Getting a Sony Reader

Sony PRS-505This weekend I bought a Sony Reader (PRS-505) as an early Christmas present for myself; it should arrive within the next couple of weeks. When I moved back to Panama, one of the things I missed most about living in the developed world was having easy access to quality, relevant books. Panama doesn’t have any large bookstores like Borders or Barnes & Noble, and the less is said about our public libraries, the better. I’m hoping the Reader will help me fill this hole in my life.

Currently, I get most of my books from Amazon. This gives me a broad selection, but it’s expensive and time-consuming to have large blocks of paper shipped here. I also end up with a lot of books, most of which I read only once; I’d much rather check them out from a library than having to purchase them. There’s also an ethical problem: with the rising environmental, social, and economic costs of oil, transporting information in book form is becoming a moral dilemma for me.

Ebooks have been around for a while; I read quite a few them on my Palm during my commutes in the early 2000s. So why do I need another gadget to do this? I already do most of my reading on computer screens, and at the end of the day my eyes need a break. Reading long ebooks on a LCD is neither comfortable or practical. From what I’ve seen, the Reader’s Vizplex screen solves this problem in an elegant way.

I knew before ordering that Amazon was coming out with an ebook reader today; I’ve been researching the e-reader market for the last couple of weeks, and considered devices from other companies as well. I went for the Sony because I suspect that Amazon’s device is going to be closed to non-proprietary ebook formats. Also, due to its reliance on Amazon’s wireless network it’s probably practical only for folks living in the US. While the Sony Reader also uses a proprietary format (it’s a Sony, right?), it can also read plain pdf, txt and rtf files. There are also many freely available third-party tools that allow for the conversion between formats into Sony’s BBeB format. The Sony also seems like a simpler device. My hope is that the Amazon device will help spur interest?and competition?in the ebook market, increasing the amount of books available in ebook form.

I don’t have expectations that the Sony Reader will be the “end-all-be-all” ebook reader. It reminds me of the Creative NOMAD Jukebox I bought back in the day; at the time I just wanted something portable?and with large storage?to play MP3 files on. I knew that the devices would be getting smaller and better; the Jukebox was a sort of prototype of what the iPod would be in later years. I had no illusions then that the NOMAD Jukebox would be my last MP3 player, and I have no illusions now that the Reader will be my last ebook reader. I just hope these devices gain enough mainstream acceptance to eventually reduce my reliance on wood pulp for reading.