How We Read

I read a lot, and my reading habits constantly evolve. My life stage and work influences what I read, but so does technology. What I read is increasingly influenced by online existence and visibility of text. For example, I’m more likely to read something if I can find it in a search engine, or receive it as a referral from a person, bot or hyperlink. I’m also more likely to read something if it’s in a queue and delivered to me sequentially, like an email subscription or RSS feed. I also increasingly consume written content that is available as an audio stream or download, for my iPod or Internet radio. One thing cannot be easily contradicted: These trends have not fared well for my consumption of printed books, especially long ones.

I still love books, and I’m always working on a few. But like printed pages to a book spine, books are bound to my home office desk and my night table. I rarely take books elsewhere because I simply don’t like the added weight. Face it: they’re heavy. That eliminates most books from my most sacred reading window: my daily 30-minute train commute between Manhattan and the Westchester, NY suburbs. That commute includes a mile-long walk, each way, between our house and the train station. I refuse to carry around extra pounds of dead trees; my back gets enough abuse from picking up toddlers.

So it’s about time that I tried an e-reader. Fortunately, Sony let me borrow its new entry-level Reader Pocket Edition, as part of the DigiDads (no payola) daddy blogger program. I’ve used it for the past few weeks and really enjoyed it. Following are my observations.

Sony Reader Pocket Edition

The Awesomeness:

  • It’s small and stylish: 6 1/4 x 4 1/4 x 13/32 inches (LxWxD).
  • It weighs 7.76 oz, a lot less than most printed books.
  • As a result of its size and weight, it easily fits in my go-everywhere laptop bag.
  • The eInk display is not unique to the Sony Reader, though it does offer a high-contrast reading experience, which I like a lot. (Reading books on a laptop or smart phone just doesn’t work.)
  • It has a rechargeable battery, which still has half of its original charge after three weeks and two books.
  • The Reader’s interface and navigation is simple and intuitive; that’s quite a feat considering Sony devices so often suffer from complexity and featuritis.
  • The Sony Reader is “open”, handling DRM and unsecured text formats (like ePub, BBeB Book, PDF, TXT, RTF and Micrsoft® Word).
  • I don’t own a Kindle, though I borrowed one for a day for comparison, and I have to say…I liked the Sony Reader better.

The Suckiness

  • Amazon has one of the best online shopping experiences, while Sony’s eBook Store lags. It even requires downloaded software versus a Web browser interface.
  • The Reader Pocket Edition has no wifi, which means no downloading or purchasing titles from the device or while on the go.
  • Setup Not Smooth Episode 1: I’ve got a million USB cables that I use to connect electronic devices to my Mac. So I used one to successfully charge the Reader. When I was ready to start registering the device and syncing titles, my Mac failed to recognize the device. After 15 minutes of troubleshooting, I figured out that the Reader comes with a later-generation USB cable, which, unfortunately, looks identical to all my others but is incompatible.
  • Setup Not Smooth Episode 2: When I tried to select titles from the Sony eBook Library Mac software and sync them to the Reader, a message prompt said I had to register the device and asked me if I’d like to do so. I answered “yes,” but I kept getting taken to an error page (“-41”). I almost gave up. It turns out Sony’s software was not yet compatible with Snow Leopard, the latest version of Mac operating system. Once I registered the reader in “My Account” settings, I had no trouble transferring titles from my Mac to the reader.
  • Price: I believe all e-readers are priced far too high. The entry-level Sony Reader Pocket Edition I tested goes for $199, compared to $299 for Sony’s more upscale Reader Touch Edition, and $259 for Amazon’s Kindle. I think e-readers will become more viable when the price hits $99 or under, or are given away as part of bundled content or subscriptions. To become ubiquitous gadgets, they need to become nearly disposable, like mobile phones.

Recommendations For Sony

  • For people like me, who skip instructions and rip new devices out their packaging and expect them to work, you should include a small card or easy-peel-off sticker on the screen with critical quick-start tips, as well as a prominent note on USB version compatibility.
  • The market for e-readers is heating up. Amazon is the leader, while Sony and (just recently) Barnes & Noble are the underdogs. As a result, Sony should be much more aggressive in explaining its e-reader strategy and benefits, particularly its strong belief in supporting open standards (which are very appealing) versus the very proprietary Amazon Kindle.
  • As great as the device is, it is inextricably linked to the mediocre eBook Store software, and that’s an Achilles’ heel. It would be better in a Web browser, and awesome if it became an aggregator and portal to other book stores and libraries. Help me find all the sources and content, and make it easy to suck into the device.
  • Sony could stand to give more prominent branding to the eBook Store software. This sounds silly, but I forgot the name of the application and had trouble locating it in my applications folder. The app is generically named eBookLibrary. Name it Sony eBookLibrary.
  • Get some books for children in your proprietary eBook Store library. My two-year-old son Julian loves to read, and enjoyed playing with the reader, but there were no books in the library for toddlers. I understand that most childrens books emphasize color illustrations and e-readers are built for simple black-and-white illustrations and text. Still, Sony should make some titles available, especially for programs like DigiDads.
  • Keep the pressure up on Amazon to permit compatibility between Sony Readers and Amazon’s store. Face it: E-commerce and selling books is in Amazon’s DNA, and it’s not in yours.

Final Thoughts

First, I really like the e-reader concept, including the Sony Reader Pocket Edition. The eInk display is a viable way to read long volumes of digital text, and I love the absence of the Internet (a huge distraction to long-form reading). As a device, it’s simple and does its job. I liked the Sony Reader Pocket Edition, but would I purchase one? I wouldn’t buy any e-reader at this point. Sony’s new wifi-enabled Reader Daily Edition looks more appealing and will be available soon, along with other new competing devices. I imagine the entire infantile e-reader category will have much better products in a year, and prices will come down. I’m sure e-readers will become ubiquitous, but I’ll wait on the sidelines a little while longer.

This post is part of series called the “Sony DigiDads Project” by Sony Electronics where a group of dads, including C.C. Chapman, Jeffrey Sass, Max Kalehoff, Michael Sheehan, and Brad Powell, have been given the opportunity to test and review Sony gear. If you want to know more about this project, visit the Sony Electronics Community.

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. Interesting, Max. My son attends California State Univ in Chico (just one of the 23 CSU campuses struggling with mandated budget cuts from our broke state). In an effort to reduce costs to students and other fees incurred for the procurement of traditional college textbooks, the university professors are increasingly adopting e-textbooks for their classes.

    But many students, like my e-savvy son, are shunning electronic textbooks in favor of the tried and true used college textbook because they feel better being able to markup/highlight passages, stain the pages with pizza sauce and whatever else and otherwise just hold the thing. Impressive as it is for its ease of use and convenience, you just can't do that with a Kindle or Sony Reader.

  2. That's a good point. There's truly a more immersive, tactile
    experience. Moreover, with used books, there can be a social
    connection by sharing or engaging in a space where others have been,
    and have left their marks, or will in the futute. Finally, it's
    probably best to get used books from people who were smart, so you can
    refer to their notes and highlights. (An indirect way of surrounding
    yourself with people smarter than you, and that's my recipe for

  3. Thanks for the review, Max and for taking part in this bit of the Sony Dad's project. It looks like you may not have gotten much of a chance to read to your 2 year old very much. If it is because you were still looking for content, let me know. Val from the Reader team put together a list of books for kids. If you didn't get it, I'd be happy to send it to you if you still have the Reader (I'm not sure when you're scheduled to send it back). I also wanted to say, I'll be passing your post on to the Reader team. Your “Recommendations for Sony” section is appreciated.

    Sukhjit Ghag
    Sony Electronics

  4. Hi Bruce, your story reminds me of my nephew who is an English major at San Francisco State University. When I lived in SF I'd have him over every so often to study (and so I could make sure he got a home cooked meal.) I have to say the weight of his backpack made me cringe and I even think I had sympathy back aches from seeing the textbooks he lugged around. I'm not sure if SFSU has an ebook program yet, but ebooks seem like the way things are headed. I've actually been thinking a Reader would be a great gift for my nephew. Like I mentioned, he's an english major. He loves books and reading and I think an ebook is another great way to have access to stories… not a replacement, but definitely a nice way to lighten the load.

    Take care,
    Sukhjit Ghag
    Sony Electronics

  5. I never received a list of children books from Sony — and couldn't find toddler titles in the Sony eBookstore. Thanks for offering a list, but the reader already is packed up to send back.

  6. That's too bad… wish you still had it since we put the list together after one of our last Sony Dad calls (if I remember right, you were not on the call or had gotten off by the time we talked about this.) I may add it to a blog post as it's great info to have some recommended books.

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