It's an exciting time for e-books with the explosion of new e-ink devices, and the emergence of a new generation of e-ink panel improvements. In the midst of all the excitement, Sony and iRex have certainly grabbed most of the interest with Sony's hardware reputation, a solid customer-friendly device and the Connect e-book store. iRex iLiad also continues to get much interest as the only company offering an impressive 8.1" e-ink screen.
But the big news so far this month was from Sony. MobileRead broke the official story on Oct 2, 2007 when the Sony Reader PRS-505
was released. We provided exclusive coverage of our conference call
with Sony, and that information has been supplemented by many comments in the MobileRead forums from new owners. Well, now it's time to add my own thoughts on the 505 after about a week of reading with a review device.
As I have no intent of rehashing all the basic information on the device that has been covered previously, let me begin right off the bat with my observations on the device, all colored by my experience with the PRS-500.
* The screen is fantastic. One would think that a 20% improvement in contrast would not make that much difference, but it does. For inside lighting, one no longer feels a direct bright reading light is needed. The slight dullness has disappeared. It makes the reading experience much closer to the look of a paper book, and it brightens up the look of the device altogether. In addition, the flickering and ghost images are greatly improved. It's not like night and day, but it's a pretty dramatic difference.
* All the features of the previous model are brought forward or improved in the new model. Controls are rearranged so that the menu list lines up with the selection buttons. For the general public, this is a huge improvement in usability. In addition, those who have a lot of books will like the improved menu system for book lists.
* USB mass storage. This allows for the internal memory of the device to be accessed just like any mass storage device. It's a big hit with many users. For non-DRM'd books, it allows Mac users to have access that was only possible with external storage cards before.
* Direct page access is now possible when you push a number button. The numbers cycle around the three digits shown on the screen, so if you hit the wrong button just keep pushing your three digit page number. I haven't tried a book with more than 1000 pages, so I'm not sure whether you get four digits with bigger books. Tip: If you initiate the direct page access accidentally, just push the menu button and it will back you out.
* You can now turn the device completely off using the menus. This is a great feature if you don't plan to use the Reader for a period of time, and don't want to have to recharge it. (Even in sleep mode, the battery life is only about three weeks because of that background drain. But if you turn it off, you can hold the charge much longer.)
* A much updated style. If you look at the 505 and 500 side by side (I'm reviewing the silver model, by the way), you will immediately notice that the 505 looks so much more modern and up to date. It's much more of an attractive consumer item, even if the screen wasn't so much better. Take it out of the case, and it's almost hard to believe what Sony has been able to fit into such a tiny form factor.
* Thinner and flatter form factor. This is something that's nice, but doesn't really do anything for me. The weight distribution is different so I don't really notice that it's lighter. Actually, the form factor makes the screen look smaller. It's so much of an optical illusion that I had to hold them together to convince myself that there was not a difference in screen size.
* More internal storage. Don't get me wrong, I like this. But in order to keep it easy for me to find a book I want to read on the device, I like to keep my Reader book selection small anyway. Keeping around 50 books on it is plenty for me. Those with larger files or manga fans might be much more excited.
* USB charging. You can buy the A/C as an accessory, but it doesn't come standard anymore. Charge time is not long, so it's really not a big deal. In fact, for a new user, it's probably simpler to charge with the USB cable and not worry about A/C. You just can't do that when you are traveling (unless you have a computer with you or some tech gizmo to charge via USB). More important is that you can now recharge the device with USB even if the battery goes completely dead.
* No dock accessory. This is not a big deal for most people and the dock was pretty expensive anyway. Because of the cost, if I was going to buy a 505, I probably wouldn't buy the dock. Still, the 500 dock was very pleasant and convenient for me to use on my desk.
* Indented location of the right hand page turn buttons. I like these buttons and their location a lot. But I don't have big fingers. Some people have complained that it's not easy to press them. I can't really comment on that very much because I haven't had any problem. In fact, I really like the design.
* Sample books are almost all excerpts. This makes sense because Sony wants to sell books at the Connect store. Excerpts are a good way to get people interested. Of course, we all know that the e-book collection at MobileRead is a great source of free Sony Reader books
, as well as ManyBooks
and others. Not every book is available in e-book form, but finding free or purchased books for the Reader is definitely not a problem.
* The expected future support for Adobe Digital Editions (ePub). While this is a positive, it's hard to list this as a positive when it's only a statement of desire by Sony. Too many things are yet to be determined, such as how long it takes for all the software to be ready and whether the 505 will be the optimal platform to release it on. We'll leave it as a mixed results item until the future becomes clearer.
* The round page turn button on the lower left side. This is the only real and legitimate complaint I have about the PRS-505. New users, especially less technical users, probably won't notice. But you have to push pretty hard on the button to change the page, and it doesn't give that gratifying click that device buttons are supposed to give as feedback. Even worse, you can't tell sometimes whether or not you pushed the button, because there is also no screen confirmation until the page finally starts its flicker/turn process. It's probably more of a personal preference, but if you are picky about these things, you might want to try it out at a retail store before you purchase.
* The PRS-500 covers and dock don't work with the new 505. Not a big deal for the average buyer, but I really like my dock, and I really like my fancy cover. I even have a custom made wooden case from Yvan that I treasure. Not being able to use them with the 505 is a big deal for me. Fortunately, most people will either not have a 500, or they will not have such an attachment to their accessories.
* Hacks are not yet available on the PRS-505. If you have enjoyed the ability to customize your Reader by adding a clock display, changing the button functions (e.g. to change pages with the joystick), or by installing any of the other available hacks, then you will not be able to use those hacks on the 505. Not until and unless someone can figure out how to make them work on the 505. In a remarkable show of community support, MobileRead members have contributed to quickly donate a 505 Reader for Igorski to see if he can provide hack functionality, but nothing has yet been determined.
* Full page PDF books are still not easily read on the 505. The screen is just too small and the rendering is not optimized. Tools available at MobileRead can help optimize the rendering, but a larger screen is really needed to comfortably read a standard PDF e-book.
* The price. $300 is a great price for what you get, given the current technology. But it's a lot of money for people that are used to reading a few paperbacks a year, at less than $10 each. On the other hand, you can do things that you just can't do with a paperback. I like not having to smell the paper because it can give me a headache. It's cleaner than a used book - who wants to carry it into their bed to read, when it's dusty or could be infested with microscopic bugs? It's easier to handle than a paper book, and page turns are easier. How many times have you read a paper book in one hand only to fumble it and lose your page? Your eyes will love the ability to adjust the font size. It can carry a full library, you can buy books instantly, and let's be honest... for many of us, it's more fun all around to read e-books.
The pure and simple conclusion is that the PRS-505 is great!
This device is a huge improvement for the average person on the street. The improved contrast is significant in room lighting, the buttons are arranged much better, and there is no longer that scary circle case connector on the back.
As much as I like my PRS-500, it already looks like it's a 5 year old dinosaur next to the nicely updated look of the new model. Even though there is not actually a lot of difference in the specs between the two, the changes in the buttons and screen are striking and effective, and are a surprisingly strong motivation to upgrade.
On the negative side, while I made the long list above, there is really only one item of any significance - the feel of the round page turn button, which is unlikely to matter to any first time mass market buyer.
One has to conclude that this is a great device and worthy of any reader with $300 to spare. It might even turn into a favorite gift item once it catches on. There are sure to be competitors coming around the corner, but you can't go wrong with this very nice PRS-505 Reader.
Sony Reader PRS-505 - MobileRead's Conference Call with Sony
Sony Reader PRS-505 - Specifications
Sony Reader PRS-505 - Press Release
Poll - What color do you prefer?
Sony plans UK e-reader launch at London BookFair 2008