SpaceBrew Review: Comparing eReaders

I set out in search of a good eReader, hoping to facilitate the nessecary dwindling of my rather Brobdingnagian collection of hardback books. There are a lot of choices on the market today, but only a few rise to the top, leaps and bounds above the others. These three are the Kindle, the Nook and the Sony Reader. I shall therefore discuss the pros and cons of all three of these and tell you why I ended up choosing the one I did.

Firstly, I did not want a tablet device that runs Android. I don’t need another computer in the house. Good Greg, I’ve got a lot of mother cussing computers. And a tablet is like a waiter at a busy dolphin diner: it serves multiple porpoises. Sniff. I really just wanted something that reads ebooks, and that’s all. Nothing fancy, but something clean, sharp and comfortable.

When defining the comfort of a device, one must consider first the physical aspects like weight, size and texture, as well as how comfortable it is on the eyes. For reading electronic books, there is only one contender in the technology department: electronic paper. It is massively more comfortable on the eyes than the LCD of a tablet PC, because it reflects ambient light rather than producing its own, and has a very low refresh rate. E-paper feels to the eyes like one is reading a newspaper or a conventional book. So all that’s left, then, is physical comfort.

I bought an ebook reader back when they first came out – around 1998. It was a SoftBook. And it felt like you were holding a real book. It weighed almost three pounds, was cumbersome and odd, and – well, altogether just uncomfortable. It was almost exactly the dimensions of a standard hardback. I would definitely be seeking out something smaller and lighter for my next eReader. I took the SoftBook back promptly.

Another annoying feature about the SoftBook was that it took SanDisk cartridges upon which you stored the media, and you had to purchase all the books from the company’s store. Whether you care about things like that or not, it should still be considered: that company is no longer selling ebooks. Therefore, no longer storing them for you either. I want a device I can load with my own content, and back it up on my own computers. I want the freedom to shop around and buy my books from wherever I choose, and load them onto my computer for storage. And throw a couple of hundred books onto my device to carry around with me. That way if I want to read an old book I read a long time ago, I can just reload it from my computer. I won’t have to worry about downloading it from their store again – whether free or not. What if they close their store? Yeah. You get to buy the book again.

Well, okay, so that rules out the Kindle and the Nook already. You can only purchase books for those devices from their respective companies – Amazon and Barnes and Noble. A pro of each of these devices is that they both have wifi and 3G support, for downloading and purchasing books. The Sony Reader has no radio, and must be loaded from a computer. I prefer the latter. Not having a radio will save your battery. The battery on the Sony Reader Pocket Edition, for instance will last up to a month on a single charge. When you put it to sleep, it will turn off automatically in two days. Two days is about how long most typical eReader batteries last. So Sony owns the market on battery awesomeness.

It must be pretty obvious by now that I don’t like proprietary devices, hence my selling the iPhone and iPods and moving up to more grown-up devices that run Android, or other open-source OS choices. I actually think it’s pretty ridiculous that companies continue to release these proprietary devices and really limit themselves on their customer base. Sure, the Kindle sells better than the other readers, but for those who prefer to be able to use the device the way they want to, they’ll probably go with something else.

Sony once released a proprietary device. Called Beta. It played smaller video cassettes than VHS, and had a much better picture. But they wouldn’t sell the rights. They promptly lost their market share and the project folded and went away. Sony learned its lesson. The Walkman mp3 player and the eReaders, for instance, are loaded by computers, with whatever you choose to put on them. You bought the device, it is therefore yours, and can be used how you want to use it!

Yeah. I bought the Sony Pocket edition. It’s smaller and lighter and better looking than the competitors, in my humble opinion, and less expensive to boot. I can use it how I want, the battery lasts longer than the others, and I’m not tied into buying books from one place. I already had a large collection of ebooks I’ve bought over the years, stored on my server at home. I read them on my computers. Now they are on my Sony Reader. How nice is that?

Now that you know what this is about, let me tell you some other cool features. It comes with a stylus that stows away in the upper right side of the device. It is touch screen – which I try to avoid, as I don’t like finger smudges on the screen – but can be manipulated with the stylus as well. You can turn pages with the touch of a button, or by swiping your stylus (or finger) across the screen.

You can double-tap on any word in any book, and it will bring up a dictionary definition on the bottom slice of the screen. It has a full dictionary loaded into it. It’s little bitty and fits right in my pocket. I bought the Sony case for it, because there’s really just no substitute. It’s low-profile, not some thick padded leather crap with Velcro and zippers on it. The case is just a folded wallet-like flap that magnets itself to the book to keep closed. Very slick.

And finally, I can put my own pictures on it to use as screen savers. As seen in the inset picture, it’s smaller than my hand, and really slick looking. Before anyone asks, yes, I did hack the device already. Putting PRS+ on it allows you to choose your own fonts, organize the files in folder hierarchies (I’m very OCD about organization) and it even drops a few simple apps on the device. Apps include a few games, like solitaire, connect five, et cetera, and a nice little scientific calculator.

People always say, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” But my philosophy is more like, if it ain’t hacked, then hack it! I know, that’s really gay and it doesn’t even rhyme or anything. But it’s the best I could come up with on the fly. Hacking a device never removes any functionality, and typically doesn’t even change the look and feel of the kernel. It only ever adds more options and features. So I always hack my devices. Enjoy the pictures, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions about eBook readers, or other technologies. I spend a lot of time researching these things before I make the purchase.

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