… and, in the process, I’ve chosen a side in the ereader wars. (I’m not going to talk about ereaders vs. netbooks/iPads/iPhones vs. books right now. I’ve done that, albeit back in the pre-iPad era—and back when I was in love with a product that never actually made it to market. I may feel the need to do it again, since people continue to refer to the iPad as an ereader and keep insisting on the intrinsic value of book-as-physical-object, but this is not that post.)
As I’ve said numerous times, both on social media and in person, “Amazon is the Sony of the ereader market.” Which is probably not something anybody besides us fair use geeks would even begin to find funny. (But, believe me, if you’re that kind of nerd, it’s hilarious. ;)) By saying that, I mean to imply that Amazon is doing terrible things with so-called Digital Rights Management (DRM) and is treating its customers like criminals—which is normally Sony’s bag, what with the rootkits on Sony Music CDs back in the day and various other distasteful practices over time. Sony has apparently learned their lesson and is playing nice with ereaders, though, going so far as to bring libraries and Google Books to the table, even more actively than the Nook does.
The thing about the Kindle is, yes, it’s a pretty neat little machine. It was ground-breaking—in part because Amazon released it prematurely—and it’s been the reader to beat for a while now. Some people think nobody else will catch up. But, of course, that’s ridiculous. Their DRM is too restrictive, for one: unlike the Sony Reader and Nook (and everyone else in the world), Amazon does not natively support ePub. Previous models didn’t support PDF or Word natively, either, though I hear the newer models do. Google Books does not natively work with a Kindle, though there’s a conversion you can do to get them working. And there’s that whole Big Brother thing that Amazon can do.
Most frustrating, at least to me: there’s no way to check out a library book for a Kindle. It’s just not a use case they support. Both Sony and the Nook allow that, through the Overdrive service. (If you’re in Alaska, here’s where you go to do that.)
So, which was it, you ask? The Sony or the Nook?
I went with Sony. I admit, I really wanted the touch screen and stylus. I adore the itty-bitty form factor of the Pocket Edition(tm)—enough that I was willing to skip some of the functionality (and pretty black border) of the bigger Touch Edition(tm) or the Nook. I trust Overdrive to work on the Sony more easily than it probably would on the Nook—which might not be entirely fair, I admit, but I would add that I also liked the idea of supporting Sony for making the Overdrive service available in the first place. And, as far as down sides to the Nook, the color screen for viewing and purchasing book titles annoys me and hurts my eyes—and it’s wasting screen real estate that could be given over to, you know, books. As far as the wifi (or 3G) option, combined with that little strip of color screen, I understand that purchasing is part of the lifecycle of an ebook, but it bothers me, on some level, that it’s such a huge part of the device’s design. And, although I’m not a big writer/note-taker/highlighter in physical books, I hated how annotation worked in the Nook I got to play with a couple of months ago—I found it sufficiently slow and annoying that I considered it unusable. And I’d like to have the option, sometimes, you know?
I alluded to some lost functionality, and I feel like it would be unfair to throw down this ringing endorsement of my lovely ebook reader (or is it a ringing dismissal of its competitors?) without letting you in on its down sides: it has no space for removable memory, so you can only fit 1200 books at a time (I don’t feel overly limited by that, since it looks like books are easily removable, but some people might); it has no audio output, so audiobooks are out; when I tried to read a book in landscape orientation, pagination did not work the way I’d hope; and, as far as I know, it doesn’t have any of the games that the Nook or Kindle offer, yet. (Frankly, I can live without chess & sudoku, but, I admit, I’d love to be able to play Zork.)
The annotation feature is faster than the Nook’s, though I’m not convinced it’s perfect. You can highlight text, and you can hand-write notes with the included stylus (or your finger, I guess), but there’s no way to enter a text/typed annotation. That means your notes can’t really be searchable. It’s as good as a p-book, though (see what I did there? :)), so I’ll take it.
Also, while I’d call it a feature, rather than a bug, I know some people would find the Sony reader’s interaction with its bookstore limiting: you have to buy all of your books, magazines, etc. and sync them to the device before you leave the house, the same way you have to buy all of your songs and download all of your podcasts, then sync them onto an iPod, before you leave the house. It’s exactly the same model, down to accessing the store through the application that syncs the device and your computer. On the down side, you can’t impulse buy something when you’re sitting at an airport without a laptop—you have to plan ahead a little—but on the up side, there’s no way for Sony to remotely access your device and modify or take away a book you’re reading.
And, you know, I guess you can’t tweet from it.