As some of you know I’m an avid reader. I generally like to read eBooks when possible using either my Dell Axim PPC or my Sony Clie PalmOS PDA. I’ve been reading like this for years and really enjoy it but, convenient as this is, it is a far cry from reading a printed page. Furthermore, while reading novels using a PDA is acceptable most of the technical documentation I read is only available electronically in PDF format and PDA’s just suck at handling PDFs. In fact, surprisingly, I’d have to say that Adobe’s PDA software is among the worst of the lot.
As a result I generally read most PDF format files sitting in front of a desktop or laptop. This gets to be a problem because when I sit in front of a computer there are a million distractions. My RSS reader keeps beeping with new items, email chimes let me know the spam mongers slipped another one past my filters, and Perez Hilton keeps posting juicy blurbs. Hence – not a lot of technical reading gets done at the computer forcing to me buy technical books in the dead tree versions.
Recently I’ve become enamored of a new technology called eInk which is an electronic display that closely resembles text printed on paper. Probably the best known eInk device is the Sony PRS series. I have a friend who owns a Sony PRS-505 and I’ve gotten to play around with it some and I have to tell you, this is a cool eBook reader. I have seriously considered buying one myself.
So, what’s stopping me? Well – Sony is. I used to be a big fan of Sony (and in the TV space I still am) but in recent years I’ve become disenchanted with how proprietary everything they make is. It’s kind of like the VHS vs Beta thing all over again but Sony just won’t give up. Don’t get me wrong, the PRS-505 is a beautiful device but the only commercial books you can buy for it are from Sony and use a Sony proprietary DRM scheme. Yeah, this is Sony the people that thought it was OK to install a rootkit on your computer if you played one of their music CDs. Why wouldn’t I trust them to do DRM fairly? Aside from the DRM issue it bothers me that the PRS series doesn’t have a user replaceable battery and requires Windows only Sony software to install commercial eBooks. I will give Sony some credit though – the PRS-505 does include an SD slot along with the ever present memory stick.
While I was mulling this over a small French company named Bookeen released an eInk device that, in my opinion, addresses many of my concerns about the PRS-505. The Bookeen Cybook has the same general specs as the PRS-505 but supports Mobipocket as its commercial eBook format. Not only is the Mobipocket library much larger than Sony’s but it is backed by Amazon, someone who knows a thing or two about books and has enough clout to convince big publishers that they should support electronic formats. The Cybook also seems to do a reasonable job with PDF files and Booken has promised improved efforts in the future.
The Bookeen has a user replaceable battery and does not require (or even provide) and desktop software. All books, DRMed or not, may be installed via USB (on Windows, Linux, and Mac) and firmware updates are installed via the SD card. If you are a Windows user who loves desktop software, fear not – Mobipocket provides free software that will let you manage your eBook library on the Cybook.
Now for the downside. Bookeen either had very little money or confidence in their new product (probably both) as their initial shipment of Cybooks sold out in less than two days! I know because in an unusual display of restraint (for me) I considered purchasing a Cybook for 48 hours before taking the plunge and they were all gone. I ordered one anyway and was told by Bookeen that I had the distinct honor of being the last order to be fulfilled from the original shipment. However, since that was two weeks ago and I haven’t heard squat from them since, I’m assuming that they ran out before they got to me and pushed my order back to December when they expect a new shipment. I noticed that it didn’t stop them from putting the big cha-ching on my credit card though nor does it stop them from displaying a November 2nd ship date on my online order.
So, I’m cooling my heels until I can get my hands on a Cybook and then I’ll report back here with my thoughts. Ah, assuming I don’t get distracted by reading.