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Life with my Sony Touch e-reader

By Emma on January 14, 2011

Last year, after many months of declaring that I didn’t see a need to own one, I bought an e-reader. A combination of birthday money and identifying a need made me invest in a Sony Touch PRS-600 and I am happy to say that my e-reader and I are developing a wonderful relationship.

Need? Did you really need an e-reader?

The need didn’t have anything to do with e-books, it was all to do with my voice work. I was printing out manuscripts to take into my recording booth and the cost was becoming prohibitive (I have a rubbish inkjet printer) in ink cartridges and paper, not to mention the need to recycle the materials afterwards. I couldn’t get away from the need to have something to read aloud from, but figured that having an e-reader would mean I wouldn’t have to keep printing out all the time.

Then another good reason popped up…

I’m part of a wonderful community of writers on Twitter, and many of them only publish e-books. I wanted to support them and their writing, and as reading long sections of prose on my laptop gives me a migraine, I realised that I actually wanted an e-reader too…

Cue complete bamboozlement over the options.

Nook, Kindle, Sony and a smattering of other readers to choose from – it was daunting. But I researched the options online and settled upon the Sony for two principle reasons:

1) I don’t like the way the Kindle ties you into Amazon so completely – and horror stories of books being pulled off the device put me off completely. It seemed like leasing, rather than owning e-books.

2) The Touch has a note making option that I couldn’t resist, and has become my favourite feature.

First impressions

When I first got it out of the box I was amazed by how heavy it seemed. I had no idea what I was expecting, but it was the size of a very slim novella but the weight of a hefty hardback, and my little brain got very confused.

I was comparing it to a book, and pretty quickly, I realised I had to stop doing that. Most of the reasons I’ve heard people give about resisting the purchase of an e-reader is because it isn’t the same as holding a paper book and turning a page. There’s an implicit comparison between an e-reader and a book which I have come to realise (having done that myself) is useless. They are incomparable. Yes, both deliver books into your brain, but the sensory experience shouldn’t be equated. Why? Because an e-reader has different functionality, is made of different materials and I think is doomed to failure if all you want it to do is replicate the experience of reading a paper book.

I’ve learnt to see my e-reader as something completely different, and once that happened, I started to fall in love.

Wonderful features of the Sony Touch

In terms of using it for my audio recording work, it is excellent. Text can be enlarged, which is great when you’re in a dark booth and the reader is lit by two little clip on reading lights. It sits on my music stand beautifully, the only thing I have had to adjust is how I cope with not being able to line the next page up in advance to have a smooth transition from one to the next, as obviously, only one page at a time can be viewed. I’m still figuring that out, but it’s not a deal breaker.

The notes feature

I loaded the first draft of book two onto the reader to do my preliminary first round read – the one in which I check pacing, glaring errors, continuity issues and whether it hangs together as a novel.

The reader was a godsend, and that was all down to the Touch notes feature. Basically, if you double tap on a word (with stylus or long fingernail) and then drag across, you have the option to add a note. Then you can use the touchpad keyboard to type in a note and then save to carry on reading.

What makes it wonderful is that when I sat down to make the first edits, I could call up the list of notes, see what I wrote, cringe, and then tap through to where the note was in the text so I could edit the master file on the computer. Intuitive, easy and saved a few pages being reprinted for the second round of editing (line edits). Yummy.

Reading in bed

I recently had a bout of insomnia and tried to finish Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in bed in the middle of the night. It’s over 500 pages long and gave me achy arms. In contrast, the e-reader is easy to hold up under the edge of the duvet. It’s the little things. Though saying that, I would never give up my paperback of Murakami – or any of the others I own.

The not-so wonderful points

I ask my voice work clients to send their books to me in .rtf format, as I’ve found the reader handles that well. But sadly, experiences of buying e-books and their formatting has been patchy.

One format that is particularly problematic is PDF. One book I had been looking forward to reading for a long time was only available from the publisher (a small press) as a PDF which I have developed a serious bugbear about.

If you publish e-books, don’t offer PDF as the only option!

The reason why is that the e-reader by default shows the entire page, so the text is tiny. Then when you zoom in, the pages become very bitty, sometimes only one paragraph appears on the screen for example, and the header and footer contents display in odd places too.

E-pub formatted books are often better, but several ones have had entire paragraphs in bold, and huge spaces where there shouldn’t be, and that seriously detracts from the reading experience.

Step in Calibre

I don’t use the software that came with the e-reader as I absorbed from my research that it is pretty unhelpful. I downloaded Calibre the day the e-reader arrived and I love it. One of its best features is file conversion, and using it to convert the PDF I mentioned earlier has improved the reading experience immensely, but those headers and footers still break up the text in an irritating way.

Another book I have my eye on is only available in Kindle format (sigh) so I will be testing conversion from Kindle’s format to e-pub soon too.

Incidentally, I did load the Sony library software afterwards to see if I liked it. I didn’t, but that might be due to trying Calibre first. You know, like which Star Trek you like the most is often due to which one you saw first (though everyone knows that Next Gen is far superior. Right?) and are used to.

Common concerns

There’s no getting away from the fact that at some angles, reflections on the screen are distracting, but all I do is adjust the angle slightly and then it’s perfectly fine. Again, my first thought was “Oh I never have to do this with a paper book, grrr!” but then when I realised it was fixable, and actually not a big deal, it hasn’t bothered me at all.

I was worried that the problems I have with reading my computer screen would carry over to the reader. Happily I have had no problems there at all, and have read for several hours at a time with no ill effects. The Sony e-reader isn’t backlit, which I think helps a lot. When I played with my friend’s iPad, I didn’t have the same confidence that I would be able to read on it for hours as the screen is lit. Didn’t stop me wanting one though. So pretty…

I do treat it like a box of eggs, as the neoprene sleeve that comes with it protects the screen from scratches but I reckon little else. I’ve ordered a protective case with my Christmas vouchers, which has yet to arrive. Without a case, I would be reluctant to travel with it. I keep it a long way away from my three year old…

Phew, that’s easily long enough already! I put out a call on Twitter for questions and I have received these so far. I’ll answer them in the next post – do you have any to add to the list?

If every book you wanted to read was available as an eBook, would you like to go 100% digital?

Do you have to use Sony software with it on your pc? And is it as horrible as SonicStage, that came with their MD players?

Do you get weird formatting issues, like @gothick found with his Kindle, even on non-free books?

What’s battery life like?

Have you tried a Kindle… how does it compare? Is there a good selection of books, as you can’t use Amazon?

Part 2 coming soon!

{ 11 comments... read them below, or add one }

  1. Dom Camus says:

    The thing about “publish in some other format as well as PDF” is that it makes the difficult question of what software to use even harder. What would you recommend?

  2. Iain Broome says:

    Fantastic overview Emma of a device I haven’t had the chance to try yet. I have an iPad and I have to say I love it for reading on, although it’s tended to be shorter articles and things I’ve saved to Instapaper. I’m reading my first full novel on it at the moment and enjoying it. I chose the iPad because I want to write on my device too – and I don’t think the iPad is comparible to other ereaders which are more primarily for reading.

    Anyway… loved the overview. Very interesting. I’ll link you up on Broomeshtick shortly.

  3. Richard says:

    Is it sploshproof? I like to read in the bath.

  4. Walt says:

    Good information. I have a Nook from Barnes and Noble and have been very happy with it. I haven’t had too much trouble with it, although I’ve stuck to mostly ePub format.

  5. Merrilee says:

    Thanks Emma, very helpful and logical analysis.

  6. Ooo a touch screen! *Droooool*

    As you know, I have a Kindle and I love it. I also use Calibre for conversions. And, yes, PDFs are the bane of an ereader’s life. I daresay publishers will get the hang of this technology eventually (but maybe not before they all go out of business.)

    @Dom Camus, if you publish in EPUB and MOBI you’ve got it covered (i.e. Kindle and the rest.)

    @Richard, I heard a tip from a Kindle user who likes to read in the bath. She puts hers into a resealable plastic bag!

  7. Dom Camus says:

    @Graham> Thanks, useful to know. But those are formats, I was really asking about software. If I produce my page layouts in something like Adobe Illustrator it doesn’t have an “Export to EPUB” option, so I need some package that will do that for me.

  8. Emma says:

    @Dom – I’m told that Calibre can be used to create ePub, mobi and all the others major formats too – and as it’s free it seems like a good place to start 🙂

    @Rick – I would never risk using mine in the bath, though, like Graham, I have heard of people using ziploc bags and the like. Harder to dry out an e-reader on the radiator…

  9. Dom Camus says:

    Great tip! Thanks Em. 🙂

  10. […] couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on life with a Sony Touch e-reader. As promised, here is a follow-up, in which I answer questions sent through to me on Twitter and […]

  11. Matt says:

    if there is one thing to be said about the kindle, it’s that the screen is anti-glare. it’s designed to actually look like a book, which is a good way of weening the technophobes onto it!
    Matt recently posted..The Screen Filter – Your Privacy Shield

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