November 8, 2008

Sony PRS500 eBook Review - Part 2

Original Post from June 6th 2007

I started off attempting to read my own content, in the form of PDFs that I had already been reading on the iRex iLiad eBook. This innocent thought instantly revealed one big different between the iRex and the Sony eBook based on display size… on....

I chose to plug-in the SD Card containing the PDFs that I already was using on iRex and not play with USB transfer yet.

Due to the difference in display size (and some dubious decisions taken about how to render small text on the SONY), the PDF file I had been happily reading for 500 pages on the iRex became completely un-readable on the Sony and I was stuck! All that free-time, and nothing to read! :-)

First lesson: Due to the small size of the SONY eInk display, it’s basically useless for reading documents in page-layout formats such as PDF if they have not been specifically generated with this device (or similar) in mind. There had to be some trade-off for that portability.

Solving this in a way that gives a good user experience will not be trivial and a designer maybe forced to immediately take some tough decisions about the design center, document types that are being targeted, need for mobility, where documents will be acquired and in what formats they will be in, and can they be easily re-formatted on transfer to device (not with my SD card example!) or in the device itself.

So while I thought about how to get something I *wanted* to read I ploughed on with the canned content that the Sony comes with in order to have something to tell you about.

I didn’t mention this in my previous post, as I just realized it. There is a very subtle magnet catch on the flap. When closed it closes with a slight “slap” and no bounce. I assumed it was just a good flap.
This solid closing motion and sounds must be the equivalent of the car-door closing mechanism and sound influencing users’ perception of car quality!
Upon inspection I found it has a magnet that is not strong enough to really notice its pull on closing, but strong enough to hold the flap closed when the eBook is hung upside down. Nice, subtle touch.

Also, interestingly for me the SONY logo is on the back outside cover of the book, and doesn’t appear at all on the front (when closed). This still makes me pick up the eBook back-to-front (and upside down!) after weeks. It reminded me of Japanese books where you open at the back and read towards the front, and made me start my line of thinking that there are “remains” of Japanese design in the device.

My wife (a graphic designer) told me I was talking rubbish and it was intended to be on the back as a sort of branding of the book when you’re done reading it, maybe like an editorial would do on a paper back!
Opinions? (I need Ammo)

When pages changes, the screen does show some ghost images from previous page. I think more so than the iRex Illiad but I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison. This was more noticeable after one of the menu pages with its big, bold text and solid black area graphics. It can be seen between text pages during normal reading when looked for but is not objectionable to me. It doesn’t jump out at you during reading, but maybe impairs reading in a subconscious manner?

Screen Contrast
Similar to the iRex. Another test reviewer friend claims he noticed more eyestrain while reading this device (compared to a normal book). This is presumably due to reduced contrast. It was difficult to tell if it was worse than a normal book or not, but I would say it is, caused by the reduced whiteness of white, reduced contrast combined with some glare from the screen.
Maybe someone out there knows of studies on the sources of eye strain/tiredness and what are its main drivers.

There are a series of numbered buttons in a horizontal row along the bottom of the screen, and in menu mode these correspond to menus items in a VERTICAL list!
In general I think this numbered list is a very indirect method (the keys don’t match with the list items), and not exactly a human factors dream.
I wonder if this design came from a vertical language system (eg. Japanese) and the corresponding menu system where they *would* have coincided?
Anyone seen Sony PRS in Japanese and its menu system?

Page turning
The page-turning buttons are very small, and on the left edge of the device and with the cover on the device near the “spine” and in a poor position for a left hand (or right for that matter).
This causes you to shift the book in your hands every time you turn a page (which is often with these small pages). Much better would have been on the outside (right) edge of the device for the right hand to press naturally, almost without moving it from its holding position.
Yet another suspicion of Japanese (right to left reading) design remnants here for me!
The page turning function is repeated in another button at bottom left which is only marginally better, as it closer to the bottom and hence easier to reach.

The page Back/Forward buttons confuse me, as “flipping” the page to the left, involves pressing the right button.
I guess this is a standard physical/computer interaction dilemma: Am I moving the page, or moving the window that shows me a page?

I think some form of “page flipping” mechanism (like the iRex) would solve this problem and be more intuitive (at least after the first use).
Place one on each side, close to where your fingers/thumb are when holding the book for reading.

I don’t like the “joystick” approach at all for a number of reasons.
It forces you to hold the eBook differently than you would for reading, and somewhat unnaturally for me.
When I press to “enter” I end up moving in another direction and not pressing “enter”.
Not much joy in this stick.

There is still an opening in SONY’s eBook Business Unit for good Human Factors engineers.

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