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Why Sony’s eReader beats the pants off the Kindle

Sony‘s set to release some new ebook readers following on from the very-nice PRS505, and Jordan Golson at GigaOm looks at them and finds them wanting. His point is that the killer feature for ebooks is wireless. and makes some snarky comments about Sony’s lack thereof.

Jordan also seems to be under the impression that Sony is somehow “proprietary” compared.

“The new devices, of course, don’t connect to either of the high-profile e-book stores, Amazon’s Kindle store nor Barnes & Noble’s newly launched entry, but instead uses Sony’s proprietary e-book store, which has more than 1 million titles (mostly public domain titles from Google’s Books project) — but, because your device has to be connected to your computer to buy books, it’s not the great leap forward we’ve been hoping for.”

How is Sony’s store more “proprietary” than Amazon’s? AZW, used by Amazon, is a closed, proprietary format used by a single vendor. With Sony, you have a choice of formats even if you buy DRM’d books (ePub, BBeB and Secure PDF), some of which (ePub) are open standards. Or, you can choose to avoid DRM and use a completely open standard like ePub.

With Sony, I have a choice of stores. I can buy from Sony (of course), BooksOnBoard, Waterstones (in the UK), and others. I can shop around for the best price. With the Kindle, I can buy from… erm… Amazon. Or Amazon. And it has to be Amazon.com – no other International stores allowed (yet).

(Of course, at the moment, Amazon is selling ebooks at very good prices – in fact, some reckon, at a loss. But does anyone seriously think that will last if/when Kindle is established as the de facto ebook platform?)

So is Sony a lame alternative? No – it’s a better alternative. It supports more formats, and gives me the choice of more stores. The only advantage the Kindle has is convenience, and if you’re outside of wireless range that evaporates into nothing. What’s more, because my ebook reader doesn’t have a constant connection to the net, there’s no opportunity for Sony to pull the plug on books remotely, either.

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  • http://stefpause.com/ ManxStef

    The only problem being that Sony’s software – and the device’s workflow in general – is *utter arse*.

    A client of mine got one as a present from his wife around six months ago and couldn’t figure it out, so I had a look to see if I could help. Here’s what I can remember of the experience:

    The Sony software is horrible. It’s just not a nice app to use, it’s bland, poorly designed and awkward. Getting the free public domain books off the CDs supplied should’ve been simple, but was a tiresome affair, as was getting them on to the device itself. What’s worse is that it’s region-specific, so if you install the US software because you’re looking for the newest version due to the UK version lagging behind – good job, Sony! – well, that won’t go well: it presents you with the US Sony eBook store and won’t allow you to change region.

    If you stick with the UK version, well, it doesn’t have a UK store at all! When I checked it only had a static Waterstones image, instead of the US iTunes-like store, that redirected you to the website! This makes purchasing a book and importing it into the Sony software a truly annoying and long-winded task. Rubbish.

    It requires different software to use Secure PDF, which I seem to remember is the format of the Waterstones book my client had managed to purchase. This then requires firing up the Adobe Digital Editions software and using *this* to transfer it to the eReader, bypassing the Sony software, which can’t handle Secure PDFs itself. So you need to maintain separate libraries for different formats. Brilliant.

    The hardware itself is really rather nice, but the software is quite frankly *appalling* and completely ruins it.

    Do you have one? Has any of this changed? Because I’ve always had this experience when I’ve had the displeasure of using Sony electronic devices (the other notable one being their MP3 player & SonicStage).

    Apple have proved time and time again that people will put up with DRM, restrictions and all sorts of nonsense if you give them a complete easy-to-use workflow that means they can actually *use* the device: it’s what made the iPod such a success. Remember the days before iTunes when you had to rip music with 3rd party software, encode it, then copy it to the device manually? Remember Creative Lab’s consistently crap software back when MP3 players were in their infancy? (Thankfully those days are long gone, though there are still people stuck in their ways, manually micromanaging their MP3 library folder structures, who hate iTunes and its ilk.)

    Amazon understands all this, so the Kindle workflow is good. I think the key think that Jordan’s trying to get at is, but doesn’t explain well, is that wireless on-device purchasing allows you to bypass the whole syncing-to-software malarkey, which is a huge workflow improvement. You want a new book on your device? You buy it on the device and boom, there it is!

    Sony are still stuck ten years in the past and appear to not understand any of this, so their workflow is utterly shit. Is the eReader a better alternative? Hell no.

  • Ian Betteridge

    Yeah, I have one, and my experience of it with a Mac is fine. I don’t use Sony’s software (obviously, as there’s no Mac port yet) so I just use Adobe’s software instead. Works fine for books from Waterstones, BooksOnBoard, and others.

    For non-DRM books I just drag them into the mounted drives on my Mac – works every time. And if I really wanted to use some kind of library management software, there’s always the (open source) Calibre.

    To me, that’s a much better workflow than “trust us never to turn off access to your books, and to lock you in to only buying from one store, ever.”

  • http://stefpause.com/ ManxStef

    Interestingly, Sony doesn’t mention Mac OS X at all for their eReaders’ supported OSes, which will turn a lot of people away before they even consider a purchase. Also entertaining is the topmost review for it on the SonyStyle site, which warns that it’s only compatible with 32bit, not 64bit, versions of Windows. Oh dear. (Whether they’ve fixed this eight months on is another matter, but from a cursory search it appears not.) I have a feeling that “there’s no Mac port yet” is a rather optimistic statement, I don’t think they’ll even try.

    I’m playing devil’s advocate somewhat by approaching this from my client’s perspective – a mature gentleman with very basic computer literacy (and ailing eyesight) – but my opinion mirrors his needs fairly closely. While manually managing using drag-and-drop and multiple different software is fine for the likes of you and me, it would be a non-starter for him, and quite frankly I don’t want to struggle with that sort of stuff either when I know how much better it could be with decent software or a cloud-service.

    As it stands, he just can’t manage the books on the device, it’s too fiddly for him. The fact that it’s a Sony device supplied with Sony software, that points him to the Waterstones UK website where he buys books that the Sony software can’t open, that he then needs to use Adobe Digital Editions to transfer, is a joke. Sure, it supports multiple formats, but when you can’t get them onto the device because it’s too complicated (for him) then what should be a positive point is entirely moot.

    To me, that’s plain unacceptable. People are lazy and want things that work easily: I’d assert that the vast majority would much rather a device like the Kindle that ‘just worked’, that only supported one format & store, where you could get ebooks instantly through the device itself, than a device you had to manually sync with a computer and copy stuff to, that was generally a struggle to manage, but supported a wide range of ebook formats. As long as people don’t butt into the restrictions, much as with Apple’s FairPlay DRM, they couldn’t care less.

    I’m not saying that it’s right, but that’s how I perceive the situation. And, if I’m being honest, I’d be heavily tempted by the convenience and ease of use of the Kindle over the more open Sony eReader myself.

  • http://stefpause.com/ ManxStef

    Oh, any chance of installing this?
    http://txfx.net/code/wordpress/subscribe-to-comments/

    Must say that I much prefer the site with WordPress comments rather than the Disqus ones, the initial bar of entry is just that bit lower. Please don’t switch to a 3rd party commenting system again ;)

  • Ian Betteridge

    Your wish, etc!

  • http://stefpause.com/ ManxStef

    Thanks! Oh, looks like I was wrong on the Mac software front (para 4):
    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2009/08/sony-counters-kindle-with-new-models-better-format-support.ars

    I wonder what what the chance is that it’ll actually be useable? Hmm…

  • Ian Betteridge

    Yes, I read about the Mac thing a couple of days ago somewhere – and of course it won’t be useable. Is there a piece of Sony software that is? :)

  • http://al-terity.blogspot.com/ Tempo Dulu

    I’ve got one; nice but it’s still easier to read a book!

  • Brent Wit

    I have the Sony PRS600. It syncs with my Macbook perfectly. I can download a book from the Sony sight in 15-30 sec. and have it on my reader within a minute. Also, download epub books and pdfs with no problem along with songs in my itunes library. Never needed the manual or help. The content I’ve bought is on my computer as opposed to someone else having control over my content. No need for wireless. Plenty of free books on web. Lastly, it is solid and sturdy with color options (silver, black, and crimson. Great purchase.

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