April 20, 2008

Sony Reader vs. Amazon Kindle = Form vs. Functionality

By Daniel

I’ve been considering my options on ebook readers for about a week now, and I’ve been going both ways on the topic of which one to pick. However, I think I’ve finally made up my mind.

Sony Reader


  • Slimmer, sleeker, and all around a nicer looking machine.
  • Requires less time between charges (charging my iPhone once every other day is enough).
  • Simple, straightforward button layout which makes reading easier.
  • Slightly cheaper (though I will address this below).
  • More firmware hacks and the like are available, though I don’t mess with that stuff usually.
  • 8 shades of gray available, as opposed to 4 on the Kindle.
  • Comes with a very nice case.


  • Lack of any text-search capabilities on the reader itself (you can do it on the software).
  • Less books to choose from.
  • Books are generally a few dollars more than through the Kindle store.
  • The Reader software is honestly not so good, having messed with it myself.
  • No easy way to subscribe to blogs, newspapers etc.
  • Doesn’t include an AC adapter.
  • No way to take notes, limited bookmarking functionality.
  • PDF support is bad at the moment.

Amazon Kindle


  • Full text search capability through everything stored on the machine, including PDFs, Office Documents, and all types of eBooks.
  • Annotation and bookmarking is also available, thanks to the QWERTY keyboard.
  • Books can be beamed to your Kindle over the air through Sprint’s EVDO network.
  • This wireless capability also lets you subscribe to newspapers like the NYT and Washington Post, subscriptions running anywhere from $5.99 to $13.99 monthly.
  • You can also import blogs like this one (hint, hint) through an RSS feed, and Whispernet (the aforementioned EVDO network) will poll your blogs regularly for new content.
  • More books to choose from than the Sony store (though that may of course change).
  • Books generally run 2 or 3 bucks cheaper than through Sony.
  • Able to take more formats out of the box, and documents can be converted to the proprietary AZW format at no charge, or beamed straight to your phone for a mere 10 cents.


  • This thing is ugly as sin. Seriously, it’s like some 80’s prototype looking thing.
  • The battery has to be recharged more frequently due to the wireless capability, though the EVDO transceiver can be turned off when not in use.
  • Whispernet still doesn’t have the cellular penetration of AT&T or Verizon’s networks, and I may not get service at all at my current home, though EVDO coverage is good throughout Louisville. (You can still get your newspapers imported through a USB cable).
  • It’s quite a bit larger and bulkier than the Sony Reader, and is also marginally heavier.
  • The Kindle itself is a hard plastic device, where the Sony Reader is brushed aluminum or some such metal.
  • The case it comes with apparently isn’t very good.

Where They’re Identical

  • Screen size is the same 6″ diagonal.
  • Resolution is VGA.
  • Contrast is the same.
  • e-ink refresh rate is the same.
  • Quality of the type is the same.
  • Both offer DRMed books, which sucks but is really the only way to do something like this.
  • Both offer multiple file format support.

Now, the deciding point for me between two competing, similar products is going to be price 90 percent of the time, with the other 10 being the aesthetics. Both of these, of course, point to the Sony Reader. However, the Kindle does offer more for what you’re paying. That is, it includes an AC adapter in that $400 price tag, while the Sony Reader wants another $30 on top of your $300 to charge your Reader anywhere you’ve got an AC outlet (as opposed to anywhere you’ve got a USB port; if I have my laptop on me I stand a fair chance of just reading on it anyway). Combined with the overall higher price of books on the Sony store, I would make up the $70 difference in a matter of months, and to me this is a long-term investment. So price becomes a non-issue to me.

What ended up being the clincher for me, and I know it won’t be for everyone (not at first anyway, give it time and it’ll be a necessity) is the text-search capability of the Kindle. If I remember reading a great article in one of my newspapers, or want to show someone a passage from a certain book, no need messing with bookmarks, I just type in the phrase I’m thinking of and I’ll get a list of results that match. I can also make notes about a book as I go, which will be even more advantageous as college textbooks start to make their way to the ebook marketplace. The folks at Sony R&D thought about including this feature and scrapped it. What? You guys didn’t think that would be helpful? I can absolutely see myself using this feature, and using it enough to justify the other arguments against the Kindle. It’s ugly, but given a choice between form and functionality it is in your best interest to take functionality and do the best you can with the looks. A nice case, or a paint job might help it tremendously.

The Verdict: Amazon Kindle

I may just have my very own Kindle in a week or so, and I’ll report more on it then.