An American Editor

September 7, 2010

Is This the Time to Take the Plunge? New Reading Devices Appear

Within the last 60 days there has been a bevy of announcements of new ereading devices. Amazon announced what is popularly called the Kindle 3 and Sony has announced 3 new models — the 350, 650, and 950. How far behind other makers will be is hard to tell, but the upcoming holiday season should be a good one for device buyers.

So the question is this: Is this the time to take the plunge and buy a dedicated ereading device if you don’t already own one? The companion question, of course, is if you own one that is more than a year or two old, is now the time to “upgrade”?

I’ve made it clear any number of times that I am not a fan of Amazon. But that doesn’t mean the Kindle isn’t a good device — it is. For me, the Kindle continues to suffer from the same design flaws as always — (1) it reminds me of my laptop with its physical keyboard and (2) it doesn’t accept DRMed (digital rights managed) ePub files that let me shop at, for example, Barnes & Noble unless I strip the DRM from the B&N file and convert the DRM-stripped file to a format the Kindle likes. But if you shop for books exclusively at Amazon (a practice that I think has bad ramifications for all consumers), the Kindle is a good device, especially the new K3 with the enhanced eInk screen called Pearl.

Amazon’s new Kindle has several things going for it. First, the greatly improved Pearl screen. Second, the device has been made thinner and lighter and smaller, although the screen size (6 inches) remains the same. Third, is Amazon’s great customer service, the envy of the industry and something B&N and Sony should be emulating. Fourth, ease of use. And, finally, great new pricing — top-of-the-line (covers both WiFi and 3G forms of wireless) comes in at $189 and the WiFi-only version comes it at $139.

Sony’s three new devices — the 350, 650, and 950 — are greatly improved versions of current models (the 300, 600, and 900) and are also known as the Pocket, Touch, and Daily Editions, respectively. Each also represents a different screen size: the 350’s screen is 5 inches, the 650’s is 6 inches, and the 950’s is 7.1 inches. Like the new Kindle, these are the new Pearl screens.

Unlike the Kindle, which is menu and button driven, the Sony’s use a new touch screen technology on which you can use either your finger or an included stylus. If you love your touch screen cellphone or iPod-type device, you are likely to love Sony’s touchscreen technology as well. For those of us who aren’t acquainted with the technology, there may be a short learning curve.

Sony also has its flaws. Perhaps the most significant flaw is the failure to include a firmware upgrade that would expand the DRMed ePub capability to include the B&N flavor of DRM. This is significant because there are now 3 major places where one cannot buy ebooks for their Sony without stripping the DRM from the files: B&N, Amazon, and the iBookstore.

The inability to buy DRMed books from Amazon is an industrywide problem; Amazon has chosen to limit access to Kindlers and those willing to strip and knowledgable about stripping DRM and converting file formats. But B&N and the iBookstore sell flavors of ePub and Sony should have made at least the B&N flavor available. I think what Sony is missing is the point that there is a format war (think Betamax vs. VHS or Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD) and that winning the format war ultimately is more important than keeping customers from visiting other bookstores. (In this regard, the iBookstore doesn’t even amount to a blip on the radar screen. Steve Jobs and Apple would rather go down in flames than give up any control.)

The second flaw is in pricing. The Sony devices are more expensive than its competitors, although I think better built. The 350 is $179, the 650 is $229, and the 950 is $299. However, unlike the Kindle and the Nook (B&N’s entry), the 350 and 650 are not wireless. In this regard, I think Sony is right that most people really don’t care about wireless, not when they think it through. But it is the one point on which every reviewer downgrades Sony and upgrades Amazon. I think for a small (relatively speaking) group of readers, wireless is the decider, but if my experience is any guide, the lack of wireless isn’t even noticed. The Sonys are smaller and lighter than the Kindle but seem to be better quality in terms of build and components — and this is what Sony is banking on. The ultimate question will be whether consumers will think it is worth $40 more for a touchscreen and no wireless or $40 less for wireless but no touchscreen.

As I have said before, I own and love using a Sony 505 that soon will be 3 years old. My 505 works today as if it were fresh out of the box. It is solidly built and has several more years of life in it. But I think the time has come for me to upgrade. I thought about breaking down and going for a Kindle, but it isn’t going to happen. Instead, I’m likely to buy the new Sony 950 with its larger screen. It costs what my 505 cost 3 years ago and if it serves me as long and as well as my 505, it will have been worth every penny. My 505 won’t be going into retirement; my wife has claimed it.

How will I justify the price of the 950? One way is that I will be canceling my print subscription to the New York Times. Instead, I will subscribe to an electronic version of the print edition that I will receive on the 950 every morning when I’m ready to read the paper, not when my carrier gets around to delivering it. That will save me at least $25 a month, which means that in 1 year I will have earned back the cost of the 950.

But I began the article with the question whether now was the time to take the plunge. With the new improvements to the Kindle and Sony devices, I think the answer is yes — if you want a dedicated reading device. There are a lot of good, free and inexpensive ebooks available for all of these devices. If your reading interests extend beyond the bestseller lists, you can get a rapid return on your investment as well as be exposed to new authors.

I do suggest, however, that before deciding on any device that you compare features side by side. Kindles will soon be available in Staples and Target stores and Sonys are available at Best Buy, Office Depot, and Target. Don’t let reviewer hype of one feature sway you — check for yourself and think about how important a particular feature is or is likely to be to you. I don’t buy ebooks every day and when I do buy them, I tend to buy them in bunches of 3 to 5 books. To plug my 505 into my PC via USB simply is not much of a hassle, so wireless doesn’t count much in my decision-making process; other things are more important. You need to view these devices with your own priorities in mind.

Now is the time to think about the holidays and if an ebook reader is on your wishlist, to place your holiday order. For the Sony devices, see the Sony Style Store (350, 650, and 950), and for the Kindle, see Amazon (Kindle 3 and Kindle 3G). If past holiday seasons are any indicator, as soon as you decide which you want, preorder it. These readers have tended to sell out fast.

14 Comments »

  1. […] by Rich Adin […]

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    Pingback by Is This the Time to Take the Plunge? New Reading Devices Appear | The Digital Reader — September 7, 2010 @ 5:30 am | Reply

  2. This is a helpful post, as I’m in the middle of deciding whether to buy an e-reader. Because I have limited disposable income, cost is a huge factor, but so is purpose. To date, I haven’t been able to justify the cost, even though price keeps coming down. How low will it go, I wonder?

    But what I’m really wondering, as I read about readers, is which one is the simplest. Features descriptions just make my eyes cross, and there are no box-store outlets within a reasonable range of my home that will allow me to try before I buy.

    All I want to know is, which reader most closely emulates reading a 6×9 book, with the fewest things to touch or manipulate or learn, the least eyestrain, and a good, rechargeable battery?

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    Comment by Carolyn — September 7, 2010 @ 6:25 am | Reply

    • One of the things I really like about my Sony, and why I don’t consider the Kindle, is that to me the Sony closest emulates reading a paperback book. None of the readers are an exact replication, obviously, because the technologies are different. Since acquiring my Sony I have found it increasingly difficult to read the print versions of books. In fact, just to give you a current example, a few days ago I bought at B&N the new Terry Brooks and Brandon Sanderson fantasy novels in hardcover. (I like these authors so they are on my hardcover to buy list.) I wnet to start one of them and realized that I would prefer to read them on my Sony, so I went and bought the ebook versions from the Sony store and started reading them. The hardcovers just went onto my library shelves.

      The Kindle has the easiest way to buy a book because it is wirelessly tied to the Amazon bookstore, assuming you can get a good wireless connection in your area. But using a Kindle reminds me of using my computer, even though the reading screen on the Kindle and Sony are the same. It is the design that is flawed in my eye.

      The difference between the Kindle and the Sony is that if you buy the Sony 650, which has the same 6-inch screen as the Kindle, you need to use your computer to buy or obtain ebooks and then hook up your Sony using a USB cable to transfer the books. In contrast, with the Kindle it is done wireless — unless you cannot get wireless access, in which event it is done like the Sony. In 3 years of use, I’ve not found the Sony method problematic.

      The Sony touchscreen is like reading a book; you use your fingers to turn pages (there are alos buttons if you prefer them). The Kindle doesn’t have touchscreen. The Sony is also stronger built becuase it is aluminum rather than plastic casing (the Kindle is plastic); it is also smaller and lighter than the Kindle.

      I have found no eyestrain with the Sony (and you won’t find it with the Kindle either). The eInk screens are great. I have spent many hours in a day reading on my Sony, including lying in the hammock outdoors in the sunshine, without a problem. In both instances, the battery is rechargeable and one charge will last up to 2 weeks, possibly longer.

      Will units get cheaper. Yes, cheaper units will be available. In fact, you can buy a Kobo reader now for less than either the Sony or the Amazon and some people think the Kobo will be soon available for $99. But as with anything, you get what you pay for. The Kobo screen is last generation and there is a world of difference between the original eInk screen that the Kobo, nook, and even my Sony 505 have and the new Pearl screen that the new Sonys and the Kindle have. That difference alone is well worth the increased cost, especially as you should look at these as purchases that you will use regularly for several years. These are not buy-now-replace-in-6-months pruchases if you buy the right one now.

      For what you want, probably the Sony 605 is your best choice.

      BTW, I will have my 505 at the upcoming Finding Your Niche conference for anyone who would like to see it. It is not the new screen version (the 950 won’t be out until November) but you can see what the readers are like.

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      Comment by americaneditor — September 7, 2010 @ 7:36 am | Reply

  3. Wireless access is really essential for those readers (often older) who are not very tech oriented (like my Dad). Using a Sony reader, you can only get your books vias USB hookup to a computer. How unfriendly for a non-techie. (You don’t care as you are able to trip DRM, a fairly sophisticated process.) But think of your parents or uncles/aunts,grandparents, who may do some websurfing but really can’t manage much complicated computer stuff. For them, wireless is perfect for getting books onto their device.

    Also, your Amazon-phobia is getting in the way. Compare the Sony bookstore to Amazon’s- you can’t since Amazon’s is twice as large (more choices makes for better reading). You already acknowledge that the iBookstore is a joke (about 1/10 the size of Amazon’s).

    Sony does make a very device- but they are unreliable in terms of bookstore and customer service. The nook is also nice, but the dual screens don’t really function well together- and their CS is notoriously terrible.

    I strongly urge Amazon- because their device is the best, has the most features, largest bookstore (by far), and, as you acknowledge, GREAT customer service. And at $139 you can’t beat that price.

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    Comment by Richard Askenase — September 7, 2010 @ 7:20 am | Reply

    • Richard, the Sony 950 offers wireless access but it is significantly more expensive than the Kindle. My father, who is 87, has no problem with the nonwireless access and his techie skills are rudimentary. But I agree that in general the nontechie is better off with wireless access.

      As regards the size of the bookstores. It is true that Amazon is the largest bookstore but how many choices of Pride and Prejudice do I need? I’ve not found any book that I am looking for to be available at Amazon but not Sony, and truth be told, I buy most of my ebooks at Smashwords or other similar independents or I get at places like MobileRead and Feedbooks, which have high quallity free ebooks. Besides, it doesn’t matter if Amazon has a quadrillion ebooks if it doesn’t have the one I want, so quantity isn’t everything.

      And I admit that my Amazon-phobia plays a role in my decisions. The very last thing I want to see is Amazon being the sole hardware and software survivor of the ebook wars. I think that would provoke Bezos’ true colors and consumers who praise him today for low prices will curse him for high prices — the bane of monopoly, especially if the monopolist controls all aspects of the experience.

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      Comment by americaneditor — September 7, 2010 @ 7:46 am | Reply

  4. Thanks much for all this information. I need one more bit of technology understanding: Definition of “wireless.”

    At our location, we do not get cell phone reception. Ergo, “wireless” is a useless feature for me.

    But we have “wireless” internet access as an option in our home network, so I can go online with my laptop elsewhere in the house, or tap into public-access wireless sites when I’m traveling.

    So . . . which do I need for a Kindle, the cell-phone version or the computer version?

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    Comment by Carolyn — September 7, 2010 @ 7:45 am | Reply

  5. Thanks for a well-thought and researched post. I agree the closed Kindle system does maker hesitant to buy one. I don’t want to be trapped with one system. But, as you pointed out, Amazon has amazing customer service. Plus their bookstore is far superior to others.

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    Comment by Jack W Perry — September 7, 2010 @ 7:51 am | Reply

  6. Rich,

    I believe that you’ve neglected to mention a couple of the most compelling Amazon features.

    1. Multiple device access. A purchased kindle-format book can be simultaneously accessed by up to
    six (unless book-specifically limited further) devices of various types (any kindle, PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, etc., a growing list) with small, free application programs. (but not Sony or nook, understandably)

    2. As part of the above, any of the devices could be in other states in the US, as close friends or relatives
    can share the same Amazon account. If one person buys a kindle book, it is also immediately available to all the other devices registered to the same account. And buying a new kindle may well bring along immediate access to hundreds of kindle books already purchased.

    Regards, Don

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    Comment by Don Lloyd — September 7, 2010 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

    • Don, Sony, too, can share for up to 6 devices, including PCs and Macs. I don’t know about the nook, not owning one, but my son and I share my Sony account and he lives an hour+ away and has his own device. Sony will have applications for the Apple products (as I understand it) in November.

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      Comment by americaneditor — September 7, 2010 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

      • Rich,

        Thanks. That’s good.

        I think you said that you only use computer-USB loading?

        How does Sony restrict copies/access?

        Thanks, Don

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        Comment by Don Lloyd — September 7, 2010 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

        • Truthfully, Don, I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it nor experimented. It isn’t clear to me whether Sony downloads the file to my PC or directly from its server to a tethered device (which is what I suspect). The books that I buy at Sony are read-once-throwaway books, which is why I am willing to buy them as ebooks rather than pbooks, so once I’ve read them, I delete them. They do remain available on Sony’s servers, however.

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          Comment by americaneditor — September 8, 2010 @ 4:36 am | Reply

  7. >>>I’ve not found any book that I am looking for to be available at Amazon but not Sony

    You can’t have looked hard. The selection for the Kindle just slays all the rest, period.

    I Fought The Kindle — And Lost
    http://mikecane.tumblr.com/post/923582826/i-fought-the-kindle-and-lost

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    Comment by mikecane — September 8, 2010 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

    • Mike, you are not emphasizing the key words in my statement: “book that I am looking for.” That Amazon has, and Sony doesn’t, books that I am not interested in is meaningless, just as it is meaningless to say Amazon has 1 million books in inventory and Sony only has 750,000. Even if I were interested in every one of the 1 million books, I won’t live long enough to read all of them and it is just as easy to begin by reading books that both stores sell as it is to begin by reading books that only one of the stores sells.

      Some arguments are valid and award-winning, others are arguments for the sake of being cantankerous. I think the argument that Amazon has more books in inventory is one of the cantankerous arguments because it only matters if you can’t find something that you want to read. Numbers of books listed are just numbers and meaningless in the debate about ebookstores.

      As for your fighting the Kindle and losing, you aren’t the first or the last. Of course, the Marines might look askance at how easily you were overcome and the weakness of the reasoning, but that is what makes America great — you are free to give up when you want🙂.

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      Comment by americaneditor — September 9, 2010 @ 4:49 am | Reply

  8. […] Rich Adin’s An American Editor […]

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    Pingback by Is this the time to take the plunge? New reading devices appear | Equiretechnologies's Blog — September 16, 2010 @ 12:18 am | Reply


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