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Sony Reader Adventure: It’s The Little Things

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I can sense that the eReader market is about to burgeon. Perhaps it's a case of the market driving the demand; I remember hearing in school about companies trying to sell such digital devices, as booklovers droned on about the wonder of newsprint and the smell of freshly cut paper. That was seven years ago, and whatever forces got us to this level are irrelevant.

Not to resemble the man grumbling over the corporate-mandated switch from scrolls to books, but another shift in textual consumption is basically where we're at in history. Pretty soon you'll be reading about books in your history text… screen.

If books are the new VHS, let's see what was so daggum ornery about the spine-laden reading devices, and why the upgrade was necessary. While not aggravating, the way one grasped the book took a bit of finagling; depending on the uprightness of the bookworm, some adjusting was required. Turning the page was — gasp! — always a frustrating maneuver. I just got this book where I want it! And remembering where that one sentence was, earlier in the book? Chapter… five, maybe? Good luck with that, Sergeant.

And what if the bookmark fell out? Well, there goes another 30 seconds of your life.

Sure enough, the Sony Reader Touch Edition improves on two of those assumed simple tasks. Changing the page — people in advertising get paid way much more than me, so I dare not improve on their wording — is as easy as the touch of a button. Since it's a touchscreen, the page can also be "turned" by swiping the finger.

(Personally, the page-turning button is my method of choice. When holding the Reader in my left hand, my thumb is naturally over the next page button. Swiping the finger is reverse-intuitive; in both turning a paper page and swiping a touchscreen like an iPhone, one would go right-to-left. But on the Touch Edition, right-to-left goes back; left-to-right moves ahead.)

Then there's finding that oh so elusive phrase. While reading The Machine: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds by Joe Posnanski, I was trying to find the anecdote about the Reds third baseman Tony Perez ribbing teammates about using a new-fangled weightlifting machine. Posnanski would occasionally describe the Cuban-born Perez's pronunciation, so in the options menu I went to search for "beeg," and sure enough, there was the passage. Of course, I lost my place. But you'll have that when you turn the page.

The slick part about bookmarks in the eReader is… they're not needed. (No need to hold onto that softened Wendy's receipt anymore.) Returning to each novel will return you to where it was last open. So much for bookmarks!

(As an aside: bookstores sell bookmarks. I've always loved that retail ploy. How would you like to buy a fancy scrap of paper?)

These are the little things that require some adjustment. The overall feel, for example, is smooth, but almost too smooth. After putting it down, there's this feeling like some kind of residue remains on the hands. It's not really a bad thing, and it's probably harmless, but at first thought it's, "Gah, what is this substance?"

The option of orientation (portrait or landscape) throws another screwball into the experience. Portrait view puts the entire page in sight, while landscape, although it makes the text bigger, only spits out a partial page. It's slightly over 50 percent, and the two parts overlap. So when one moves to the other "half," it doesn't scroll. My eyes, therefore, take a handful of seconds to find where I left off, since I may have already consumed the first two lines. Portrait is certainly the way to go.

All these little differences make for a different reading experience, and yet … when reading, it doesn't feel digital, except when turning the page and getting . The text display is quite natural and not all that difficult on the eyes.

The $299 retail price, after reading through half of a book, causes wonder. Is it really worth this price? Even though over time, one can put an entire library of literature in one's pocket … is this something people wish they could do?

I could definitely see the worth in having many books if they were encyclopedic or technical: the searching and browsing would make it a tremendous reference tool. But books of fiction … maybe not so much.

My girlfriend made a great point about this: what will become of bookcases and book collections? Don't the pretentious and only-slightly-egocentric bibliophiles take pride in a luxurious, prestigious set of neatly-ordered books? Maybe one can just put the Sony Reader Touch Edition box on the shelf instead.

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  • it will be interesting to see when/if devices like this truly take over. i doubt it’ll happen in my lifetime but we’ll see. (it won’t happen in my house, but that’s a completely different story)