I’m always on the lookout for new technologies that can make my work, and life, easier and more productive. Being in the construction industry, replacing large unhandy sets of drawings with an ereader was something I was looking forward to since I first spotted e-ink devices.
Unfortunately, e-ink has been developing at a pretty slow pace and construction industry is generally slow to adopt new technologies and also mostly ignored by tech companies. So when I first saw reports of Sony working on a large format ereader I was very excited and followed closely every report I could find on it.
Shortly after Sony started selling the devices directly in the US, I was fortunate enough to be able to order one DPT-S1 ereader so that we can test it and see if we can use it in the field to our benefit. The intention was to have one of our superintendents use the ereader instead of printed contract drawings for all of the project he oversees (we are talking about 10’s of projects here). This is how that is working so far.
The reader is lightweight and easy to hold with one had. The pen holder is well placed and practical. It feels solidly built but not durable enough to take abuse. Micro SD card slot is placed on the back side of the reader and not convenient for frequent access, but it is well protected. The reader comes with a protective sleeve which is soft and provides good protection from dust and scratches but not a lot of protection from impacts. Micro USB port for charging and connecting the reader is placed at the bottom of the reader and is not accessible when the reader is in its protective case. I see that as a poor design decision, it would have been better if one could charge the reader while it’s inside the protective case.
The reader worked out of the box and the initial basic setup for things like date and time was easy. Wi-Fi worked but I did not find much use for it and the reception in my office was not that good so I let that one be for now. I was not able to figure out how to connect the reader to our Network. Instructions are setting the network up are limited and the process seems too complicated for anyone other than a seasoned network management professional. I ended up connecting the reader to my computer via USB and copying drawing files to the device. Built in memory is sufficient to load a huge amount of drawings and specifications in PDF format.
User interface is simple and intuitive. Multiple documents can be opened at the same time in a tabbed interface and it is easy to switch between them. It took me a little bit of time to figure out how to use the pen. I found that the reader was very slow in opening some of the larger sets of drawings (bigger file size with more pages) and navigating through pages. I used Adobe Acrobat Preflight to optimize the files for web viewing and that helped, making the files open noticeably faster. The experience varied greatly from file to file where scanned documents were much slower than those that were result of exporting a CAD drawing to PDF.
Most of the drawings we deal with are 24”x36” and full page view on the reader is in most cases only good for recognizing the page that you are looking at. Making out details and text requires you to zoom in on the page. Zooming gesture can be a bit tricky as it requires you to move both fingers at the same time. It is very easy to keep one finger immobile while moving the other without noticing it which results in no action on the part of the reader which can be a bit frustrating. Zooming in is a bit slow. You get to see a screen preview, which is a low resolution image, for a few seconds before the reader renders the high resolution image. Same happens if you move around the page while zoomed in. The zoom level is sufficient in 90% of situations but I wish that there was no limit on the zoom level or that it is at least twice of what it is now.
Pen works great. It feels smooth and you can actually make notes in different colors. You can not see the colors on the reader but they show if you view the PDF documents on a color screen device later. The biggest drawback to note taking is that you can’t make notes while zoomed in on a page. That is especially problematic with large documents (I’m referring to document dimensions here).
Search feature is problematic. I ran a search on a 500 plus page document and had to give up after 10 or 15 minutes of having “Searching” on the screen.
There is an option to view multiple pages on the screen at the same time. The intent is to make it easier to find pages one is looking for. Unfortunately, this is another option that does not work well, especially with larger format documents. It takes a very long time for the screen to load the pages and I believe that this is due to lack of processing power.
The main reason for my interest in an ereader device for viewing drawings is the fact that you can view them outside under direct sunlight and DPT-S1 is fantastic for that purpose. Below is a picture of the DPT-S1 next to a Galaxy 4S phone with its screen brightness set at maximum.
So how usable is this device as a replacement for printed construction drawings? My conclusion is that it is not a full replacement as of yet but it has proven itself as a helpful device. I got to use it in the field a few times, when our superintendent who is using it now was on the site, and it’s a great way to take a quick look at the drawings. It’s very practical if you have to walk around a large project site and look at the drawings along the way. Much easier than carrying around a large printed set. You can load a set of bid drawing to take with you when looking at a new project and save time and money on printing drawings that you may never use again. You don’t have to worry about carrying dozens of printed drawing sets with you at all times.
The reader has a few drawbacks as well. It can be slow. Clearly, it was not designed to handle large format documents and it lacks processing power to do that with ease. Lack of ability to make notes while zoomed in on a page limits its usefulness to mostly just viewing of the drawings
Using the reader does take a bit of patience and getting used to, but overall, we have found a way to make beneficial use of it and will continue using it. It’s clearly not the ideal device for construction industry but it’s the best available option at this time. We have been satisfied with the purchase so far.
There is one thing I have to mention as well and compliment Sony on treating their customers with fairness. About a week after we purchased the reader for $1,100.00, Sony dropped the price to $999.00. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Sony refunded the difference a few days later. That was a great move on their part and it definitely makes me more likely to purchase another Sony product in the future.