Unlike the Zune I actually shelled out for this one. $350 puts this in the serious GAS (gadget acquirement syndrome) range. Call me crazy but eBooks are one of those technologies that I lust for. Some people get hot for LEDs or overclocking their computers. Me: eBooks. Way hot.

Buying It

Apparently, the only place you can buy a Sony Portable Reader, besides the Sony store, is Borders books. I am not sure I fully understand this reasoning as it's a bit like selling cars at a scooter store. Yes, we like to read, but are avid book buyers actually going plunk down one hundred times the cost of a book for a gadget like this? I don't think so.

I walked into a Borders for only the second time this year and asked to see the device. The clerk said he had been waiting for someone to check it out as he wanted to see what it looked like. When he brought the box out from behind the counter it was small. Really small. From photos of Sony's previous reader, the Libre I had thought it'd be just a bit smaller than my 15" Macbook. Instead this thing is roughly a bit taller than a paperback book, and about 3/4ths as thin. Opening it up I was put off by that awful Sony purple. But that faded as soon as I started it up...

The Display

I think the clerk and I both said "woah" when it first booted. All reviews say it looks like paper and they're right. Though not the sort of paper you're probably thinking. It does not look like book paper, instead imagine if there was a mockup of a video screen printed up on cardboard and taped to the screen of your laptop. It would look too crisp, too clear, almost like you're holding a demo model of a laptop instead of an actual laptop and then you hit a button and BAM! a new page just percolates in...OMG YOU'RE A WITCH STONE HIM!

So basically, the paper thing is true. Totally readable. Totally awesome...unless you are trying to read something with line breaks inserted. Why do people do this? I had to put together a quick and dirty ruby script to fix all the Project Gutenberg pages because some joker thought to add line breaks in the plain-text (example). Cory's books don't do this so I can read them at any resolution. But people who aren't fortunate enough to make a script will be SOL and have to read jagged lines. PDFs are great if they bleed to the outer edges of the page, most of the eBooks I own have big margins which is great for printing, not so much when reading on a small screen.

Another oddity that has to do with the technology of the display's refresh. Let's see if I can explain this in one sentence: The display is made up of millions of tiny balls which are dynamically magnetized to show you their black or white side. This takes a bit of time (about a half second) and it's a little weird to get used to, but once you do it's no more distracting than actually turning a paper page. If you time it right you can hit the "next page" (there are three next page buttons and three previous page buttons, take your pick) button just as you finish a paragraph.

I wasn't able to read my Ruby On Rails PDF book, my Ruby PDF book, or an old Objective-C PDF book I had been wanting to read. I was able to output a .pdf that was readable on the reader, but that took a lot of time, and I realized plain-text was good enough. 

The Controls

Not the best part of this gadget. There are some weird things about it that I am not sure if it's Sony trying to be clever or they had an intern do it. No device needs over 20 buttons on it if it's not a keyboard. This thing has 10 buttons labeled "1" to "10" so you can skip around or select menus (which I suspect is because using the joystick and waiting for the screen to refresh takes a lot of time, hitting a button corresponding to some percentage of the book is easier. It's so sad watching people come up with alternate iPod interfaces when the iPod interface is so elegant.)

The Store

Hah, yeah right, I'm never going to use that store. Total waste of time and money. There are just too many free Gutenberg books to read.

The Verdict

If you are an eBook geek, get this thing. If you take a lot of trips, get this thing. It's easy to read, I carry around about 20 books at all times, and it takes Sony Memory Sticks so you can probably carry a few hundred around without a problem.