Sony PRS-505 Review

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.”]

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13 Responses to Sony PRS-505 Review

  1. Sam says:

    I agree! I’m not so much obsessed with reading… it’s the thought of being caught with nothing to distract me that terrifies me. I always keep an audio book in my wife’s car, and I read books online, now on my iPhone, before on my BB, and before that on my palm.

  2. John says:

    I have looked at getting one of these things, and also at the kindle from amazon, but to tell you the truth, I think I would miss turning the page. Bob Seger comes to mind as well.

  3. landon says:

    Last I heard, you can’t get content onto a Kindle without routing it through Amazon. I don’t know what magic pixie dust they sprinkle on it, or whether the process has been cracked. The fact that an online service could monitor what I read gives me the heebie jeebies.

    For the PRS, you just stick text files (etc.) into a directory on one of the removable USB volumes it makes available, then unplug the cable and turn it on. There is a long (30 second plus) pause while the unit figures out what’s on the storage card, and (poof) you have content.

  4. manuelg says:

    I always carry around:

    * book

    * 2 double-ended highlighters (for a total of 3 highlighter colors)

    * mechanical pencil and lead

    * Hello Kitty 5 color pen (if you count black as a color) (also _emergency_ mechanical pencil in there as well)

    * Post-It flags

    All my books eventually become full-color illuminated texts, and twice as thick as they were fresh off the presses.

    When they invent a book reader that can infuriate my wife to the same degree, I may consider it.

  5. Nate says:

    The forums and wiki at MobileRead[1] are great E-Book resources.

    [1] – http://www.mobileread.com/

  6. landon says:

    I don’t write in books. Well, sometimes, if they’re really, really wrong.

    You’d be a sucker for a handheld device with Ted Nelson’s Xanadu on it. (Though I have yet to see a decent handheld input mechanism — cellphone keyboards suck, chord keyboards don’t cut it, handwriting recognition still doesn’t work great, and reliable voice input is not there and needs lots of crunching).

  7. Stuart says:

    I’m still waiting for something that is a good approximation of Alan Kay’s Dynabook. Nothing anyone has built really comes close.

    Many thanks for your tale of the ST. I’m looking forward to the next installment. I still have my 1040ST in storage and plan to get it out and fire it up when I finish my new house.

    I’ve spent a lot of time programming 6502 and 68HC11 assembly language. Somehow the farther I got from 8 bit assembly code the less fun I had. Finally gave up on programming after spending a couple of years writing IBM PC programs.

  8. Josh says:

    So where do you find your HTML ebooks? I like my ebooks to be split into pages, just like their real-world counterparts for easier bookmarking, and because having an entire book on one page does bad things to my PDA phone. What’s been giving me the best results so far, is to download a PDF, use this Java PDF to HTML converter I found, then use a PHP script to split the result into pages. (Yeah, it sounds horrible, but I got it working in less than an hour.)

    That ugly process gives me something my phone doesn’t choke on, and something that can be easily bookmarked.

  9. slerch says:

    I have the Amazon Kindle and love it.

    Check out the Gutenberg Project for tons of public domain books. Free.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page

    The Purple Cloud by MP Shiel was tremendous. Even better because it was free!

  10. Tom says:

    I vote you just blat out the Atari stuff either in ‘super boring “we did things A, B, C in order.”’ or just as a series of interesting anecdotes like Raymond Chen does. You’re a good writer and the material is very interesting, don’t worry too much about style. It’s a blog after all.

  11. Paul R. Potts says:

    I’m with you… I always have a book with me. Often more than one. It’s kind of a security blanket, since I rarely actually have time to read them. If I’m going on a trip, I usually take three, but generally only get to read a few pages in one.

    As for why a 40-year-old software engineer needs a security blanket, that’s possibly better left un-investigated…

  12. landon says:

    Two or three weeks in: The reader is still great. I’ve read maybe half a dozen books on it.

    I’m still looking for a way to read PDFs on it. The tool ‘pdftotext’ (runs on Linux, maybe elsewhere) does a pretty good job, and most documents only need a little cleanup, but obviously this only works for stuff that’s all right as pure text; it doesn’t work as well for books with pictures or papers (e.g., from the ACM).

    The “free” books from Baen.com are available in LRF, and they look fantastic, btw.

  13. Axel says:

    You should try pdflrf availiblefrom link below, for pdf to lrf conversion. It’s availible in both Linux and Windows. Since it does rasterization rather than text extraction (like pdftotext) pretty pictures, figures and tables come out pretty good.

    http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13135

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