In praise of eInk and the Sony 505

Over at The Register, Tony Smith has just done an article looking at devices on which you can read eBooks, to help you work out which is the best e-reader for Christmas.

I think I probably read more now than before I bought my first Sony Reader, a PRS-505, though it’s hard to be sure. What I do know is that very often, I will read for three or four hours a night in bed. The Sony has been a companion on holidays, where the eInk screen is great in the sun, and on commutes, and pretty much anywhere you can think of.

But, of course, for an eInk screen, you need light – if you’re reading in bed, then you need the bedside light turned on, unless you have one of the new generation of devices that Tony talks about in his piece, with an illuminated display.

Or you can use a tablet, and that’s what I’ve been doing for a while. I bought a Nexus 7 earlier this year, and it’s a great device, for many things. one of which is reading eBooks. I’ve been buying books from Kobo for a while, because they have reasonable prices and you can download in the ePub format, so they’re compatible with the Sony reader.

Using the Kobo app on the Nexus was a pretty simple decision, then – it automatically picked up all the books I’d bought from there already, and I can add any of the ePub books I’ve bought from elsewhere. Yes, some apps have slicker page navigation animations, but I like the fact that I can use the volume controls on the side of the tablet to turn pages.

And that, I thought, was more or less it – the Sony Reader lay dusty on the table, and I did most of my reading with the Nexus. Until an update to Android Jelly Bean on the Nexus caused the Kobo app to stop working for a couple of weeks, while they sorted out a fix.

That, thankfully, is not the sort of problem you get with a dedicated reader, where software updates don’t tend to happen, and the reading is a built in function anyway, rather than an app that relies on the system software. So, back to the Kobo website, I downloaded the ePub file of the book I was reading, and charged up the Sony.

A breath of fresh air

And I realised just how much I miss reading on eInk. Sure, the screen is probably sharper on the Nexus 7 – if you can put up with the flickering that happens in low light (I installed Lux Auto Brightness, which makes things much better) – and page turns are quicker.

But I’d forgotten how light the Sony 505 is; how well positioned the two sets of page turn keys are; just how long it runs for on a single charge – no more having to check the battery on the Nexus during the evening to make sure I’ll be able to read later in bed.

And most important of all, I’d forgotten how much easier on the eye it is to read eInk than an LCD display.

What I’d put down to tiredness was almost certainly a bit of eye strain, which disappeared in the couple of weeks I spent using the Sony Reader in bed, rather than the Nexus. I’m using the Nexus again at the moment, largely to remove the amount of bedside clutter, with Lux making the screen much less bright than it was previously.

But I’m also seriously thinking about buying another eInk reader – very likely a Kobo one, so I can synchronise between devices – because, frankly, if you read a lot as I do, all the bells and whistles offered by a tablet like the Nexus 7 might well be useful during the daytime, but they’re just a distraction when the real job you want to do is settle down for a read. And, they certainly don’t make up for the fact that, as far as I’m concerned, the reading experience with eInk is far superior to a tablet screen.

In a way, I’m glad Kobo’s app broke for a while – it made me go back to my old Sony Reader and discover again what I’d been missing.

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