This morning British bookstore chain Waterstones launched the Sony eBook reader at a cost of £199. I have been looking at eBook readers for some time but I remain unconvinced that the new technology will be to books what MP3 players have been to music. The jury is currently out. But I am trying Waterstones' new toy and, so far, I have been impressed. Earlier this year I rejected the Rex Iliad, which has more features (such as annotations), but is large and cumbersome and costs twice the price of the Sony. It isn't Mac compatible either.
So the Sony it is for now. Let's get the bad point out of the way first: The Sony eBook reader, as with the Iliad, is NOT Mac compatible (or, at least, the store and archival software isn't). This is usually a good enough reason for me not to buy, but this time I decided to give it a go. Fortunately I have Parallels Desktop to run Windows and I was able to get the Sony reader up and running in a short time. The package from Waterstones comes with a CD of 100 classic books, and Adobe Digital Editions, which you must download, gives a starter pack of, mostly, excerpts to whet the appetite.
The device itself is a good looker and has the dimensions of a standard paperback, although it is much thinner. For comparison purposes, the reader with the standard folder case weighs in at 400g while an average paperback is 250g and the equivalent hardback is 650g. So it is an easy thing to carry, particularly if you normally travel with half a dozen books. Instead of the bulk and upwards of 2kg out of your baggage allowance, your collection never weighs more than 400g.
So far I have tested the operation and read a couple of pages. The screen technology of these latest eBook readers is a dramatic improvement on earlier efforts and the screen looks as near as possible the same as a page in a book, but perhaps with a slight greyish background. I will report on developments when I have had more experience of actually reading something.
I am not overjoyed with Waterstones' online bookstore. First impressions show very few books from my favourite authors and it is not so easy to stay within the eBook store. It is all too easy to be seduced by a button (in the eBook store) for "best sellers" only to find yourself buying a proper book. I was happy to go with Waterstones because I hope the content will have a British bias, but I think they need to get more titles listed quickly if the eBook reader is to be really successful.