Review of the Sony Reader Wifi (PRS-T1)

Posted by Scott on Oct 19th, 2011

As mentioned in my previous post, I now have a Sony PRS-T1 ereader – my first e-ink device. Rather than run down the specs of it and cover the same things everyone else mentions in their reviews, here are some links you can follow to other reviews which I found useful:

Engadget Review: Sony Reader Wifi

MobileTechReview’s video review

Gadget Review: Sony Reader Wifi Review

I’ve been reading ebooks on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7″ Android tablet for a while now, and never realized until now how much nicer an experience it can be to read using an e-ink device.

Here are a few observations I haven’t seen mentioned in other reviews…

A lot of reviewers prominently note that the device uses a full refresh when turning pages. This is true. However, the Sony is capable of doing partial page refreshes, and does so when bringing up menu items or when using the browser. I’ve noticed some mild “ghosting” effects when partial page refreshes occur, and I’ve heard that this is a common problem on other ereaders which do partial page refreshes. The full page refresh when turning pages doesn’t bother me in the least, and I actually prefer it knowing that it prevents the ghosting problem from occurring.

One thing I have been disappointed about is the Google Books “integration”. I originally assumed that the Reader had the actual Google Books Android application. This is not the case. Instead, when you click on the Google Books “app”, it actually loads the Sony Reader application, but brings you to a section of their site where you can search for the free Google Books. You cannot retrieve or purchase ebooks directly from Google Books using the device. I can however download my purchased books from Google Books and then sync them to the Reader using a PC.

I do find it quite handy to have access to a web browser, even though scrolling on it is cumbersome with the e-ink refreshes. Here’s a tip – don’t use your finger to scroll the web page. The prev/next hard buttons will perform a page up/page down action on the web page, minimizing the refreshing latency.

The glossiness of the plastic bezel hasn’t really been an issue. It does attract fingerprints, but I also don’t really notice it that much. These issues could be resolved by getting a thin gel case if they really bother you. My guess is the type of people who get worked up about such things are also the type who can’t stand to break in the binding of an actual paperback book they’re reading. 🙂

Apart from the unwelcome surprise of the Google Books non-integration, I’m quite happy with this device. Also, there is news that the Reader has already been rooted, so in a short time I look forward to having the ability to install arbitrary android apps on the device. Google Books will certainly be one of them, as will ReadItLater.

Some Thoughts on eBook Readers

Posted by Scott on Oct 12th, 2011

I recently became the owner of an e-ink ebook reader, the Sony PRS-T1. Inevitably the first question someone asks me when they see me with it is, “why’d you choose the Sony instead of a Kindle or Nook?” So here I’ll share my thoughts on that, and follow-up with another post reviewing the Sony model itself. Forgive me, this is a bit of a rant…

So, why go with this Sony model? To some extent it was a process of elimination. Let me first explain why buying a Kindle is out of the question for me. While it’s true that Amazon’s store offers the largest selection of ebooks, and their ereader hardware is of good quality, what most people don’t realize is that Amazon has made some very strategic choices to try to entrench their own proprietary format at the expense of open standards.

When you buy a Kindle, you’re locked into using a Kindle (or Kindle app) forever if you want to read the ebooks you bought using it. This is because the Kindle supports Amazon’s proprietary ebook format, and nothing else.

There does exist an open file format for ebooks, called ePub. Books in the ePub format are generally much more portable, and can be bought from multiple sources, such as Google Books. These ebooks can be read on pretty much any ebook reader platform (including Android tablets and phones), with one exception. Amazon has to date deliberately left out support for the ePub format in their hardware ereaders.

Amazon’s motivations for doing this are pretty clear – they are the indisputable market leader in selling books and they want to support their own proprietary format, and have no interest in seeing an open ebook format succeed, even if it has been adopted by the rest of the industry. Heaven forbid you buy an ebook from Barnes and Noble to read on their device. Amazon’s omission of ePub support is a blatant middle finger to the concept that a common standard can exist to allow people to buy ebooks from their store of choice and read it on their device of choice.

My friend Jason once said to me something to the effect of: “Amazon settled on MP3 [an open standard without DRM] as their file format for their music store when it was their chance to ‘stick it’ to Apple [which was using a format that locked users into their iTunes player and iPod devices]. But now that they’re the market leader in books, they won’t dare to support an open ebook standard.” I thought this was pretty insightful.

Now whether you care about ePub succeeding as a common format or not, when you buy a Kindle you are placing your book purchases at the mercy of Amazon for the forseeable future. You’ll be dancing to Amazon’s tune for whatever business decisions they make down the road, or risk losing the ability to read your ebook collection. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in submitting to this form of vendor lock-in. As such, I have no intention to buy ebooks in a proprietary format, whether it be Amazon’s or anyone else’s.

Unlike the Kindle, the Nook Simple Touch supports ePub ebooks (in addition to Barnes & Noble’s proprietary format, which is being phased out), so the Nook was at least an option for me. A neighbor of mine recently bought one, and I had considered getting it after trying it out. The only feature I found missing was the ability to play music on the device. I often read on public transit, and can be easily distracted if I don’t have something to block out external noise or conversations. So I decided to wait it out a bit longer.

When I recently saw that this Sony model was released, it appeared to offer the right features – everything that the Nook could do and a bit more (like being able to annotate ebooks, and of course an MP3 player). The reviews were quite positive, and even touted integration with Google Books and Overdrive Media Console (for checking out ebooks from the library). Of course the included applications try to steer you to buy ebooks from Sony’s proprietary store, but I could ignore that and stick with my ePub formatted books from other bookstores. The device was priced reasonably (which was not the case with Sony’s previous ereader models), so I decided to pick one up.

I’ll follow up with a short review of the PRS-T1 soon.

Kindle: Some Food for Thought

Posted by Scott on Nov 20th, 2007

Jeff Bezos demonstrates his business genius again with Kindle, their new eBook reader. Unfortunately, there are some other ramifications of proprietary eBook systems. Mark Pilgrim summarizes them well (and demonstrates some flip-flopping by Bezos) in this 5-act “play.”

Richard Stallman’s essay The Right to Read is referenced in this article and is definitely worth reading in and of itself.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d love a better platform for reading PDFs and web pages than my Nokia N770 web tablet. But Kindle is definitely not for me.

Book Review of Beginning CSS Web Development

Posted by Scott on Apr 22nd, 2007

This is a review of the book Beginning CSS Web Development: From Novice to Professional, by Simon Collison. Published by Apress. ISBN: 1-59059-689-7.

Let me start by saying I never really considered myself a CSS beginner when I picked up this book. I’ve successfully used CSS for text formatting comfortably for a couple of years. But when it came to using CSS for positioning and layouts, I’d run into frustrating problems immediately, and always found floats to be counter-intuitive. I’ve read many CSS positioning tutorials on the web and none of them ever fully resolved the conceptual blocks I’ve had. Given the fact that I’ve been entirely self-taught when it comes to web development, I figured a book with a title like Beginning CSS Web Development seemed appropriate to fill in the gaps of my understanding.

The first four chapters of this book covered the basics of CSS and went over text styling techniques I was already familiar with. Even so, I found the writing exceptionally clear and learned a few more subtle techniques that were immediately helpful in improving some of my web designs. Simon Collison isn’t just writing a series of lessons on CSS – he also offers general guidelines about web design issues, such as recommendations on how to organize your CSS files, and tips for picking an appropriate font. This I feel is especially useful for readers who want to get a good foundation in general, modern web development principles.

The chapter on styling forms was very handy, as it discussed three different ways forms are often laid out on the web, and answered questions I had on the pros and cons of each. By the time I had finished reading Part 1 of the book – which I had assumed would simply be a remedial overview of CSS – I had found numerous ways my practical, working knowledge of CSS had been improved.

The two most valuable chapters to me were chapters 10 and 11. Chapter 10 included concise and easy to understand explanations of float-based positioning, when it can be necessary to use spacer divs, and the way clearing floated elements should be done. This was the book I needed to clean up my spotty understanding of CSS positioning, and I immediately obtained results I applied in some of my web designs. Chapter 11 also provided a good reference for common two- and three-column layouts, and a short, but good explanation of the CSS box model.

The chapter on web accessibility was fairly minimal, which is to be expected in a beginner-oriented book, but I did find some of the tips on making CSS available to embedded devices insightful. The final chapter is a start-to-finish walkthrough of a CSS-based web page that brought together many of the lessons taught earlier. A CSS reference and good index round out the remainder of this 448-page book.

I could not find any significant copy editing errors in this book, and would highly recommend it for anyone with a background in CSS like my own. I also feel this is an excellent book for newcomers to CSS who want a good foundation in modern best practices from a book that is both practical and readable.

You can buy the book at Bookpool (this is not an affiliate link).

Books I’ve Been Reading

Posted by Scott on Dec 1st, 2006

About a week ago I finished reading Jerry Kaplan’s Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure. It’s an old book from 1995 about the rise and fall of a pen computing company in the late 80’s called GO. I’ve seen references made to the book in various places, I think most recently on one of the stikkit development blog posts, and figured it would be a good “downtime” read between CampLev hacking sessions. I found the book entertaining and took away from it the perils of competing with industry behemoths (like Microsoft) and the fact that partnerships don’t always go so well (GO’s constant fighting with its “ally” IBM was just amazing).

Speaking of recent reads, I also devoured Steve Wozniak’s iWoz earlier in November. I recommend that one even more highly than Startup. Wozniak’s autobiography includes tales of his technical accomplishments early in life that reminded me of the atmosphere in Steven Levy’s Hackers, which is one of my favorite hacker culture books of all time. iWoz reads very much like how Woz speaks in real life; I found this somewhat amusing and it didn’t detract much from my enjoyment of the book.

So what’s on my reading stack now? Robert Hoekman, Jr. released a book last month titled Designing the Obvious which offers advice on how to create great interfaces for modern, rich web applications. Hoekman embraces a minimalist and pragmatic philosophy much like 37signals’ Getting Real. There are practical tips on writing use cases and other design elements that I hope will improve my design-fu. I’ve also gotten through a couple of chapters of Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while which discusses the phenomenon of ideas spreading like viruses and reaching large populations via tipping points.

Every so often I tell myself not to start any new books until my current reading stack is empty, but that never seems to happen. 🙂

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