November 8, 2008

Mile high book club

Original Post from June 20th 2007

Recent flights to and from Boston (via Heathrow) gave me the time to do some reading. I was able to finish my second eBook on the Sony PRS-500 eReader (the first was "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman, and the second was "Blink!" by Malcolm Gladwell).

Battery level continues to be excellent with the Sony reader, only now (almost a week after my return and into my third eBook) has it required it's first charging since I started using it, maybe a month ago. My confidence in this is high now and I would take it for a multiple week trip without a charger.

I played quickly with its music playing capabilities, but it only had two pre-loaded songs on it. It seemed to work fine and I could read and listen to music from the same device. Battery drain would be a concern, but with only two songs I didn't get that far.

I was able to read reasonably comfortably (whiter screen and more contrast would always help) in daylight, airport lighting, full cabin lighting, strong sunlight through the window and night-time with overhead "spotlight".

The Sony eBook is relatively discrete and from a distance I think people suspect you are reading a normal book (slip-in book covers would complete the illusion), and the lack of an emmisive screen helps. I didn't get any "what's that geek doing?" looks, and just one inquiree by a British Airways ground staff person who was interested in eBooks, had seen the Sony in a magazine and asked me if he could buy it in the UK already.

This low-profile makes you more comfortable with whipping it out for a read, whether you are consciously or sub-consciously aware of your possible geek-ness.

Waiting for take-off I looked around at my fellow passengers, many of whom were also reading. It struck me that I had the smallest, lightest and most portable "book" around. In comparison, some real books are massive. This time it would fit in the "thigh" pocket on the outside of my combat trousers (although the flap wouldn't close).

While reading the bi-stable screen, with the device consuming no power, the airplane speaker announced "please switch off all your electronic devices". I was tempted to get into a really good discussion with the hostess, that in fact my device WAS off, even if I was still reading the screen - but I behaved and was a good passenger.

To what extent can such a device cover the need for a laptop?

  • Text Input. This is a limitation at the moment. One solution could be to be able to plug-in a portable folding keyboard (I'd avoid the bluetooth ones, which give you yet another device to keep charged). I have never really played with them, so that's a future investigation.
  • Limited screen real estate. In previous posts I commented how little of the overal device frontal area is dedicated to the screen (~50%) and to real content (~32%). Increasing this would improve the device greatly. Ideally I want a folding, color, ePaper display that when the device is opened gives you 200% of the device area for screen use. This would enable use by multiple applications (eBook, eNews, eMail, eDocReader, etc).
  • Communications. The biggest issue with the Sony eReader (even for book content) is it being "tethered" to a PC and it's internet connection to get content. Improvements in this area will give you a device with a life of it's own and increased utility.
  • Recharging. A personal gripe. One AC adapter for all of my devices, or at last a global DC power standard I can just "hook into". Could be USB.

Submit comments on what would your ideal configuration be for a device that increases it's overlap with what a laptop does for you, without necessarily replacing your laptop.

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