Kindle v Sony Reader v Third Way

Philip Fisher
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Book reading seems to be making an unexpected but very welcome comeback. A couple of years ago, on a typical early morning train journey it was the norm to see most people leafing through a free paper, fewer reading a paid for equivalent and a handful perusing magazines normally about special interests such as golf, motorsports or having babies.

In no time at all, our reading preferences have changed as iPads and electronic reading devices have gained overwhelmingly in popularity.

Today, while there is still the odd person needing a physical book, these electronic devices have become at least as prevalent as free papers. This might, of course, reflects the geography of this train journey although she sits around central London in the evening show similar results.

In a spirit of enquiry, your dedicated correspondent has now tested three different reading devices with contrasting results.

The starting point was testing out a Sony Reader. The version purchased had a 5” touch screen and was small to fit into a pocket. All went well to start with particularly after bringing the excellent free (it always helps) Calibre software in to organise books.

However, seven months after unwrapping the cellophane and ironically at the start of a flight from New York to London, this not very trusty little friend decided to become an expensive piece of modern art. If anyone would like an attractive metallic piece of sculpture in a post Man Ray style at a bargain price, please contact me.

Despite regular entreaties, Sony did not sympathise and therefore regrettably it is hard to recommend this product to anyone who wants something that will last even for one year, let alone longer.

This misfortune had unexpected consequences. Having begun to get comfortable with the use of an eReader, I was then forced back onto those trusty old readers known to trusty old readers as books.

While the weight of carrying heavier versions around town is far from ideal, the reading experience using books with genuine paper to turn over and a fresh chance to see how far you have to go to the end of the chapter was a real turn on. There is also somehow a great comfort in burying oneself in an experience that has been shared by millions for five or more centuries.

Now, I am the proud owner of a Kindle 4, with a 6” E-Ink screen. This is a delightful little machine that does not weigh too much, even in a solid protective case. It was great news to discover that the aforementioned Calibre could convert over 99% of my eBooks in a number of different formats into Kindle's proprietary .mobi, thus meaning that it was not necessary to download or repurchase everything owned already.

In reality, purchasing is not really necessary since practically every classic from the Bible and Shakespeare to Dickens or assorted fairy tales is available in a free version somewhere on the Internet, either Amazon or Project Gutenberg being the best bets. However, if you want decent books by contemporary (in effect post-War) authors, some cash may need to be lodged with Amazon.

The gimmick of downloading directly to the Kindle over the web is little more than that but can be quite fun.

For those that have not already got a Kindle, and their numbers seem to be dwindling as it takes over the world, this machine does what you would expect. It holds thousands of books in instantly readable format and these can be organised for ease of access. It also contains two hefty dictionaries, one British and one American to allow you to understand what you are reading and feels pretty good in the hand with its light touch buttons for turning over pages.

... ... And the winner is

Certainly not the Sony Reader. That is a real case of caveat emptor.

I'm afraid that for day-to-day use lovely paper books, if you remember those, are still real favourites that take some beating.

For journeys and particularly longer ones where space and weight are at a premium, nothing beats the Kindle 4. This is a handy little device that now costs £89 and seems worth every penny. However, anyone thinking of travelling to the States in the near future might want to think about the advertising-related equivalent that costs a mere $79 i.e. only about £50.


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