Back in January of 2007, I wrote about my impressions of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Sony eReader electronic book reader. I thought I’d update that, given my time with the device and the eBook service. And the news isn’t good.
One of the major annoyances of the eReader is the inability to reflow PDFs. That’s a complex problem, so they get a pass on the actual reflowing part. The solution they offered was the ability to view PDFs in either of two formats: either the entire page or just the width of the text on the page. The latter worked reasonably well for most PDFs when viewed in the landscape mode of the eReader. But here’s the fatal bug: when you switch pages in the PDF view, it restores the “width of text” view to the “width of page” view, but doesn’t update the mode on the reader. Thus, you must hit the button to actually get it back to what it thinks is officially “width of page” view, then hit it again to actually get back to “width of text” mode. Page refreshes on the eReader are very slow, which isn’t a big deal when reading a book because you only have to do it occasionally. But forcing the multiple page switches just to restore it to the mode it says it’s on is deadly. It effectively made reading PDFs on the device unpalatable. I reported this back in my original review, and predicted that it would be fixed in a software update (leaving aside for the moment how the device could have ever shipped with such an obvious bug).
It never happened. The new version of the reader came out with no software update in sight for this killer bug. I don’t know if they’ve fixed it in the new version because, frankly, I wouldn’t take one if they gave it to me. They did offer to sell me a new one when my original died. I turned it on one day in December and the screen was a garbled mess. I contacted their support who told me that, since mine was out of warranty, my best course of action was to purchase another, new version. That’s never going to happen.
In fact, the whole experience has soured me on Sony. They used to compete in mind share at least with Apple for delivering innovative products, with a modicum of understanding things like design and aesthetics. Apparently, they’ve abandoned that. I still own a single Sony product, the PSP Portable, which embodies many good features and design touches. But seeing how they treat their customers for an admittedly small, trivial market is enough for me to cast all their products in doubt. They clearly don’t have any concept of quality assurance (given the original bug) or responsibility (never fixing it). It’s a shame too because reading actual eBooks on the reader wasn’t bad. I probably read about 40 books on it, and liked it a lot. But, given that you can’t read PDFs on it, and their eBook format is proprietary (another annoying characteristic about Sony — memory sticks anyone?), I won’t buy another one.
I’ve looked at the Kindle but haven’t taken the plunge yet. I want a killer user experience, and it doesn’t look like it. I wish Apple (or someone who understands design like Apple) would release an eReader so I could read the Neal Stephenson Baroque Trilogy without herniating myself!