Other Media Review

Sony 505 Review: A Report from Tina

Used by permission of Sony Electronics IncFirst, the basics.  Per the Sony website, the 505 model measures approximately 6.9 inches by 4.8 inches by 0.3 inches (1.75 x 122 x 8mm) and weighs about 9 ounces without the soft leather cover.  All of that translates to:  About the size and weight of your average Harlequin book.  The display screen is approximately 6 inches, diagonally, and it has a resolution of approximately 170 pixels per inch.  The page is rendered in 8-level grey scale, using E Ink® “Electronic Paper”.  Translation:  The words show up as black on grey, which I found easy on the eyes, even when reading for long periods.  The website touts the Reader’s “almost paper-like” screen.  “Almost paper-like” is not hyperbole.  I don’t know if others have found this to be the case, but I have caught myself reaching towards the upper right corner of the device, as if to turn the page.  It’s only happened when I’m deeply engrossed in what I was reading, but it has happened.  The site also notes that the screen is “easy to read, even in bright sunshine.”  I found that absolutely true.  In fact, the Reader is even better in bright sunlight than paper because you don’t get the glare.  On the other hand, low light is an issue with the 505 model.  There is no backlight, so when the light level fades, so does your ability to read the screen.  From what I understand, you can purchase lights specifically for reading the 505 in lower light, but I haven’t looked into that option.

The buttons are large and sensitive enough to make them easy to push, but not so sensitive that you’ve jetted off 14 pages past where you wanted to be.  That said, there is a slight delay when you press on the >

< keys to “turn the page”. This delay can sometimes be several seconds. Even when it’s not that long, the delay while you wait for the page to load is slightly annoying. When it takes more than the usual one or two seconds, though, you might feel the urge (as when waiting for an elevator) to push the button again. Don’t, unless you really did want to skip the next page or two (or

*ahem* four).

Easy-peasy…mostly

I had drama before I ever received my Reader.  The U.S.P.S lost my Reader and then swore that they had delivered it.  After a couple of frantic emails to SBSarah (and one semi-frantic phone call) and two very unhappy phone calls with the local post office, the package that they’d sworn that they already delivered showed up on my doorstep.  At that point, there was very little that could have happened with the Reader itself that could have freaked me out nearly as much, short of actually exploding.  I didn’t even mutter much about the directions that fold out like some sort of road map.

I have no doubt that some cost analyst somewhere convinced the Powers-That-Be that they could save so many cents per unit by going with this cumbersome, awkward, doesn’t-really-fit-anywhere-next-to-my-computer-and-wants-to-slide-into-the-floor version of the directions.  Clue, PTB, your customers don’t like fighting road maps.  This, I suspect, is why someone invented little boxes that sit on your dashboard and tell you which direction to turn—just so they never have to figure out how to re-fold that stupid map ever again.  I certainly don’t want to try to figure out what I’m doing with a brand-new piece of electronic wonder while simultaneously attempting to keep the cat from lying on your silly directions that have slid off my lap and into the floor yet again.  (The cat, however, gives a big “claws up!” for the highly entertaining floaty thing that keeps falling into the floor.)  So, PTB, please invest the extra pennies to provide a small instruction booklet with the proper layout.

Aside from the aforementioned directions, the package also came with a USB cord to hook the Reader to the computer and a software disc for the Sony eBook Library.  We purchased this computer fairly recently and I haven’t had to hook anything up to it until this.  This meant that I had more trouble actually locating the USB ports than connecting the Reader itself.  As for the software disc, by the time that I’d received my Reader, another tester had already experienced the fun that can be had when Sony meets Vista.  After reading of her exploits in Tech Support Hell, I already knew that I should keep that disc far away from my as-yet-unspoiled Vista 64 OS.  Instead, I simply downloaded the correct software straight from the Sony website and didn’t have single problem with setting up my Library. 

The Sony bookstore is fairly easy to navigate if you are searching by title or author.  However, many of us have discovered that if you are looking for a specific publisher (ie, Harlequin), it gets a little more difficult.  Still, I was able to go through that $25 Harlequin gift certificate in short order.  One quick note about the bookstore:  There are a good number of free books there, both fiction and nonfiction.  I have picked up at least a dozen titles at no cost.  There are also many classic titles for as low as $.99.  Considering that you don’t have to pay anything to set up an account and that you can read these books on your computer if you don’t have a Reader, it is well worth your time – as long as you live in the U.S. or Canada – to check it out.  (Per the website, use of eBook Store is limited to U.S. and Canadian residents and certain titles may not be available for download based on place of residence.)  As I was saying, I spent my $25 gift certificate fairly quickly, and the instructions were very clear about how to move the books from your Library to your Reader.  Nice and easy.  Sort of.  I tried at least twice to figure out why it was not working before going back to the directions.  In my defense, it took several moments to translate “Follow the instructions in the store to authorize the Reader and your computer” (instruction pamphlet) to “sign into your account and figure out where the link is to authorize your Reader on your own and, then, when you get the warning that it is still authorized to someone else, click deauthorize to authorize it for yourself”.  Until I figured that out, it wouldn’t let me move the books from my library to my Reader.

This leads me to two things that I think should be more clearly spelled out.  Okay, three, if you count the business about how to authorize your Reader.  First, I realize that it’s probably not mentioned because it only comes up if you have a refurbished model, but the company should either take the time to deauthorize the units from their original owner or throw in a line somewhere about how, if you have a refurbished model, you might get a warning about deauthorizing the device from someone else when you attempt to authorize it to yourself.  While I did figure it out on my own, it was not clearly indicated why I was getting that rather sternly worded warning and I can see someone who isn’t particularly familiar with electronic devices getting a little anxious about clicking “deauthorize” and possibly even calling tech support over it.  Second, I feel a little stupid admitting this, especially since I breezed through all the set up and stuff, but it took me days to figure out how to scroll through multiple titles in the same book—and that was only after asking the list.  For example, I have a book, Anne Stuart’s Out-of-Print Gems, and I wanted to go to the next book.  The table of contents doesn’t list page numbers for each of the titles, so I couldn’t just put the page number in and get to it directly.  I tried pressing the keys next to the titles, but that didn’t work.  I thought I was stuck with scrolling through, page by page, with the > key, until someone told me that I could use the arrow keys (the round key on the bottom right) to scroll through the titles on the Table of Contents page and then press “enter” (the center circle in the arrow key) to select it.  That may be something that is obvious to everyone else, but that information is not in the User Guide that is included in the Reader’s content.  I checked.  Speaking of the User Guide, there is a

lot

of information there on a great many topics.  Unfortunately, it seemed like a lot of jargon and it didn’t strike me as particularly easy to use and/or understand.  It probably says more about me than the Guide, but I often found my eyes glazing over as I looked through it.  However, these are rather minor issues.  Overall, I have found that the Sony Reader itself is very easy to set up and use – easier than many electronic devices, at any rate. 

Pros vs Cons

There are a great many pros to owning a digital reader.  The Sony Reader holds about 160 books, which quite honestly, doesn’t seem like a lot to me.  However, if you store titles on the optional memory cards, you have the ability to own an unlimited amount of books in a very small amount of space.  For anyone that lives in a dorm or tiny apartment or moves around a lot, this is an obvious plus.  Another benefit is that it is much easier to read while eating because I can lay it on the table next to me and I don’t have to prop it open with anything.  This is also good when I’m just sitting with it in my lap because I have some arthritis in my hands and I appreciate that I don’t have to hold it open in one hand like I would a paperback.  Would I like to own this forever and ever?  I certainly would, especially next year when we go on a two-week vacation.  Normally, I’d have to toss at least five or six books into the suitcase if I planned to be gone for so long.  With a Reader, that wouldn’t even be an issue.

That said, there are a couple of downsides to a digital reader and they aren’t limited to Sony’s version.  The biggest is the amazing amount of money that it costs, both initially and in the feeding of it.  I received this fabulous gadget fully loaded.  It had a wonderful, soft, brown, leather cover and a memory card, which the website calls “optional”.  If I bought those from the Sony website, I’d pay $39.99 for the cover and I’m not sure how much for the memory card but the only one I can find on the site that looks similar is $99.99.  The Reader itself is $279.99.  If I want a service plan, my choices are $49.99 for the 2-year service agreement, $54.99 for 2 years plus accidental damage from handling, and $89.99 for 3 years with accidental damage.  If I want an adapter so that I can plug it into the wall, it’s $29.99.  If I want a book cover with a light to solve the “no backlight” problem, it will cost me $69.99.  (SBSarah says that makes them too heavy, though, and you can get an inexpensive clip on light.)  Obviously, you don’t have to get all the bells and whistles.  For that matter, you can find the Reader cheaper in other places.  Amazon is offering the same model for $268.00.  Any way you cut it, however, we are talking about a considerable outlay before you even begin to put books on it.

As I mentioned earlier, you can find a good number of free books at the Sony eBook Store.  You can find classics for all but free.  Category books range from $1.99 to $4.99 for a single title, with most of them falling at the $4.99 end of the spectrum.  You can get bundles of category titles, usually 3 books, for $8.99 or so.  If you want a new regular title, like Dahl’s Start Me Up, you pay about what you would pay for a regular paperback, $6.48.  For an older title, maybe $5.98 or so.  Nora Robert’s newest book, Black Hills, is going for $11.99.  One book that I was interested in about Dillinger is $13.45.  Even before the last couple of days, when it became very apparent that we don’t own the ebooks we buy, just the right to read them, I found those prices pretty steep.  Okay, so I’m not going to get much better than $6.48 for a new paperback.  For the older books, however, I can – and usually do – buy them used and save a great deal of money that way.  Now that we’ve seen that the provider can and will swoop in and take back books without anyone’s prior knowledge, I’m even more leery about paying hardcopy prices for digital content. 

Additionally, I’m not a Gotta-Have-That-Gadget kind of girl.  I don’t have an IPod or MP3 player.  I need a new digital camera because I lost the memory card for the other one over two years ago and the camera is so old, you can’t get the memory cards for it anymore.  I don’t own a laptop or a camcorder.  I don’t even currently have a cell phone because I never used it so it seemed a pointless expense.  That said, even with all of the expense involved, if I had a lifestyle or a job that required a lot of traveling or even much commuting, I’d buy a Reader.  Unfortunately, I don’t travel much and my commute to work is only about a half-hour each way, so it’s hard to justify indulging myself to that extent.  (Of course, I may change my tune about “indulgences” after I’ve owned it and loved it and fed it new books for a couple of months.)  On the other hand, I’d love to give one of these to the youngest, who is in the Navy.  He’s been stationed in Iraq for nearly a year and only has a very limited amount of space for books.  For that matter, he doesn’t have a lot of space for books in his barracks back in California, either.  So, while a Sony Reader may be something I’d love but might not buy for myself at this time, it would definitely be something I’d get for him.

Final Grade

Overall, it’s a great device and I’d highly recommend it.  For appearance, style, readability (especially in direct sunlight) and ease of use:

A-

(1/2 pt off because of the lack of backlight)

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    DS says:

    I think that a lot of the accessories or their equivalent are available elsewhere, cheaper.  Memory cards can be had dirt cheap right now from Amazon or Buy.com—I don’t recommend eBay because I’ve seen a lot of counterfeits on there (and people complaining about having bought counterfeits).

    I don’t know of any standard size memory card that is unavailable anymore so you should be able to find one for you digital camera also—but the new digital video cameras are so much fun you want to check out them out any way.  The software will let you capture stills from the video.

  2. 2
    HeatherK says:

    I have lots of memory cards that were bought cheap at Wal-mart or through online sites. I find it easier and faster with the reader to use smaller cards. I keep the cards labeled so I have an idea of what’s on each one, say paranormal or scifi or contemporary. You can get a clip on light for as little as $1, and since I have a PSP, I already had 2 chargers for the Sony in the house. Mine came with a cover, and I just took some fabric and sewed it together to make a slip on cover to make it look nicer. I also sewed “pockets” into the cover to keep my memory cards in. I slip mine into my purse and take it everywhere with me, because you just never know when you’ll have a chance to read for a few minutes here and there while out.

  3. 3
    MamaNice says:

    I too, am still hesitant based on e-book prices…I love scoring books super-cheap at garage sales; don’t see much of that happening with e-books.

    Your test reader came with an sd card already? Was it loaded with books? Also, the thing with the de-authorization of the device was weird…with your post office issues, maybe your mailman “borrowed” it for a few days to test it out first.

    E-book readers for soldiers…sounds like a great charity idea! We load up readers with e-books and ship ‘em over.
    Do they have camo-colored skins?

  4. 4
    Trumystique says:

    Even before the last couple of days, when it became very apparent that we don’t own the ebooks we buy, just the right to read them, I found those prices pretty steep.

    Actually as far as we know it this seems to be more of a Kindle problem. You are correct though that you own the ebook and can use it in a proprietary DRM format as long as the format exists. All the Sony ebooks I buy I own. But what good does owning it do me if the ebook Reader becomes obsolete? When I buy a paperback I own it and it doesnt matter if the bookstore   I bought it from or the publisher that printed it goes out of business- sames goes for a VHS tape, CD or DVD.

    This is not the same thing with DRM formats though. And this is because there is no dominant ebook format yet. Once there is it will feel much more comfortable buying ebooks. In the meanwhile I buy books DRM free, in multiformat or even as PDFs till its all sorted out. And I borrow books from the e-catalog at my library . Also so that I can start buying more ebooks for my 505 I’ll need to figure out how to strip DRM.

  5. 5
    Ros says:

    I tried a Sony Reader in a bookshop display a few weeks ago and was horrified by the length of time to turn a page.  That would seriously irritate me, to the point of making the whole device unusable.

  6. 6
    liz m says:

    The page turn is something others have said – I think it would be interesting to time people using the 505 and turning a page physically. To me, it takes about the same time and doesn’t bother me. I’m not saying this isn’t a valid complaint/concern/whatever, I’m just interested if this is a static time or a perception of time. (Hm, that was badly worded, awkward!)

  7. 7
    senetra says:

    Re the page turn: I tried the Sony Reader at Target, and the page turns were very slow.  When I got my own Reader,  I did notice it at first, but not anymore. I also think it may have been due to some types of pdf files, because depending on the book I was reading, it was very noticeable.

  8. 8

    Re: books
    You can get a lot of public domain books entirely free at Project Gutenburg.  Some websites, like Tor, occasionally offer free books as well.  Of the 180 books on my reader, I think I’ve paid for five of them. The rest are public domain, promotional freebies or trib copies.

    As a writer, I find i very useful for giving readings. I just bookmark the page and make sure my battery is charged. No printing. No shuffling papers.

    square 66 for having The Wind in the Willows and Captain Blood on my reader

  9. 9
    Deborah says:

    I had all but given up reading, because paper books irritated my eyes so much. And I used to have books everywhere.

    Have found that with the eReader I can read for hours with no eye problems. And this makes me very happy, that I can read to my heart’s content.

    I was never much of a book buyer from retail outlets and, true to form, I have filled my eReader with free downloads (and a few paid for books).

    Re: the page turning. I press the button while I am near the bottom of a page (3-4 sentences), and by the time I am through, the page has turned.

    Will I stop going to library books sales looking for books? No. Because it is not an either-or situation. You can own an eReader and still read paper!

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