Joining the ebook reader debate … or my 2 cents.

WARNING: Extremely LONG post ahead.

There has been a lot of chatter from folks in my PLN over which ebook reader is the best option. Here is some of the most recent comments via Twitter:

twitter ebook discussion

twitter ebook discussion

Here’s a direct link to @technolibrary‘s (Carolyn Foote) Not So Distant Future blog post regarding ebook readers.  

I’ve been corresponding with @booklover472 (Fran Bullington) for quite some time now about ebook readers and just had an email chat with her and @cathyjo (Cathy Nelson) where I gave some of my opinions on the matter and they suggested I write up a post.  In @booklover472′s words:  “Many of us are considering purchasing an eBook reader at some point in the future and having the input of a knowledgeable colleague is priceless!”

Now I don’t know how “priceless” my insights might be, especially since I only have considerable working knowledge with one reader, but I said I’d give it a shot.

Background:

I purchased my Sony eReader PRS-505SC in late 2007 (November or December I think as it was a gift to myself!)  I had been wanting one FOREVER as I didn’t like reading ebooks on my desktop computer and my Gateway laptop had this funny quirk of only working when plugged in, but if you jiggled the cord even a LITTLE, it would freeze.  So frustrating when you’re in the middle of reading!  Anyway, the Kindle had just come out, but comparing it to Sony showed that Sony’s supported more formats.  This is from the PDF spec sheet for my model:

Media Formats Supported
Unsecured Text: BBeB Book, TXT, RTF, ePub, Adobe® PDF10 , Microsoft® Word (Conversion to the Reader-requires Word installed on your PC)
DRM Text: BBeB Book (Marlin) Unsecured Audio: MP3 and AAC7 Image: JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP

Of course, it doesn’t support audiobooks and the image files are all black and white because it IS an eInk reader, but it still was better than the Kindle according to the data I had at the time and I didn’t buy it as a digital picture album but to read books!

At the time I bought my Sony the only way to load books was to use a PC and download from the Sony Reader Store.  And all books purchased from the store were DRM BBeB format, meaning you can’t read them on another device except your Sony eReader or through the Sony Reader Library on your PC.  Having converted to a Mac about this same time (late January 2008) this meant I had to go to a PC to purchase my books from Sony OR use a different ebook retailer with ePub format ebooks and use a third party program to transfer the files to my Reader and/or an SD card.  Thankfully, the folks over at the Dear Author blog introduced me to Calibre an ebook management cataloging system that also manages transfers of files to/from your ebook reader.  (This is an AWESOME program and a post for another time!)

Of course there have been two major updates since I purchased my eReader: Sony created a Mac version of the Sony Reader Library and just recently converted their ebooks to ePub formats that will allow you to read them on other readers.  I think this last one was a major improvement for Sony as it potentially could bring in more buyers if their ebook prices are lower/comparable to other ebook retailers. Update 12/30/09: I contacted Sony’s customer service and was informed that even though they moved to ePub formats, the ebooks can still only be downloaded on Sony eReader devices.  So much for my theory that they were widening their ebook market.  Bummer! There are also new models that have touch screen navigation, allow for highlighting/notes, as well as wireless/3G purchasing of books.  These all seem to be the same selling points on the Kindle and the new B&N Nook.

What I like about my eReader:

My Sony eReader

My Sony eReader

eInk screen – The one thing I didn’t like about reading on my laptop/desktop was that if I stared at the screen too long (reading!) I would get eye strain. With the eInk screen, it truly is like reading on paper.

portable - The size of the reader is perfect – just slightly taller & wider than a normal mass market paperback, but a WHOLE lot slimmer!  It doesn’t weigh any more than a paperback, either.

ease of use – The ability to hold and read the reader in one hand.  The location of the page buttons also makes it easy to turn the page with the hand holding the device.  Great for multitasking, such as eating while reading <grin>  Also, you can lay the reader flat or prop it up against something and not have to worry about holding it open to read the pages, like you would in a book.

bookmarking - The ability to place multiple bookmarks in an ebook file.  Also, I can “continue reading” without having to even bookmark.

memory card slots - As I mentioned above, the reader has an SD card slot as well as a slot for a Memory Stick Duo.  I’ve only used the SD slot.

menu options – you can choose/view your ebook lists by author, title, date downloaded, or view collections.  You can also choose by bookmarks.

text size – you can choose small, medium, or large text sizes.  Sometimes the original text sizes (particularly in PDF files) are way too small.  The ability to enlarge the text is wonderful.

portrait or landscape mode – You can view your page in portrait or landscape mode.  This is also great for PDF files.  As mentioned before, sometimes the text on them is way too small even when you use the large text size setting.  If you turn the page to landscape, the text enlarges even more.

made of metal - the device is made of metal, unlike the Kindle which is plastic.  I made a comment to @booklover472 that I’ve dropped my eReader a time or two and it’s been none the worse for it.  I just don’t see the Kindle holding up to that without cracking it’s plastic case.  Granted, I’ve been lucky to have either not dropped it from too high a distance and/or dropping it on carpet.

download ebooks from your public library – If you’re lucky enough to live in a county that purchases ebooks for loaning, you can borrow books from them.  My public library hasn’t begun offering them as yet, but our upstate does (Spartanburg and Charlotte areas).

Holy V8 Moment Batman! I just read on the FAQ section of the Sony site that you can authorize up to 6 devices to your ebook account!!!!  I NEVER knew this.  If this means what I think it means, you can have up to 6 people reading the same book??!!!  I would love to test this out.  I knew I could authorize multiple computers, but I didn’t know I could authorize more than one device!  If I hadn’t been talking with @booklover472 about the Kindle allowing up to 6 devices, I never would have thought to go see if Sony had any written limitations or authorizations on how many devices you could load your ebooks to!

What I dislike about my eReader:

eInk screen - you have to have a light source since there is no backlight!  Of course, if I was reading an actual physical book, I’d need a light source, too, so this isn’t that big a deal.

slow to load – if you overfill the memory, regardless if it’s the SD card or internal, then it takes FOREVER for the eReader to turn on.  Sometimes I’ve even had to use the reset button multiple times to get the thing to turn on.  Solution, use multiple SD cards and/or only keep your current ebooks on it and switch them out as needed.  I do a little of both.  I have multiple SD cards with “collections” on them as well as keep a few favorites/currents on the eReader itself.  Since using this method, I’ve not had a problem getting the unit to turn on.

Update: forgot to mention here that “overfill” means I had more than 600 ebooks between the device’s memory and the SD card.  Removing the SD card helped, leading me to the conclusion that the device had problems loading that many books!  That’s when I split up the books over multiple SD cards.

Sony Reader Library Software – I HATE the Sony Reader Store/Software you have to download to your computer.  It is slow to load the store portion.  However, it isn’t any different than using iTunes (which the iTunes store is also SLOW)  I just don’t understand why I have to download software to purchase ebooks.  Why can’t they sell and download from the Internet (like Audible.com) and have just the library on your computer?  Browsing the ebook store online on the Sony site is FAST but you can’t purchase and/or download from it – only see what books they have for sale.  Browsing via the Reader Library software is SLOW and frequently times out.

No A/C power adapter included - You have to purchase an adapter as an accessory – another $30+ added to the eReader price.  Not nice Sony <frowning face here>  Also, the location of the adapter hookup on the eReader is smack dab in the middle of the bottom of the eReader.  That is a horrible location when you’re trying to read and charge the device at the same time.  Would have liked it to have been located on the side of the device or at least on one of the bottom corners instead.

Standard cover - the standard cover that comes with the eReader is horrible.  Thin with plastic tabs that hold the reader in place.  I don’t like to read with the cover on as it isn’t comfortable in my hand.  After taking the eReader out of the cover a few times I just knew one of the times I’d break the tab.  Then I found these covers.  Not only are there slots for SD cards, the “tabs” at the top are elastic so I don’t worry when I pull the reader out of the case.  It is also thicker (more padding) and has a flap to keep it closed.  You can find the cases at M-Edge.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

In case you haven’t guessed by now from my other posts, I have a tech gadget obsession and more recently an Apple obsession.  I recently purchased an iPhone – Verizon buying out Alltel pushed me over the edge and I HAD to switch carriers because of that, so why not get what I wanted!?  Anyway, I downloaded the Kindle iPhone app so I could take advantage of the free Kindle ebooks Amazon occasionally offers.  As much as I love my iPhone, I wont be using it as an ebook reader.  The screen is too small, meaning I have to “page” frequently as I’m a relatively fast reader.  Also, eye strain!  And last, the phone gets hot and the battery drains quickly if you read for long stretches at a time.

I’ve only seen/handled the Kindle for a short amount of time – and that was (I believe) one of the first generation Kindles, so I can’t knowledgeably provide a comparison, only to say it was only slightly less heavy than the Sony, but it “felt” “cheaper” – less substantial.  I was afraid I’d break it.  I also didn’t like the keyboard on the bottom.  It was clunky in my hand and I was definitely not impressed. The only thing that impressed me was the lady who had it was able to download books immediately.  We were at a conference and they were announcing this years SC Young Adult Book Award Nominees and she was able to download the ones that had Kindle editions right then and there.  That was impressive.

I also cannot comment upon the Nook.  I’ve not seen one or held one in person – only read about it online.  I would love to test drive one out, though!  What I’m REALLY waiting for is the rumored Apple Tablet as well as the Plastic Logic reader I read about ages ago and that never seems to actually be released.

PS: In case you were wondering, the other ebook retailers I use besides Sony are  Fictionwise and Books On Board. Also, here are two other posts over at Dear Author that have some interesting takes on eReader devices and comparisons:  To Buy or Not to Buy: The eReader Dilemma & Comparison Table of eReading Devices.

13 thoughts on “Joining the ebook reader debate … or my 2 cents.

  1. Heather,
    Thank you so much for the very detailed description of the capabilities, pluses, and minuses of the Sony eReader. I have yet to check out the other posts to which you hyperlinked, but am hoping for as much detail on the Kindle and Nook from them or another source.
    I agree about reading eBooks on your computer. I can only read for a short period of time – which means I can’t get completely lost in a book.
    Have you ever loaded any Word files onto your Sony eReader? Its support of those files is a big plus in my eyes.
    Now, if we could just find willing souls to bring each of the types of ebook readers to the March SCASL conference where we could play with them for some much needed hands on exploration. Maybe once we get back to school next month you can suggest an impromptu ebook reader gathering at the conference.

  2. Thanks, Heather, for your detailed account of your ebook reader experiences. Your information is very helpful. I am still holding out for a model that handles color illustrations well. I think it is an occupational hazard of spending so many hours in the primary school library.

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  4. Thanks for the great information, Heather. I wasn’t at all familiar with the Sony eReader. I’ve only just today started to play around with my sister’s new Kindle. I have to admit that it is very nice–light, clear, and fast. I was disappointed that there weren’t more picture books available, though, and I do miss the color illustrations, like Donna.

    I would certainly like to own one of these in the near future, but I think I’ll hold out (especially given the fact that I have NO budget) for a little while before I start working too terribly hard to get some for my elementary school students.

    I look forward to seeing how this exciting new technology evolves!

  5. @Fran – I have read MSWord files on it. However, like PDFs, the formatting can be a problem, with lines breaking in odd places. But the text is still readable. Again, using landscape orientation helps. I’m more than willing to bring my eReader to SCASL.

    Hey @cathy, what do you think of Frans suggetion? Should/could we organize a small “bloggers cafe” type session at SCASL where folks who have other eReaders could bring theirs for a demo/test drive?

    @Donna – I’d love a color screen, too, kinda why I’m really interested in the rumored Apple Tablet. If it takes the design of a large iPhone/iTouch, it should have a color screen. But, while color is great, it means it wont be eInk and would need a backlight. To my knowledge, I’ve not heard of a color eInk eReader.

    @Betsy – While I love my Sony, I’d definitely say you need to test drive different devices and do your research to determine which one suits your needs. As I said, Sony and Kindle were the only two devices I considered at the time. Now there are just so many different choices you need to evaluate what you want your device to do (features) and which one(s) meet those needs. You don’t want to shell out the money (and these are still too expensive for most folks) only to find something else would have been a better buy. I was willing/able to purchase mine simply because I didn’t have the expenses many folks my age have: family, house, etc. I have a little more disposable income to indulge in my passion for gadgets.

    As for purchasing a device for my school, that isn’t a practical use of funds (what funds I get). They would just be a novelty item – I’d much rather spend the money on physical books. Yes, the classics are available as free ebooks and make the eReaders look nice, but the stories my kids want aren’t classics. They’d want YA tiles I’d still have to purchase on top of the price of the device. At this time, I see ebook readers as more of a personal choice/purchase than a school library purchase. I wouldn’t give mine up for anything, but I wont be purchasing one for my school.

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  7. Thank you for stopping by @Carolyn! I’m glad you found something useful here.

    Just a quick update. In order to “share” your ebooks on multiple Sony eReaders, they have to be authorized to the same account.

    I tested out the ability to share using my aunt’s eReader and we had to de-authorize it from her account and authorize it to mine in order to transfer my ebooks to her reader.

    This leads me to some additional questions that I haven’t gotten answers to yet. (She lives three hours away and I haven’t had a chance to talk with her since the transfer).

    ?1 was she still able to read/retain the books already on her eReader?

    ?2 Does it means she’s no longer attached to her own account–does she have to re-authorize to her account to purchase new books?

    I wasn’t able to do much experimenting since she had her eReader LOADED with books and it took 10 minutes just to “turn on” after the initial transfer of my ebooks. Patience isn’t one of my strong suits, so I said I’d get with her later. Also, this was all being done during a family Christmas get together so my attention was already divided. I’ll keep you guys posted on any answers get or discoveries I make.

  8. I have just received 90 Sony Touch Readers for my school library. We bought them with a grant and I am very excited. However, I think the money would have been better spent on print books. Unfortunately, that was not an option with the grant.

    Anyway, I am still in the process of getting the Readers into my catalog and determining which books to put on which Readers. I have had a lot of problems getting a straight answer from Sony on how many books can be authorized per account.

    Also, one representative told me I could have all the books on one computer. I would just need to have separate email addresses for every five (or six, depending on who I talked to) Readers.

    Another representative said I would have to use a different computer for every five (or six) Readers. I guess I am going to learn by experimenting.

    I intend to post about the experience on my blog if you are interested.

    I bought a Sony 505 for myself a couple of years ago, so at least I am familiar with how they work. I would hate to be trying this with no experience whatsoever.

  9. @Elaine – Thanks for stopping by and congratulations on your grant award. I’m of two minds about the effectiveness of eReaders in school libraries. On the one had I think the kids will initially LOVE them – the novelty effect. I’ve also read tweets that indicate students are more likely to read the classics on the Kindle than they would the physical books. The ability to enlarge the font is a perk. Does the touch have wireless access? One of the benefits of the Kindle was that students could look up unknown vocabulary words right from inside the book. Can your touches do that, too? If so, then that would be another perk of the reader. If not, is there a dictionary download for the touch? Would be something I’d look into.

    On the other hand, they are an extremely expensive novelty that I don’t know I’m ready to be responsible for their survival! Students don’t keep up with library books – lost and damaged books are how I get most of my local library funds!

    As for how many can be authorized, I’m not sure. I hope you can get a clear answer from Sony. The only thing I know is that you can share books only on up to 6 readers and I know that in order to share the books the devices have to be registered to the same account.

    I’ll be interested to read more about your experience (hopefully a good one!) with getting answers from Sony as well as how you implement the readers into your school library program. And more importantly, how your students like them!

    Good Luck!

  10. The Touch is not wireless, but it does have a built in dictionary. Unfortunately, it does not work on Google Books since they are scanned in and not really text.

    My experience with Sony has been really bad. The sales representative for my area will not return phone calls or emails. I finally got someone to contact me via Twitter. I absolutely love that!

    I was one of those that did not get the point of Twitter to begin with and now I stay signed in constantly. I don’t post a lot, but I certainly follow the stream.

    Anyway, I have high hopes for the Readers. I plan to get at least one classroom set into my MS Gifted teacher’s hands this week. That has to be my priority project for the next few days. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment.

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