Home > ebook, Technology > Pleasantly surprised by Sony eBook reader

Pleasantly surprised by Sony eBook reader


About two months ago I bought a Sony ebook reader. I had two main reasons: I was going on holiday and wanted to take a few books to read, but did not want to be encumbered with their weight and more importantly I have a book storage problem. I like to read and I read a lot; as a result I have too many books: over 30 meters of them. Books storage has become a problem. Well, it’s been a problem for a few years.

So I bought a Sony PRS-505, at present the most widely available ebook reader in the UK.

I hate reading documents on an computer screen, so I wasn’t expecting much from an ebook reader. I’ve been pleasantly surprised – the ergonomics of reading on the Sony ereader are unexpectedly good:

  1. The ereader screen closely approximates paper. The contrast is not as good as black ink on new white paper, but it is as good as an old book where the pages have yellowed a bit. Because the screen is passive reading is bright sunlight is not a problem.
  2. The page-turning buttons are conveniently placed. There are two sets of page-turning buttons, so it’s easy to turn the page whether you are holding the ereader in your left or your right hand.
  3. Battery life is about 7000 page turns, so you don’t need to worry about the battery running out.

Sony made some good choices with the design: the ereader can be charged via a USB cable, so you don’t need a separate charger (although you can buy one if you want) and the ereader supports SD cards.

In short, once I got some books onto my Sony ereader, I had a pleasant reading experience.

And there’s the rub: it’s a pain to get books onto the ereader. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The ebook Library software supplied by Sony is truly awful.
  2. There aren’t many suppliers of ebooks for the Sony ereader.

ebook Library software

This software is designed to allow you to manage your book collection on the ereader. It’s equivalent to iTunes, however it’s nowhere near as easy to use. Moving books on and off the ereader is not intuitive and it’s easy to get duplicate copies of books on the ereader’s internal memory and SD card.

ebook Suppliers

In the UK Sony seems to have done deals with Waterstones, WH Smith and Borders. Although these stores have large selections of books, their selection of ebooks is limited. And their ebooks tend to be very expensive. Ebooks bought from these stores have disadvantages over paper books: you can’t lend them to a friend, you can’t sell them second hand (or give them away). What’s more ebooks are cheaper to produce and distribute than paper books. So they should be cheaper than paper books. Yet often ebooks are more expensive than paperbacks. Anyway, I refuse, as a matter of principle, to pay more for an ebook than a paper book. I hope you do too – if no one buys the ebooks at inflated prices the publishers will have to reduce the price.

An honourable mention goes to O’Reilly, they have a no-nonsense policy for their ebooks:

“When you buy an O’Reilly ebook you get lifetime access to the book, and whenever possible we make it available to you in three, DRM-free file formats—PDF, .epub, and Kindle-compatible .mobi—that you can use on the devices of your choice. Our ebook files are fully searchable, and you can cut-and-paste and print them. We also alert you when we’ve updated the files with corrections and additions.”

You can also get ebooks for free. One of the best places I’ve found so far is feedbooks. Free ebooks include out of copyright books (mostly published before 1920), books published under a creative commons license (Cory Doctorov and Lawrence Lessig are pioneers here), and authors giving away taster chapters of their books, hoping you’ll buy the whole book.

Since getting my ereader, I have become quite interested in the issue of copyright. I’ve learnt a lot and will write about it in a future blog post.

Update 23 Sept 2009: I’ve made some suggestions on how the Sony PRS-505 can be improved at Suggestion for improvement to sony ebook readers

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  1. Aug 26, 2009 at 18:51

    Nice post Martin.

    Question – Does it display all texts in the same way? Is the art of type setting on the way out? (albeit temporarily)

  2. Martin Budden
    Aug 26, 2009 at 21:20

    The Sony ereader allows you to display text in 3 sizes. Pages in the .epub format are reformatted when resized, .pdf format pages generally are not.

  3. FND
    Aug 27, 2009 at 05:48

    That’s a useful summary, Martin.
    It doesn’t make me crave for an e-book reader though…

    The supplier situation sounds really backwards.
    In an ideal world, I would expect the O’Reilly model to be a matter of course – get access to the digital version when buying a physical book.

    One thing I would expect from an e-book reader is to be capable of displaying HTML pages (I regularly download articles off the web and SCP them to the maledict iPhone).
    It doesn’t sound like that’s possible here?

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