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BY NICO VREELAND

There hasn’t been much love lost between me and Sony’s ereader software—I wasn’t a fan, to put it lightly, of the original eBook Library for Windows or the more recent Mac version. Last Friday, Sony came out with a new version, 3.1, for both Mac and Windows. To commemorate the new software and the accompanying switch away from their old proprietary format and toward the more open Adobe ePub (DRMed), they’ve renamed their online store the “Reader Store,” and the eBook Library software has become “Reader Library,” and they’ve partnered with Borders for some reason. So far, so… meaningless.

So how does the rest of Reader Library 3.1 stack up to its forebears? The question isn’t “Is it good?”—I’ve given up on good software from Sony—the question is “Is it… like, a little bit better? Like maybe not crashing quite so much?”

The answer is surprising: the Sony software is more usable than ever. It’s nobody’s dream, but it no longer inspires nightmares.

The following brief review applies to the Mac version of the software, but Sony’s a Windows company, so presumably the Windows version is at least as good, if not better.

Looks and Interface: C

There’s been some improvement on this front. Sony’s abandoned the archaic-looking circular arrow that often “appeared to freeze,” as Sony support once told me. However, connecting to the Reader Store usually involves a few flickers and flashes before the site loads up. I guess it’s a bit better.

The interface is still a bit finicky, sometimes needing stern prodding to switch from the ereader catalog to the desktop library, and so forth.

You still can’t drag books from your desktop library directly into a collection on your ereader, which seems like a relatively basic thing. The highlighting/note-taking system on the desktop library is also a bit unintuitive, and while the bookmarks you make in the desktop will also show up once you port the book to your ereader, the notes won’t transfer.

In version 3.0, Sony added some red accents to dilute the ugliness of the lavender-vomit design scheme. Nothing new in the graphics department.


Stability: B+

This version isn’t nearly as crashy as 3.0 for the Mac. In fact, it didn’t crash once on me in several hours’ use (which is a huge improvement). This was arguably my biggest complaint for the last version, so I’m glad it’s been improved so much. I’m still not entirely confident it won’t crash, hence no A, but this is a promising start.


Library eBook Support: B

Not much new on this front. Once you get used to the new system (which doesn’t involve Adobe Digital Editions) it’s pretty seamless, and the major stability upgrade makes it less painful.

There’s a rumor on TeleRead that the new software might make it impossible to download library ebooks more than once. I haven’t had that problem yet. So far, I’ve only used library ebooks that I previously loaded with Digital Editions, but they worked fine. I’ll update once they expire and I reload them, if they in fact don’t work.


Buying from the “Reader Store”: B+

The Reader Store is about average as far as ebookstores go. I’m getting to be a fan of the Awards section, though, which showcases collections of New York Times Notable Books of the Year, winners of major literary awards, and winners of genre awards like the Hugo and the Edgar.

The actual buying process is relatively painless, though the store auto-logs you out a bit too quickly. Even though Borders is a named partner in this venture, Borders gift cards don’t work. Which makes me wonder why Borders is a named partner. Trying to save themselves from Blockbuster-like obsolescence is my guess.

From an entirely unscientific glancing through the catalog, it looks like more Sony books are $9.99 than ever, so we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

The new ePub books are good; format change isn’t exactly cosmetic, but I’m glad I’ll be able to use new books with future devices. For some reason, Sony’s ePubs have weird margins, which are entirely unnecessary.


Other: ???

I’m not screwing with RSS feeds on my Reader anymore. It’s just not worth the time and effort. If you really want to take your RSS feeds with you, use a smartphone, or get an ereader with wireless.

I also haven’t dealt with Sony support in a while. I’m sure they’re still not great.


Overall: B

Slowness and general kludginess continue to be Reader Library’s big minuses. But with the big improvements in stability and format, and the nifty Awards section, it’s a usable book interface. Which is really saying something for Sony.

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