14 October 2006

Sub-optimal

From the Slate review of a new electronic book from Sony.
We expect our electronics displays to dazzle, but the Reader's is dull, and its palette is Etch A Sketch gray. There are also problems with 'ghosting,' and since it has no backlight, you need a clip-on light to read in bed. Unfortunately, the slightly reflective screen tends to bounce the beam into your eyes. The biggest problem with E Ink is that it has a very slow refresh rate—around a second to turn a page. Though that doesn't sound like much, it's quite a pregnant pause: Clicking through the Reader's menus is tedious, and page turns quickly become a bore.

The Reader works well for plain-old, front-to-back reading. As long as you don't do a lot of flipping back and forth, the device won't let you down. But it doesn't have a search function, nor will your book's index or table of contents be hyperlinked to the pages they reference. So, ironically, it's significantly easier to find information in a paper book than in its digital equivalent. Sony's e-content is also read-only: You can bookmark a page, but you can't add marginalia.
So it's not as good as an actual book.

Isaac Asmimov (in an essay I can't find online) once described the perfect reading system: high definition, high contrast, portable, zero marginal energy use, stable long term memory and easily disposable. In other words, a book.

14 comments:

Hey Skipper said...

The company I work for distributes manuals both by CD-ROM and dead trees.
The dead tree approach amounts to quite a pile, the better part of a foot.

But for all the substantial weight and resource advantages of the CD-ROM approach, when I actually have to read the things, I go for the dead trees every time.

I'll bet it is a long time before electronic ink gains anything like wide acceptance.

M Ali said...

The one problem with books is the need for dismaying amounts of storage space. Still, we are probably fifteen to twenty years away from an acceptable electronic substitute.

Susan's Husband said...

Books are not always stable long term storage. They require quite a bit of environmental control to persist.

As, as M. Ali mentions, Asimov missed the storage density issue, along with search functions.

Oh, how I hate word verification! And this one requires entering the letters even for preview. Augh.

David said...

SH: I have it, too, but blogger just doesn't deal with comment spam at all well.

David said...

To have is to hate, at least in the above comment.

Susan's Husband said...

Deal with it? Many weblogs have banned blogspot entirely because it is such a generator of comment & trackback junk.

Brit said...

Most book readers are also book lovers.

People who would be as happy to have a single electronic device as a shelf or indeed basementful of books, are not book lovers.

So the electronic devices will have a small market: book readers who don't love books.

David said...

Brit: And for me that point is confirmed by iTunes. I'm not nearly the music fan that I am a reader and iTunes is fine for me, but it's still less satisfying to have a hard drive full of songs then to have cases of LPs and CDs.

Brit said...

Me too. Itunes is great for the odd song you like from an artist you otherwise aren't fussed about, but I take immense pleasure in contemplating my heaving shelves of CDs, and in fondly fondling my gatefold LPs.

David said...

Please. This is a family website.

Susan's Husband said...

You guys are such fuddy-duddies. I converted all of my physical CDs to electronic form, then packed the CDs away in long term storage. They are so much better as bits on a hard disk. I have as many copies as I like, playing the music is far more convenient, and the kids can't scratch them up. Better in every single way.

Brit said...

SH:

You just don't get it, do you?

Susan's Husband said...

Brit;

Apparently not. I can understand it coming from a godless hedonistic materialist like you, but I am surprised that someone as spiritual Mr. Cohen doesn't appreciate that it is the inner beauty (the soul of the music) that matters, not the outward form. I suppose everyone's in favor of restraint, except for their own sybaratic urges.

Brit said...

Why drink vintage Chateau neuf-du-pape when you can inject alcohol directly into your veins?