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The Gizmo Report: Sony's PRS-505 Portable Reader System (part 1, hardware)

Glaskowsky reviews the newly updated Sony Reader.

Well, the new Sony PRS-505 Reader I ordered last week arrived today, quite promptly, even with the optional engraving.

Peter's new Sony PRS-505 Reader.
Peter's new Sony PRS-505 Reader. Peter N. Glaskowsky

Here it is. (I blurred out the email address I provided; it doesn't get any spam, and I want it to stay that way.) The screen is showing the only complete book Sony provides with it-- a public domain "classic" that I haven't yet read, and probably never will. The PRS-500 came with a few complete ebooks plus a lot of excerpts. Apart from Wuthering Heights, the PRS-505 is preloaded only with excerpts.

But that's no big deal. Most of what I read on my old Reader was public-domain material, and there's a huge variety of such ebooks available on Project Gutenberg. There are also many websites offering free recent ebooks-- the Baen Free Library, Wowio, and more. Just look around.

Anyway, it's the Reader itself I want to talk about. In my previous blog post, "Hoping for the best from Sony's updated Reader," I wrote about the poor control placement of the PRS-500 and wondered if the PRS-505 would be much better.

I think it's better, at least. The two sets of page-turning buttons, for example, are now placed so that the PRS-505 can be used while held in either hand. I think it's easier to hold in the left hand, though, which is generally better for right-handed users.

Sony greatly improved the utility of the 0-9 buttons on the PRS-505. In their new vertical arrangement, they line up with menu items (at least in portrait mode), and when reading an ebook, they can be used to jump directly to a selected page number.

The other buttons are pretty much the same as on the PRS-500. A little easier to activate now, but no major differences.

Almost unchanged is the size of the PRS-505. It's a little thinner, but the outline shape is the same. The weight is only about 3% lower-- 337g vs. 347g, which I measured with the standard soft cases. Still, that's under 12 ounces; not bad for a gizmo with a six-inch screen.

The screen is different on the PRS-505, but not much different. Page turning looks a little different and is slightly faster-- but not enough to matter. The improved display is said to have eight levels of gray scale instead of four, but that difference is pretty much invisible. The contrast ratio is still the same-- test is a very dark gray on a light-gray background.

The more light you get, the better. I bought the optional clip-on LED light Sony offers with the new Reader. Sony sources it from Great Point Light. It does the job, although the clip is a huge general-purpose arrangement that is sub-optimal for the Reader and the light requires separate batteries. Sony, when you do your next Reader, design a plug-in light specifically for it.

Let's see, what else is different. Oh, the PRS-505 has two slots for flash cards: one Memory Stick Duo slot and one SD Card slot. The PRS-500 had one slot that could accept either a full-size Memory Card or an SD Card. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the PRS-505 can manage both cards at once-- up to 8G capacity on the Memory Stick Duo, up to 2G on the SD Card. I think 10GB of ebooks ought to be enough for pretty much anyone.

Unfortunately, the slots are not protected-- they're open to the top edge of the unit, which is not covered by the soft case. That means they might pop out if bumped; I'll have to keep an eye on that. (On the PRS-500, the slot has a cover.) If it becomes an issue, I suppose I could put a strip of tape over the edge to protect them.

Speaking of the soft case, the PRS-505 attaches to its case in a different and better way than the PRS-500 did. The old Reader had a strange set of plastic clips that would latch into the center of the back face of the Reader, applying a worrisome amount of force to the center of the screen in the process. The new Reader clips into prongs at the top and bottom of the cover's spine, so the Reader is free to pivot around within the case. That should work much better.

When I received the PRS-505, the battery was only partially charged, so I immediately tested the recharging situation. I'm glad to say that a major problem with the PRS-500 has been solved. As I mentioned before, a fully-discharged PRS-500 couldn't be recharged the usual way, with a USB cable; the AC adapter was required.

I ran the PRS-505 down by playing music (otherwise it would have taken days of page-turning), and after the unit shut down, I tried to force it to restart. After four attempted restarts, the Reader wouldn't even try to restart. I hooked up the USB cable and saw the charging light illuminate. I tried to restart the Reader at that point, but it wouldn't start even though it was charging. (From the manual, I gather this is deliberate, though I don't know why.) I waited about a minute, then removed the USB cable, after which the unit was willing to restart. Once it was running, I reattached the USB cable and everything worked normally.

The other thing that happened at that point was that the PRS-505's internal storage quickly mounted itself as a disk drive on my Mac with 190 MB of free space-- a big boost over the PRS-500. I verified that I could copy e-books directly to the unit, and after disconnecting the USB, the PRS-505 scanned itself and added the books to its menus. Even files in a folder were located and added to the menus. When flash cards are installed, they show up as drives on the host system as well.

Well, that's it for the hardware analysis. I'll follow up with my impressions of the new software load on the PRS-505. Like the hardware, the software isn't dramatically different, but it's better.

Just based on what I've seen so far, however, I think it's fair to say that there's no particular reason to upgrade from the PRS-500 to the PRS-505. If you don't have an ebook reader at all, though, the PRS-505 is the one to get.