Sony’s PRS-500 is already a bit longer in the market and therefore has not been subject to multiple evolutions, like the Kindle with its version 2 or the later versions of the PRS. However it is still a reasonable gadget and today the users switching to a newer version of the product provide for a reasonable amount of used 500’s on the market. Let’s have a look on one of the first readers on the market and if users were and are satisfied with its performance.
The display is one of the primary selling points of the Sony Reader. Like some other recent and upcoming devices, Sony chose to use “digital ink” rather than a more typical backlit LCD. Digital ink is a passive type of display that shuffles pigment particles around to create grayscale images. It’s similar to the electromechanical signs you see in airports, the ones that flip little panels around to show dark or light “pixels”, but on a smaller scale. The theory is that this sort of reflective display is easier on the eyes for long reading sessions than a glowing LCD would be, and provides a more paper-like experience and better contrast than an unlit LCD. Another advantage of digital ink is that it only uses electricity when it’s changing; while you are looking at an unchanging page, the display is drawing no power at all. (That’s why Sony quotes the battery life in “page turns” — the Reader is never really “on” or “off”, and all the power switch actually does is lock the buttons and blank the screen.) On the downside, digital ink is slow, which is probably why it isn’t used in everything yet.
The first thing you will notice about the Sony Reader’s digital ink display is that it really does look like a printed surface, not like any LCD display you might be used to. Unfortunately, as the technology is still new and is far from perfect, it doesn’t have anywhere near the contrast of a real book, producing an effect that reminds me slightly of a newspaper printed on cheap recycled stock. On the other hand, the display is quite sharp and text looks good on it, so the overall effect is good readability, especially outdoors or in a well-lit room. I don’t find it too difficult to read even in my relatively dimly lit bedroom, although if I’m actually going to read more than a couple of pages I’ll clip on a book light. (The Reader’s display is not illuminated at all.) Another quirk of the display, which should improve in future generations of the technology, is that it is prone to retaining ghost images of previously displayed images; to prevent this, while you’re reading a book the entire screen reverses for a moment to reset the pixels every time you turn a page. It takes some getting used to when you first see it, but doesn’t get in the way of reading.
One of the problems in the e-book publishing world today is the proliferation of incompatible formats for commercial e-books. Unfortunately, Sony has done nothing to improve this situation with the Reader — not that I expected them to, of course. The only commercial e-book format the Reader can display is BBeB as sold through the Sony CONNECT store, so if you have already purchased books from Palm, Mobipocket, or any other vendor, you won’t be reading them on the Sony Reader. Books purchased from Sony CONNECT are associated with your account and authorized for your computer and your reader; if you’ve ever bought music from iTunes this shouldn’t be too unfamiliar. When I first got the Sony Reader I had some trouble getting it activated; it eventually worked, but the first few times I tried the software simply hung for several minutes before timing out. Once you do manage to buy one, Sony’s commercial books look good on the Reader. The BBeB format supports cover pictures, tables of contents, and internal illustrations, so what you see on the screen is pretty much the same thing you’d see in a paperback.
On the other hand it does much better with PDFs created specifically for a small screen size. If you have a Mac, or some way to print to PDF on Windows, this can be a convenient way to convert almost any document for use on the Reader; just set the page size to around 3.5 by 5 inches and the results should look great on the Sony.
The reader’s RTF support is good, and unlike plain text files you can put formatting as well as title and author metadata in an RTF file.
Hardware and Software Specifications:
- Display Technology: E-Ink electronic paper
- Display Size: approx. 6 inch diagonal (comparable to a paperback book page)
- Display Resolution: approx. 170 pixels/inch, 4 level gray scale
- Internal Storage: 64MB
- Expandable Storage: SD or Memory Stick Duo
- Connectivity: USB for downloading e-books from PC
- Battery: Internal lithium-ion, up to 7500 page turns per charge
- External Power: AC adapter or USB based charging
- Size: 5.00 x 7.00 x 0.45 (approx.) inches
- Weight: 11 oz. with cover
- Media Formats: BBeB (Sony e-book format), PDF, RTF, plain text, Microsoft Word (with desktop conversion software), JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, MP3, AAC
Author: Ben Jeremy
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