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Questions about the Sony Reader:

I wonder if the technologically sophisticated VC readership could answer the following questions about the Sony Reader, which I'm thinking of buying for a non-English speaking relative:

1. Does the Sony Reader have the capacity to download non-English language books? Particularly Russian-language ones.

2. If the answer to 1 is "Yes," is there in fact a significant number of Russian-language books available in a form that is compatible with the reader?

3. With respect even to English-language books, how broad is the range of available titles that can be accessed through the reader? Can, you, for example, get everything that is available through Amazon.com or other similar sites? This question is in case I want to buy one for myself too.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Philistine (mail):
As I understand it, most of your questions ultimately deal with the formats the reader will read.

FWIU, the reader reads it's own proprietary format, as well as PDF, RTF, and TXT (DOC can be converted to the proprietary format). I believe the reader does not come with user-addable fonts, so you're stuck with what Sony gives you. Russian PDF's are probably viewable (at least as images), but in order to make viewing comfortable, they'd probably have to be resized. (Take all this with a large grain of salt, as this is only from what I've cursorily read ).

Take a look at the forums at mobileread.com--they'll probably be in a much better position to answer your questions.

From there--here is one discussion there which does not look too hopeful.

For your non-English speaking relative, you may want to look at this discussion, which links a review (in Russian) of a different reader.

On the English side--I'm a little dubious of the content that will be available. I don't like proprietary formats, and you'll be limited to the Connect network (or TXT, RTF and PDF). The lack of HTML is perplexing, as well as PDB. I've never liked Sony's DRM style, and though I like the "electronic ink" technology, I'm personally giving it a pass until both the price comes down and native formats increase.

If you have a PDA there are any number of free (or very low cost) reader programs out there that will allow you to read pretty much any format ebook on your PDA. (I use ubook, personally for most).

I think being able to read ebooks on a portable device is the best thing since sliced bread--so I heartily recommend getting something that works for you. Sorry I couldn't be more concrete on our specific questions.
12.15.2006 6:55am
Positive Dennis:
http://www.universalinternetlibrary.ru/

There are compatability issues even with the compouter. Also a few copyright issues so this post is for informational purposes only.

Positive Dennis
12.15.2006 8:14am
tefta2 (mail):
Phil, I also think that reading ebooks on a portable device is, or would be if I could figure out which one to get, the greatest thing since sliced bread, or even, bread itself, but I no longer have the patience to do the research necessary and hope that after the holidays, when people have had a chance to use and evaluate these products, there will be a post here with advice for us slackers.
12.15.2006 8:40am
another anonVCfan:
I'm generally not an early adopter, but I'm extremely excited about this technology, particularly now that I'm in practice. I work in election law, which has the upside that there's a relatively small number of principal cases, but the downside that some of them (e.g., Buckley, McConnell) are hundreds of pages long. The ability to take them, not to mention FEC decisions and law review articles, wherever I go without having to lug around reams of paper would be great.
12.15.2006 9:13am
Jiminy (mail):
The Reader concept is very nice, and the e-ink looks AMAZING, even in sunlight. It also has great power conservation. However, this Sony product has had lots of issues with it's formats, and seems to be another avenue where Sony is forcing DRM or its specific formats on it.

There is hope, however. There are a number of other readers out there, such as the Iliad by Irex, which is not crippled by many of the Sony's issues. If you goto mobileread.com, there is a comparison discussion forum called "which one should I buy?" that I found useful.

Now, I have a Palm Treo smartphone, so I installed the free ereader program and love it. I've tried the Sony and the Irex, and they both have things I like about them. The one BIG problem is the huge cost - why not get a small form tablet laptop and get a full computer in the bargain, instead of a single-function gadget that weighs a little less and does a whole lot less than a lappy?

I have THOUSANDS of ebooks, from fiction, sci-fi, to regular texts and manuals. The Gutenberg Project is a definitive collection of public domain texts of all sorts, and is a great start for english ebooks.

One important function for my Treo reader program was the ability to autoscroll and change the speed. Then, I just stare at the screen as the lines scroll by - I don't have to hold it and can do other things while reading. That was a huge point of interest for me.
12.15.2006 10:32am
Colin (mail):
I own one, and although I'm usually very skeptical of Sony's (non-TV) products, I'm a huge fan of the Reader. Overall, I recommend it strongly, but please try one in the store, first. Some people think the e-ink display is amazing---I've had several people come up to me in restaurants as I'm reading over a meal and ask what the device is. Other people think it's too faint or difficult to read. You should try one in person before you buy.

Personally, I think it's comfortable to hold and read for long periods of time. I'm not bothered by the lack of a backlight (currently impossible with e-ink displays) or the slow page turning time (roughly the same as turning a physical page). Your (and your relative's) mileage may vary.

1. Does the Sony Reader have the capacity to download non-English language books? Particularly Russian-language ones.

A qualified yes. The Reader doesn't download anything itself. It uses an iTunes-like piece of software called Connect. Connect is awful. It was apparently designed by misanthropes, or possibly just idiots. Most Reader users seem to use it as little as possible.

Connect is the only way to download books in Sony's proprietary format, but fortunately (and very unusually, for Sony) the Reader is very good about formats. It will also read text, rich-text, and PDF files. The first two work very well (I'm reading a book in RTF now), although the first time you open a book it will take a minute or two to paginate the text. PDFs look great, although I haven't read a book that way yet. You do have to resize the text before you load it on the Reader because the device is physically too small to make a standard 8 1/2 x 11" page legible otherwise.

2. If the answer to 1 is "Yes," is there in fact a significant number of Russian-language books available in a form that is compatible with the reader?

Not really, unless you have a source for Russian-language books in an open format. If you do, you can always convert them to PDFs using Word or Wordperfect. That's simple and quick once you find a set of formatting options you like (such as size and margins).

Positive Dennis's link looks promising, but my Russian is awful so I didn't spend long looking at the site.

3. With respect even to English-language books, how broad is the range of available titles that can be accessed through the reader? Can, you, for example, get everything that is available through Amazon.com or other similar sites? This question is in case I want to buy one for myself too.

You probably can't read something you bought through Amazon, Peanut Press, or any other commercial e-book outfit. (Unless you stripped the DRM from one of their PDFs or found some way to generate a text output, which I can't imagine their terms allow.) You can load up anything from Project Gutenberg or, if you like science fiction, Baen.com. Baen is a real pioneer in the e-book world, but unfortunately their model of selling unprotected texts probably won't catch on among non-niche publishers.

As an aside, some people like to say that the Reader is the first of a generation of products custom-made for people like lawyers, who can carry useful libraries in their pockets. Baldercrap, at least with this first cadre of products. You can't search on the Reader, and page turning is too slow to "flip through" a book. That's no problem for leisure reading, but I wouldn't look to one of these for most work purposes.

Finally, mobileread.com is a great resource. Their forums provide all sorts of useful tips, tricks, and personal reviews. Some of them, as linked above, discuss the specifics of Cyrillic on the Reader. Also, I'm happy to answer any questions you might have--if you have a specific file or format you'd like to try, I'd be happy to download it and see how it well it displays after I get home from work.
12.15.2006 10:33am
Colin (mail):
Clarification: You can download books to the Reader from your PC without Connect, although I think you'll need a memory stick or SD card. (Again, unusually for Sony, the Reader accepts non-Sony flash memory.) The management of files from Connect isn't that bad, although you can't currently group your files in intelligent ways. It's the Connect store, analogous to the iTunes store, that's disappointing. Connect is also technically incompatible with the Vista previews, so far, but you can get it running anyway. I'm sure that it will be officially compatible by the time the home versions of Vista are released.
12.15.2006 10:37am
Realist Liberal:
If only I could put casebooks on that thing. The benefits to my back alone would probably be worth it.
12.15.2006 10:50am
Colin (mail):
Meh. Casebooks are one thing that I'd rather have had in paper format. Even the I-Rex device, which allows annotations, wouldn't be as useful for taking notes and highlighting and such. Also, for reference books, I like having a spacial awareness of where in the book you are at any given time.

I forgot to comment on the state of the Connect store's inventory (ebooks.connect.com). It's not fantastic, but it's about as good as any other ebook store and building steadily (if not quickly). I can't find Scalzi's books or Venkatesh's book on the underground economy (which I can't wait to read), but I'd be surprised if they weren't available there in a month or so. They're relatively good about adding books that have a high demand or build quick sales in phsyical form. I think the pace of the growth of inventory will be determined by the publishers rather than Sony, and should be about equal across the various stores.
12.15.2006 12:08pm
alex314 (mail):
1. Unqualified yes. See here and here.

2. Yes. I download books from lib.ru and put them on the reader all the time. I use bookdesigner for this.

3. No - definitely cannot get everything available on amazon. Despite the large number of ebook stores online, the range of available offerings seems quite small. Unless youre talking about sci-fi/fantasy/cheap paperbacks, which are plentifully available.
12.16.2006 5:06am