Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wave of the future

I don't think e-book technology is there yet -- in an ideal world, you'd be able to have some sort of pocket PC-type of thing that would allow you to move PDFs and/or simple .txt files on and off of it, which would enable you to further sample the thousands upon thousands of works that are already available on the web. It sounds like the Reader is on the right track -- Skinner makes the good point that the screen has to be illuminated by another source of light, just like reading a "real" book -- but it ain't there yet.
Still, the Reader's shortcomings prove that whatever stage of development it represents, it is not to literature what the iPod is to music. Pages can be marked to help you find your way back to a passage, and the "continue reading" function returns you to the page reached before the device was last turned off. But pages cannot be marked with marginalia, a common enough practice with books that one hopes--or perhaps the verb "to dream" would be better here--that Sony is trying to figure how to make something like it possible with the Reader.

Also, maneuverability within books and within the Reader is limited. Text is not searchable. Flipping through several pages in a row is a small ordeal. A row of small buttons beneath the screen allows you to choose items from a central menu. Unfortunately, the buttons, like the Reader's small mouse-type pointer, are awkward and hard to use. The buttons can help you shift through a long text but do not correspond to obvious reference points like chapter openings, and the selection system is slow to respond.

The Reader also plays audio files, and well--but not as well as an iPod. And the Reader can store and show pictures, though only in grainy black and white. You can purchase graphic novels from the online Sony Connect Store, but displayed on the screen, their images will remind you of art-section reviews in which fine art is dressed down in cheap newsprint.

To be read, e-book files must first be downloaded onto a PC. The Reader is not compatible with Macs, another major shortcoming. Software is provided to help organize all of your files and move them on and off the Reader. As for purchasing reading material, the Sony Connect Store website sells both novels and nonfiction, but it offers only spotty coverage of new and old titles.

No comments: