the cryptic message when you delete things from the eBook Library listbox.
eBook Warning Message
Huh?  Doesn’t that look like your files are going to get deleted?  Don’t worry, they’re not.

Drag and drop is a sorely needed addition to this application.  There are only two ways to import books into the library:  Use the Import File or Import Folder menu command from the File menu.  How long has drag and drop been around now?

One of the things that I like about iTunes is its ability to manage the files for me.  If I import a bunch of files it puts them into a single location.  I’m sure some people hate that feature but I have over 13,000 music files.  I like that it manages them and puts them in the proper spot.  I don’t have nearly that many eBooks titles but even managing a hundred soon gets tiring.

Why is it tiring?  Well, besides having to come up with my own location there’s no way to add/edit meta information about the books.  I’d love to have a Read/Unread field so I can easily track which books I’ve read and not read.  How about a rating field so that I can easily track which books I’ve liked?  After a couple of hundred books I don’t remember which book titles I do or do not like other than some vague recollections about which author it is.  Of course I can create my own collections to do this but it’s not very intuitive.

eBookApp

One thing that IS nice about the eBook Library software for Mac OS X is that you can now read your sony DRM books on your Mac without having to resort to running Windows in Parallels or VMWare or even rebooting using Bootcamp.  As far as I know, there is no way of doing this with the Kindle (although I know there is synchronizing between the Kindle and iPhone app).

All-in-all, the Mac OS X version is very simple application that lets Mac users work with their Sony eReader.  It is a poor port from its Windows brethren but I will give Sony for coming up with a Mac version.  However, all the things I don’t like about the Windows version they did to the Mac version too.  Sorry, Sony but I think you can do a better job and I’m hoping that the next version is better for both Mac AND Windows users.

Sony eReader PRS-505

Kindle schmindle.  Despite the hype I still like my Sony eReader.

I’ve written before that I had a Sony eReader and for the most part I’ve enjoyed it.  I decided to upgrade and I went from the first generation PRS-500 to the PRS-505.  I seriously thought about getting the PRS-700 since it has a touchscreen interface and is backlit, but it’s also $150 more expensive and the contrast ratio on the E-INK wasn’t a good as 505.

I really like the PRS-505 though.  It’s E-INK contrast is better and much more responsive than the original.  The button placement makes a whole lot more sense and when reading it ‘feels’ like your holding a book.  With the 500 the back/forward buttons were both on the same side of the unit and were in the wrong spot so my thumbs used to get sore.  The 505’s buttons are in a much more natural position and in particular the right side buttons are almost perfect.

I say almost perfect because the next page button is right next to the 7 menu button and I occasionally hit it.  The buttons are raised but they reside on the curved bevel and this makes me wish they were a bit larger and/or raised more.  Thankfully the unit is smart enough to not go to the menu and simply hitting the menu button goes back to where you’re reading.

Also, the 505 puts the power button on the top as well as the SD expansion slots and the volumn buttons are on the bottom of the unit.  On the 500 all of those buttons were on the left side and were just in an awkward spot.  If you happened to have the Cover Light it would seriously interfere with those function.

The Cover Light unit was a good news/bad news scenario for me.  The good news is that I can now read in bed without having my wife ask me when I’m going to go to bed.  The bad news is that I read a LOT later because reading a good story keeps me awake.  The cover light is clear plastic screen the swings around to cover the eReader screen and when lit up, the edges provide the illumination.  It does a decent job of illuminating the text.  It’s not perfect but good enough for darkened rooms.  Durring daylight hours the cover light is a kind of a pain but not horribly so.  The cover light unit is an additional $50 and is pretty pricey for what it does in my opinion.

The eReader software is how you load books on to your eReader.  It is still Windows only and still very simplistic and in my opinion the weakest part of the whole Sony eReader system.  There is no auto syncing of the books and the eReader.  There is no meta data available so there’s no way to distinguish between read and not read books unless you manually sort them yourself (which is a big deal when you start to have several hundred books in your library).  There’s also no additional information like series title, sequence in the series or any of the little things you expect from an online store.

Some could argue (successfully I might add) that the eBook software is also its strength.  You can read any book on the screen and this may or may not be appealing.  A friend of mine whose eReader died on a business trip was still able to read the book he was on because he had it on his laptop.  However, there is no smart syncing between the eReader and the software so if you’ve been reading on one the other device won’t know about it.

The Sony store appears to be a bit more expensive (20 to 30%) than the equivalent book in the Amazon Kindle store.  The Sony store doesn’t have nearly as many titles either so you might want to check out the genre you like to read in both stores.  Since I’m a huge science fiction fan I’ve been discovering some new authors at Baen’s Webscription website with hundreds of books at reasonable prices including some free ones (be forewarned that a lot of the free ones are the first book in a series which I think it a brilliant move to get avid readers hooked!)

A few other thoughts:  The eReader plays music.  Who cares?  I have my iPhone/iPod.  You can put pictures on it.  Really?!  Again, I have a COLOR display on my iPhone/iPod and 16 shades of grey is an awful substitute.  I think the music and picture capabilities are pretty pointless for most folks but I suppose someone might like them.

Windows only?  Puhlease!  Sony, get off your collective butts and make a Macintosh version.  It’s not that hard – really!  Find yourself a good cross-platform developer and just do it.  I happen to know a few *cough* BKeeney Software *cough* that might be able to help.

eReader and Exercise

For years when I went to the gym I would take a book along and while on whatever middle-aged torture device (i.e. aerobic machines) and read.  Since I’m an avid reader it was sort of cool but since books vary in size (think paperback vs. hardback) and in typeface size it wasn’t always practical (and finding one of the plastic trays to hold a book was sometimes a problem as well).  Plus, getting sweat in the pages and breaking the bindings were not favorable to the health of the books either.

With the advent of the iPod I had even less incentive to take a book to the gym.  Unfortunately, having very little space on my iPhone left me in a quandry because I absolutely hate to watch the televisions at the gym and be forced to read the subtitles (if they happened to be on) and since the iPhone doesn’t have a FM receiver I couldn’t listen to it anyway.  Oh heck, I hate television so it’s no great loss.  The problem is that my motivation for staying on the turture devices was, shall we say, lacking.

All that is over now.  In fact, I may be over-doing the torture machines now.  Why?  It’s simple really.  The eReader fits on the tiny ledge of the machines that wouldn’t hold a regular book and I can jack the typeface up to it’s largest size so that I don’t get eyestrain while moving all around.

So 20 minutes is no longer an issue.  Heck, I did 60 the other day and was pissed that I didn’t finish the chapter.  I guess I can’t complain if I’m exercising my imagination and my body at the same time.  It’s been the first time in years that I look forward to the gym so I can read.  Amazing how odd life can be sometimes.

Sony e-Reader

A couple of weeks back I started a new series called Dread Empire’s Fall:  The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams.  I sometimes dread starting a new series so I never buy more than the first book just in case it’s not to my liking.  I loved it and wanted to start the next book in the series NOW!

But alas, since it was a Sunday evening after the book stored closed I started thinking about the new electronic books.  In the past I pooh-poohed them for a variety of reasons but it starts to make sense.  I hate moving books and my wife hates my ‘library’ the consumes a large portion of storage.  Rarely do I re-read a book, or if I do it’s a decade later.  In today’s conservation kick it makes sense not to cut down trees if I don’t have to.  Perhaps the biggest reason that sold me is that the ebooks are a couple of dollars cheaper so you read enough and it’ll eventually pay for itself.

So I did some research on my options by calling my cousin.  Everyone needs to have a cousin like mine.  He KNOWS gadgets.  So not only did his wife have a Kindle, but he had a Sony e-Reader and he had an opinion (he always does).  He swore by the e-Reader and he swore AT the Kindle for their interfaces.  Then he said to go check out the authors I wanted to read on both the Sony site and the Kindle site and see which one was better.  For me, Sony won.

So now I have a Sony e-Reader.  It’s not the newest model (same cousin sold his existing one for a new one with a bit better display and interface) but it does the job well.  I’m impressed.  Very impressed and I don’t say that very often.

It takes a little while to get used to the delay on the E-INK screen but after a while you live with it.  The book I’m currently reading has large white text on black background chapter headers and switching to the next page always leaves an afterimage of the block, but again it’s not a big deal.

The e-Reader lets you switch from vertical to horizontal reading and also lets you adjust the size of the typeface.  After playing with the settings I prefer vertical at a large size.  You can view the screen at all angles and there’s not much glare to contend with.

The controls are minimal.  There’s a size button that let’s you change the size of the text on the screen, two separate sets of dedicated page up/down buttons that don’t seem to be in the right spot for me, a mark page button, a menu joystick and allows you to navigate on the screen and a set of 1 through 0 buttons that let you quickly navigate items on the menu’s.  The controls are a little sluggish but I don’t know if it’s from the screen or an underpowered processor.

Compared to the Kindle, the e-Reader seems sparse on the controls, but I think a book reader SHOULD be simple.  You’re replacing a paperback, not a laptop.

The Sony e-Reader plays MP3’s.  I have an iPhone and don’t travel much anymore so this isn’t a selling point and I honestly have no idea on how well it works.

The Sony unit requires a computer to transfer books unlike the Kindle that can do this wirelessly.  Again, since I don’t travel and when I do I generally have my laptop.

What is a problem however is the stupid Windows only software.  Come on, Sony!  Wake up and smell those Mac users you’re pissing off by forcing us to boot up into Parallels or VMWare.  The Windows only software works well enough for me to purchase, download and transfer books but I don’t have to like doing it that way.  (Sony, call me, I’m a developer.)  Books are transferred via a USB cable which is also how you recharge the unit.

I also found http://www.webscription.net/.  There you can find an excellent selection of science fiction authors with a large selection of free books.  Did I say free?

If you read a lot I’d recommend it.  If you travel a lot I’d recommend it.  If you read and travel a lot then you should definitely look into it.  I would have saved a lot of money in airports if I had had this device.

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