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Old 12-03-2008, 12:19 PM   #1
carpii
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Review: My first ebook reader

Hi all, you could say this post belongs in the PRS-505 forum, but everyone there already knows what its like. Its the people looking to buy who are usually interested in reviews

I thought Id share my first impressions of the Sony PRS-505, which arrived 2 days ago.

Its fair to say it wasn't a clear cut choice to buy Sony. I spent a long time looking at the various options, and my requirements were...

- Wireless Syncing / Updating
- Ability to read PDF's reasonably well
- Good user interface, and relatively fast screen updating (for eInk anyway)
- Works well with linux, or alternative software which will work

It soon became clear that none of the current ebook readers will meet my requirements.
Only the iLiad has any form of wireless built in, and apparently that is not really designed for syncing, more to download the 2 or 3 lame internet feeds they supply, which I think is a huge missed opportunity. Id also have been willing to pay a monthly subscription to iRex if they allowed any RSS feeds to be downloaded by the same route, but I think the internet feed they provide is really a half baked idea, and they dont seem to be making anything of it

Some of the larger readers apparently do a good job of reading PDF's, but I wanted a book sized one (6 or 8 inch screen). I think I was unrealistic to want good PDF support, and so I really decided that since the current batch of ebook readers arent really mature enough for my needs, I would just get a nice pocket one for reading free ebooks (text / gutenburg etc).

Coming to a decision
---------------------

Iliad
----
For a while I seriously considered the iLiad, and also the Cybook gen 3.

What put me off the iLiad is that iRex have pretty much said that whilst they will continue to sell it alongside their newer larger reader, there will be no new features added to the iLiad firmware, and they will only do maintenance releases for it. I could probably live with this, if it wasnt for the general grumbling coming from iLiad users about the firmware.

I also think that for a product that is pretty much at the end of its life-cycle, its vastly overpriced. Its only a few pounds less than the larger reader they are now touting, which doesnt really make much sense.
The modding community surrounding the iLiad did appeal to me, although Im a software developer and already have more projects than Ive got time for, so in the end I decided Id rather just have a device that worked reasonably well without too much hacking around.

Cybook
-------
The Cybook reader came very close to a purchase, but after reading several reviews, I decided I didnt really like the buttons on it, as they seem to make a loud click. Call me fickle, but that would irritate me.
The biggest thing that impressed me with CyBook was the ability to put your own trutype fonts on there, and also theres a vast array of font sizes, whilst the Sony only allows for three (with the default being the smallest).
Also whilst Id like to support smaller companies who really produce the goods, I got the impression that both iRex and Cybook are struggling to invest in development as much as perhaps they ought to be.

So that left only the Sony (given that Im in the UK, no Kindle). I also liked the idea that there is quite a large userbase for Sony readers, and so Im unlikely to hit any problems that someone hasnt already found a solution to.

So on with the Sony review..
---------------------------

Picking up the PRS-505, its a bit like a pair of tungsten darts, where it feels slightly heavier that it ought to, given its size.
Dont get me wrong, its not a heavy brick or anything, and after a short while it does feel nice to hold.
It comes with a nice faux leather cover, although tan isnt my favourite colour it has to be said. There are also very subtle magnets in the cover, so it gently snaps shut when you close it, which is very nice.

The overall build quality is superb and whilst I wasnt keen on the look of all the buttons down the side at first, I have to say it does result in a very good user interface.

Device Interface
---------------
Ive had lots of Sony products, and whilst their technology is very good, I havent always been impressed with their ability to write robust and intuitive user interfaces.
Thankfully they've clearly invested heavily in the PRS-505, and everything from selecting books to navigating the various menus works incredibly well.

In addition theres buttons in the bottom left and right, and you can use either of these to turn pages, along with the page flip buttons on the right hand side. This is good for left/right handed users, but also nice if you like to read in bed lying on your side, as I do.

Power
------------
Not much to say about battery life. Mines still at full power even though Ive been using it quite a bit since I got it, so it does seem to be as impressive as they say

Software
-----------
Ive read a lot of complaints about the Sony ebook Library software that comes with the 500, but personally I think its ok. A bit basic if anything, but If youve ever had a Sony MP3 player or Minidisc player, its a lot better than the rubbish which shipped with those. Its not a huge concern for me because Im starting to use Calibre, which I recommend you check out if youre buying a reader.

Screen Quality
---------------
Now to the eInk screen, which is one of the biggest reasons why you'll be wanting an eBook reader (along with battery life). Whilst Sony have done the best they can with the screen, I personally think the technology is overhyped and not that impressive. Granted, its a lot better than reading off a backlit PDA screen, but the black tones are dark grey, and the white paper is pretty grey too. Infact my screen has a very tiny 'duck egg blue' tinge to it. It does look better when placed under a direct light (still not white though), but if you tend to read in ambient light, dont expect it to be as white as normal paper.

Ive also noticed that when an area of the screen transitions from, lets say white text on a black background, to solid black, there is a very faint ghost image of where the white text used to be. Its not really a problem or hugely noticeable, but it did make me wonder whether the device could be susceptible to screen burn, similar to old CRT monitors. Ive been assured that it is not, and is actually perfectly normal.

Screen refresh
---------------
Having watched lots of youtube videos showing various comparisons of screen refresh between ebook readers, I was a bit worried the PRS would be sluggish.
What Ive learnt is that it is actually very fast, when you are reading standard texts or Sony BBeB format. I guess it will slow down a lot if you read other formats on the Sony, especially those with embedded fonts or graphics, but Im quite pleased with it overall.
Naturally it will be nice when eInk matures and screen updates become faster, but I dont feel its a huge issue for me at the moment.

Other features
---------------
The Audio player built into the Sony is basic, but functional. As is the ability to view JPG's, a nice little touch but neither of these features are why I wanted an eBook reader, and I cant say Ill ever use them.

The way books are organised is nice, giving you several angles to find what youre looking for. Theres three seperate lists you can access to browse your books: Browse by author A-Z, where you can pick for example A-C, D-F etc. However, this doesnt show one entry per author, it just lists the books in order of author surname so you will see a few books by Shakespeare, then a a few more by Simpson etc). You can also search by Title A-Z, and finally in order of the date they were added to the reader, which is actually very useful.

Whats lacking is a way to tag books you've already read. You can either just remember which you've read, or delete them from the reader. I think this is a real shame, because it means it quite difficult to have a large collection of ebooks and easily find ones you havent yet read.

The 505 allows you to delete books from the device without having to use your computer to do it, which is a nice feature previous versions didn't have.

Limitations
------------
When ordering my Sony, I decided Id go for the biggest SDCard the vendor sold. Id never have any problems after that, and so I shelled out on a whopping 16Gb stick (although it was only £32, which seems like a good price).

Be warned that Ive since found out, the Sony will only support up to 2G cards. I do have a 16G card in there at the moment, and the reader seem to be reading them fine. However, Calibre doesnt recognise it, and my operating system wont mount it (unlike its internal memory which I can access from both Ubuntu and Windows).

Ive had a look at Waterstones, the ebook vendor which integrates with Sony software. It was pretty unimpressive, with a poor selection of books and the common complaint that ebooks are hugely overpriced.
I think publishers are very nervous to set the prices too low, because noone really understands the market too well yet, but I imagine that will change in time. I think eventually we will see aggregators (simialr to Napster and iTunes for music) pulling all these books together for reasonable prices.

Anyway, I hope my rambling review helps anyone who is thinking about buying a reader.

I spent a long long time reading various reviews, deciding none of them fitted my needs and so giving up, and then coming back a week later trying to reach a decision.
This happened several times until I decided to just bite the bullet, and I dont regret it.

Have fun
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Old 12-03-2008, 01:43 PM   #2
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Thanks for the review.
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Old 12-03-2008, 03:20 PM   #3
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Nice review

But I must state that the buttons on my cybook don't make a ' loud click' , they don't make a sound at all.........
And NO, I'm not deaf
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Old 12-04-2008, 03:15 AM   #4
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Nice review

But I must state that the buttons on my cybook don't make a ' loud click' , they don't make a sound at all.........
And NO, I'm not deaf
Have you got a 64MB model? The buttons on that were silent. The navigation button on the 512MB model has been redesigned and does make a slight "click" when you press it, but I've never heard anyone describe it as a problem, and I really can't imagine why the original poster finds it annoying!
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Old 12-04-2008, 05:00 AM   #5
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Have you got a 64MB model? The buttons on that were silent. The navigation button on the 512MB model has been redesigned and does make a slight "click" when you press it, but I've never heard anyone describe it as a problem, and I really can't imagine why the original poster finds it annoying!
I must confess, I have a 512 model and after checking, there is a very slight click in the center button.

To my defense, you really can't hear it in a running train, where I use my reader 90% of the time ...
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Old 12-04-2008, 05:22 AM   #6
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The navigation button on the 512MB model has been redesigned and does make a slight "click" when you press it, but I've never heard anyone describe it as a problem, and I really can't imagine why the original poster finds it annoying!
My wife complains when we're both reading (she with a real book) and I start pressing the centre navigation button. It's certainly loud enough to annoy her, so dictionary lookups are out. Though the page turn button is normally silent.
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Old 12-04-2008, 07:26 AM   #7
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very good review, better than some i've read on "review" sites

had i not decided just this morning i am going with the prs-505, this would have probably swung it for me.

i also get the point of the "clicking", my partner plays the DS before sleeping, which is very very annoying
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Old 12-04-2008, 08:34 AM   #8
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This was absolutely the most comprehensive review of an ebook device that I've ever read. Thank you so much for taking the time to put it all together. Happy reading!!!
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Old 12-04-2008, 10:31 AM   #9
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i also get the point of the "clicking", my partner plays the DS before sleeping, which is very very annoying
With respect, it's completely different. The page turning buttons on the Gen3 are totally silent; the only time one uses the central button (the one that "clicks") are for such things as following hyperlinks, displaying the menu, etc, so it's not as if it's a constant thing, like playing a video game is.
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Old 12-04-2008, 05:14 PM   #10
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your right ofcourse harry

it wasnt the reason i decided against the cybook, i was just pointing out that "clicking" in the bedroom can be annoying
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