Category Archives: gadgets

Review: Sony Digital Paper

Three years ago I excitedly posted about Sony’s then-new writeable e-paper tablet, called Sony Digital Paper System (DPS-1).

Now it is finally mine and I love it.

Here’s what I wrote about it when Sony announced it:

the iPad (et al) sucks for some things. Three of those are: (1) taking handwritten notes, (2) reading (some) pdfs in full-page view, and (3) reading in full daylight. By the sound of it, Sony’s new tablet will excel at all three

Having had it for about a month, I can confidently say that it does indeed excel at those three things, beyond my wildest dreams. Even with the improved competition of the identically-priced iPad Pro (which can now handle points 1 and 2 with aplomb), I still prefer the Sony. Here’s why:

  • Despite a comparatively low resolution (1200 x 1600), e-ink is simply nicer on the eyes. To see why, look at this old post looking at an original iPad display and a Kindle e-ink display under a microscope. (More modern Retina displays are only marginally better, see here.) Here’s a zoomed-in shot of a paper on the DPS-1: Like paper I can barely tell that it’s not just a slightly low-res print.
  • And of course, for reading outdoors, e-ink is just infinitely better. Try this on an iPad if you’re craving a good cry.
  • The Apple Pencil has received glowing reviews, but I’ve tried it, and it still feels decidedly like sliding on glass. The DPS’s stylus and matte screen combine to create friction that feels remarkably like pencil-on-paper.
  • In today’s distraction-filled digital world, disconnecting is an advantage. This will matter more or less depending on your work discipline, but for me it has been life-changing. The context switch that happens when I start to work on the DPS keeps me focused at a level I hadn’t experienced for years. You can certainly use “Do not disturb” on an iPad, but having distracting apps such as email a double-tap away is a definite downside.

The DPS is one of those rare products that does one thing and one thing only (well, two) really well: read and annotate pdfs, and take handwritten notes. It’s simply perfect for academics.

There’s one caveat and it’s the software. It is, in a word, amateurish. A few examples:

  • Cloud Sync works though WebDAV, a file transfer protocol with limited support from cloud storage providers (of the major players, only Box supports it as of this writing).
  • You can screen share with the DPS through a USB cable, which is great for giving pdf presentations, but it’s done through a companion Mac OS app distributed as a java archive, which doesn’t support full-screen.
  • You can make and delete files on the DPS, but you can’t move them to other folders.
  • And so on.

The funny thing is that it gets regular software updates, but none attains the level of polish you might expect from a company of Sony’s stature. I have a feeling that there’s this one engineer in charge of this thing at Sony, and they are just hammering away by themselves, unsupported, but trying their darnedest to make it better all the time.

In short, I think Sony’s development and marketing teams dropped the ball on this one. In its early days you couldn’t buy it at retail stores — you actually had to write to Sony to explain why you wanted one! I imagine they wanted to avoid negative press from consumers who didn’t know what they were getting into. And even now, retail availability is extremely limited. Just two stores carry it in the US (B&H Photo and CDW). In many countries you can’t buy it at all, except shipped from those US stores.

Sony really needs to put these babies on demo at every university bookshop in the rich world. (At $800 US, I’ll admit it’s a luxury.) It would sell like hotcakes.

In short, if you read a lot of scientific papers, or do a lot of handwriting (e.g. for math), you will love the Digital Paper. I second what my friend @gamesevolving said: I should have gotten it a long time ago.

My review of the Roost laptop stand

In short: it’s awesome; the best stand I have ever used, by a wide margin. Read on for details.

The Roost is an ingeniously designed laptop stand that folds away to nothing, so you can always carry it with you. It’s another Kickstarter success story. (It’s the third I’ve participated in, after the Elevate iPhone dock and the Pebble watch. I absolutely love the Kickstarter economy.)

Here’s a picture of the Roost in its carry bag. You can see that it’s just tiny:

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And unwrapped:

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And yet for all its diminutive size, this stand gives my laptop wicked air:

roost-before roost-after

The laptop screen actually sits higher (closer to eye level) than on other stands I’ve used from Griffin or Xbrand, despite the Roost being much lighter and smaller. Folding and unfolding the Roost is fantastically easy, smooth, and fast. It’s just excellent design.

The laptop is held up by two tiny tabs that latch underneath the display’s hinge:

2013-11-10 14.13.44

Ingenious!

If you’re at all thinking about purchasing a laptop stand, I can’t recommend the Roost highly enough. Buy it now.

Speed up your Mac’s wake up time using pmset. Do it again after upgrading to Mavericks

Last year I got a 15″ Retina Macbook Pro, an excellent machine. However, it was taking way longer than my 13″ MBP to wake up from sleep. After a few months of just accepting it as a flaw of the new machines and the cost of being an early adopter, I finally decided to look into the problem. Sure enough, I came across this excellent post from OS X Daily:

Is Your Mac Slow to Wake from Sleep? Try this pmset Workaround

Oooh, sweet goodness: basically, after 1h10min asleep, your Mac goes into a “deep sleep” mode that dumps the contents of RAM into your HDD/SSD and powers off the RAM. On wake, it needs to load up all the RAM contents again. This is slow when your machine has 16GB of RAM! Thankfully, you can make your Mac wait any amount of time before going into deep sleep. This will eat up your battery a bit more, but it’s worth it. Just type this into the Terminal:

sudo pmset -a standbydelay 86400

This changes the time to deep sleep to 24h. Since I rarely spend more than 24h without using my computer, I now have instant-on every time I open up my laptop!

Finally, the reason I wrote this now: upgrading to Mavericks sneakily resets your standbydelay to 4200. (Or, at least, it did for me.) Just run the above command again and you’ll be set, at least until the next OS upgrade comes along!

Update: the original source of this tip appears to be a post from Erv Walter on his site, Ewal.net. It goes into a lot more detail about the origin of this sleep mode — which indeed did not exist when I bought my previous Macbook Pro.

Apparently I’m the only one excited about Sony’s new big e-ink tablet

Both The Verge and Techcrunch are quite negative about Sony’s big new device… So much so that they compelled me to write this post. Someone should give Sony some positive coverage! I think it’s an excellent idea, and if Sony needs some enthusiastic testers down under, they should send this thing my way. ;)

sony-reader-writer

For those of you that haven’t seen it, Sony’s new device is dubbed “e-paper”, has a roomy 13.3″ e-ink-like display, and you can write on said display with the included stylus.

Both of the above publications seem to think that everything is fine in tablet-land and that the iPad and company already serve whatever need Sony’s new tablet tries to fill. Well, I’m here to tell them that the iPad (et al) sucks for some things. Three of those are: (1) taking handwritten notes,  (2) reading (some) pdfs in full-page view, and (3) reading in full daylight. By the sound of it, Sony’s new tablet will excel at all three, and that has me excited.