Random Tales of Total Geekery

My 2 year review of Sony Reader (PRS 500)

Posted by Q on December 27, 2009

Yes, my scratched, scrapped, scraggly, schmaltzy beloved Sony Reader (PRS 500) is attached to the left. Look at it, ye beauty!

It’s been nearly two years going on the road to e-ink. Now, we have more e-ink readers than what you can throw a rock at; Amazon, Astak, B&N, iRex, Plastic Logic, Sony yada yada…all of ’em are vying for that disposable $350 in your pocket. Some provide wireless delivery (kindle), some have just put an extra x in sexxy (nook), some are just fighting to stay relevant (iRex). Even Sony, has unveiled a veritable lineup of e-ink readers for different budgets and needs (505, 700, 900, 600, 300). But I am here to tell you that in case you ever take up e-ink reading, you might not want to go much beyond and old PRS 500 itself (provided you can snap one up on ebay). So here’s my (2 year delayed) review of the mighty Sony reader

In one word, it’s been like.no.other

Battery Life

Yes, that 7500 page turns on one full charge is just marketing crap. On the other hand, the battery life is insanely long. Easily lasts me 1 week on full charge (even after running continuously for 104 weeks). More importantly, the battery will last you 1 week, regardless of whether you’ve actually done any reading or not. It’s not so much a deal-breaker if you ask me, but it is always better if you know what you’re getting to avoid having a case of buyer’s remorse.

Contrast this battery performance with any other handheld/lap-held electronic device after a couple of years of usage. Exactly the same, I’d say. Over a period of time, your battery drops to about 50% of its sustenance time anyway. (I just made up that stat, though I dunno why)

The Books

Kindle’s made its living by selling access to ebooks rather than the device itself (which, frankly, is an ugly mother of god). Which is all fun and easy if you consider that most people around the web don’t have the time, effort or energy to look beyond email. (As an aside, that’s pretty much the reason Yahoo! is still alive). Which is all fine, until some smart cookie will figure out that now more than ever, there is just so much free fiction floating around the web that ebook access is not even a problem right now. And the free fiction is from established authors and publishing houses. And it is legal. And it is New. We are not talking Arrgh, shiver me timbers language here (hint: piracy) or Project Gutenberg, we are talking solid Bank of England encrusted Gold Bars level of authorized free fiction. Did I mention that it is free?

For people who want to jump to the e-reading world, freebies are just getting better by the day. And it is getting easier to convert them to the format of your choice (reader dependent). And it’s all thanks to a guy who doesn’t even work for Sony – a dude named Kovid Goyal and his free ebook library software – Calibre. Even though Sony does natively support rtf’s, pdf’s , txt’s et al, it is just way much more convenient to simply convert everything to LRF format and be done with it.

The Screen

Yes, the 8 shades of gray does feel like crap (initially). And yes, you do get used to it. Don’t know why people get worked up about it. The only problem is that somehow, I’ve never been able to read through particularly densely written prose on the reader (Thomas Pynchon, I am looking at you). So, I still had to buy a physical copy of Gravity’s rainbow (which I still haven’t been able to finish…which kinda defeats the argument anyway)

The screen flash, you stop noticing maybe 3 pages into your Matthew Reilly thriller 😀


aka, clunky buttons.

Well, there is just about no stopping on ergonomics, is it? One could argue and make the case for page turn buttons to be bigger; placed on the left, on the right, on the top & bottom; navigation via joystick etc. Having used (read: conditioned) this thing for over 2 years, I am not pretty much comfortable with buttons to the extent that they seem ok. But definitely, Sony is not Apple. So there, I said it. Bring on the mythical Apple tablet and we shall see

Lack Of Backlight

Big problem. I never anticipated that I’d end up reading so many books in bed. And end up with sleeping with all the lights on. I even bought an external light solution, the verilux light thingumajig. But.It.Doesn’t.Help. Sony, we’ve got a problem on our collective hands. Get us some backlighting please. And not that halfway-there, halfway-anywhere glare of PRS 700 please

Online store

Check #2 above. Never used the online store. I am a bad cookie, what can I say 😛

Support for EPUB

Another format war. Yawn! Hey did you know that Blue Ray won the battle with HD-DVD (cue for more yawning). Seriously guys, the ebook market has been fucked so badly with format issues that consumers don’t even look at it anymore. They know that there is one stage between the book of their choice and the device of their choice. And as I said in #2 above, there’s Calibre

Summary comments

I think The PRS 500 proved to be every inch a reader I expected it to be. There are still features in the device which I’ve never used (support for audiobooks, black & white comics) and I don’t see that changing in the future as well. While not as Flash Gordon’ish an iPhone/iPod touch, I think it fits in very neatly with my ebooking needs. I don’t see myself upgrading, but if I ever do, I’ll go for the PRS 300 edition which @ $200 and 1″ shorter than the current reader sounds like the ideal solution

Also, it is very relevant to look at an emergent market which wasn’t quite there when the Reader was launched…which is the netbook market. At screens which are about 3-4″ larger than the current crop of ebook readers and the obvious versatility of a computer, it’ll be very interesting to see how these two stack up as reading devices. My vote however still would be on dedicated e-readers.


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