Exchanging my Kindle for another Sony Reader

I replaced my Sony Reader with a hipper new Amazon Kindle, and I’m totally disappointed. The Kindle has a few good ideas, but it is terribly executed. I’m returning it today (something Amazon is making pleasant enough) and buying another Reader.

Read on for more detail…

About 6 months ago, I bought a used Sony Portable Reader from a friend of a friend. I travel a lot, and have a lot of open-format stuff I wanted to read (pdfs, html manuals, etc). I’ve always through electronic ink was interesting technology, and buying used appealed to my cheaper inclinations.

Fast forward to a a month ago, and having an electronic book has changed my life. The Sony fits in my bag nicely, reading it is quite pleasant, and I can easily carry 50 books with me at any time. It has changed the way I read, allowing me to have several books going at once and switch between them based on my mood, something I used to do in high school. libprs500 (now Calibre) is pleasant to use on the mac and open source. I even used the Sony software to buy a few closed-format bestsellers at reasonable prices.

Unfortunately, my Reader broke, possibly due to it’s previous owner or just due to being dropped. It will no longer hold a charge or boot properly. I took it apart, following helpful Flickr directions for prs-505 disassembly, but to no avail. If anyone has a project that would benefit from the eink components, which seem undamaged, let me know.

Since I have a vacation coming up, and I’d so enjoyed the experience of having one, I decided to replace it. And being a consummate gadget shopper, I went looking for other options. I settled on the Kindle as the most advanced option, attracted by it having internet access and a way to buy and load books that would require Windows. So I went ahead and primed one.

I received it the morning I left for a trip to New York on Acela. This gave me some time to get started using it. My first reaction is that it is really bulky. It barely fits into the pouch of my laptop bag, while the Reader is about the same size as the Moleskine I keep there all the time. The Kindle came with a leather cover, but it doesn’t really fit into it well, and that just ads more bulk. The cover has a big elastic to hold it closed The on/off switch is on the back, where it is blocked by the cover. In contrast, the Reader has a cover that clips on, is held closed by magnets, and a switch on the top that is easy to access.

The Kindle could survive all these misfeatures, if the reading experience were good. It is not. I don’t know how they tested this thing, but anyone with normal sized hands can’t find a way to hold it without accidentally hitting buttons. They claim it can be held with both hands, but I have to rest it on a surface, or hold it gingerly with my right hand only. The big fear of the designers seems to have been that people couldn’t find the next page button, so they made it take up one whole side. A second next page button and a previous page button consume the other side. Which means if you want to hold the book naturally in one hand, you are going to accidentally palm those buttons, and lose your place.

The keyboard, which is necessary to make the buying and web experience possible, also takes up a lot of space on the device and risks accidental key presses. There is really only one point on the front of the device you can safely rest your thumb. And holding the same position for long periods of reading isn’t any fun.

On the bright side, the EVDO is a cool feature, and I like the idea of devices that come with infinite bandwidth. The scroll-wheel menu interface is also good, certainly better than the Sony ten-button menu interface. But these don’t make up for the difficult reading experience. And with a new iPhone coming, I’ll have a portable web browser anyway. I just need my electronic book to be a good book, not a digital convergence device.

I’d love to see a better E-Ink book than the Sony Reader. But the first generation Kindle is certainly not it. Don’t buy one.

1 Comment »

  1. Stephen says:

    Until fairly recently, i read books on a Handspring Visor platinum, a Palm pilot. The screen is black & white, 160×160 LCD. Twin AAA rechargeable batteries last a week with heavy use per charge and a month of mild use. If they run out and i’m on the road, i could always stop in 7/11 and get some disposables. Or, i could carry spares. I used rechargeables, and the device life was not tied to expensive or non-replaceable batteries. The screen is small, but good readers exist which flip to the next screen quickly. Fonts are limited, but two met my needs – standard and large-bold, depending on ambient lighting. There is a back light, which is really lame, but that means that it works really well for reading in the very dark – for example, in bed. The Palm form factor is shirt pocket.

    I don’t want a big delay in getting to the next screen. Black & White LCDs are better, IMO. They also provide good battery life. The smaller form factor is better. Standard batteries means i can carry spares if i want.

    Unfortunately, the digitizer is now unreliable, so i’m using it as an alarm clock. No one sells an equivalent. I guess they figure that no one wants black and white, so all Palms are color, despite battery life issues. Feh. One day we might get functional products that meat real needs, rather than the next wizbang glitzy thingy that kinda sorta works.

    You’ve used the Sony, and that’s a plus. But i still remember Sony’s “DRM CDs” – you know, the one with the Windows root kit. If Sony is capable of that kind of big brother BS on music CDs(static content), i’m reluctant to buy a toaster from them. I’m certainly not going to buy active electronics from them. For me, it’s not going to go away soon. Sony needs to incorporate “we’re not evil” into their operating policies. We as consumers need to act like it matters, else will continue to get more of the same, and worse. I’ll be replacing my 11 year old camcorder soon. It won’t be Sony.

    What i really would like is a shirt pocket device with a low power LCD screen – slightly higher resolution, that spans the device edge to edge, maybe 4 AAA batteries for that much longer endurance, and some sort of built in protection so that it can fall out of my shirt pocket repeatedly without serious injury. It should last longer than 3 or 4 years of abuse. And when it does die, it should still be available. It shouldn’t matter in the slightest that next year a new one could be twice as fast. Oh, and it should be cheap.

    My current portable book reader is not ideal. It’s a Nokia n800. The screen is color, 800×480 – 200 dpi. It reads PDF, HTML, palm docs, plain text, and so on. There is a VERY good book reader for it. However, the battery lasts about 5 hours on a charge. I have two, but one must do a full shutdown to replace the battery. It’s shirt pocket sized. I put most of my content on it over WiFi, but one can also use USB. I consider it fragile, and have put together a padded metal case for it. But i really bought it as a shirt pocket multi-user Linux box. I’ve got a blue tooth folding keyboard that lets me write stuff like this in a more portable way than a laptop, if i want. Very powerful, but still a bit rough around the edges. For example, it can play movies, but i don’t use it for that.n