Before Christmas there was a lot of buzz around eReaders. Many podcasts were saying that the Amazon Kindle and eReaders in general were finally mature enough for mainstream use. I like to buy myself a Christmas present, last year it was a netbook, so I thought I’d have a look at what was available. Let me say straight away I live in the UK, not North America, if I did live in North America I think my reaction to the Kindle would be different.

My main reservations about eBooks were

  1. DRM. I don’t like DRM, I guess the effect of DRM on a book is that when you buy an eBook you are actually only buying a license to read it on your device and that license will go away, when the device or DRM combination are not supported, this can happen a lot faster than you think. Its not a showstopper but I have to change my mindset to accept that I only license the books.
  2. Cost. The books are not really any cheaper, and they don’t really belong to me. The reader itself is an expensive proposition.
  3. Books don’t stop working, the reader most certainly will at some time, what happens to my DRM’s content if I buy a different reader next time?

I read loads of reviews for the leading contenders: Amazon Kindle, Sony Pocket Reader, Sony Reader Touch, Cybook Opus, iRiver Story. I also went to Waterstones and played with as many of the devices as I could.

I was undecided about whether to buy a device at all, I love reading books and I love collecting books, and I guess like a lot of people who read I even like the physical activity of reading.

In the end I got the Sony Pocket Reader, I have to say largely on the basis of cost, Waterstones were selling them at 150 pounds with a free eBook gift card.

The reader

Well I’ve had the reader for almost a month now and I have to say I think its great, I absolutely love it, a lot of the reasons for this are not what I expected.

Good things

  1. The physical activity of reading is still great. Different, but great. eInk is very nice to look at, everyone has said it, but its true. But the device feels good in my hand, Sony really do know how to make hardware. In some areas books are better, more robust, no battery etc. but there are areas where the reader is better, no shadow on the page you are reading from the other side of the book.
  2. Access to a huge number of free out of copyright material. Some of them are not very well done but the 125 books that Sony give you are pretty good.
  3. I can read technical PDF books for example Mastering Powershell.
  4. Using a fantastic program called Calibre I can download many web sites, like the BBC news, Joel on Software, Scott Hansleman etc, as well as news papers and magazines such as The Guardian. Its been years since I read a newspaper and I quite enjoy the Saturday Guardian. I cannot recommend Calibre enough, if you have an eReader (and it supports most of the major readers) then you should give it a try.
  5. Library books. This could turn out to be the “killer app” for readers. It is taking some time to get going in the UK but there are some libraries up and running however the number of libraries is small but growing. Most seem to use Overdrive to host their digital downloads, you can find the current list here. This could be perfect as it removes two of the key drawbacks, DRM and cost and the license model works very well for borrowing library books. Along with newspapers this is another activity I have not done in years but could be tempted back to.

Not so good

  1. The software is a disgrace. This is not new and to be honest I expected it. Sony make great hardware and terrible software, this coupled with eh DRM has meant that I have quarantined the software in a virtual machine, I can recommend Virtual Box as the virtual USB ports mean that I don’t have to install the Sony software on my host machine.
  2. Its quite slow at “turning” the page and opening large books.
  3. The page is a little small, I guess I cannot have everything if it fits in my pocket then the screen will have to be small but I still think that the bezel could be smaller and give a bigger screen. The result is I still read paper books faster.


I’ve used the reader for a while and went back the had another go at other readers at Waterstones. My key learning point is that the physical device is probably the most important thing. I was attracted by other devices with more zoom levels, touch screens, expansion slots etc. but I think in the end how it feels in your hand in the end is the most important thing.