Sony Clie (as Reader)

Cheap, readable ebook device

I’ve tried using a few different dedicated ebook readers. They suck; they are much worse than paper books. But I do like using my Palm handheld as an ebook reader, especially at night in bed with the backlight on. I bought a Sony Clie T615C with a color 320 x 320 screen for about $75 used. I see they’re going for less than $50 on eBay now. A great deal for a 16MB device.

The screen is about 2.5 x 2.5 inches and it’s at least as legible as a computer screen, if not more. The pixels are very small and the characters are very sharp. This high resolution is key for reading — the kind of screen that comes with the Treo 600, for example, is no good for long texts. Any Palm device will work, but standard low resolution (160×160) makes it more difficult to read. The Sonys and the Palm Tungsten have that satisfying high resolution (320×320).

The free Palm Reader allows bookmarking, searching, and note-taking. It’s a great little app. Invisible until you need it. To turn the page, you just tap the screen (there are several other ways to turn the page).

The best place to buy ebooks for handhelds is from Palm Digital Media, which sells ebooks for Palm and Windows handhelds. Palm Digital has lots of the books I want, like Steven Johnson’s Mind wide Open, and Bill Bryson’s A Brief History of Nearly Everything. The prices are good, too. Mind Wide Open costs $13.49 here. It’s $17.50 on Amazon in paper. Best of all, there’s no waiting for the book to show up in the mail — you get it the instant you pay for it. I’ve read a couple of dozen books this way, and have come to resent having to use real books, which now seem too heavy to have to hold up.

-- Mark Frauenfelder 04/21/04

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