Over the past two weeks I've been watching the coverage of the Amazon Kindle with disbelief. "The Kindle is here" according to headlines. In some press quarters, the advent of the Kindle is about to turn the British ebook market on its head. Publishers are quaking in their deep-pile carpets. But it's a strangely doctored version of the Kindle that UK consumers are now, by the grace of Amazon, allowed to purchase.
This version has to be imported individually from the USA, attracting extra VAT and import duties. The books you buy have to come from the US Amazon store with prices converted from dollars to pounds. Once you've overcome all these hurdles you can't use one of the Kindle's major Unique Selling Points–the 3G access and ability to download books while away from a wifi network.
As a seasoned ebook fan, with my Sony Touch Edition, I really cannot see what all the fuss is about. I've looked at the Kindle but don't like the design or the reading experience. That big keyboard takes up such a chunk of the face of the device and is about as sensible as a physical keyboard on a smartphone. The Sony has a virtual keyboard which is just about adequate for the slow refresh rate of today's eInk technology. You're not going to be writing a novel on the Amazon keyboard either, so why is it so prominent? Surely the screen should occupy the maximum space on the front. These days you don't buy a television set with thirty percent of the front occupied by buttons and tuning knobs.
The Sony, by contrast, strikes me as a paragon of good design. Most of the time you are reading books, not fiddling around on the internet or choosing new titles. Browsing the net on an eInk screen is likely to be an underwhelming experience. Better choose an iPhone for this. The Sony offers a simple, attractive user interface that makes reading books a pleasure. Also, it must be said, the Sony accepts the new ePub standard book format that means your books are portable. Amazon is currently a closed system. Once an Amazon, always and Amazon. For once, Sony is ahead of the game, even though they insist on putting a legacy memory stick slot on the top of the device.
I haven't had wifi connection on the Sony and I'm not really so sure that I would want it. Sure, I can see benefits in downloading newspapers and magazines but I prefer to browse a larger Mac monitor for my ebook purchases. However, rumour has it that Sony will have a wifi-enabled reader within a few months; it is already available in the States.
Amazon, famously, do not release sales statistics for the Kindle–a point made by Apple recently. We are therefore unlikely to hear just how many of the devices they will sell in the UK. When I see my first one in the wild I will post a comment. I certainly have no brand loyalty and will be off as soon as I find a better hole to go to. I doubt, though, that hole will be Amazon's unless they buck up their ideas.