Thursday, June 4, 2009

Finally the Digital Book Reader

    Yesterday my Sony PRS-700BC Digital Book Reader finally came, after two weeks and a trip overseas. I wanted so much a Digital Book Reader that I bought one, even if it doesn’t justifies entirely the price though might be useful when reading late in the evening or in trips in which is not possible to pack more than 1-2 books, not to forget the multitude of electronic documents not available in hardcopy. I was thinking to wait for Amazon’s Kindle DX, presented to the public a few weeks ago, unfortunately its (un)availability on European market and nice price made me to give up the idea of buying one. In exchange Sony’s reader looked more attractive as price and what attracted me at PRS-700BC was its touch-screen display and the possibility to add annotations and highlight text, these capabilities not being available in previous models. Using the stylus or direct touching, PRS-700BC allows you to select a piece of text (within the same page), save it and make it available in Notes section. I tested it using PDF documents and Sony’s proprietary format BBeB (Broad Band eBook), it worked acceptable as long the document is adequately formatted, the selection functionality working awkwardly in some PDF documents. The good rendering of PDF documents depends on font’s size, its length and disposal within page; even if font size is changed, the text might not be uniformly rendered, mathematical formulas being deformed, the text loosing of content. In order to avoid text’s deformation the text can be zoomed though I find the feature a little cumbersome to use for continuous reading. There would be also the possibility of exporting other documents to BBeB format, not sure if it really makes sense to do that…

    Why am I talking about Digital Readers in this blog?! First of all because PRS-700BC provides the capability of annotating, highlighting and extracting text from a document, much of what we try to do with Web Pages within Web 2.0 in the attempt to create metadata and a read-write Web. The Notes thus created allow navigating back to the document it contains and in theory can be further used to partially index the document, partially because it doesn’t allows jumping between all occurrences like the search functionality. At it seems the full-word search provides hints based on previous annotations and highlights, that’s a nice feature.

    I wonder whether the previously selected text can be also extracted on a PC in a document together with other information about the document that contains it; normally it should be possible, it’s just a question of programming effort. The text thus obtained could be reused in documents’ indexing or in Knowledge Maps. I hope that future models will have the capability of creating Maps inside the Reader and will that provide richer text formatting and processing.

    Unlike Sony’s Reader, Kindle DX offers wireless connectivity which allows browsing directly Web Pages; Sony should consider doing the same! Just imagine that you can annotate Web pages on your own Reader, isn’t that something?! Of course, it won’t work so easy with heavy content Web Pages, though that’s a start… Anyway, Digital Readers are in their baby steps, there is more to be expected from the use of digital paper technology on which such devices are based. Let’s see what the future reserves us in this direction!

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