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Old 07-06-2011, 06:45 PM   #1
RobW
Rob Wheeler (Kent, UK)
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Review of Sony PRS 650

I have been using my Sony PRS-650 for over 6 months now and having read several books on it to date I feel I am in a good position to review it. I was toying with the idea of whether to divide my review into harware/software or good/bad points but as a matter of fact the hardware features pretty much line up with the good points and software with the bad.

First the hardware:

I chose the Sony ebook reader because I really objected to getting tied in with Amazon's proprietary e-book system. I liked the idea of Epub and it looked as if a lot of content was going to start being issued in epub format. After all Google are scanning a thousands of books into epub format so I could be assured of a huge, free library. My main interest in ebook readers has always been for for reading the content I download free from the web. If I want to buy a book, I'll get a second-hand paperback via Amazon which in many cases is cheaper than the ebook equivalent.

The hardware of the Sony is attractive and looks very rubust - unlike the plastic Kindle, which to me feels cheap and tacky. I like the quality of the build and the screen is very easy to read with a comfortable page-turn refresh. What put me off earier models was the migraine-inducing flash you got between pages. There is still room for improvement but it's pretty comfortable now.

The battery life is huge. The problem is that it lasts so long that you never bother to charge it and then suddenly find it's run out. But that's not a complaint.

The touch screen, which I could live without, is a nice-to-have. I like the way you can configure it for a left or right stroke to turn the page.

I like the way the device wakes up almost immediately you switch on and it's nice to be able to put your own cover pic on it. It would be better if it had colour display but I dont think that's a crucial feature. One can easily cope with reading text in simple black and white. We've been doing it for centuries.

The main problem I have experienced with the hardware is a small spot on the screen, 2 or 3 millimetres wide, where the coating on the inside surface of the screen appears to have come away. This leaves a small spot in the middle of the screen which is somewhat irritating. It leaves me with the question of how robust the screen actually is. I have been very careful about how I have treated the reader, avoiding placing objects on the screen and I have never dropped it so it's a puzzle how this spot developed. There is no indentation on the surface of the screen so it has not been scratched by a sharp object. I wonder if other owners have likewise experienced damaged screens.

The weight and size of the reader is very comfortable. I originally intended to get the pocket version but that was far too small to read comfortably. However, I feel that the 650 is also too small. It should have a screen commensurate with a real book - say about A5 size. That way you could read books with illustrations actually in the text. The screen size of the 650 is smaller than A6 and I could not find a 'real' book in my collection that was as small.

I liked the fact that while the e-reader has a large 2Gb storage capacity it also has a slot for an SD card so you can expand its capacity. However, in practice I have found the 2Gb more than enough. I currently have about 300 books on my Sony so the expansion slot is probably redundant as I assume most people like me would keep their library on their PC and only cover over the books they are currently reading.

The software:

In general the software design is awful. It is very complicated to navigate your way thru the system and has the appearace of a quick afterthought, once they got the hardware sorted, in order to rush to market. I very much doubt if it was user-tested.

Notes are difficult to enter using the on-screen keyboard and bookmarks almost impossible to delete given the convoluted set of clicks you have to go thru. I like the ability to highlight text, altho it can be fiddly. Under certain circumstances where you drag the stylus too near the edge of the page while highlighting you can freeze the whole device. Notes entered against a text highlight cannnot be exported in plain text which rather defeats the object from my point of view.

The handwriting recognition system is like a child's toy and a complete waste of time. One feels a lot of work has gone into developing something very clever which gives no advantage over a pencil and a scrap of paper.

The pictures display is dreadful so why bother with it? Transitions are of the migraine-inducing kind mentioned above. I suppose it was thrown in because you need to display images in the text and you must list a pile of 'features' to make people feel they are getting their money's worth. However, there are lots of much better devices on the market for displaying pictures, I can't see anyone bothering to use their e-reader. Sometimes less really is more.

The dictionary lookup is a great feature which I used a lot until my dictionary just disappeared. One day it just wasn't there any more!

The audio works well but I already have an MP3 player so I have not really had much use for it on the book reader. It looks like a feature that has just been thrown in to bulk out the product.

The Sony Reader Library software that is supplied with the e-reader has proved completely unusable. I found that if I wanted to put a single book on the device it literally took hours to synchronise (and I literally mean literally in this context). I am not sure how it works but it looks to me as if it re-copies every single book each time you connect to it. I have therefore taken to using drag and drop straight onto the device, which is much cleaner and easier, and I use Adobe Digital Editions to get protected books onto the device. Following dropping books onto the device and restarting it, there is a short delay while it appears to re-index itself but this is acceptable and does not cause any problems.

While the quality of the screen display is very good - I can vouch for the ability to read it in bright sunlight - the text display software is poor. You have very little choice of fonts-faces and sizes. The margins cannot be adjusted and there is no micro-justification of the text, which I think is really poor design. It therefore does not match the quality of a paper book by a long way.

One of the main purposes of having an e-reader is the ability to carry a lot of books around with you and therefore it needs good indexing and listing of contents. However, it fails miserably on both counts. I particularly dislike the way you cannot group books using the folder system. Whatever folders you put on the internal drive it ignores the structure and displays everything as a flat list. You have to categorise everything on the device itself which is impracticable if you have a large collection of several hundred books (and you only need to categorise your books if you have a large collection!) The other feature I really dislike is the contents listing. You can have two settings. One displays little thumbnails of the book cover, if it has one. The thumbnails are so small that they tell you nothing about the book and drastically reduce the number of titles you can list. The other setting lists the titles in a large font, only allowing one line per title. Consequently long titles are truncated making it difficult to read titles.

Content:

I like the fact that you can read RTF files and well as epub books on the device. This is very conventient as it means you can put your own content on the reader. However, because user-configuration is limited you cannot just put standard docs on the device. You have to format them specially with a large font to render them readable.

There are several sources of free epub books but the quality leaves much to be desired. They are often riddled with typos and other errors. The Google ebooks are a particularly egregious in this respect. I am amazed they have the cheek to publish them.

Some public libraries provide access to epub books via their website. My county library in Kent, UK, provides a very good service but even commercial ebooks can me problematic at times. In one case a commercial book I was reading kept jumping sections for no apparant reason. On another occasion I actually *bought* a book from an on-line supplier (Yes, I actually spent real money on a book!) and it would not display on the reader. Later I downloaded a decrypter and took the file apart only to find that one of the sections was over 3Mb which exceeds the limit that Sony Readers can cope with. The book was quite reabable on a desktop reader.

My conclusions? Wait a few more years. The devices are not good enough yet. Or perhaps try a Kindle. The Kindle is much cheaper and I notice that they price of their e-books is coming down.

Rob Wheeler
Faversham, UK
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Old 07-08-2011, 09:30 PM   #2
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I have had virtually no problems viewing either commercially purchased, or free library EPUBs on my PRS-650.

The file size limits you mentioned, are recommended by Adobe (who does the EPUB reader software for Sony), and since Adobe also does the ADEPT encryption for virtually all the mainstream book publishers and about 90% of the EPUB reader devices, nearly everyone goes by Adobe's recommended internal file size limits. If you purchased a book with a single 3mb file, the publisher is grossly incompetent and you should demand a refund.

The PRS-650 provides 3 (not 2) viewing modes for your main library (Kindle has only ONE), and to avoid the title truncation issue you mentioned you should simply switch to 'Title Only' which will wrap the title. The 'List View' and 'Thumbnail' views do truncate long titles, but that's because they need to fit things into a single line.

Even in list view, were Sony doesn't wrap the title (using the second line to display the author info) the title 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' fits just fine, so things aren't that bad.

If you thought the Sony's software was disorganized, you clearly haven't had a chance to use some of the other readers out there like the Nook and Kindle.

Compared to these others, the Sony PRS-x50 series software is much more logical and internally consistent.

For example, on the Sony, when you are on the home screen, and your book listing exceeds a single screen, a nice A-Z side index slider appears - and when you are viewing a long listing of notes you have made, or a long listing of collections, the SAME type of A-Z side index appears.

This A-Z slider not only makes navigation much simpler, but once you figure out how to navigate through one of these listings, you can then reuse that knowledge to quickly navigate ANY long listing on your Sony.

When you are on the Sony's main home screen you can view a global list of ALL the notes you have made while reading, but while reading a specific title, you will see notes related only to that title (context sensitive).

When accessing the dictionary from the main screen you can ALSO see a global listing of 'word lists' (words you have looked up previously while reading any book), but while reading a specific title, you will see that 'word lists' will now list ONLY the words you have looked up while reading that specific title (so it is context sensitive in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY as the note listings).

This internal consistency and simplicity, make the Sony's interface quick and easy to master.

By way of comparison, the Kindle's main library listing lacks the Sony's A-Z easy navigation controls, and what features that the Kindle does have are inconsistent and badly organized. (ALT-THIS, DIDDLE-THAT, YOU-CAN'T-GET-THERE-FROM-HERE MENUS)

- And the B&N Nooks aren't much better. The original Nook didn't even list your personally loaded books in the same listing or format as those purchased from B&N (the new Nook Color and Simple Touch are much better than the original Nook in this regard, but still nowhere near as simple to navigate as the Sony PRS-x50 series readers)

So, try the Kindle if you like, but be aware that it's interface is much, much, much less refined, logical, or consistent than the Sony (at least that's the opinion of myself, and about 90% of the people who have tried both).

As for the typos and other problems you found in Google books . . . I agree. - Sadly, Google seems to have put a higher emphasis on quantity, rather than quality - for nicely formatted free books in EPUB format, try the public domain section of www.feedbooks.com

Last edited by delphin; 07-09-2011 at 04:22 AM.
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Old 07-10-2011, 11:17 AM   #3
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Agree with all the above - except I am in the "Sony software's rubbish camp".

Oh, and I've just discovered Open Library (sorry , don't know how to make links) which claims 1,000,000 free books !
Including 61,200 ish on Philosophy, should you be interested,

But p'raps you can have too much of a good thing !
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Old 07-10-2011, 11:23 AM   #4
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... bookmarks almost impossible to delete given the convoluted set of clicks you have to go thru.
If you're on the page with the bookmark, just double tap on it (the crimped page icon top right) and it will be deleted.

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Old 07-10-2011, 05:05 PM   #5
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Yep, I was also wondering what convoluted set of clicks you go through to delete bookmarks? But maybe I use bookmarks differently. I just double click on the bookmark on the page and it's gone.

I also use the sony software. It's not the best by any means, but it works for me. I immediately turned off the automatic sync though. Auto sync caused me so many difficulties with my sony 505, so I just don't deal with it. I'm happier that way. I control which books go where.

I love my 650. It does almost everything I want it to do and almost nothing I don't. I'm so glad this is the reader I chose. That being said, there are a few things I'd like:
* ability to turn the touch screen off (it's true, even those tiny little clear ants can look up words and change the pages. I watched one do it last night)
*turn pages by touching on the side of the screen rather than having to swipe (like kindle app on the droid)
*involve less clicks to get to the highlighting screen
*ability to adjust the home screen completely to personal preferences (like a drag and drop ability on the desktop of a computer)
*I miss the page turn buttons on the side, but I wouldn't need them if I could touch the screen to make the pages change

There may be more. Just can't think of them.
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Old 07-10-2011, 05:14 PM   #6
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This person posted on another Sony board & then never came back to reply to any of the replies & questions to the initial post. So don't know whether this person just wanted to drop a bomb & move on or what.
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Old 07-10-2011, 07:14 PM   #7
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I use the SD card to store audio files, which I could live wihout, but since the device has mp3 available, I like to keep some podcasts, stories and relatively short books on hand.
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Old 07-10-2011, 09:59 PM   #8
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Agree with all the above - except I am in the "Sony software's rubbish camp".

Oh, and I've just discovered Open Library (sorry , don't know how to make links) which claims 1,000,000 free books !
Including 61,200 ish on Philosophy, should you be interested,

But p'raps you can have too much of a good thing !
I should probably have made a distinction between the Sony's onboard firmware (which I think is fairly nicely organized), v.s. the PC side 'Sony Reader Library' (which is usable, but not all that well written).

I now use Calibre on my PC, so this isn't an issue for me though.

As, others have noted, even the firmware could use a few tweaks, like user selectable fonts, folder navigation as an alternative to navigation though a single main library listing, and the ability to disable touch screen page turns.

Some of these issues can be fixed by hacking the firmware with PRS+, but Sony should have stepped up and incorporated these features a long time back.

Winston Churchill once famously remarked, "democracy is the worst form of government -- except all the others that have been tried."

So if the O.P.'s point was that the Sony has it's faults, I would agree, and these would probably make it a terrible choice -- except that it's much better than all the others I have tried.

As to the point about 'too much of a good thing' --- in a single afternoon and evening, I was able to find and download about 1500 titles from feedbooks public domain sections, including all the wonderful classics by Dickens, Carroll, Verne, Wells, and hundreds of others.

This, and the hundreds of contemporary books I have on my 'Overdrive' waiting list at my local library, do create a bit of an overload situation - but a nice one.

Kind of like the feeling I had as a young child the first time I walked into a public library, and was told that I could have my pick from ALL OF THESE BOOKS.

Last edited by delphin; 07-10-2011 at 11:27 PM.
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Old 07-10-2011, 11:59 PM   #9
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This person posted on another Sony board & then never came back to reply to any of the replies & questions to the initial post. So don't know whether this person just wanted to drop a bomb & move on or what.
That was my first impression. I'm surprised people actually responded. I don't know what other ereaders would satisfy his convoluted complaints.
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Old 07-12-2011, 12:16 PM   #10
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WRT the Sony Reader Library software (on your PC), turn off the Auto Sync to get rid of that annoying long sync, that can actually screw up your file organization.

But of course, Calibre is an even better solution.

I found, with a reasonable number of books (say under 100) the Sony software worked fine. ONce I got above that, Calibre made managing my books much easier.
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Old 07-12-2011, 12:42 PM   #11
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I didnt even bother with the sony software. Downloaded calibre right away.


And yes the OP will never return to explain his mess of a review.lol
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Old 10-17-2011, 06:40 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Graham View Post
If you're on the page with the bookmark, just double tap on it (the crimped page icon top right) and it will be deleted.

Graham
Yes - but this means you have to go thru every bookmark indvidually and unset it. I may want to set a number of bookmarks during my reading. It is tedious to have to unset each one. It should be possible to globally unset all the bookmarks.
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Old 10-17-2011, 06:53 PM   #13
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I didnt even bother with the sony software. Downloaded calibre right away.


And yes the OP will never return to explain his mess of a review.lol

I use Adobe Digital Editions. I find that much more user-friendly than Sony's own software. Very good for downloading library books. You can work with individual books without having to synchronise the whole library.

What to you mean "his mess of a review"? It was a very well-structured review. Cheek!!!

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Old 10-17-2011, 07:01 PM   #14
RobW
Rob Wheeler (Kent, UK)
RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!
 
Posts: 13
Karma: 50000
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Kent, UK
Device: Sony PRS-650
Quote:
Originally Posted by sonyreaderfan View Post
That was my first impression. I'm surprised people actually responded. I don't know what other ereaders would satisfy his convoluted complaints.
Sorry I didnt follow up the comments to my review. I didnt expect a response. I have just come back to the forum and found some interesting responses. This one, however, seems to suggest I was just being picky and complaining for the sake of it. I am a serious user of the e-reader (and still using it several months later). My comments are serious too. They reflect the problems I've had using it. I'm just not a mindless 'fan'. This is hardware and sotware we are looking at here. It's not religion. So take a critical stance. Please.
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Old 10-17-2011, 07:25 PM   #15
RobW
Rob Wheeler (Kent, UK)
RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!RobW is faster than a rolling 'o,' stronger than silent 'e,' and leaps capital 'T' in a single bound!
 
Posts: 13
Karma: 50000
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Kent, UK
Device: Sony PRS-650
Quote:
Originally Posted by delphin View Post
I should probably have made a distinction between the Sony's onboard firmware (which I think is fairly nicely organized), v.s. the PC side 'Sony Reader Library' (which is usable, but not all that well written).

I now use Calibre on my PC, so this isn't an issue for me though.

As, others have noted, even the firmware could use a few tweaks, like user selectable fonts, folder navigation as an alternative to navigation though a single main library listing, and the ability to disable touch screen page turns.

Some of these issues can be fixed by hacking the firmware with PRS+, but Sony should have stepped up and incorporated these features a long time back.

Winston Churchill once famously remarked, "democracy is the worst form of government -- except all the others that have been tried."

So if the O.P.'s point was that the Sony has it's faults, I would agree, and these would probably make it a terrible choice -- except that it's much better than all the others I have tried.

As to the point about 'too much of a good thing' --- in a single afternoon and evening, I was able to find and download about 1500 titles from feedbooks public domain sections, including all the wonderful classics by Dickens, Carroll, Verne, Wells, and hundreds of others.

This, and the hundreds of contemporary books I have on my 'Overdrive' waiting list at my local library, do create a bit of an overload situation - but a nice one.

Kind of like the feeling I had as a young child the first time I walked into a public library, and was told that I could have my pick from ALL OF THESE BOOKS.
I think the Sony hardware is undoubtedly better than Kindle but Amazon have done a better job on the marketing front. They have just brought out a sub-100GBP e-reader which is what I think the market has been waiting for and it will inevitably knock Sony right out of the water. And, more importantly, as one reviewer has said, Amazon provide a better 'ecosystem'. Getting new books and magazines is easier and the quality is better. Thats true, but its also very irritating as you are tied in to Amazons proprietary format. I got the Sony because it supported the open-source EPUB format. Like others here I have got some good books from sources like feedbooks. But these are all out of copyright. You can get new books in EPUB but not as easily and efficiently as with the Kindle. The one stop shop is very attractive to readers. I have no idea whether magazines are available in EPUB. I should like to be able to download articles from the web and wikipedia in particular to read in EPUB format. The Readability extension for Firefox is very good for reformatting text on screen for reading and they provide a service for downloading web pages to an e-reader. However, it only formats for the Kindle. I wrote to Readability and asked them if they intended to provide EPUB format too and they said they had no plans to do so. And EPUB is supposed to be the industry standard! I fear we are seeing the battle of VHS and Betamax played out again -- and we are on the Betamax side -- sadly.

RobW
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