Sunday Salon: The E-Reading Experience

As many of you know by now, after all my dithering over the whole question of an e-reader a few weeks ago, I finally did decide to buy one. When I happened upon a Sony Touch 600 E-reader on Ebay for $99, I snapped it right up.

This is not, for what it’s worth, the latest version of the Sony Reader, but I’ve never been the sort to need the latest and greatest when it comes to electronics. (I don’t even have a flat-screen TV or a mobile phone with web access yet.) The improvements made to the newest version didn’t seem worth the cost to me, especially since I don’t expect to ever do the bulk of my reading on the e-reader. It’s a supplement, for hard-to-find classics, e-galleys, and thick books I don’t want to cart around.

In my previous post, I mentioned some of the reasons I was leaning toward the Sony. Basically, I didn’t want an e-reader that was tied to a particular bookseller, as the Kindle is. I didn’t particularly want wireless access because browsing e-bookstores could actually distract me from reading, never mind how it could lead to impulse buys. I suspect that having to take the time to connect my reader to my computer will keep me from actually buying many ebooks. (If I’m going to purchase, I’d just as soon get the hard copy.)

Size Sometimes Does Matter!

Immediately upon getting my e-reader, I downloaded a slew of classics from Project Gutenberg, Girlebooks, and Manybooks.net, and a few galleys from Netgalley. But thanks to my commitment to the TBR Dare, I couldn’t actually read these new books. But then Frances’s effusive praise of The Children’s Book reminded me that I had it on my shelf, and its massive size is not even vaguely purse-friendly. My library happened to have the e-book available for loan, so with a few clicks, I had a light and portable version to carry around with me.

But what was the reading experience like? Almost from the first, I was impressed with how easy it is to read on the e-reader. I can immerse myself just as easily in the e-book as I can in a paper book. And I love being able to enlarge the font. If I’ve spent a lot of the day reading at work, as I sometimes do, my eyes can feel too tired for small print. Plus, having only a small amount of type on the “page” keeps my eye from jumping ahead several paragraphs. I’ve also enjoyed how easy it is to read while eating lunch or even folding laundry. Not having to hold the book open means having both hands free. This is much cooler than I anticipated!

Almost Like Pen and Paper!

I also really like the Sony’s note-taking features. This was perhaps the biggest reason I went with the Sony. I like to make notes in my books, and most e-reader users complain about the awkwardness of the note-taking format. As far as I know, Sony is the only e-reader that actually has a stylus for taking notes. You can highlight and make marginal notes just as you might with a pen. And when you’re done, you can go to your notes page to see a list of all the passages you’ve highlighted and pages you’ve made notes on. This could be incredibly handy for writing reviews! I did learn the hard way, however, that when a library book (or presumably an e-galley) expires from your reader, the notes will disappear along with your book. (This is why in the photo you’re looking at a random page from Can He Forgive Her? with some made-up notes instead of actual notes I made while reading The Children’s Book.)

So my e-reading experience was in some respects a very good one. But it’s not perfect. One big problem for me is the inability to easily flip back in the book. The Children’s Book had a huge cast of characters and I frequently wanted to look back and refresh my memory on their complex relationships. Eventually, I found a character list online, and I consulted that instead. I’ve run into this problem with audiobooks as well. With audiobooks, I can’t see a good solution, but there might be a way to use the notes feature to flag appearances of new characters or other important information for quick reference later. Something to experiment with.

Probably the biggest problem, though, is not knowing how long the chapters were. This may not seem like a big deal, but I often like to know how far I am from the next good stopping place. If it’s 15 minutes until bedtime, I might read another 5-page chapter, but not a 20-page one. More than once while reading The Children’s Book, I got sucked into a longer than expected chapter near bedtime or at lunch. Some readers have complained of not being able to see how much of the overall book they have left, but that hasn’t been a big deal for me because, as you can see in the photo, the Sony has a page count at the bottom of the page. It isn’t hard for me to make the mental adjustment from the thickness of the remaining pages to the number of pages listed on the e-reader.

I also want to note that this particular model of the Sony Reader has more glare and less contrast than some other e-readers. For me, this really isn’t an issue. The glare is never so strong that I can’t easily tilt the reader a bit to eliminate it, even when sitting in a sunny spot on the sofa. Another oddity is that the formatting is far from perfect if you enlarge the font. I saw lots of weird line breaks and hyphen issues. This might be less of a problem if you don’t zoom in on the text, but the zooming feature is, for me, a huge benefit, so I’ll just have to take the bad with the good.

I’ve also found that the battery life is not as great as I expected. I’ve had to recharge every three or four days, which could be a problem when traveling. A little online research, mostly at the extremely helpful Mobileread forum, revealed that some Sony users have found that the reader stays charged longer if they charge it on a wall outlet instead of their computer’s USB port. I’ve ordered a PSP charger and will see if that helps. I hope so, because a long-lasting charge will be essential for any overseas travel I might do in the future.

Overall, I’m happy enough with my e-reader. I’m not so happy that I’m ready to give up on paper, although I may end up switching my galley reading almost entirely to the electronic format. I think the best thing about the e-reading phenomenon is that it brings a new option to the table. As long as the old options remain available as well, I can’t help but be happy about that.

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39 Responses to Sunday Salon: The E-Reading Experience

  1. gaskella says:

    Glad you’re getting on with it. It’s the portable nature of them that makes it a boon – my Kindle lives in my handbag so I always have books with me and no chance of them getting dogeared. Wish the Kindle had a touch/screen and stylus – maybe next generation…

    • Teresa says:

      If I could learn to read more than one book at a time, I’d probably just carry around my e-reader, but alas, no.

      And the stylus does seem like a no brainer as a feature. I’m surprised that Sony is the only one to offer it.

  2. litlove says:

    That’s a very honest and fair assessment, Teresa. I completely understand the lure of the ebook for traveling, and for free classics. But I am still hooked on paper, basically. What I like about your post here is its moderation. Across the web, it feels at the moment like a witch hunt is gathering for the readers who still like the orthodox book, and that’s such a shame.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree, it is a shame. I held off on getting a e-reader for a long time partly because I was so irritated at the people who seemed so gleeful at the possibility of no more paper books. I like to think that both can coexist, and it seems they do for a lot of readers.

  3. Iris says:

    I have experienced the battery life issues. I use a wall charger, and I do think it helps, but it still is not perfect. Then again, I have a 300 so mine does not have any features instead of being able to read on the device.

    • Teresa says:

      That’s good to hear that the wall charger helps. I’m hoping it does for me. It’s not a big deal to recharge frequently, but if I’m going on a trip where my charger won’t work, that’s a problem.

  4. Julie says:

    I’ve been debating on an iPad, but struggle with the expense, so I am looking at e readers and what other functionsthey can do. Your write up was useful and you got yourself a bargain.

    • Teresa says:

      Happy to help! As understand the allure of the iPad, but I’m afraid that if I got one, I’d end up playing with all the other feature and not actually reading, so the Sony was a good choice for me.

  5. Marie says:

    I agree with gaskella. I love my Kindle for it’s portability. Mine pretty much lives in my handbag as well. When you have kids with appointments, and your own appointments as well, it is nice to be able to pull it out, instead of reading several year old waiting room magazines. It was great the other night when I brought the kids to Burger King, and I could pull it out while they played in the play area. Much easier then lugging a book around, and possibly messing it up(I hate bended pages). I think this may be my favorite Christmas gift, that my hubbie has given me. :)

    • Teresa says:

      I’m not all that bothered my bent pages in books, but I admit that it was nice to know that while I was carrying around the e-book of The Children’s Book, the beautiful paper copy wasn’t getting damaged.

  6. Congrats on your new eReader. I love how thorough you were in reviewing it. I love the stylus/not taking feature you described especially.

    I have the newest $139.00 Kindle, and really love it. My mail reason is that it weights just ounces, no screen glare and relatively hands free reading, OH and the battery lasts for weeks without a charge.

    Hope you have lots of eReader happiness.

  7. Jenny says:

    The thing of being able to read with one hand has assumed a ridiculous level of importance since I moved to NYC and started taking the subway to work. :p I find myself picking what books to bring to work based on how easily they’ll stay open if I am holding them with one hand, and I have to strategically position myself on the subway so I can hold the pole with my right hand and the book with my left (I mysteriously can’t maneuver a book with my right hand). It’s frustrating!

    (Though still not, for me, as frustrating as not being able to flip back and forward in a book. :p)

    • Teresa says:

      I have a friend who relies on her Kindle for that very reason–one handed reading on the Metro and instant access to another book when she finishes. But yeah, for an end-reader like you, that benefit would perhaps not outweigh the hassle involved in flipping around.

  8. Victoria says:

    I’m glad you’re (mostly) having a good experience with your new e-reader! I love using my nook in conjunction with paper books, especially for those big chunksters :) I’ll take my books however I can get them, whether paper or electronic, as long as I get to keep reading!

  9. So glad you’re enjoying your Sony, too! I think I dithered just as much about the purchase, and I’ve been very pleased as well.

  10. justbookreading says:

    I have a Nook and love it but I’m still buying books and getting them from the library. While there’s a lot of pluses, it’s fantastic for travel, I’m not ready to give up books yet.

  11. Kailana says:

    I love my eReader, but now that I am seeing others I wish I hadn’t gone for the very basic…. All it is doing is tempting me to get another one. lol I am pretty basic with most things, but there is a flat screen tv in my house (I didn’t buy it) and I had to get a new mobile the other day and I can go on the internet with it if I want to. You can’t really get a phone you can’t anymore. The basic phone does not exist.

    • Teresa says:

      The Sony has just enough extra features to suit me. I wouldn’t want to be able to do anything besides read on it.

      My lack of fancy tech gadgets has to do with my tendency to use whatever I have until it’s dead, so no flat-screen until my current TV dies. I think my phone actually can access the Internet, but I’m not subscribed to a plan that includes Internet. (It’s a pay-as-you-go phone, which works fine for me.)

  12. Deb says:

    I have nothing to add about e-readers (I do not have one), but regarding charging of all electronic devices, I always find charging directly from a wall plug causes the battery to last so much longer than using an alternate charging source. Last week, I charged my cell phone using the charging unit in my car; by the end of the day, my phone was dead. When I charge it through a wall outlet, the phone can go two-to-three days between charges.

    • Teresa says:

      That’s good to hear, Deb. I’ve never experimented with different charging methods for my various devices, so I had no idea that could make a difference. I’m crossing my fingers that it works on my e-reader.

  13. Frances says:

    Portability is the biggest issue for me too. But as we have discussed before I think, the other bells and whistles I have are a bit of a distraction for me including newspapers and magazines. Still prefer a hard copy. Can’t get around it.

  14. I have a nook, which I love, but I agree with your frustration about not being able to flip back to earlier parts or see how long the next chapter is. The screen is very readable, and I love the small size – I have passed up reading certain books because I don’t want to lug them around in my bag! I still prefer paper books but I love having another option.

    • Teresa says:

      That’s exactly how I feel. I’ve met very few people with e-readers who want to give up on paper outside of the gleeful “print is dead” people I sometimes encounter online.

  15. Florinda says:

    Having had my right arm in a sling for the past month, recovering from shoulder surgery, I’ve gained new appreciation for my e-reader (I have a Kindle) – it operates one-handed much more easily than a paper book, even with my non-dominant left hand. And the adjustable font size means I can still read even if my reading glasses aren’t handy :-).

    Seriously, I don’t think I’d ever go all e-books, but I do like the fact that they’re a convenient option for me now.

  16. My library has just started an e-books lending service, and I have to admit this has increased the appeal of an e-reader for me. There will always be books that I want to read in paper (plus, I’d be terrified of using an e-reader in the bath, an important reading venue!). But the big chunkster classics, and the new releases that I want to try but am not sure of, would work just as well on a screen. After all, its the words not the format that matter. :-)

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve heard people say the same about reading in the bath. I wouldn’t try it there either, but I’m not the bath reader I used to me. And I agree with you that it’s the words, not the format that really matters.

  17. Steph says:

    Yay for your new purchase! I have the same e-reader and I love it for all the reasons you mention (I have been making great use of my library’s ebooks and Netgalley!)… Plus I love the touch screen. It really makes everything (including looking up arcane/tricky words) so much easier. I know that it might not be the fanciest or prettiest ereader out there, but it really does everything I want!

    One thing I’d mention about the battery is that it’s possible to have the battery replaced if charging is an issue. My ereader is newish (< year old) and it readily holds a charge for at least a week, and I can generally read for 3 or so days before it loses a battery nugget. It may be that your reader has an older battery that it would be worth replacing!

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks for the tip about the battery replacement. I had seen that mentioned as a possibility over at Mobilereads, but I wanted a wall charger anyway, so I thought I would try that first.

  18. Manny says:

    I’ve had my Kindle two months now and while i can’t say I love it, but I do like it. It’s not for every type of book. The Sony has a stylus! Oh I didn’t know that. I might have gone for that one then. I love and need to write in my books. Thanks for the blog.

    • Teresa says:

      I think you’re right that e-books aren’t right for every type of book. I’ll probably try to stick to books that won’t require so much flipping around, for example.

  19. Dorothy W. says:

    My experiences have been pretty similar to yours (without the stylus part — that sounds cool! although I’m pretty happy with the note-taking ability of the Nook) — agreed about flipping back to check on things and not knowing when the chapters end. Sometimes I’ll check this on my computer (on Amazon) just because it’s so nice to know, particularly when I’m reading an essay collection and each essay is a complete unit. I don’t want to stop reading a mere three pages from the end of one. But on the other hand, I’ve found it very easy to read on the Nook, with no trouble getting absorbed and basically forgetting I’m reading on an ereader.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m glad you’re enjoying your Nook. I played around with one at B&N, and it seemed user-friendly, but I was bewitched by the possibility of a stylus.

      I like your idea of checking Amazon for chapter endings. It might not work so well on a novel without a table of contents, but maybe nonfiction or essays.

  20. Stefanie says:

    That stylus is a nice feature. I’ve got a Kindle and the notetaking with the tiny keypad is fine for my small hands/fingers, but my husband has much bigger hands and it presents a problem. Is there a way to export the notes so when the library book expires you don’t lose them? I like my Kindle a lot but I wish I could borrow books from the library for it. Hopefully Amazon will eventually change that!

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