First, I must admit that over the years, I have wavered between excitement and skepticism regarding the development and adoption of electronic book readers. Initially, I was swayed by the living-in-the-future aspect of electronic books, but I wasn't interested in sitting in front of a monitor to read one. I tried reading ebooks on a PDA, but the screen was too small and at the time, there weren't many books to choose from.
I work in a university library, and we often have funding set aside for purchasing new technology for the staff to experiment with, or at the very least, be familiar with in case any of our users need assistance with their own devices. This past summer, I had the opportunity to play with an Amazon Kindle 2 for a few weeks. It didn't win me over to the ebook camp, but I was rather pleased with having access to download more reading material while on the go, even though that doesn't happen often enough to make it a necessity.
The Kindle 2 was interesting, but what got me really excited was the iPhone/Touch ebook reader demo I saw shortly after my experimentation with the Kindle. The screen was bright, the text was sharp, and the device light enough to comfortably hold in one hand while flipping pages with my thumb. It didn't have all of the functionality of a dedicated device, but it was good enough for something that could fit in my pocket and be able to do so much more than just provide textual information.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to try out one of the new ebook reader devices from Sony. When the Sony Reader Touch (PRS-600) arrived, I tried not to get too excited about it just because it's new-to-me technology, but it was hard not to. The fact that it looks a bit like a PADD from Star Trek: The Next Generation added to my geeky excitement.
Although I was given a gift card with which to purchase a few ebooks for review purposes, I didn't know what I wanted to buy that I didn't already own in print, so I went with a free download of John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars. I'm ashamed to admit that before now, I've only read a short story and a few blog entries, but I've enjoyed what little of his writing I'm familiar with. I figured it would be a good bet, and at least it was free.
I didn't even have time to transfer the book from the desktop software to the device before I was sucked in and read the first chapter on my computer screen. I was certain I'd made a good choice, since it has to be very compelling to get me to read on a screen in a program that requires me to click my mouse on an arrow to page forward. (The desktop program Sony provides is a bit lacking in user interface features — I'd love to be able to edit the metadata like in iTunes, for example.)
The desktop program saved the place where I stopped, so later when I opened the book again on the Reader, I picked up on that page and kept on going. I'm still working my way through the book, mostly because I was temporarily without the Reader for a couple of weeks. In the interim, I borrowed an iPod Touch from work and used the Stanza program to re-read one of my favorite Agatha Christie mysteries, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The things that excited me about the interface still excite me, and I got used to easily turning pages with a light touch.
Returning to the Sony Reader, which also has a touch screen, I had to readjust to needing a firmer tap on the screen to get it to respond. However, the Touch also has a few directional buttons that flip pages as well, and a stylus if one prefers that method. For basic reading, I prefer to use the buttons because I expect to need to press them more firmly, and I don't worry about breaking the screen or leaving finger smudges. One huge advantage the Reader has over smaller devices is the screen size. I was able to adjust the text to a comfortable size and still fit 400-500 words on the screen. So, although page turning by tapping the screen isn't as easy as on the iPod Touch (or iPhone), at least you won't have to do it as often.
The screen of the Reader, like the Kindle, isn't backlit. You'll need the same amount of light to comfortably read the screen as you would a print book. Incidentally, I finished reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles in the dark on the iPod Touch. Also, the screen is a bit darker than other eprint readers because of the touch layer. I like not having to arrow through menus or manage a bunch of buttons, but I'm not sure that the trade-off of less visibility is entirely worth it. Perhaps this is one of those things that I'll get used to (or will hopefully be improved in the next model).
As a librarian, I'm particularly excited to try out borrowing ebooks from my local public library's collection and being able to read them on my device. No other major ebook device manufacturer has that option (yet), mainly due to digital rights management and compatibility. Sony ebooks support several formats, including ePub, PDF, and RTF, and there's no charge to import supported formats onto the device, opening up the potential available catalog to everything but exclusive proprietary formats.
I'm still not a complete ebook covert, but between Scalzi and the potential of having a world of publications at my fingertips, I'm a bit warmer to the potential presented by ebooks and ebook readers.