Random Tales of Total Geekery

Posts Tagged ‘eBooks’

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.


Posted in Gadgets, Marginal Benefits | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The importance of being HTML

Posted by Q on November 4, 2007

HTMLOr, adventures in converting a saved-from-MS Word html file into a readable (& proprietary) BBeB format of Sony Reader.

Since taking the Reader to work everyday, my To-Be-Read pile, is under considerable attack – a one hour journey either ways is extremely good time for gobbling up a book in 2-4 sittings. Since the Reader cache memory is still too under-powered for instant viewing of new books, i try to convert each txt/html/lit/doc/pdf/etc. into .lrf for easy viewing

And, as Art Speigelman says, here my troubles began…

You see, the problem is conversion. My laptop currently plays host to a wide array of converting utilities which include:

  1. ABC Palm converter (for pdb into everything else)
  2. ABC Lit to htm converter
  3. BBeB Binder (for converting txt/html into BBeB)
  4. Book Designer (editing txt/html/pdb etc)
  5. CLit (hehe) (.Lit to html)
  6. Dreamweaver 8 (don’t ask)
  7. HTML Book Fixer
  8. v HTML merger (for combing 2+ html files into 1)
  9. lib prs500 (ofcourse)
  10. PDB Reader Converter
  11. Mozilla Seabird
  12. Page Breeze Html editor

Now, the usual sequence of events, if i were to be lucky enough to find & download the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone trilogy by Gregory Keyes would be:

first up, i’d discover that the gentle soul who has scanned and proofed the release has done it in three different formats for all three. So the first book is MS Word-to-html, second is RTF, third is non-garbled HTML. So, my ubermensch el geeko instincts kick in:

  • the first book is first opened in MS Word> saved as RTF>> Results in file size ballooning to 4 MB
  • Second approach, Open file in Mozilla Firefox> Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C>New html page in Dreamweaver 8>Ctrl+V>>Says insufficient space to handle operation
  • Third approach, Open file in Mozilla Firefox> Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C>New html page in seabird Html composer>Ctrl+V>>>>Results in an inactive Laptop for 2 mins>character entity reference kicks in> tad difficult to read a character set of &
  • Fourth approach, Open File in Book Designer>clean up HTML>Prepare for second pass surgery from HTML book Fixer (which doesn’t allow _ or [ in filenames)>File rejected for too many errors
  • Fifth approach, Open File in BBeB Converter to try direct conversion>System stalls for a couple of minutes and Operation exits
  • Sixth & Final, Open file in IE> Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C> New HTML page in Page Freeze>Ctrl+V>Save As Keyes, Gregory – The Briar King (v1.1) .html>>Open in BBeB Binder>Save As LRF>Save successful!

Total time taken in figuring out the proper way = 45 minutes

The second and third files did not take as much time. I prefer using the two-pass approach of Book Designer > BBeB binder, whenever it works out. But eventually, it takes me 1 hr to completely transfer 3 files from my Laptop to the Reader in a format of my choice. phew! talk about work.

The same story repeats over a Dozois Gardner Sci Fi collection (16th edit.). The file is a humungous, horrifyingly huge 6 MB unpacked RTF. i pass it through Wordpad to clear unnecessary formatting, save it as a new file from Sea-bird HTML composer, and then manually edit the html to add a Table of Contents and then convert to lrf from BBeB.

Which brings me to the whole point. HTML is without a doubt my favored format for storing files, it has the neatness of a simple txt, gets your formatting done like an RTF, keeps images in check like a PDF and does not change styles. It’s no wonder that idpf, the Open Source format now accepted as the Industry de facto standard is based on an XML architecture (basically XHTML + CSS).

In ebook piracy also, fans usually prefer to bring out new releases in HTML. The only problem being that multiple editors with various degrees of efficacy abound, leading to a huge chunk of files having dirty formatting.

For the reading device makers, i hope some thought into input device formats is also being undertaken. It’s clear that the versatility of html makes it stand head and shoulders above other formats (and no DRM too, hurray!), but unless the pains of conversion are brought under control, there is very little scope for the ebook market – it shall remain a playground for us enthusiasts.

Posted in eBooks, Gadgets | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The e-Idiotproof Solution

Posted by Q on September 30, 2007

Sony ReaderIt’s been a halcyon month for ebook-enthusiasts – esp. this one as he finally managed to shack himself up with his new Sony Reader over the weekend. In other major news, the ebook revolution has also inched a couple of paces forward with the adoption of an international standard (ePub), Amazon.com’s declaration (not the DRM free music) of entering the devices market with an e-ink based device called Kindle and miscellaneous other equipment manufacturers making proper sounds (IRexiLiad, Bookeen-CyBook et al) including Sony which has brought out an update for its PRS-500 series with a PRS-505 to be shortly available for enthusiasts.

More on Sony than the others…Electronics innovator, owner of the walkman phenomenon and darling of engineering schools around the globe, when Sony announced its foray into ebook devices, everyone stood up and took notice. Many hailed it as the ipod for ebooks (including this author) and the coming generation of ebook publishing. A year down the line, the buzz still hasn’t quite been as infectious as was believed. It hasn’t been a failure, but it has a long way to go before it revolutionizes ebooks the way ipods did for music.

As a device, the Reader is phenomenal. Crystal Clear view (not an LCD), zero strain on eyes, looks and feels like ink on paper, reads better in bright (or sunlight) than shade, is comfortable to hold, even packs in a music player in its tiny frame and provides a extra Memory slot – Adding a 2 GB SD Card (≈$30) to its equipment cost of $249, makes it a clear steal over any 2 GB iPod Nano(≈$200). Not only that, the device is also remarkably petite and easy to carry. If only it had a backlight, and could be read at night without any external sources of light, it would replace my Laptop as the insomniacal device of preference.

The only difference between the two – iTunes Vs Connect. Game Over!

To explain, let me take up an average music collection –

  1. Size – 20GB
  2. Number of files – 6000
  3. Formats – .cda, .mp3 & .wma (ogg/aac/flac anyone?)
  4. Meta tags – IDv3 (mostly unfilled and/or incorrect)

Average time taken to transfer/sync iPod with iTunes music library – 2 mins/GB (the highest data transfer rate from a USB 2.0 port is 3.6 GB/min). This average time includes the time taken to encode tracks to iPod, generating gapless playing information etc.

Average time taken to edit Meta tags – as fast as you can type.

The important thing here is that an iTunes library is scalable, I can put all my 100GBs of music on it (which would be around 30,000 tracks) and the library will still function as perfectly ok. Contrast this with the behavior of a Sony Connect

Average ebook collection –

  1. Size – 1GB
  2. Number of files – 3000
  3. Formats – doc, rtf, txt, pdf, pdb, html, lit, chm, cbz, cbr, rar
  4. Meta tags – File properties

The real trouble begins here. The reader converts all books to its proprietary format (BBeB) but it only supports conversion of rtf, txt, pdf & doc. Let me take up these formats first. Every non-BBeB book takes up about 30seconds to 1 min to transfer, every book. So, if all my books were to be transferred, it’d take me a cool couple of sleepless days before my device is fully loaded and operational. Also, don’t forget that I have to manually tag the file info because the reader does not have any support for picking up Meta from filename itself. So if I have to update my library, I’d really have to think really hard before committing such a timeless folly. And I haven’t even covered books from other formats yet.

Right, now since I’ve had the temerity to have a few books in html format, I’d have to CCP to RTF and say sayonara to its Table of Contents (which was why the book was in the damn format to begin with). Which is alright if you have one book, but isn’t so hot if it’s a short story collection and you have already read some part of it…think turning 657 pages is fun ?

Now, I am using a grand total of 6 applications – Kovid Goyal’s better than Connect’s libprs500, BBeB Binder, Book Designer, ABC Amber LIT/Palm converter & Softsnow’s HTML Book Fixer, which has made my life and reader simpler to use, easier to operate. Above all, I have decided to keep only my To-Be-Read pile in the reader, which amounts to a grand total of 30 books. But I still am stuck with a version of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptomonicon, which is one huge folder of linked html files – now this has defeated me totally. Unless I CCP all those 30 chapters individually to rtf and then convert to lrf, or generate a PDF from these and then convert the PDF using pdftolrf app, I am stuck with an insurmountable barrier of agonizing labor before I can end up reading it on screen.

Which makes me come to my point, finally. There’s no doubt that this is an outstanding device which really has been done in by a lack of understanding about the service requirements for it. The only way devices succeed is it if they are idiotproof and not a test of mental, analytical & technical acumen (can I throw in a Mensa test as well?). I cannot even begin to imagine this device being used by anyone except nerds…wonder what Sony learnt from the Librie experiment..Surely nothing that I can see.

Some DRM rumblings next time, I guess 😉

Posted in eBooks, Gadgets, Secrets of the Web | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »