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Sony PRS505 Reader Roadtest

October 28, 2009

Last week, a friend of mine mentioned in passing that she had an unused Sony PRS505 Reader sitting in a cupboard. I was a bit puzzled, I must confess. I could understand if she had tried it and didn’t like it, or couldn’t work out how to set it up, but a complete lack of interest in even switching it on just makes no sense to me.

Anyway, she could see that I couldn’t understand, so she very kindly offered it to me to test. Obviously I said ‘Yes, please!’, straight away. So, a couple of days later, I take possession of a shiny new ebook reader, and here are my initial thoughts after a few days’ use.

Setup – simple. Took about two minutes. Plug it into the usb port (cable supplied), switch it on. Computer detects it. Install the Library software from the enclosed disc, which took a futher 30 seconds or so, and I can import all my existing ebooks into the Library with a couple of clicks. Once they are in the Library, it’s a two-click operation to get them onto the Reader, as these were already in pdf format.  So far, so good.The user manual is also included on this disc, but I haven’t looked at that yet. I decided most people are like me, and only resort to the manual if something isn’t obvious.

Charging – this unit was completely without charge – it had been in a box unused since at least December 08, so that’s no surprise. I left it plugged into the computer, and it took between three and three and a half hours to charge fully.

First use – The menu screen is not the most friendly sight to see when you switch your reader on for the first time. There’s quite a bit of ‘stuff’ already loaded on there, which could be confusing, if you were not expecting it. I would have expected some kind of welcome screen, and maybe a short explanation of how to move around, but there was nothing. However, that was really a secondary consideration, as this was my first time seeing one of the e-ink screens in operation. I have to say it is every bit as good as I had been told.

There is no sensation of reading a screen, the feeling whilst reading a page is the same as reading the page of a book. I was expecting the screen to be good, but I still thought it would feel like reading off a screen, and it just doesn’t. The text was crisp and clear, there was no movement or distortion. I could read it comfortably outside (where it was bright daylight, but not overly sunny), and indoors. The only difference I found was at night. I need slightly more light to read the Reader screen than to read a normal book, but not by much. I think this is because the background on the screen is a few shades darker than actual paper. I could read comfortably using my small bedside light, as I usually do, as long as I was not sitting with my back to the light.

Controls – Here I have my main issue with the unit. The controls are not good. To turn the page, there are two buttons on the right-hand edge of the unit, or a multi-directional button on the bottom left. The button on the bottom left is in the wrong place. I can’t reach  it easily whilst holding the reader as you would hold a normal paperback. I have quite small hands, but not freakishly so, so I would expect this to be an issue for other people, too. The controls on the right-hand edge are just too fiddly. Because the unit slopes away at an angle, I found it hard to hit the keys dead-on, and if you don’t hot them right, the page doesn’t turn. I think I understand why the keys are located there, because it feels like the natural place where you would flick through the pages of a book, but they just didn’t work for me. To use either control to turn the page I had to adjust the position of my hands on the Reader every time, and it just annoyed me after a while.  I understand that this is the old model, the replacement seems to be the PRS600 which has a touchscreen, so would eliminate these issues, whilst the new baby version has the controls in a different place, so maybe I am not the only person who had an issue with them.

My other problem so far is with the page turn action on the screen. It’s slow. I mean, really, really slow. On many, many occasions I turned two pages, because I hit the button, nothing happened, so I thought I had not got it in the right place and did it again, and it turned twice. It’s also really jarring. When I read, if the book is any good, I will generally get pulled right in to the story. It’s not uncommon for me to lose two or three hours reading. However, with this device I never felt immersed in the story because every couple of minutes I had to wait for the page to turn. It was like watching video on the net, when it’s buffering like mad. It doesn’t matter how good the content is, the constant interruptions will pull you out of it.

On the upside, setting bookmarks was easy. You click the ‘bookmark’ button, which I guessed at, as it looks like the corner of a page has been folded. Then, in what was the only ‘nice’ touch I noticed, the edge of the screen displays a little folding action. Just like you had turned down the corner of the page. I’m not sure the bookmarks are always neccessary, as when I switched the unit back on, it always remembered my place anyway, but if you were reading more than one book at a time, it would be handy.

Conclusion – So, after a few days’ use, I can say I like the Reader, but I don’t love it yet. In Sony’s defence, this is an old version, and the main technology, the screen, is fabulous, but overall it was a bit of a let down. I thought I would love it, but it just feels a little awkward, and a bit too functional. There are very few ‘little touches’ that give it a wow factor, the only one I found was the bookmark action. At the moment, I wouldn’t buy one, because whilst it was ok to read from, I think it would be like the footspa I got for Christmas a few years ago. It’s a nice idea, but it lives in a box under the stairs. Maybe if I had a long pulic transport commute every day, it would appeal more, but I don’t.

I still like the idea, and deep down, I still want a Kindle, but now I am very wary about buying one of these devices without having had the opportunity to try it first. The control positioning may not be an issue with the Kindle, but I would still like to know what the screen change is like, in person, before I spend a good chunk of money on this.



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