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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

eBook report: second impressions

When you read a review it's usually true to say that the reviewer has not spent enough time with the thing they are reviewing to get bored with it or break it. The truth is that a professional reviewer simply doesn't have the time to spend much more than half an hour with the thing because they are paid by the word, and time spent reading books, playing games, or poking gizmos is time they are not earning money.

Consequently they can give you some basic look & feel information about the product, but they can't say much about what it's like living with it for a month. So I thought it take that extra step and chronicle my ongoing experiences with the Sony PRS-600 Reader.

It's been a week now and I'm surprised how much the reader has become an integral part of my life. I'm almost tempted to clasp it close and murmur "my precious". I think the size is key here. It is small enough for me to easily carry around with me, but with a large enough screen to make reading it as easy as reading any paperback. I'm glad mine came with the nice leather cover as this prevents it from getting bumps and scratches from everyday use, and holding it with the cover open feels much more like an ordinary book-reading experience than if I was just looking at the screen.

I'm also glad I invested in a 2GB SD card, as I managed to fill up the main system memory quite quickly. And while this may be largely down to the half-dozen manga I included, any graphics heavy files, like computer manuals or text books, would similarly take up much larger amounts of space than pure text. The specifications say it will hold "upto 350 books"; I doubt I managed fifty before I moved on to the SD card. Having said that, I think 2GB is probably enough. Unless you are a voracious reader who is planning to be away from home for a month or more, loading up the machine with more than 200 books is only going to leave you lost for choice about what to read next.

I think I've now managed to work out how to use all the functions available. The librarian in me is a little dismayed to find that listing books by author name will only catalogue them by first name rather than surname, but I like that you can sort books by "collections" based on tags. This takes a little effort to use efficiently because a lot of books come with dozens of tags, but I just worked out how to edit them down to something that suits me using Calibre. So if I don't have anything particular in mind I can now easily search through individual catalogues of "short stories", "humour", "science fiction", "cheese", or any other category I feel like setting up.

I did install the Sony software that came with the Reader, but Calibre is so much more useful that once I became aware how limited the Sony program is I haven't bothered with it.

As for the extra features of the PRS-600, I like the touch screen. I haven't tried a reader that has a lot of buttons, or a few buttons that have to do multiple jobs, but I have an old MP3 player that has one rocker switch that, depending on how you press it, adjusts the volume, moves forward or back through the current track, moves forwards or back between tracks, and pages through the menus. It's a pain in the ass, and way too easy to find yourself in completely the wrong track when you just wanted to make it a bit louder. Even if you have enough buttons for all the functions, I doubt it compares with simply touching the relevant part of the screen. It feels very intuitive and comfortable.

I haven't yet felt the need to use the dictionary, except to try it out. But I can see where it would be nice to do an immediate look up when I come across a word I don't understand. And this feature also enables you to search for particular words anywhere in the book. For me it's a nice extra, but I'd definitely class it as a luxury, rather than an essential.

I still find the biggest drawback is the lack of books available in ebook format. While it's possible to find plenty of free ebooks on the net, from copyright-free older books at sites like Project Gutenberg (who so far have surprisingly little H.P. Lovecraft) to more legally dubious collections, if you want to buy from strictly legal booksellers like Barnes & Noble or Waterstones, you'll find the selection limited and expensive. I read an ebook of a writer previously unknown to me and was unable to find any other works by her available in electronic form. I ended up getting her Times Bestseller in paperback from Amazon for the princely sum of one penny.

In conclusion, one week on I give the Sony PRS-600 Reader 9 out of 10 for making reading fun, but I give the booksellers 4 out of 10 for wasting the opportunity to sell me stuff by not providing books I want to read at a reasonable price.

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