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Digital music and portable digital music players have changed the landscape of the entire music industry. While digital books and portable digital book readers have been around for awhile, they haven’t made a big impression on the book industry. Yet, these portable reading devices are getting better and better. We looked at the Sony Reader PRS-505 to see if the ideas and design of a big player like Sony can make an impact on the world of reading.
The Sony Reader comes in a nice, but unimpressive box, shown in Figure 1. The box contains the reader itself, encased in a tan leather cover, an instruction pamphlet, a USB cable, and a software disk (shown in Figure 2).
The Sony Reader is a dream to look at and to handle. The brushed silver finish is elegant. It comes enclosed in a simple tan leather cover that looks expensive and is reminiscent of a good leather-bound book. This Sony reader also comes in several other colors including sangria red, dark blue, and some special editions. Other covers including black, red, brown, and pink are available as an additional purchase. We, however, thought that the silver e-book in the tan cover made a great impression.
At 6.9" x 4.8" x 0.3” (17.5 x 12.2 x 0.8 cm), the Sony Reader is about the size of a thin paperback book. It weighs in at about 9 oz (250 g) without the cover, which is heavier than most paperbacks. The heft, however, gives it a nice balancing weight and makes it feel substantial and sturdy.
[nextpage title=”The Reading Experience”]
Open the cover and turn on the power switch and you will immediately see the clarity of the e-ink technology. The 6” diagonal screen is clean and crisp. There is no backlighting so reading is easy on the eyes. Just like a real book, the screen is readable in bright sunlight, but requires external lighting for reading at night. Although the type is very dark gray and the background is a slightly grayish white, the result is similar to reading a black and white paper book.
As shown in Figure 3, the navigation buttons run along the right side and the bottom of the Reader. The Menu button on the right side of the Reader brings up the Menu, which is shown on the screen in Figure 3. From here you can continue reading your last selection or choose any book in your Reader by title, author, and date. You can access audio or picture files that you have put on the device. You can also access any bookmarks that you have created by pressing the small book mark button to the right of the left scroll wheel on the front of the Reader.
While in the Menu screen and other screens on the Reader, there are two ways to make your choice. You can use the numbered buttons that run along the right side of the Reader to choose from the numbered list on the screen or you can use the scroll wheel on the right side of the front of the device to move up and down the choices, pressing the middle of the wheel to confirm your selection.
There are also two ways to turn the pages. You can use the scroll wheel on the left front of the device or the forward and back buttons that are on the right side of the front of the Reader. This provides good navigation for both left and right-handers.
When you turn the page, there is a slight delay and a little flash as the e-ink readjusts itself to the new content. This is a function of the e-ink technology and it is currently found in all readers that use e-ink. Although it can be a bit disconcerting at first, it is quite easy to get used to.
One nice feature of this Reader is that you can change the orientation of the screen. This can be done from the Settings Menu or by holding down the small button with the magnifying glass for five seconds. We found that while there were times that we like using the screen in the landscape (horizontal) position. However, when in that screen orientation, the page turning and selection buttons were a bit more difficult to use.
The small button with the magnifying glass is also used to change the size of the text. Unfortunately, there are only three choices, small, medium, and large. The large won’t be large enough for those with vision problems. If you are looking for an e-book reader to get large text, you will want to skip the Sony and look at the Amazon Kindle. We’ll give you more comparisons of the Sony Reader and the Kindle on Page 5 of this review.
[nextpage title=”E-books and More”]
The easiest way to get books on the Sony Reader is to download encrypted Sony e-Books from the Sony Connect Store. This is done through the included Sony software. The software is quick and easy to install. We found it easy to use after we got used to a few quirks. For instance the software would not let us drag and drop pictures to the Picture folder, but when we dragged them to the Library folder (one level up), they immediately appeared in the Picture folder.
The Sony Connect Store now has thousands of books, which are easy to download to your computer, but then you must take the extra step of hooking up the device to download them to the device itself. The Amazon Kindle lets you download directly to the device without a computer which is a far superior method of transfer.
You can also transfer content to your memory card and slide that into your Sony Reader, however, you must still use the Sony desktop software to download books and organize your books into collections. At this time there is no Mac software, so if you are a Mac user, you might as well forget this Reader. Also, please note that the Sony Connect Store is currently only available to U.S. and Canadian residents, so if you live outside these areas, this will not be a viable choice.
Most of the books at the Sony Connect store range in price from $12 to $20, some are higher. Sony does have a nice collection of inexpensive classics many priced at $.99. As we write this they are offering 100 classic books for free with the purchase of the Reader. This offer replaced a 50 free book offer, so we expect that Sony will continues these offers in the future. Although the classics are nice, we would like to see a few free best-sellers offered as well.
The Sony Reader also handles Adobe PDFs, RTF, TXT, BBeB (Sony’s Broadband electronic book format) and Microsoft Word files. We found that most PDFs which were not specifically formatter for the Reader, were not terribly readable. One solution was to reformat the documents to the size of the Reader screen and to eliminate the white surround. While this actually worked very well, you will need a full version of Adobe Acrobat or some other PDF creation software to do this. The added work and expense may not be worthwhile.
Because the Reader doesn’t need power to display pages (only to turn them), power consumption is measured in page turns. Sony says that it lasts up to 7,500 continuous page turns. Although we could not confirm that number, we felt the
battery life was more than adequate except when music was constantly played along with reading.
[nextpage title=”Additional Features”]
The Sony 505 has 200 MB of internal storage. Sony says that is enough to hold about 160 e-books. If you want to store more, you can easily put thousands of books on memory cards. As shown in Figure 4, the Sony Reader has two memory card slots on the top of the device just to the right of the on/off switch. It can accommodate an SD and/or Sony’s Memory Stick Pro.
The bottom of the Sony 505, as shown in Figure 5, has, from left to right, a port for a strap, the USB port that is used to connect the device to the computer, a DC-in port in case you want to purchase the optional AC adapter, a a headphone jack, and a volume control.
The Sony Reader plays music, but you have to listen with headphones since there is no built-in speaker. It supports AAC and MP3 files. The music isn’t easy to access. Since the device doesn’t have playlists or albums, all the music you put on the device winds up in one long list. Playing music drains the battery quickly, so while you can listen to music while reading, it is obvious that audio on this device was not intended as a primary feature.
Although you may be able to listen to some audio books, there is no built-in support for the popular Audible audio books. Other audio books are on a hit or miss basis. Even if you do find one that works, you will not have the pause and restart capabilities that you have on iPods and most other digital music devices.
Pictures can easily be put on the device by dragging and dropping through the software interface. As shown in Figure 6, the eight shade of grayscale produces a nice quality black-and-white photo display. There is also a slideshow option.
[nextpage title=”The Kindle and Sony Reader Compared”]
While the screens of the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle are comparable, and both are excellent, there are many other features where they differ (you can click here to read our review on Amazon Kindle).
- The Sony PRS-505 Reader is more elegant and better looking than the Kindle. It also feels a little better in the hand. The cover which attaches by two small clips is much better and more secure than that of the Kindle.
- The controls on the Sony Reader are a little easier to use, especially the page turning buttons.
- The Sony Reader ties you to the computer. You must transfer everything from the computer to the device or to a memory stick to be used in the device. Unless you purchase the optional AC adapter, you cannot even charge the Reader without a computer. Kindle provides wireless capability.
- The Kindle’s simple and fast way to download books without a computer is unequaled. You don’t even have to own a computer to use the Kindle, which is a big plus. On top of that the Kindle surfs the Web without any monthly fee.
- The Kindle has six different size options, compared with the Reader’s three. Those looking for a reader with large print will be much happier with the Kindle.
- The Amazon Kindle store has a much larger selection of books than the Sony Connect Store, but the bottom line is that some books that are available at one store are not available at the other, and the two formats are incompatible.
Sony PRS-505 digital book reader main specifications are:
- Dimensions: 6.9" x 4.8" x 0.3" (17.5 x 12.2 x 0.8 cm)
- Weight: 9 oz. (250 g) without soft cover
- Battery Life (Approx.): Up to 7,500 page turns
- Battery Type: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion
- Recharging Time: Approx. 4 Hours with USB charging from powered Computer or Approx. 2 Hours when using optional AC wall charger
- Display Size: 6"
- Display Type: 8-level grey scale, 170 PPI resolution, e-ink technology
- Media Formats Supported: DRM Text (BBeB Book Marlin), image (JPEG, GIF, PNG and BMP), audio (MP3 and AAC) and text (BBeB Book, TXT, RTF, PDF, Microsoft Word – conversion to the Reader requires Word installed on your PC).
- Warranty: 90 days for labor and one year for parts.
- More information: https://www.sonystyle.com
- Suggested retail price: USD 300.
There is no doubt that you can experience the joy of reading books on this device. The e-ink screen technology is amazingly clear and easy on the eyes. Storing thousands of books digitally on one compact device is certain to appeal to some. Its portable size makes it the perfect travel companion.
Sony recently added another Reader to their arsenal. The PRS-700 is very similar to the PRS-500, but it costs USD 100 more. For that additional cost, you will get a touch screen, more internal memory, a faster processor and the ability to make annotations with a stylus and an on-screen keyboard.
- Excellent screen
- Easy on the eyes
- Stylish and sleek
- PDF, Word support
- Excellent quality, weight, and design
- SD and Memory Stick Pro support
- AC adapter not included
- No annotations or keyboard
- No built-in speakers
- No support for audio books
- Must download books to the computer then to the device
- Not enough text size options
- PDFs not always readable