I brought nearly 1000 research papers and over 200 books with me to Peru this spring. Not in heavy stacks and stapled packets, but on a SONY Digital Paper, a large-format e-reader that is basically the size of a thick piece of standard 8.5 x 11 paper. Here is the Paper in action with some excellent Peruvian food at a cafe in Monumental Callou:
The Paper is the first electronic device I’ve used that is suitable for reading technical mathematics research papers. Unlike a tablet, the screen real estate is large enough that you can actually see notation and diagrams. Unlike a laptop, it’s in portait mode (taller than it is wide), just like a real printed-out research paper. Although it holds over 11GB of documents and has a very large screen, it’s thin and light and you can bring it anywhere without even noticing that it’s in your bag. It’s easy to hold and use, shown in action here on the long flight home:
The Paper is a replacement for… Paper
The Sony Paper is well-named. It’s not a tablet. It’s not a laptop. It doesn’t connect you to the internet or let you read your email. It is truly a replacement for paper. Stacks and stacks and stacks of paper. I had already digitized my physical-paper library so I had a huge collection of nearly a thousand mathematical research papers already in PDF form on Google Drive. It was easy to transfer this library to the Paper by dragging the PDFs into the Digital Paper App on my desktop computer while the Paper was plugged in by USB. Here’s what the Digital Paper App looks like:
You can organize documents into folders with the desktop app, so that they are easier to find when using the Paper:
It is really a joy to read mathematics on this device. I’m so sick of being in front of my computer or laptop all the time, but I don’t want to carry around a heavy library of research papers everywhere I go, especially when I’m traveling. Ths screen is really great for diagrams and readable text, entire pages at a time:
In addition to research paper PDFs, my digital collection included more than 230 full mathematical textbooks, which I also transfered to the Paper in just a few minutes. Even with hundreds of books and many hundreds of papers on the device, I still have almost 4GB of space left. Here’s part of Fulton’s Intersection Theory, which I can now carry with me everywhere just in case:
Functionality: Search and Stylus
The Paper does only very specific things, but they are most of the things that you would want a technical e-reader to do. You can swipe left and right to change pages, pinch to display thumbnails of a document, tap to jump to hyperlinked references, and even do full-text searches within a document. You can’t do full-text search across ALL documents (yet?), but you can search your full set of documents by title words; for example, here is the document search result I got for “Foisy”:
With the (very expensive! do not lose!) Stylus you can mark up documents, make comments and highlights, and even mark asterisks and stars within documents that you can search for later. If you want to make whole pages of notes starting from blank templates, then you can do that too, and even display those notes side-by-side with a research paper in a two-page view. The stylus works well and you can train it to your style of writing angle. You can also use the stylus to spot-erase notes, a feature which I use all the time as I resolve questions or rewrite thoughts. (This is one of the few ways that the Paper physically surpasses Actual Paper, since I usually use pens and therefore cannot erase.) Here is the Paper in action with lots of notes, marks, and highlights.
Is the Digital Paper better than having Actual Printed Research Papers? Yes and no. In terms of traveling/weight/accessibility, definitely yes. But still nothing beats having a printout of a paper and writing all over it in the margins, working out examples, and so on, with an actual pen. Navigation on the Digital Paper is sometimes a little clunky, and it certainly isn’t as easy as spreading out a bunch of printouts all over your desk and having six books open at once. On the other hand, with the Paper you can’t lose that one printout with all your notes on it, or have to reprint a paper that you already printed at home but now want to look at in the office, or bring a messy stack of papers with you on a trip only to find out that what you really want is some other paper in your library that you didn’t think to bring. I’m an analog girl most of the time for things like this, but the power of having my entire library with me all the time is still amazingly cool.
Should you buy this?
Sony gave me this device for beta testing, feedback, and an honest product review on this blog (whether good or bad!). Without being given this device I would not have been able to justify a personal expense for such a limited-use device, and I think very few people would; it’s fairly costly at $599. However, I think that’s at least a hundred dollars less than what it cost six months ago, and as with all technology, I’m sure that the price will continue to come down. Although I probably wouldn’t have spent so much money myself on this device, at this point you’d literally have to fight me to take my Paper away.
Honestly, what you should do is get your department to buy this for you, or maybe work it into a grant. I’ve found it to be an invaluable device for being able to take my research with me everywhere, and I think you could argue that it would make you a more productive and happy scholar who can literally work all the time everywhere (that’s what the Dean wants, right?).
It’s great if you travel a lot, because it’s lighter than acutal paper and books, and it works even when you’re in places that might not have great internet access for your laptop, like airports, restaurants, and foreign countries. Over the past few months I’ve taken the Paper to colloquia, research meetings, restaurants, and my back porch, as well as traveled with it to Chicago, Atlanta, Kansas City, Brooklyn, Lima, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and a ton of other places. I’ve smushed it into my luggage and thrown it into my bag without it being in a case, and it’s still in one piece and working great. I did lose the stylus on a flight a month ago, and it cost me a lot of money to replace it, so if you do buy this then look after the stylus or you will be sad. (I heard someone say once that the worst thing about cutting yourself when preparing food is the knowledge that you are an idiot for whatever you did to cause the accident; that’s how I feel about losing the pen! I can still hear that “thunk” as something hit the floor of the plane and thinking “oh, that’s probably nothing”. No, it was an $80 stylus, dumbass!)
Just remember what the Paper is, and what it isn’t: it’s not a tablet or a computer; it does basically ONE THING — lets you carry around and work with stacks of papers and books on a lightweight large-format device — but it does that one thing very, very well.