Sony Reader (PRS-500) Review

While we were down in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago I picked up a Sony PRS-500 Reader. I’ve been wondering about these for quite some time now – wondering if it can really be used as a replacement for a real book – wondering what its

The reader comes with a cover, and USB cable to connect to a PC, as well as a charger.

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What’s good?

It is a really well built, fine piece of electronics.

The screen really is good – you can basically read off this screen just like paper (sort of like reading a magazine printed on non-glossy, pulp type paper. I’ve used it indoors, outdoors, on planes, at night with a book-light, and it’s been easy to read at all times.

It’s NOT backlit – so you have to get into the mindset that this thing really is a replacement for a book. You don’t expect books to be backlit… It works OK with the three models of booklight I’ve tried it with.

The menus and UI are OK. I’d really like some more feedback as to where you are in a book, something more visual than 100/932.

It is really cool to carry around dozens or hundreds of books at once. I tend to flip between reading that I *should* do for work, and reading purely for enjoyment – it’s nice to have a bunch of content with me. It is REALLY nice not to have to lug around hard-cover books!

What Sucks?

The web site and application that you use to load books onto the device really suck. It’s SLOW, poorly designed, and lacking in content. Why don’t people who run sites like this simply sit down in front of Amazon or iTunes and figure out what these people do right, and copy it?

YOU CAN’T BUY BOOKS WITH A CANADIAN CREDIT CARD. This REALLY sucks. I’m faced with getting my friends in the US to load up my account with $$$ – and then sending them money – or trying to get a US credit card, or a single use card or some other contortion. I’m sure there are all kinds of licensing reasons for this, but still, this ain’t no iTunes.

It’s slightly odd the way the screen refreshes. The e-ink that’s used has an extremely slow refresh time, so you can’t do anything really interactive like a mouse cursor. The UI accommodates this quite well.

Update: I tried plugging the reader into my MacBook Pro – the Mac detects it, the reader goes into “USB” mode – but the reader does NOT show up as a device in the file system. You can see the device in the USB Device Tree – but you can’t copy files to or from the device. Rats again Sony.

Tips and Tricks

Right now, there’s a $150 “special” on for the device. You’re allowed to purchase $50 worth of new books, and $100 worth of “classics” – which is 50 public domain type OLD books. This allowed me to load up the device with content – without a US credit card. I just entered a 90210 address…

Update: I’m having a friend in the ‘States sign up on the Connect.Com web site – and send me gift certificates. I think this will be the easiest way to get content into the device from the Sony store.

You can get content from sources such as FictionWise – choose the non-DRM’d content in PDF format and you’re OK. If there’s a choice, choose the largest font size PDF. So, I should be OK for content till I get the credit card business figured out…

I’ll keep using it over the next few months and report back!

Update Aug 31, 2007:  I’ve read a number of books using the device now, and I’m still happy with it. It is so nice to not have to read and travel with a heavy book. It works great with booklights for spousal happiness. I still wish I could get newer books through the Sony Connect service…

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5 responses to “Sony Reader (PRS-500) Review”

  1. Gerry says :

    Have you tried connecting the unit to a Mac? I’m assuming that none of the Sony software works, but I wonder if it is possible to move pdf files from the Mac to the reader via USB, memory stick or sd card?

  2. rich says :

    I’ll try it on a mac tonight – I meant to mention that in my review…

  3. mattroberts says :

    Let me know how this goes. I’ve been hoping and praying for one of these.. i just have no faith in sony to deliver in the first version. I think they should declare defeat and get a real design firm for their software.

  4. Rich says :

    You’re absolutely right about Sony software. I’ve avoided buying a Sony laptop because of it! The Connect site is clumsy, the software you HAVE to use to upload content to the reader is slow, clumsy, and annoying.

    You KNOW they have limited the capabilities of the hardware (ie, it’s not just a USB mass storage device) in order to FORCE us to use their uploader software – but if we’re FORCED to do so, at LEAST make the software useable!!! On the other hand, their hardware is just sooooo nice.

    I remember HP being like this 20 years ago when programming an HP1000, making snow. Great hardware, horrid software.

  5. mattroberts says :

    its a real shame…. at this point they might be better off just opening the API’s for their stuff up and letting some smart programmers do their thing… but SONY isn’t ‘there’ yet… we all know that this’ll either be the beginning of something our a false start for sony.

    A guy in my University swore by sony so much that he bought one of those ATRAC players, i never let him live that down, but in this case they could get it done. Shame about the U.S. only purchasing as well. I wonder if Audible has this issue for their Audiobooks?

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