My Sony Digital Paper device, along with my credentials to install and use the Worldox FileCloud service, arrived just as I was preparing to spend several long days reading trial transcripts in preparation for writing an appeal brief. Until now, I have been reading transcripts, typically received in or scanned to searchable PDF format, on my iPad using the excellent iAnnotate app. Annotations were made on the iPad's screen using my Wacom Bamboo stylus.
The problem is that long hours in front of any backlit LCD-type screen, including a Retina-class iPad, can induce considerable eye strain. Also, writing on the iPad's screen with even a very good capacitive stylus like the Bamboo feels unnatural and is less than ideal. Still, it is better than any other solution I've found - until now.
Existing reviews of the Sony Digital Paper have knocked it for being a giant Kindle (it is - and more), expensive (at over a grand, it is very expensive), and being a one-trick pony (yes, but what a trick!).
The Sony Digital Paper has an e-ink screen like a Kindle. When comparing it to the gold standard of e-ink devices, the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, the Sony's screen appears to me to be even "whiter" than the Paperwhite's screen when I set them side-by-side. That is a very pleasant surprise.
The 13.3 inch screen on the Sony is more than four times the area of the Paperwhite's 6 inch screen, yet the device is only 12.6 ounces compared to the Paperwhite's 7.3 ounces. The iPad Air is 16 ounces with a 9.7 inch screen. The Sony's large screen gives you a life-sized view of documents.
Like the iPad, the Sony's screen can be written on using a stylus for the purpose of taking notes and annotating documents. However, the experiences of annotating documents on the Sony and the iPad are entirely different. The Sony screen has a matte surface that feels almost like paper. The included stylus has a small plastic tip, not a large soft capacitive tip like you find on most passive styli for the iPad and other tablets. You can buy styli for the iPad that use active battery powered technology and fine point tips, but that product category is very new and still emerging. Writing on the Sony screen feels much more natural. Almost like writing on paper.
Writing on the Sony screen always appears monochrome, but you can choose between black and red using the on-screen menu. When the documents are synchronized back to your computer to view in Acrobat or another PDF-compatible program, you will either see black or red annotations depending on which you selected when taking notes. Highlighting of text is done by holding the button on the side of the Sony's included stylus.
Because I plan to use the Sony device on my next road trip for appeal arguments, I wanted to carry an extra stylus in case the included one was lost or broken. I couldn't find the Sony stylus for sale anywhere, so I experiments and discovered that the small plastic stylus for my Samsung Galaxy Note II cell phone worked on the Sony Digital Paper. That led me to the Web to search for larger styli that are compatible with the Note II. I found the Lenovo ThinkPad stylus on Amazon for $18. It works perfectly. In fact, I like it better than the Sony stylus because the "highlighter" button on its side is a bit smaller and less likely to trigger accidentally.
Using either the supplied USB cable or the Worldox FileCloud app and service ($120/year for 5 GB of cloud storage), it is easy to get PDF documents (the Sony device is PDF only) onto the Sony Digital Paper. The FileCloud application installs on a PC and creates a sync folder where PDF's can be dragged and dropped for syncing wirelessly with the Sony device via the Internet. Once documents are read and annotated, the annotated versions can be wirelessly synchronized back to the computer via the Web.
There is a rudimentary web browser that worked well enough to let me log into my SugarSync account and directly download any of my files to the Sony Digital Paper even if I forgot to sync them over from my PC. I suspect it will also work using Dropbox, but I have not yet tried it.
The Sony Digital Paper also has a free-form notetaking function that lets you take notes at meetings without writing on an existing PDF document. When done taking notes, they can by synchronized to the user's computer as PDF files via FileCloud. If you feel like typing notes, which is a bit beside the point with a screen this easy to write on, you can type them using the on-screen keyboard. Response is slow, however, as you would expect from an e-ink device. So I would stick with the stylus.
If your law practice is like mine and you spend dozens of hours a week reading transcripts or other trial court documents, the notion of spending a grand on a specialized e-reading device doesn't sound so crazy. It isn't for everyone, but it definitely has a viable use case in many law firms. I will know more about it as a travel device and for use during appellate arguments after two trips this month. Stay tuned.