Amazon announced yesterday (Nov 17th, 2009), that the Amazon Kindle EBook Reader was available to Canadian customers. A year and a half ago this news might have really excited me, but today I shrugged it off saying who cares!
In August 2008, while I was searching for news of the Kindle coming to Canada, I found out that the Sony EBook readers had been available in Canada since April 2008. After researching the Sony Reader a little more, I contacted a few Sony Style Stores locally and finally found one that had 1 Reader left (PRS-505). I went down to the store to look at it and after seeing the crisp text on the screen and starting to read the sample book I immediately got hooked and purchased it. By all accounts the Sony Readers have been selling very well in Canada and the local Sony Style stores have been regularly selling out of readers.
I had been using my Sony PRS-505 daily since then and just a couple of weeks ago decided to upgrade my reader to the new Sony PRS-600. My old PRS-505 has been passed on to my wife and daughter. I am very happy with my Sony devices and there are more than I few reasons why I think that these readers (as well as some other brands) offer more features than the Amazon Kindle overall.
What is an EBook Reader?
Here is a brief primary for people that don’t know what an EBook reader is. These devices allow you to store and read books (as well as newspapers and magazines) on the device. They are about the size of a standard Trade back book (and about as heavy) except that they are much thinner. The devices use a technology called E-Ink. These screens are non backlit, light grey screens that use very little power, in fact they only use power when you turn the page. You can think of them sort of like the old Etch A Sketch toys. When you turn a page the screen flashes and the new page is displayed. I find that the screens are very easy to read and not hard on the eyes. In fact I prefer reading an E-Ink screen than trying to read a book on my desktop or laptop PC. Because they use so little power the battery life on these devices is usually very good. Sony has been in this market for quite some time and Amazon came along a couple of years ago with the first Kindle.
While all of the devices from different manufacturers basically do the same thing they all have a few different features, Amazon’s Kindle features 3G Wireless while Sony’s new PRS-600 offers a touch screen and the ability to take notes.
You can usually buy books from the vendors stores as well as from some other EBook stores on the web as well as adding your own content. One of the problems with all of these devices is that the books that you buy have DRM on them (Digital Rights Management). This means that if you buy a book, you cannot lend or give it to another person. If you do have multiple readers on your account you can put the titles on those devices. You can’t resell your books either.
Why I really like my Sony Reader!
Before I bought my first Sony Reader last August, I did a lot of looking at the specs, reading reviews online and my usual in depth research. The biggest thing that I discovered really surprised me especially for a Sony product. In what seemed to be a change from their usually Modus Operandi, Sony moved away from proprietary features with their readers. In July 08 they released firmware for their readers that added ePub support. ePub is the standard that publishing industry has adopted for EBooks. In addition the Sony also supported both non DRM’s and DRMed PDF files.
Another feature is that the Sony device had is 2 memory card slots, one for Sony’s Memory Stick Pro as well as a slot for a standard SD card. This makes the devices expandable for storage. Again kudos to Sony for not just leaving it as their own format.
An early criticism of the Sony Reader was that there was no Mac Software. That changed at the end of September this year when Sony released their EBook Library Software for the Mac.
The biggest feature for me with the Sony Reader is that I am not locked into one bookstore or vendor for my books. I can buy from the Sony Bookstore, Booksonboard.com or Shortcovers.com (Chapters Canada’s store)and many others. This is because the Sony Readers support the ePub standard that all of these bookstores use. In addition, I can also borrow books from the library because the Calgary Public Library offers eBook downloads in PDF or Epub format and read them on my reader.
In my business and hobbies, I have loads of technical EBooks, manuals and other documentation. All of these PDF, Word and txt files can be added to my Sony Reader as well. For example I have all of the Canon manuals for my Canon Camera bodies, Flashes and other gadgets. I have Microsoft Press EBooks for SBS and Virtualization on there and even PDF manuals for some phone systems that I support for clients. If I travel all of this is in one convenient spot. I also create PDF versions of all of my travel documents and confirmations and put those on the reader.
The Sony readers have excellent battery life. My PRS-505 could go a couple of weeks on a single charge and while I haven’t really used my new 600 that much (I only started using it a week ago) I find that the battery life is not quite as good as the PRS-505 (due to the touch screen) but I still get a good week and a half out of the battery reading at least an hour each day. Battery life is usually measured in page turns and the Sony REaders are supposed to be good for 7500 page turns.
Why the Kindle doesn’t excite me now!
You would think that being a gadget guy I would be excited by the Kindle being available to me, but I really think it is no big deal. The Kindle does feature 3G wireless purchasing directly from the device, but again I can live without this feature. With the ability to add memory cards to the Sony and the fact that I can store hundreds of books on there, I don’t think that I will ever get caught not having something to read on the device and I can wait until I can start up my laptop, buy and transfer books to the device. In addition the wireless radio will drain the battery faster on the Kindle especially if you are in area of poor coverage where the device may not get a strong 3G signal and will try to fall back on an Edge/GPRS connection.
Another disadvantage of having the Kindle connected wirelessly directly relates to something Amazon did this past summer. They had sold a copy of a book via their store that they did not have the rights to sell in the US. Amazon then wirelessly deleted the books all Kindles with no warning at all. While Amazon didn’t handle this very well at the start, they did make it right for all customers by replacing the title with another copy of the same book, they restored the notes people had taken in regards to the title and they also applied a 30.00 credit to the people who had purchased the book. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos apologized to all users about how the whole situation was handled. However the fact of the matter is that they can delete a book off of the devices wirelessly and not inform purchasers that they did it. This is a major concern for me.
The other thing that really disappoints me about the Kindle is the built in format support. The Kindle only supports it’s own EBook format natively as well as Audible Audio Files,MP3 audio files and unprotected (non DRM) Mobi or PRC files. The device supports unprotected PDF, Word Doc, Jpg Gif, HTML or BMP files via a conversion by Amazon. You have to send these files to Amazon via email where they are converted and sent wirelessly to your Kindle at a cost of .10 each! I am not sure if I want to send all of my camera manuals and my MS Press EBooks (some of which are 50MB + in size) via email and then get them back this way. On my Sony reader I import documents to my EBook Library software then drag and drop them onto the device or the SD card in the device to copy them over when connected via USB.
Because the device doesn’t support the industry standard, when you buy a Kindle you are locked into just buying from Amazon. You can’t borrow books from your local library and if down the road you want to change devices you would have to re buy your library. With my Sony I could move to any device that supports the ePub format down the road and still have access to my books.
Sony has also announced that they will be converting all of the books in their online bookstore to ePub and allowing purchasers to get ePub versions of books that they bought in Sony’s proprietary format free.
While I do have an Audible account, in the year and a bit since I have had my Sony Readers I have never once listened to audio on them, I find that this feature doesn’t do anything for me and just drains the devices battery life. I listen to all of my Audible books on either one of my Zunes or my iPod Touch. In addition I also have Audible software loaded on my Blackberry and can stream books to it if I really need something to do.
Same goes for picture formats. These device have displays with either 8 or 16 shades of grey and don’t do justice to photos so I don’t put any on my devices either. Another unused feature.
These are things that Sony realized when they designed the PRS-300 Pocket Edition of their reader (smaller and lighter with a 5” screen). They removed the MP3 Audio Player and removed the picture file format support from this reader. This device is strictly an EBook reader.
You can also subscribe to your favourite blogs on the Kindle but you do have to pay to get this service. The Sony does have a few blogs that you can subscribe to for free and have transferred to your reader but they are limited to about 10 of their choosing and you can’t add your own. I can use Google Reader Mobile on my Blackberry to read blogs too.
The Kindle also offers newspaper subscriptions that can be delivered to your device daily. Again this to me is not a big deal. There are currently two Canadian newspapers available; The Globe and Mail and the National Post. I don’t read either of these papers as I find them too Toronto centric. In addition the cost is 15.00 per month for a subscription. Instead I have purchased a subscription to the E-Edition of my local paper, The Calgary Sun that is currently on special for .99 per month. I can download a copy of this paper to my laptop using their own software for offline reading as well.
There is also a limited number of Magazines that are available for purchase on the Kindle, however I do the same thing with Zinio.com except that I can read my magazines in full colour on my laptop or desktop even offline.
Sony will soon be offering a new reader called the Daily that will feature newspaper subscriptions and wireless connectivity (and will be available in Canada soon as I was told at a local Sony Style Store). No word on the price yet but I anticipate that it will be a very expensive device.
Here is another thing I just discovered while writing this post about the Kindle. Amazon may not have the rights to sell certain books to Canadians via their store. I found this out as I was trying to compare prices on Dan Brown’s latest novel The Lost Symbol. Sony sells it for 9.99 USD but I could not find it on the Amazon Store for Canadians, although it is available for 9.99 USD to Americans. To be fair, I have run into this occasionally on the Sony Store too, however it says US only in the store software and virtually every book that I had saved to my wish list that was originally US only is now available for me to purchase.
What I do find cool about the Kindle!
There is one feature that uses the wireless that is cool on the Kindle and I would love to see this on the Sony reader. It is the Whisper Sync technology. With the new software available for Kindle users (for the iPhone or iPod Touch although it doesn’t look like it is available in Canada yet) and the new Kindle for Windows software, whisper sync will add your notes and the sync your place in books from the Kindle to the other devices with the Kindle software installed on them and connectivity. So you can start to read a book on your Kindle and then continue to read from the same place on your iPhone or PC.
These EBook readers are currently not cheap devices. The Sony’s that have been available in Canada for a while now sell for 259.00 CAD for the 5” screened PRS-300 and 399.99 for the 6” Touch Screen PRS-600. The Kindle which is available through Amazon.com only, costs 259.00 USD + Shipping and whatever Duty and GST that you will get hit with at the border.
Pricing for books is about the same for both devices. Sony sells NYT Bestsellers for 9.99 USD and offer a number of specials on books. In addition Sony has a deal with Google and you can search and download Public Domain Books from their site.
Amazon has 360,000 books available. Pricing is similar to what Sony offers although I just found 3 books on there for 2.00 USD each that the Sony Bookstore is currently giving away on their bookstore. Most bestsellers I have found at about the same price on each store.
As I mentioned earlier in my post, if this announcement had been made a year and a half ago I would have been using the Kindle by now. But because it was not available, I stumbled onto the Sony Readers, did a lot of research and purchased one of those. Am I disappointed with my decision? No definitely not! Would I purchase a Kindle now? No I probably won’t as 90% of my EBook library is ePub format and I couldn’t read them on the Kindle. Surprisingly not being able to buy a popular book like Dan Brown’s the Lost symbol as I indicated above also makes me pause.
I will have to wait and see as to whether or not I will buy future versions of the Kindle. The biggest thing holding me back is the lack of support for the ePub format. Although I don’t see this being added anytime in the near future as Amazon developed the device to sell books through their site and adding ePub would allow you to buy anywhere!
EBook readers are still relatively new and very expensive. Some people claim that EBooks are also too expensive. We are in the early days of EBook readers now and I think as more devices and bookstores come to market the prices on the readers and the books themselves will also fall.
Some people will claim that they prefer the feel of books and wouldn’t switch to a reader and to those people I suggest that they actually try a reader! I have seen a few people switch after saying the same thing and then actually trying a reader.
I plan on reviewing my Sony PRS-600 and doing some comparisons to my old PRS-505 on this blog soon so stayed tuned to learn about the good and the bad about it.
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