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So, Amazon has finally released its ebook reader, the Kindle. Within 24 hours of its launch, there were a couple of hundred customer “reviews” of the Kindle on Amazon.com, the majority of them uncomplimentary and almost all of them written by people who haven’t even seen the Kindle, let alone used it. Despite the detractors, the Kindle sold out within a couple of days and people are now having to wait to get a Kindle in their hands.

I’ve been a long-term user of the Sony Reader and now have a Kindle resting in my lap. Which is better? Is either worth having?

The short answers: the Kindle and yes.

In the next few posts, I’ll expand on those answers.

What’s great about both readers

When I first started using the Sony Reader, I was not at all sure whether I’d take to ebooks. After all, they don’t have the heft, the page turn, the smell of paper-based books.

Seven months with the Sony Reader have turned me into an ebook devotee, without denting my love for pbooks. The thing is, it’s not an either/or choice: there’s a place for both types of books.

Although pbooks win on sentimental and tactile appeal and on the range of reading material available, there’s a lot to love about ebooks and the Kindle and Sony Reader:

  • You have a library in your hand. Instead of loading up your bags with books when you travel, you tuck the ebook reader in your carry-on and lighten your load. You also don’t have to pick and choose which books you take with you – just take a whole bunch of them.
  • Get new books when you want them, including in the middle of the night.
  • The E Ink technology used in the displays is blissfully easy on the eyes. Readable on the beach or in bed (with a light). Because there’s no backlighting, there’s no eye strain, and the ability to change text sizes on the fly makes ebooks even more readable. The downside is that you must have a light source: you can’t read E Ink in the dark. It makes investing in a clip-on book light worthwhile.
  • Automatic bookmarking. Switch your ebook on and it opens to the page you were reading last. You can have multiple bookmarks, too, so you can quickly jump to marked pages in any of your books.
  • No dead trees. There’s the environmental impact of the materials in your ebook, the downloading of new content and battery life (remarkably long) to consider, but that’s a smaller footprint than the hundreds or thousands of pbooks you won’t be buying.

What’s not so great

We’re at the early stage of development for ebook readers. Both the Amazon and Sony products have a long way to go to deliver a completely satisfying experience. I have no doubt it will come, but right now it’s not here.

Some of the drawbacks to using the Kindle or Sony Reader:

  • Lack of content. Amazon boasts about having over 88,000 books available for the Kindle; Sony’s Connect store offers a fraction of that number. It’s an atom in a drop in a bucket. Unless you restrict your reading to bestsellers and publishers fads, you’ll quickly discover how many, many books aren’t available in eformat.
  • It’s all in black and white. There’s no colour support and the graphics capabilities are severely limited. That’s fine when you’re deep into the text, but you won’t want to read illustrated books, books with charts and diagrams, or any book where the design is an integral part of the reading experience. You miss out on cover artwork and photos.

What you might not expect

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos talks about wanting to make the Kindle “disappear”, so you don’t experience the technology, all you experience is the experience of reading. Surprisingly – especially given its clunky looks – the Kindle delivers. So, too, does the Sony Reader.

Which delivers the better experience? I’ll take a look at that tomorrow.