This is an update to previous posts in which I explained why, when I decided to step into the ereader market, I originally chose the Sony Reader. [original articles 1, 2] After a bad experience with both the Reader itself and Sony’s customer service, I reluctantly sold the Reader and switched to the Kindle. I also discuss ereaders’ academic strengths and shortcomings in an article titled “Ereaders in the Classroom,” in the journal Transformations; the journal is dedicating an issue to the digital classroom. But what unfolds below is a more detailed look at what happened that made me give up the Sony Reader and switch to the Amazon Kindle.
It happened again. The problem that happened before, in which notes were lost, hair was pulled, and Sony couldn’t help. So after troubleshooting a problem where the notes I had made in my ebooks would not sync properly between my computer and my Sony Reader, I turned on the ereader one day in May to find all of my books had been deleted from its storage media. With customer support, I was able to restore the books to my ereader and understand how the sync issue started. However, the books loaded back on the Reader as “new” and without all the notes, annotations, and highlighted passages. This loss of data represented the notes and comments from more than a thousand pages of text read over the previous three months.
What I learned from Sony’s customer support is that if you initially check the box (in the Reader Library software) to let the Reader Library keep your books and notes in sync with your Reader, then you had better keep it that way. The software works (even looks) much like iTunes in that your hard drive, the Reader, and other storage devices are listed in a column on the left. The contents (the books) appear on the right, in a list. The software behaves so much like iTunes that you might think, as I did, that if you are having trouble where syncing stalls, it seems reasonable to uncheck the option to have the Reader Library keep everything in sync and instead manage the dragging and dropping of books from hard drive to Reader yourself.
Unchecking the sync option deleted the books from my Reader. When I told Sony that I would like a refund, my call was escalated to what I was told was the highest level of technical support. Even after the customer support rep had me reinstall the latest firmware, still he was not able to restore my notes. Sony would not issue a refund since the Reader was more than 90 days old, even though my initial instance of this particular loss-of-data problem began within days of purchasing the Reader.
That was the last straw. Without a reasonably intuitive and easy to use back up system for one’s notes and highlighted passages, I don’t see how the Sony Reader can be reliable for anyone who is reading with any purpose slightly more serious than beach reading.
Aesthetically, I still think the Sony Reader has done the ereader right. Its simple, clean, minimal design is better, in my mind, than even the new Barnes and Noble nook which, with its curved corners and one bottom button, is trying to be the iPad’s kindergartener brother. The Reader, on the other hand, is lighter and thinner without feeling like it will blow away in a breeze. It’s brushed aluminum shell looks smart, and the touch screen is as responsive as I needed it to be. And it doesn’t look like anything else out there, so it’s not trying to imitate another’s design.
I reluctantly sold the Reader through Craigslist and picked up a Kindle. The Kindle feels plasticky and cheap, and I have yet to get comfortable pushing buttons to turn pages. The thumb-dot-keyboard is awkward and feels superfluous after the touchscreen keyboard I was getting used to. But in the end, the Kindle backs up my notes wirelessly and keeps my books in sync between the Kindle, my laptop, and my iPhone. Instapaper’s automatic wireless delivery of a week’s worth of saved articles to the Kindle has saved me the extra step of using Ephemera, and the Send to Kindle Chrome extension is a big plus.
In short, Amazon has nailed the paperless, ebook, e-article ecosystem. But Amazon still could learn something from Sony’s attention to physical detail.