Retro Review, the original Sony Libre

On the eve of (possibly) a new version of the Kindle, I dug out my original Sony Libre that I bought in Japan. I called it at the time, the "The Best eBook Reader You’ll Likely Never Own". Sony eventually did bring a version to the US and evolved the product further. Of course it was Amazon that brought eBooks to the real mass market audience. Here’s what I thought of the original Sony back in 2005.

When I travel, I rarely take paper books anymore, they’re just too heavy and inconvenient. While I still buy a lot of paper books as each week (I usually buy one or two books a week on average) they’re mostly ones that I know others might be interested in reading, books I plan to read more than once and just stuff I like to keep.

As a big eBook fan myself, I’ve tried all the dedicated eBook devices that were on the market and found them all lacking. None of then did the job any better than my PDA or Tablet PC did and most did them far worse. The whole point of the eBook idea is to lug around less stuff, not take more things with you. But what about something different? After all, the reason most folks don’t like reading stuff on screen (I know folks who still print out all their email rather than read it online) is that screen resolution is just nowhere as good as paper. While I live with the tradeoff of convenience vs. resolution, as I get older, I find my 40 year old eyes having a harder time reading large quantities of text even on good laptop screens. What if there was a small device, no larger than a DVD case with high resolution screen so clear, it looked like ink on paper? What if it were digital ink? What if it ran on only a few AAA batteries forever. Well, that device is real and it’s called the Librie from Sony. Using a technology called digital ink, the device has a resolution of about 170dpi, (which is about twice that of the computer you’re probably reading this on). Is it paper res? Nope, but its good enough and an order of magnitude better than any other display I have ever seen. Words do not do it justice. When people see it, they comment it looks more like a display unit with the text printed on a sticker than an LCD. And then they see the screen change and go wow. The technology works using a monochrome display with four gray levels, which changes reflectivity by moving microscopic black and white particles held within spherical microcapsules. As a result, the unit only needs power when changing the image on screen so battery life is good for 10,000 pages of text.

So what’s the deal with this amazing device? Well for one, you can’t get one here in the US. Sony only sells the Librie in Japan and the unit and all the software is in Japanese. The bigger downside is that the only commercial content for the device comes from Sony’s Japanese eBook service that doesn’t sell you the books but only rents then for 60 days. In short, unless you really love technology, this isn’t the most practical device in the world at the moment. If, however, you are intrigued and want to see the future and how a dedicated eBook reader could be successful (if marketed correctly with content available for it) then you can pick up a version that’s been modified to work in English Dynamism.vYou can then use the included print driver to get .PDF files on your device. From there, you can head over to Phil Torronne’s and read the tutorial on how to create your own content for the Librie from text files. Finally the public domain booksite manybooks.net has most of their content in Librie format.

Sadly, this device might never reach US shores for the mass market. It’s the first eBook reader that’s actually good enough to warrant being schlepped around. It would be amazing if this device could work with the popular eReader format books, that would be a killer combination IMHO that could really jumpstart this market and make it real. For now, it’s still more concept car than mainstream product.

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