For those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a long time – you know that I rarely write equipment reviews. The reason is that I simply don’t trust passing on my judgement to others. I realize that in itself may be strange in an electronic opinionated world, but it’s the truth. However – every so often I come under the spell of one of these electronic gizmos and so it has happened again with the Sony PRS 505 (silver edition).
Yes, after many people tried to talk me out of it, I bought the thing at J&R for $268. Besides the machine, you get (until March 31) 100 free Sony Classics. Let me just start with this point. There are (at the time of this writing) about 2000 classics to choose from. The number of authors is somewhat limited, but they just happen to be some of the greatest writers in history.
Now I know, you can search around and find some of these for free, and then run them through software so that they look right on the reader, but these are properly formatted and all in one place. The SONY site – although it tries to mimic the iTunes Store – is just not as user friendly. I deduct many points for that. But after you get through a few strange user interface issues – well – here’s what I’ve downloaded so far:
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Bartleby the Scrivener, Billy Budd, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which I’m reading now), A Conn. Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Crime and Punishment, A Few Figs from Thistles (Edna St. Vincent Millay), Great Expectations, Gulliver’s Travels, Howards End, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, A Journey to the Interior of the Earth, Kim, Leaves of Grass, Lord Jim, The Man Who Would Be King (what a great movie), Moby Dick, The Notebook of an English Opium-Eater, Notes from the Undergound (one of my favorite Dostoyevsky novels), Oliver Twist, A personal Record (journal by Joseph Conrad), A Room with a View, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Theory of the Leisure Class (Veblen, and a must read to understand what’s going on in this society), The Three Musketeers, Through the Looking Glass, Doctor Faustus, Treasure Island, Typee (Melville), War and Peace (I was curious to see how long the download would take – 30 seconds), The War of the Worlds, The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe…
And I think I have about 65 free classic books to go.
Now – if you are looking for modern fiction, then unless you get it outside the Sony store, you will pay through the nose. However, there a lot of sites around with various formats that the SONY ebook can read and you will find modern fiction, bestsellers etc. much cheaper at these sites, or free. My own experiments are that the ePub format just works great on the 505. (It doesn’t, as of this writing, work on the 500).
All of the books listed are currently on the eBook. And given that I have a lot of SD cards, I could easily walk around with a library of thousands of books if I wanted to.
The choices (and I do have to say as of this writing because I think this will be a hot competition):
From Sony, you have the PRS 505 and the one with the Touchscreen (700). The touchscreen definitely makes the screen less contrasty, and the built-in sidelight that it has, just looks annoying to my eyes. If I’m going to read in the dark, I’ll use a clip-on lamp.
The Amazon store has a wider selection, but as of now you are stuck with either the Amazon Format Books, or converting PDFs. And there have been issues with the latter. I just don’t like the idea of the Kindle. I don’t want to pay for Whispernet (built-in to the price). I don’t want to instantly get my books while I’m on the road. And most of all, since the Kindle wants to do more than just be a book reader, and since you are going to use it to select books from the store, it must have it’s little typing keys at the bottom of the big plastic thing.
In short, all I want is to be able to read books on the thing. I know that’s crazy. In fact, I had a big argument with a friend, when I was trying to convince him that Apple should get into this ballgame. That if Apple went ahead and made a device for reading books – I’m sure it would be amazing. My friends reaction was that Steve Jobs has declared that no one reads books anymore. There is no market for gadgets that only read books.
Now I don’t know if that’s true. I see lots of people reading books on the subway – though probably more are watching movies or playing games on their i-things.
But human beings have always loved good stories. Is it possible that the current or next generation won’t enjoy getting lost in a book (whether an ebook or a physical book)? No way. I know that the novel no longers holds the luster it once did, say in the 30’s. But I see millions of Harry Potter books being sold. Wouldn’t kids like to have them on their ebooks? And if you really have to, you can put music or an audio book on it.
Another downside for the Kindle II, is that I simply couldn’t find them in any stores. Reading is a tactile, sensory experience. I wanted to hold the thing, and look at it under different light sources and get a feeling for what it would be like to read with it for a while. I couldn’t do that with the Kindle. The SONY 505 comes in a few color flavors, and believe it or not, it made a difference to me. The framing of the screen is important. I felt that the silver was less distracting. Someone else may feel that the blue or the red is better for them. You can’t really make that sort of choice with the Kindle in real life unless you know someone with one. There are already tons of youtube videos with the Kindle but until you hold the gadget in your hands, I don’t think you can make an informed choice.
Anyway – the PRS 505 is just very easy on the eyes. There’s a button on the bottom left and two on the right-hand edge (which has a smooth bevel to it) for turning the pages.
You can create as many collections as you like for organizing the books (you do this on the computer and sync it to the ebook). And when your eyes are going, you can turn it up to large print. Unlike the i-things, since this is Ink on Paper (sort of) technology, the battery is only used when the page is “turned.” So the battery lasts a very long time. It could be weeks – I don’t know. Yes, for a few micro-seconds, while you turn the page, the screen goes black before the next page comes up.
It’s not a big deal once you’re into the book. No different than turning a page.
There are a few downsides compared to a real book. With a book, you get TWO PAGES at a time. So there’s less page turning. Also, the larger you zoom the font with any eBook, the more pages there are to turn. At first I was reading with the default small font, but I moved to the middle sized font. Depends on your eyes, whether you want to put on bi-focals etc.
It would be amazing if someday the eBook could display two pages at a time.
The Sony PRS 505 comes with a cover. No it’s not the great most luxurious cover in the world, but it protects the screen. A nice touch, is that there magnets are hidden in the cover to keep it closed.
If you want something fancier they have that too. I haven’t seen these covers so I won’t comment on them.
Also – and this is true for the Kindle II as well – neither is sold with an AC adapter. Just a USB cable for syncing and charging. I bought the AC adapter. It charges faster with it (at least that’s what the sales guy said) but more importantly, I don’t need a computer to charge it. I’ve actually only charged it once through the AC cord so far. After at least a week or more I haven’t recharged it with the AC cord, because it gets charged when I attached the USB cord to sync books etc.
You don’t need to dog ear a page, because the reader knows where you left off. And you can bookmark any page you want to, and the thing will remember it forever. The Kindle offers more features, that’s for sure. I believe you can use a stylus to annotate words or phrases. (Not sure about that). The SONY doesn’t have a built in dictionary. It doesn’t link to Wikipedia. It just displays pages of a book in a format that’s easy on the eyes.
After reading for a few hours yesterday, I found myself reaching for the top corner to turn the page. In other words, I was completely immersed in Dracula.
My main challenge now, is to get the rest of my 100 books before the end of March. Oh, and of course with any i-e-gizmo there is the chance that it will get busted. You won’t lose any books since they’re still on the computer. (Good idea to back them up). And the only thing I can think of to solve that is to buy some sort of insurance for the thing.
I’m trying not to be too gushy about it – (not succeeding) – but I have a similar feeling to when I bought my i-pod: this is world changing. Maybe not this particular model, (though I expect it broke a barrier for me) but this idea.
WISH LIST FOR THE EBOOK
I would like to see the screen about two inches taller. I would like Sony to offer more contemporary books at a reasonable price. I would like a built in dictionary where you can touch a word and have it pop up. (But not at the expense of the current touchscreen system). A better SONY E-STORE USER INTERFACE. And as mentioned, if someone could come up with a two page display – that would be something to write home about. But as is – the 505 is pure pleasure for me.
I should say one more thing – I really should – and that is: if you are in love with physical books as objects – this is just not going to do it for you. I don’t fit into the class of collector so it’s not an issue.
Now I just need to sit back and wait for you to tell me that I’m in a minority and why I’m wrong.
WHAT FOLLOWS IS WRITTEN A WEEK OR MORE AFTER USING THE SONY 505
Amazon has got to be crazy not to offer their books in the ePub format or Adobe DRM. They recently opened up the format to the iTouch and iPhone. Brilliant. Are they making so much money selling Kindles? No. But they want to control the books you can put on it. I don’t blame them. But they should sell books from the Kindle Store that can be read in a secure (DRM) but open format. In other words, they have a terrific user interface in the e-store, and why shouldn’t they make money selling books that can also be easily read on whatever readers come along?
Maybe they plan to do this but want to see how many Kindles they can sell first. I don’t know, but it isn’t the Kindle that will do it for them, but the bookstore. Yes, I suppose that people will break the Adobe DRM code or whatever they come up with (including the Kindle / iTouch lock) but really – it is beyond comprehension that they don’t see where their strength is – and it isn’t in building and supporting reading devices.
The PDF books are still a real pain to convert properly for either ebook.
However, the ePub format is great and works perfectly without any fuss or muss and there are tons of books in the ePub format. (Uhmm, Google recently struck up a deal with SONY to offer access to their 500,000 book library in ePub format. (I told you that was going to be the open format).
The original idea I had about SONY being an open format, well that turns out to be a wonderful thing. At the moment I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula (one of the SONY classics) and I am just enjoying it so much. I love to read books that were made into movies, in this case tons of them. The book is just so much better than any of the movies I’ve seen (other than Nosferatu) – though not a one of them really shows how fascinating the characters in the book are. Nor do they in anyway approximate the story-telling style of the book which is all done through letters and diaries. Many diaries that overlap and have that Roshoman effect after a while. In other words – this is literature – not pop-culture. The one film that may have gone after some of the truth of the novel, I have to admit I didn’t see – which was Coppola’s version (though I did see bits and pieces of it before changing the channel).
At this point, I suppose I’ve downloaded about 200 books and short stories, including the complete works of Poe, Chekov and Gogol ( a favorite of the mine as far as Russian authors go).
The battery remains fully charge – partly I suppose because after the initial charge, it gets charged when I have it connected via the USB cable while I’m looking around for stuff to download. I haven’t had to put an SD card in yet, but I have plenty of them. I’ve also used my backup software, so that anything I download is automatically being backed up to another drive.
The feeling that I get reminds me of my college days, when I could go into the school library and just wander around in the stacks looking for new things. In short, the eBook (and not necessarily the one I got) but as a prototype for what will certainly come – has already paid me back many times over. I haven’t actually bought a book yet. A few days ago, I ordered a library card for the New York City library system which has tons of books that you can check out electronically. I think, unfortunately they may be in PDF format. On the other hand, the couple of Adobe Digital Editions (DRM protected) books that I downloaded have worked fine. I had to authorize this computer, but I didn’t have to pay anything.
Sony has just struck a deal with Google to offer their books in ePub (which is my favorite format for the SONY 505)
Here’s link to the New York Times article about the eBook deal. And I’m going to write another post (scroll up) about the google book library. This, as they say, is big. I have the feeling that I got in on this at just the right time (for a change).