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First look at the Sony EBR-1000 Librie eBook reader

Posted by aragoto at April 26, 2004 12:01 AM

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Kakyou kindly offered us his first impressions of the the Sony Librie, as his own site is b0rked at present. Thanks! For some background on the Librie, here's our initial post on the product release, and a Guardian article with some background and an interview with the folks who developed it. We should note that these views are Kakyou's rather than those of dottocomu, as we haven't had a chance to touch a Librie yet.

First look at the Sony EBR-1000 Librie eBook reader

Got my Librie yesterday. Had a bit of time to play around with it, so wanted to put out my initial thoughts on it.

The Good

Sony Librie eBook readerFirst, the good news. Initial reports of the screen quality left me quite unprepared for the actual thing. The screen is unbelievable. Not quite paper, more like a dull plastic like look. My first impression of the device was that it was not an actual working unit, but a plastic mock up made for stores. With high contrast black text on a reflective background, the screen has a readability rivaling actual paper. The weight of the book is also quite a shock. About the weight of a long paperback, the book will be both easy on the eyes as well as very easy to hold and carry around.

Running on 4 AAA batteries, the book is supposed to last 10,000 page turns, more than enough for extended trips, and the use of standard batteries ensures you'll never be stuck in a lurch.

Additional features include a memory stick slot for adding additional space for your library or BBeB formatted dictionary cards, a keyboard for using said dictionaries, and a well designed removable integrated screen cover. You can select text from a document and run it through a built in dictionary for a definition or even an English translation. A huge thing is the ability to play embedded audio files through a small built in speaker or earphone plug.

Overall this is a sharp, stylish, package with cutting edge technology. The perfect new gadget if it weren't for.

The Bad

Sony Librie eBook readerOK, there are some flaws. I'm drawing some comparisons to my good ol' Rocket eBook (REB 1100), a workhorse gizmo from the 90's. Size and weight being obvious factors in the design philosophy, I found the buttons to be pretty hard to use. The keyboard and option buttons have almost no play and are a bit too small to read. The page turning buttons are the biggest disappointment. The Rocket Book had these 2 great buttons for page turning. In fact, they were the only obvious buttons on the entire device. The Librie's buttons in contrast are too small, awkwardly placed (about an inch or two too low for me), and not very responsive.

Responsiveness in general seems to be a big problem. The E-Ink technology produces great results, but at a substantial cost. Namely screen refresh. I feel like I have to wait almost a full second between screen presses while the screen refreshes. OK for page turning, but murder when typing text or doing a search. While the dictionary lookup features are great, the usability is seriously compromised due to the slow input.

Finally, the biggest mistake was that the Librie MUST be plugged in to AC power in order to interface with a PC. Yes, you heard me right. In spite of the standard non-rechargeable battery system, you are still required to lug around an AC charge brick with you in order to update the library on your book. Ooops! Anyway, these shortcomings aside, this would still be a neat toy, except for the inevitable appearance of.

The Ugly

Sony Librie eBook readerSo the rumors have been around and the details available for a few weeks now. Sony has opted for a DRM and distribution system for the Librie that must have been designed by the same guy who made up the guidelines for Net MD's? DRM. In other words, some dinosaur in Sony HQ? who still doesn't read his own e-mail since he can't use a keyboard.

As of launch day, Sony's new book rental program contains a whopping 400 books. That's it. The convenience store down the street from my apartment has a wider and more current selection. Also, the innovative (read as idiotic) new 60-day-and-it-evaporates download service has NO periodicals! No magazines, no newspapers. The only types of documents that would lend themselves to a rental system aren't even offered. Instead we end up with a moldy list of books that would be public domain if it weren't for the fact that Japan doesn't believe in giving away information for free, even if no one would want it.

As for permanent content, well there ain't any! Not yet anyway. So right now, if you don't keep buyin' the crappy book, you have 60 days to finish it, or you gotta buy it again. Oooo, that will be a popular concept. So distribution sucks. Well, how about the Rights Management system? Well in a word, «Customers can go and bite me in the a$$". At least I think that 's the message Sony is trying to get across. Yet another proprietary format, with a heavy emphasis on not actually selling things to customers. All valid documents couple with a license document. The entire purpose of the license file is to cut you off after a certain date. So Sony is not selling you anything. They are “loaning” it to you. Well, after 60 days, let's see if they will return that money I “loaned” them! This new format was supposed to offer advanced compression so that hundreds of books can be stored on your eBook (this many books would cost I estimate 5.2 million dollars). The amazing compression created a single comic book file size of 24 MB. That's only 2 and a half times the size of the built in storage area. Want to keep more than a dozen or so books and you better start hoarding Memory Sticks?. Lord knows using an Open eBook format or even PDF format would give you the same level of functionality and portability but also give you the problems of ease in handling and widespread compatibility. Wouldn't want that would you?

So for an investment of a few thousand dollars, you can have a crappy collection of books no one reads that will evaporate in a couple of months. Well, at least it's safer than burning money. After all you could burn a finger. Still, the fire sounds more fun than this book.

So the end analysis is that this is a great first step device that showcases some cutting edge technology as well as pointing out that genetically altered monkeys should not be allowed to submit marketing plans for Sony. Until there is a hack out there for personal published documents (like there is for the Rocket Book) this product will go down in Sony's vault for stupid expensive ideas. At least it's so small it should fit. It's getting crowded down there lately.


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