I've been to Sony stores around the world. I've handled the old 505s, the fairly poor quality 700s (sloppy original touch screen), and the newer models. I've had the opportunity to see just how the products work, read a couple of pages and figure out the pros. Other eReaders? Nothing. Blips on the radar. I've heard much about the Kindles, written tons about them, even seen them in the hands of random people or acquaintances... but Amazon never openly came and offered them to me for even a store run. I am a naturally suspicious consumer and Amazon did not make the situation easier for me. Sony did.
Months ago, when I realized I didn't want the Kindle 2, a friend who had handled a Sony PRS-505 suggested I check it out. After seeing the 505 and the 700, I was immediately drawn to the 505 (standard size, a series of buttons along the edge; a quintessential original-style eReader) but knew that a new model was sure to emerge soon. I waited patiently and out came the 600 and the PRS-300 Pocket Edition (immediately ruled out; too simple, too small). The 600 intrigued me: I enjoyed handling it, the screen quality was miles ahead of where the 700 had been (though I'll admit that it's still not quite as crisp as the 505 or the 300, though it's pretty good), and the touch quality made it comfortable and convenient. But this did not sell the product to me. Again, I'm a suspicious consumer and serving as a guinea pig for eReaders did not appeal to me unless the product went above and beyond.
So Sony went above and beyond. It offered me free books. Lots of them. One of the original points that bothered me with the Kindle was that it had no library offer (incidentally, the most viewed post on this blog, thanks to numerous Google searches). eBook prices are unjustly high and in addition to purchasing the machine, I have to buy the books as well for about as much as the paperback? No thank you. But Sony's library option took my terrible original idea and made it good. I take a U.S. (or U.K.) library card, plug it into the system, see if my library participates and can then check books out. I am lucky to have 4 active library cards of which 3 are participants in the program, and given time I'm sure the fourth will join too. I add a book to my cart, check it out, upload it to my Reader and two weeks later it just expires. Simple, to the point, and blissfully free. Coupled with the ability to take advantage of Gutenberg, GoogleBooks and any PDF eBook or document... that's a lot of convenient free material. And all of it open; no DRM. I bought the PRS-600 Touch Edition in silver.
This is not to say that Amazon's price cuts the day following my purchase didn't disconcert me. The fact that it was suddenly open round the world bothered me too (much of my time is spent abroad), because that point had initially disqualified the Kindles. But I quickly realized that it was silly to second guess. I had many initial doubts with the Kindle. I still do. I don't like Amazon's totalitarian take on things - closed format, buy all through Amazon, sneaky fingers in accounts, charging for certain free public domain books (at lower prices), etc. I don't like the lack of PDF compatibility. I don't like the placement of the flip page buttons (I don't hold books that way). I don't like the 3G (which for the abroad folks probably costs a lot more than Amazon is letting on). I don't like the giant keyboard, as convenient as it may be for taking notes. Sure, the Sony's touch keyboard is a bit slow at times but it gets the job done and doesn't add extra bulk to the device. Most of all, I don't like paying for eBooks. Amazon, as ruler of the online purchasers, has created the standard expensive eBook price (my complete rant will come another time) and leads all others to follow in their footsteps, not wanting to be outdone. I want my eReader for free books and so the Sony won out with its library, its comfortable GoogleBooks support and the various other options.
Why now? Now, when things are changing every ten minutes? One day the Kindle is priced the same as the Sony, the next the Sony is the more expensive of the two. One day Sony is king of eReader land, the next Amazon launches new products. Barnes & Nobles wants to join in, the iLiad gains attention, color eReaders seem on the horizon, wi-fi is expected (at some point, hopefully)... why would I buy what seems to be a sub-par eReader now, especially if it's unreasonably priced?
I've thought about it a lot. Nervous consumer and all that. Ultimately, the current market continues changing constantly. Even if new brands pop up, I'm not going to jump to them because a new product is typically less reliable than an established brand (Sony, in this case). I can't sit around waiting for the product to be perfect because that's never going to happen. If I want to experiment with a new device, I'll need to pick one at some point and go with it, just to see how it is. Maybe at some point I'll realize that I don't like my Sony and I'll get the newest Kindle. Or I'll decide that I don't like eReaders at all and will stick to my print books with religious love. For now, I took the plunge and made my decision. Let's see what comes of it.