Has Sony Finally Created an E-Book Device Worth Buying?

My house used to be wall-to-wall books, but I dumped several thousand of them before I bought my house because I was running out of space and I’d prefer to have books in digital form. Now my hard drive is overflowing with hundreds of electronic books.

The main drawback to electronic books is finding a decent device to read them on. I’ve read quite a few books on my Pocket PC handheld. While it has a number of things going for it, the biggest drawback there is the small screen. There are a number of dedicated electronic book readers that have various advantages and disadvantages. The one that was really tempting me was the Cybook which is essentially a Windows CE with a 10″ screen. Its main drawback, if the $399 price tag doesn’t scare you off, is that it is relatively heavy at almost 2 pounds. Some reviewers also complain that reading on an LCD screen like that for very long produces eye strain, though I’ve never had problems with that on my much smaller PDA.

Then along comes Sony, which its Sony Reader at CES. This is a revision of the Libre which Sony sold in Asian markets and which some electronic book enthusiasts imported through companies like Dynamism.Com.

Like the Cybook, the Sony Reader has a relatively large screen compared to other electronic book devices. Unlike the Cybook, the Sony Reader is much smaller overall and weighs less than 9 ounces.

Like the Libre, the Sony Reader also uses Sony’s e-ink technology which has a much higher resolution, is considerably easier on the eyes than the LCD screen that the Cybook uses, and has phenomenal battery life (the short version is that the device consumes the majority of its power only when a new page is brought up on the device).

And like the Libre, the Sony Reader has plenty of what has killed the electronic book market to date — digital rights management. Sony will be selling books in an online store for use on the Sony Reader, and these books will be encrypted and DRMed to the Sony Reader. So you buy all your favorite novels on Sony’s store and next year some company comes out with a better reader? Congratulations, you get to go buy all those books all over again if you want to read them on this new device.

Sony’s saving grace is that it claims the Reader will ship with software to convert “Adobe® PDFs, personal documents, blogs, newsfeeds, and JPEGs with the same amazing readability, so you can take your favorite blogs and online newspapers with you.” If it follows through on that promise, I’m buying one of these things the day it comes out if the price point is anywhere near the $300-$400 price range that Sony seems to be targeting.

As I’ve said before the key to e-books is to always buy them in a format that can be cracked and then converted to other formats so you’re not stuck in one device or format. Plus, you want to be able to convert the e-book to text or HTML so you can easily search it on a PC which is half the benefit of having the book in electronic format anyway.

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