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Old 10-20-2007, 03:30 PM   #1
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Sony Reader PRS-505 Review: Impressions after a longer tryout

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.

Positives

* 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.

Mixed Results

* 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 Bad

* 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.

Overall Impressions

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.

Related Stories...
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

Last edited by Bob Russell; 10-20-2007 at 09:32 PM. Reason: Typos
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Old 10-20-2007, 03:42 PM   #2
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Great summary, Bob. The way you talked about future support for the Adobe Digital Editions seemed to imply this might (if and when it happens) only be for the 505 and not for the 500, too. Did you mean to imply that? Did Sony say one way or the other?
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Old 10-20-2007, 04:08 PM   #3
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Great review for most parts including the screen! However, I would disagree on that the 500 "already looks like it's a 5 year old dinosaur". I think 500 looks better and slicker with curve edges and snappy cover except the screen. But again, it is very subjective to judge the look.
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Old 10-20-2007, 04:10 PM   #4
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You missed two key points that are very important to non-Windows users: the PRS-505 can read RTF and PDF files right off the expansion cards. No need to convert them into an LRF file before loading! Moreover, it presents itself to any computer with a USB master controller as a USB mass storage device (actually as three of them -- internal memory, memory stick, and SD card all show up separately). What this means is, you can use it without touching the Sony software. Which is vital to those of us who don't particularly like being dependent on Redmond. This gizmo works fine, out of the box, with Linux and Mac. Which is good ...

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Old 10-20-2007, 04:23 PM   #5
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It's better than that... it means users of older Windows PCs don't have to worry about which version they have.
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Old 10-20-2007, 04:47 PM   #6
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Any firmware upgrades for the 500 are purely speculative. Sony said that they desire to provide updates if they are able, and would also like to support ePub on the 500. But the y also acknowledged that the reality of scarce development resources always forces them to consider the tradeoffs between providing new features for the current models versus updates for the older models. Understandably, that's a tough tradeoff. Any 500 improvements going forward probably are looked at on a case by case basis doing a cost-benefit analysis. Remember that most companies provide only maintenance and bug fixes (if even that). There are some exceptions like the recent Zune 2 software that original Zune users are able to take advantage of. But those cases are few and far between.

As far as Digital Editions support in the future, again Sony is working on it with Adobe, but even Digital Editions is just getting started, so the time frame of development may determine what model(s) get the feature. And no one can make any promises with the way technologies can shift so quickly. Probably your guess is as good as mine right now.
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Old 10-20-2007, 04:49 PM   #7
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Great review for most parts including the screen! However, I would disagree on that the 500 "already looks like it's a 5 year old dinosaur". I think 500 looks better and slicker with curve edges and snappy cover except the screen. But again, it is very subjective to judge the look.
You're probably right that I'm being influenced a lot by the older screen. I personally love the previous form factor, so I certainly don't want to make it sound like it isn't nice. But compared to the new 505, I do think it looks old-fashioned.
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Old 10-20-2007, 05:03 PM   #8
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Also don't forget that MobileRead users got together a second time and got kovid a 505 so he could port libprs500 to work with it.
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Old 10-20-2007, 05:08 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by cstross View Post
You missed two key points that are very important to non-Windows users: the PRS-505 can read RTF and PDF files right off the expansion cards. No need to convert them into an LRF file before loading! Moreover, it presents itself to any computer with a USB master controller as a USB mass storage device (actually as three of them -- internal memory, memory stick, and SD card all show up separately). What this means is, you can use it without touching the Sony software. Which is vital to those of us who don't particularly like being dependent on Redmond. This gizmo works fine, out of the box, with Linux and Mac. Which is good ...
The 500 also reads PDF and RTF and works perfectly well with non windows operating systems.
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Old 10-20-2007, 05:09 PM   #10
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Yes, my 500 read content from the SD card I used in the card slot without a problem.
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Old 10-20-2007, 05:12 PM   #11
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I have never used the 500. I think the 505 is very good -- much better than I expected from Sony, as it doesn't restrict you to memory sticks, proprietary DRM, etc. My one suggestion for improving the 505 is to make it easier and more elegant to find a book among, say, 1000 that you have on the device. Why are the lists of books in such huge type? Why does "Books by Date" list the books by date of installation, not of last reading? The way books are listed is also quite ugly -- why different type sizes, and why so few books per page? Surely this could be fixed easily. At the very least, you should be able to get a list of the last 20 books you've read (all on one page).
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Old 10-20-2007, 05:24 PM   #12
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The Bad

* 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.
When I push the round page turn button to go to the next page, I do hear a slight click and it takes about the same pressure to push as the right side page forward button. The click is of a lower volume for the round page turn then the click volume for the right side page forward button. But it is there and I can hear it.
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Old 10-20-2007, 05:30 PM   #13
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the PRS-505 can read RTF and PDF files right off the expansion cards. No need to convert them into an LRF file before loading!
The only way I load books into my PRS-500 is by placing rtf files directly on the expansion card. There is no need to convert for PRS-500
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Old 10-20-2007, 05:39 PM   #14
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The 500 also reads PDF and RTF and works perfectly well with non windows operating systems.
That was sufficiently unclear (from all the reviews I saw) that I didn't feel like buying one, sight-unseen. (Many of the reviews seemed to indicate that you needed to use the PC software to transform RTF or PDF files in some way before the reader could use them.)

This isn't a knock on the hardware, but on the standards of gadget reviewers these days. (Mutters into his beard, shuffling away: "kids these days ...")
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Old 10-20-2007, 06:39 PM   #15
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... My one suggestion for improving the 505 is to make it easier and more elegant to find a book among, say, 1000 that you have on the device. Why are the lists of books in such huge type? Why does "Books by Date" list the books by date of installation, not of last reading? The way books are listed is also quite ugly -- why different type sizes, and why so few books per page? Surely this could be fixed easily. At the very least, you should be able to get a list of the last 20 books you've read (all on one page).
  1. The type size in the book list is scaled to fit as much of the title on the line as possible. There is a hack for the 500 that forces all of the titles to a smaller size and makes the screen look a lot better.
  2. There are 10 books per page to correspond with the 10 number keys on the Sony. This allows single key selection once you are on the page of the book you wish to select.
  3. Many people think in terms of "a book I just bought/loaded" or "a book I've had for a long time" so the current date function mimics that thinking. It would be a nice feature to have a "books recently read" function.
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