Thursday, February 07, 2008

Love My Sony Reader!

Bill's granddaughter Julia had her first birthday in early December, and after the party, Bill and I were hanging out with her parents, Bill's daughter Alyssa and son-in-law, John.

Alyssa is as much of a tech-head as Bill is and talk swiftly meandered to the latest and greatest tech devices. I mentioned my interest in Amazon's newly-released Kindle. I have stacks of books all around my office and our bedroom because, even though I have large quantities of book shelves, I have even larger quantities of books, and their ranks are growing all the time. I've always loved the idea of a digital book reader that could help tame the clutter and save the forests in the bargain.

Alyssa told me that she thought Sony's Reader Digital Book (which I had never heard of) was a better device. I came to agree with her during what I thought was only idle conversation. But, unbeknownst to me, Bill, who was noodling around on her computer, wandered over to eBay, searched for a Reader, happened upon one at a good price and grabbed it then and there as a Christmas present for me.

OK, I admit it, I love the thing. Even though, it's a god-awful example of technology that isn't "there" yet. Instead of crisp black on white, it's gray on gray, which took a little getting used to. A faint ghost of the previous image remains on the screen, which is way less annoying than I thought it would be when I first started using the thing. The interface is clunky in various ways, and you can read lots of stuff you might like, but far from everything.

But...it's great! Years ago I stopped cold turkey buying the Sunday New York Times, which can be tough to find around here if you don't rise and shine bright and early on Sunday mornings. I got sick of searching from store to store, then lugging home ten pounds of paper, only to salvage just a few sections that it would take me till the following Sunday to finish reading. I did make an exception for the Sunday New York Times in which Bill and I were interviewed; I have five copies of that huge thing taking up space in our guest room :-)

Anyhow, I signed up for the New York Times by email when that wonderful innovation came around. But I'm not going to read a 5,000 word in-depth Magazine article on the French foreign minister on my computer screen, and I really can't be bothered to print it out, either. Enter Reader: I save it as a Word file, port it over and voila!

Of course, the Reader is intended for books, and I've recently read Kate Chopin's The Awakening (loved the story, hated the ending) and Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary, both courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

You may detect a pattern in my e-reading here: it's free! If you're a cheapskate about reading, as I tend to be, the Sony is the only way to go, as even downloading a Word document of your own creation to Kindle costs ten cents. The Reader is also slim, elegant, comes with an appealing leather-like cover, and like everything Sony, excels in design.

Kindle has its advantages too. Noodling around myself, I've found titles available on Sony but not Kindle (to my delight) and vice versa (to my frustration). Ultimately, though, I imagine Amazon will win that war--and its platform will predominate--as it's in the book business, while Sony is not. Kindle has a keyboard, which lets you do things like search. There were a couple of times in that French foreign minister article when someone was quoted by last name only and I couldn't quite remember who that person was, though I knew the information had been given a few pages earlier. The only thing I could do was leaf back through the pages and hope the name would catch my eye--exactly what I'd have done if I was reading on paper--but Kindle would have let me search for it instead.

Kindle also directly accesses the Internet, so you can download books (and newspapers!) directly without having to connect to a PC. Of course, I pretty much never go anywhere for long without a PC, so this isn't much of an advantage at my end.

And then there's the question of how Kindle connects to the Internet--not via WiFi, but via Sprint's mobile network. I see the logic there: imagine you're in an airport, waiting for a flight, you want to download a book before your flight, but there's no WiFi, or you have to sign up for an account and put in your credit card number to get it. What a drag. With Kindle you can just download in moments and you're all set.

Unless you're me. I live in Woodstock, NY, a town with a single (and very controversial) cell tower that does NOT support Sprint service. I have to assume if a Sprint cellphone won't work in Woodstock, then Kindle won't either.

To download a book, I'd have to drive to a nearby large town, probably Kingston. While I was there, I would probably wind up at the Barnes & Noble...

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