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Quasi-review: PRS-505

My kids love to ski. I don’t. So, on our weekend skiing trip, I had ample opportunities to use my new reading gadget, whiling the time away at the lodge.

Overall, I am happy with my choice. I like the design and the feel of the reader, the user interface and the navigation is simple enough, and the reading experience is not at all taxing on the eyes. There are few bells and whistles beyond plain book-reading, but I neither care to listen to music while I read nor have any interest in carrying grayscale versions of my favorite photos on the device. Absence of 3G connectivity (and of the ability to buy and download books on-the-go) does not bother me in the least.

PRS-505 is not as small as to fit into an average shirt or jacket pocket, but a ski jacket provided me with a perfect compartment for it, and on other occasions I think I’ll be fine carrying it in a bag. On the other hand, I wanted the device with at least a 6″ screen, and I appreciate the fact that its navigation buttons do not demand too much of “dead” space around the screen to be accommodated.

Since this particular model is no longer being produced by Sony, it makes little sense for me to go into a detailed review. Let’s just say that if it was still freely available in the stores, I’d lean to strongly recommending it to others.

It is not without shortcomings, though. The one that bugs me the most is that there does not seem to exist an option to select the initial font size when the book is first formatted for reading. The device defaults to “small”, while I find “medium” more acceptable. Pressing the font change button causes the book to be re-formatted, which can take 15-20 seconds. Having the formatting process run twice before I start reading is a minor annoyance.

The device also self-reboots on me occasionally. In fact, when the “currently reading” value exists and I want to change to a different book, the reader is certain to reboot during “new” book’s formatting. After it restarts (45-60 seconds), the “current” book is no longer marked, and the formatting goes ahead without a problem. But with one book, I could not make the font larger, as the device kept rebooting during each “second” re-formatting. I am willing to attribute this as a side effect of russification, but I need to play with various formats to find out if it can be overcome. Strangely, I have all of the books on the device currently in its native .lrf format, which I least expected to cause me problems.

[update 02/26] After playing with different formats for a couple more days, I can conclude that initial formatting step (as well as re-formatting for font size change) is specific to native Sony .lrf book format. The involuntary reboot is definitely due to using .lrf with the russification hack – it does not occur with other formats. I do not have much of a choice if I want to be reading Russian books, because support for .epub format is currently limited enough so that I’d have to perform manual task of font embedding into each ePub file, and PDF does not really do it for me (table of contents gets dropped during conversion to PDF; re-sizing of the font size does not re-page the document, but simply breaks one page into two or three with the bottom of the initial page occupying just the portion of the screen and breaking off in mid-sentence – very disorienting), so I’ll probably ignore the few annoyances that .lrf causes me now. For an English-language-only user, seems like ePub format offers the best reading experience with practically no downside. [/update]

So, no, not perfect. On the other hand, I’ve yet to see a device of any kind that would not cause me some sort of annoyance design- or performance-wise. I have already practically recouped the money I spent to buy the reader by saving on skiing rental equipment and two days of lift passes for myself. Ability to not do something I don’t especially enjoy while generally accompanying the kids and keeping myself entertained – priceless!


  1. Dr. Phil

    I’ve a PRS-505 and a PRS-300. Most of what’s on there is my own writing, in RTF files, and free PDF’s from Tor, etc. Haven’t had the rebooting problem, except when the power level drops or you change the SD card or Memory Stick Duo on the PRS-505. Restart time is based on how much memory you’ve got — on the PRS-505, if you have 8GB SD and 8GB Memory Stick PRO Duo, you might want to either use a smaller card or only one slot at a time. The PRS-300 is a tad smaller than the PRS-505 — both allow you to use as a flash drive on a PC without loading the library software. I have the reading light cases for both units — lightwedge on the PRS-505 and a pop-up reading light on the PRS-300.

    And I’ve used the PRS-300 for readings I’ve given at the last two cons I was at, using Large text, I believe.

    Dr. Phil

  2. Eric

    Thank you for the review, even if the product has been discontinued.

    Do you and/or Dr. Phil have an opinion about the Sony e-readers generally?

  3. Ilya

    Eric, I have very limited baseline for comparison, since my exposure to Kindles and Nooks have been extremely limited, but I surmise that Sony e-readers hold their own in direct comparison for any criteria except 3G connectivity. However, reflected glare from touch-screens in the current 600 models is a concern I heard on many occasions, so I would not generalize in endorsing just any Sony e-reader. But I am pretty sure 505 (which can still be found online) or 300 (which remains the current 5″-screen model) would not disappoint you if your reading habits can be bent around the need for immediate gratification.

  4. Brian Greenberg

    Kindle user here…

    I can see two big differences based on this review between the Sony and the Kindle.

    First is the re-boot issue. The Kindle doesn’t seem to have the concept of “booting,” so it never re-boots. Every time I’ve opened a book (purchased or public domain – native Kindle format or .txt or .rtf) it opens in real-time.

    Second is the font-size change. When you change the font-size on the Kindle, the book you’re currently reading also changes fonts in real time (no 15-20 second wait). Also, the change is global. All subsequent books open in the new font size until you change it again.

    The 3G thing is a matter of personal preference, of course, but I quite like it. I’ve only purchased one book so far, but I have very much enjoyed pulling down free samples (basically the first chapter) of books whenever someone says to me, “hey – you should read this great new book” or when I see someone reading a book on a train and the cover catches my interest.

    For a deeper comparison, my full Kindle review is here.

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