I never leave the house without a book. Half of you are nodding, the other half shaking your heads. My parents were in the latter camp and didn’t understand, apparently thinking “capability equals intent” and that all I wanted to do all the time was read. Well, ahem, this was true, but mostly I have a horror of being caught flat-footed with nothing to do except stare at the walls for hours. Meditating monks might get something out of that; I go bonkers.
A few years ago I started reading books on my cell phone; it has a rudimentary HTML browser, so I put a couple hundred books on a flash chip. I can call ‘em up any time I’m caught without a real book. The cell phone screen is not so bad after a while, but I’ve been tempted to do a bit of cell-phone development to add things like bookmarking and better scrolling. No time to actually write code for this, though.
My wife gave me a Sony PRS-505 book reader for my birthday. I’ve got a few hours on it (enough to run through a few books), and here are my impressions so far.
Everyone will tell you that the screen is drop-dead gorgeous. It is. It’s fantastic. The annoying second-or-so of flashing when you turn a page becomes much less annoying after a while; I really don’t notice it any more. The flashing is a small price to pay, believe me.
It does a wonderful job of being a book reader. Bookmark support is great, navigation is pretty painless, and button placement is decent. It handles plain text files wonderfully. Converted RTF files are not bad, either.
PDF support is there, but it is very weak. Paging through a PDF document is glacial, and the device doesn’t fully scale-up PDF documents. Reading a typical academic paper involves clicking “next page” (wait…) then “zoom” (wait…) whereupon you still can’t easily read the text. There is some transcoding software available that is supposed to address this, and a rumored, incipient flash update is also supposed to make PDF reading better.
I wish it supported HTML. Again, conversion software does a nice job here, but even simple support of (say) H1/H2/H3 and paragraph/line breaking (dumping everything else) would have made me happy.
The 505 will play music and show photos. I haven’t tried these.
I’m worried about what happens when the non-replaceable battery dies, but I’m handy with tools and this shouldn’t be a real issue when the thing’s battery does go under.
In short, the PRS-505 is a fine book reader, and with a little hacking of content (which itself an enjoyable task, mostly) I should be able to replace piles of papers and a backpack full of books with a few flash cards and a charger.
[Yeah, I'm still writing about old Atari days. It's going slowly; I'm trying not to make it a super boring "we did things A, B, C in order."]