Pros: Electronic paper, selectable font sizes, MP3 player, large memory cards - simply the best reader.
Cons: Needs larger fonts and MP3 playlists. The e-bookstore doesn't work on many Windows XP systems.
Over the years I have tried to find an e-book reader that lived up to the Dynabook vision of one device which could provide ubiquitous access to all of my books where ever I happened to be - the ultimate paperback. I have tried to like e-book reading on a couple of Psions, three different Palm handhelds, several ultra-portable laptop computers, a Sharp Zaurus and a Smartphone. Until the invention of electronic paper and the Sony Reader none of the platforms came close to being the Dynabook I would want to call my own.
The Sony Reader provides the best e-book reading I have ever experienced and is the first reader I have continued to use after reading my first book. There are a couple of issues that still nag with the Reader itself but the entire system is compromised by the software Sony requires you to use in order to purchase books.
Most reviewers have noted that the Sony proprietary software only works on Windows XP (and now Vista) so that Mac and Linux users aren't able to make use of the Sony Reader unless they are willing to purchase books from a friends computer. What they haven't noted are the difficulties running and using the Connect Reader software on Windows. The bottom line is that the software is so touchy that it won't work well enough to permit the purchase of books on a computer with a fresh Windows XP installation when the Connect Reader software was the first program installed. Entire functional features of the software and the Sony retail experience simply don't work.
On my fresh XP system any searches for my favorite authors return unknown mime type errors which prevent displaying the appropriate page. The software consistently refuses to display the contents of various categories of books such as the Horror/Dark Fantasy category. These are the categories established by Sony and therefore ought to provide a reliable way to access the content even if a customer designed search might fail. In the event that a purchase is made and suffers from a download error Sony provides a facility for re-downloading books that have been previously purchased, unfortunately this feature simply doesn't work.
All three of these problems showed up in my first installation of the software last fall on a Windows XP Media Center Edition system. Sony was unable to resolve the issue and refused to even escalate the status of the problem until I did a fresh install of XP on another system and reproduced all three problems on that system in February. At this point they have kicked the problem upstairs but the only noticeable result of this improvement in status has been that no one in tech support will talk to me about any of the problems.
I have been able to purchase books through tortuous and un-reliable work arounds. For example, I recently purchased a copy of Laurell K. Hamilton's book Incubus Dreams by finding a different book of hers on one of the Connect Bookstore's best selling lists, then I accessed the web page for that book, then I was able to access Laurell's own information page, then I was able to add the book to my shopping cart from that page. I was still unable to access the information page for Incubus Dreams itself or to bring up the Laurell K. Hamilton page through a direct search or by browsing categories. At other times this method of search also failed so it isn't a method I can consistently use nor will it work for an author without a current best seller.
At some point I do believe Sony will resolve these problems with their software. Since I had to speed weeks to purchase every book that I have purchased through their system I have to say it isn't ready for prime time at this point.
There are other pluses and minuses about the software and the reader that are actually design features so let me quickly bring up a few of them.
The e-paper is wonderfully easy to read for long periods of time. The ability to increase the size of the text means that I can read my e-books without reading glasses. The device is small and easy to carry where ever I go. I love the fact that it is also an MP3 player and I enjoy listening to music while reading. In combination these facts keep me reading and keep me struggling to overcome the artificial barriers that Sony throws in my face when I want to buy a book. All of the published reviews rave about what a joy the reader is to use for reading and I have to agree with all of them.
On the other hand, e-paper is invisible in the dark (this is inherent in the nature of the technology and will not change). The reading experience could be improved for someone who needs reading glasses if Sony would support an extra large text size in addition to the small, medium, and large sizes it currently supports. This is an even bigger problem when reading PDF files on the Reader because Sony only supports two text sizes for PDF files. The lack of support for a larger font size in PDF files makes this product much less useful as a general purpose reader for all the e-documents you might want to read.
As an MP3 player the reader fails because Sony doesn't support playlists or even folders of songs so that the only way to listen to songs one after the other is alphabetically by title for all the songs that have been copied to the device. Since the Reader supports memory cards of up to 4 gigabytes in capacity this failure becomes crippling very quickly. The underlying Reader software is Linux so there shouldn't be any technological reason why play lists can't be supported. Adding this one feature to the Reader software would make an unusable capability into one of the strongest features of the device.
Despite the fact that Sony loudly trumpets the value of the Reader for someone with limited vision they have designed the user interface of the Connect Reader software so that it refuses to follow Windows XP accessibility guidelines and there is also no way inside of the program to change the font size. Despite having set my overall system font to large fonts and setting Internet Explorer accessibility options to force the use of large fonts the Connect Reader software continues to use fonts that are so small I need to get inches away from my monitor to read the text in the Connect Bookstore. Sony's only suggestion for people who need larger fonts is to lower the overall resolution of the monitor. Changing the compatibility settings for the program to run it in 640 by 480 resolution simply does nothing. In order to run the program at a lower resolution you have to change to overall screen resolution for all programs. This is not acceptable.
If Sony wanted to fix the problems none of the font size issues are dictated by the technology, they could make the user experience of the reader and the Connect Reader software much better with minor changes in software design.
Every time I read a book I fall in love with the reader once again. Every time I finish a book and think about buying another book I think about throwing it all in the garbage can. No one without a talent for enduring frustration should consider purchasing this device. Sony has proven that they can take a world class product and cripple it so badly that it is almost impossible to use for its intended purpose.