What were your best Christmas presents?

It’s almost always the case that the best Christmas presents are things that you’d never have bought for yourself but which seem perfect when you get them.

This year my best one is very definitely the Sony Reader which Wendy bought me. It’s the one that’s with me almost constantly and in use throughout the day. Why? Well, I’m doing a couple of Open University courses at the moment and that means up to four books totally around four inches in thickness to carry around. Instead of that pile I’ve a pocket sized electronic book which means that I can carry all those books around with me and read them when I get the chance rather than having to plan in advance to take them with me.

In fact I can carry around all the course books for all the courses which would have been pretty much impossible without the Reader.

The ebook technology is one that’s quietly zoomed ahead in recent years with the arrival of e-paper. The screens in these readers aren’t the same as those that you see in laptops. They’re not backlit, they’re quite slow to refresh (fine for reading, useless as a computer screen) but most importantly use virtually no power which means that the batteries last for weeks for even the most voracious reader and probably months for most people. Even my initial flicking around all the options and from book to book barely made an impression on the battery after a week. One thing to note is that the battery is only required when you turn the page and it makes virtually no difference to battery life if you take a second or a minute to read a page.

Thanks to Google Books there are millions of free books available for download. Beyond the free ones you can buy a great many books in ebook format these days though for reasons which escape me they are currently at pretty much the same price as the paper versions.

Downsides of it all? I miss the colour and the PDF scaling feature needs work. The metal casing makes for a cold read compared to actual paper though there are fancy covers that would fix that. The Pocket Reader doesn’t have an SD card slot so you’re limited to the 1/2GB internal memory. It’s not permanently online like the Kindle so no buying books on the fly although I usually mull over book purchases anyway.

Upsides are that the 1/2GB “limit” to internal memory means that it’ll hold over three hundred books which doesn’t seem like much of a limit to me. Copying books to the Reader is a whole lot faster than I’d expected: even copying a couple of hundred books was a matter of a few minutes. For normal books the 5″ screen is more than enough to display text at the normal size and in sensible chunks. That it’s not permanently online like the Kindle is a plus to me: Sony can’t see what’s on my Reader and neither can they delete things from it as Amazon have done.

In a word, this is brilliant.

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