My favorite 2006 CES gadget – the sony ebook reader

Yeah, everyone one else’s eyes were glazing over after checking out their 999th HDTV (this one has a background glow! This one has extra bright pixels! This one only costs $11,000!). Meanwhile all I want is one of those Sony ebook readers. Sony initially released this in Japan, but with an absolutely draconion DRM scheme which boiled down to ‘your $500 ebook reader can only read our stuff.’ They’ve apparently learned a little bit of a lesson since then, and the US model will cost less (between $3-400) and will allow you to import pdf and txt files onto the device.

Most folks look at it and think ‘black and white? feh!’ My reaction is: how many full color paperback books do you have? You’re missing the point of the device. It’s still a little spendy, even at $300, but the tradeoff is you can carry your entire library around with you, and unlike a laptop it’s very light, has a much higher contrast screen, and the batteries last for at least 10 hours. I would use this thing constantly, it’s an evolution of the form (the book) that appeals to me tremendously. I do have two criticisms though. First and most damning: there is no search feature. None. One of the primary strengths of an ebook over paper is search! Forget who a character/place/thing is in a book? A quick search later and you remember. How Sony could opt not to include it is beyond me. My other criticism is more of a hunch – the press release refers to sony software you use to move content onto the device, and sony has an absolutely atrocious record in this department. Apparently their marketing folks haven’t yet noticed that no one is buying their mp3 players. Or maybe they have and they just haven’t figured out is the reason is because of assinine DRM and awful software which compounds the problem. So I tremble to think of what their ebook management software will look like.

Hopefully either they’ll have learned their lesson and made sure their software is decent by the time the device arrives here (this spring), or the hackers will take care of it for us. Either way I have my eyes on these, I really really want a digital book. I’ve been tinkering with another Tablet PC as the solution to this, and in many ways they work very well, but they have two fundamental problems: weight and battery charge.

Oh, and I have one wish as well, not that I have much hope it will come true. It would be excellent of the device came with some form of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), which I’ve written about before. If you haven’t tried it, check out Dictator for an example of the form. The project is inactive but the software is free, open source, and relatively easy to install.

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