back to article Group Test: electronic book readers

As Sony's decision to finally release its PRS-505 Reader in the UK and its associated tie-up with Waterstones has served to raise the consumer profile of the ebook reader as a breed - and with Christmas thundering towards us - we thought we'd see how the Sony stacks up against the competition. Sony PRS-505 Reader Sony's PRS- …


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  1. Trygve Henriksen

    The Sony works?

    I REALLY hope it works better than the old 500 model...

    When listing .PDFs, it ONLY uses the title as found in the document, not the filename, and frankly when you have heaps of files listed as 'chapter 1'(or variations of that), 'Index' or 'Preface', it doesn't make for much user friendliness....

    And displaying .PDFs?

    Unless they've been created for A5, they're just not readable.

    But maybe the 505 is better?

    Mine's the one with a Psion netBook(with PDF+ installed. At least THAT program has a zoom function)

  2. Iain

    Good, but no HHGTTG

    Lack of calming legend on cover.

    Still looks like it would snap and/or shatter if thrown in the bottom of a backpack and carried across Peru. Probably also susceptible to damp.

    I see these products as more use to someone who wishes to carry a large number of reference works around, an academic or lawyer for example, rather than someone reading fiction for pleasure. I don't usually read more than one book for pleasure at once, and that book would be more usefully rugged than an e-reader. Not such a great loss if forgotten on a train.

    Still, once price drops and useability rises we are close to the ideal(?) of the classic Star Trek 'pad'.

  3. John Savard


    Given that I don't know whether a book I might wish to purchase would be available in Mobipocket format or EPUB format, it would seem that the BeBook, which is the only one in the review to support both, would be the only choice. So it's a pity it didn't do well in the review.

    Of course, buying digital books tied to one expensive device at hardcover prices is not terribly appealing; I wait to buy books in paperback, or buy them second-hand. Perhaps eventually publishers will drop the price of an E-Book to paperback levels when the paperback comes out; perhaps we will eventually run out of trees; or perhaps they will make an E-Book reader that you can also use as a full-fledged laptop computer, if one with a display too slow for gaming, or at least as an MP3 player also.

    In fact, those cheap portable DVD viewers have enough electronics in them to be laptop computers, except for the lack of a keyboard. Maybe someday people will make neat portable gadgets that are useful as well as cool.

  4. Anonymous John

    I've recently bought the Cybook.

    But only because it supports Mobipocket. I already had a load of books in that format.

    If my only consideration had been hardware, I would have gone fr the Sony.

  5. Rafael


    "Unless they've been created for A5, they're just not readable." -- I've noticed that this review (and others) does not explain well the PDF conversion/display issue, i.e. can I simply get a bunch of non-DRM, free PDFs and put them on these devices?

    I have a whole bunch of papers, thesis and other boring^H^H academic PDFs I'd like to be able to read in a e-reader. Tried that once with Adobe Palm Reader and the Palm TX and it was unbearable. I'd like to know which of those readers can display a PDF without reformatting it (a la Palm Reader) and removing/mutilating all graphics.

    Did I miss this information?

  6. Ian


    The screen used in the bebook is identical to that of the sony - and unlike the sony (I think), you can can change the font used on the bebook. It's also an open device, look at the openinkpot project for example.

    I've made a video review of the BeBook, which you can see here.

    For IT geeks, I honestly think the BeBook is the best choice.

  7. moylan


    tried the original sony reader. it was terrible! half the pdfs i tried failed to display.

    these days i use a nokia e71 and qreader for reading txt and pdb files. i download the books from irc. only of books i have in paper form. very handy when i was in hospital for a few weeks this year as i had over 100 books on the device.

    for handling pdfs i use a asus 701 which does the job nicely. it needs a screen that can display at least the width of the document and the 7 inch asus is just up to the job,

  8. Anonymous Coward

    re: The Sony works?

    Clearly by trying to view PDF's on a ebook reader, you are failing to miss the point. Use proper ebook files, and lo anf behold it works properly.

    Like the other clueless idiots that tink a TFT is the same as e-ink... A few hours looking at a TFT should persuade you otherwise

  9. John Ridley
    Thumb Up

    PDFs on the Sony - UPDATE your FIRMWARE

    Users of Sony PRS readers should be aware that Sony recently released a firmware update that allows text of PDF files to reflow. With this one firmware release, PDFs on the Sony went from almost useless to quite usable.

    I do agree that PDF is a LOUSY ebook format, but it's what's available much of the time.

    It also adds support for the EPUB format, which I don't use but more supported files are always good.

    If you haven't updated your firmware, do it now.

  10. Arthur Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    I've had an iLiad for a couple of months and use it for reading PDF copies of academic papers, free online PDF copies of text books, etc, so seem to have the same sort of use as you want. I find the average paper formatted for A4/US letter quite readable on the iLiad, especially if slightly resized to strip off all the margins. The screen is roughly A6 size, so font sizes are effectively halved with an A4 original. Because it's a reflective screen lighting is important (this applies to all E-Ink displays). Reading in broad daylight is no problem even with small fonts. Reading in bed with a dim light so as to not wake up the other half can be problematical if the original font was 11 point or less. Most books are smaller than A4 so are no problem, especially if you lose the margins first. This is something you only have to do once, and the iLiad remembers the setting for subsequent pages. If my current one broke, I'd definitely buy another. My only complaint is that the battery life is still relatively short (12-5 hours solid use in my experience so you have to recharge after a full day's use), but as it's actually a Linux box under the hood (I have the shell extension installed, so can run pretty much any software I want) it's a big step in the right direction.

  11. Trygve Henriksen

    To d@mn moronic AC...

    I don't read novels on the reader, or my PC for that. I prefer printed matter.

    But I have A LOT of reference files(IC datasheets, programming guides, OS references, and so on... Not all are about computers, though... ) all in .PDF format.

    When a device is advertised as being capable of displaying such files, then it should be possible to read them!

    As for 'conversion', the software for the machine is a 'drag'n drop' file manager.

    A rather dull and unintelligent one, too.

    Even Psion's PsiWin software was better integrated into the OS on the PC.

    I could rip the text from the .PDFs and save it as .TXT-files, but what about graphs and pictures?

  12. blackworx
    Thumb Down

    BeBook vs Sony

    I think you're being quite unfair to the BeBook. It's clearly the geek's choice, plus Endless Ideas are actually responsive to feature/fix requests. Try getting anything out of the Sony behemoth.

    I couldn't disagree more on the usability thing too. The Sony takes a bit of figuring out for basic navigation, whereas the BeBook's numbered-options-matching-numbered-buttons system is as simple as it gets without a touch screen. Ok, the Sony ain't *difficult* to use, but there's no way it's better than the BeBook in this regard.

    I honestly thought the BeBook was marginally quicker to navigate around, but then I dunno - maybe the Sony I tried had a dud battery or something. Not that you'd be able to do much about that with the "EDITOR'S CHOICE" Sony though - 'cos it's a sealed unit unlike - you guessed it - the BeBook, which uses a removable mobile phone battery.

    The BeBook also looks nicer, but then I suppose that's just down to taste. To my eyes/fingers the Sony looks and feels plasticky.

  13. Karl Lattimer

    Sony PRS

    I had a PRS-505, within 4 days, without being touched it was broken. It made absolutely no sense, sitting there in the protective cover, working fine one minute, then the screen was garbage the next. The durability of these devices is more important to me than the looks.

    If it can't last 4 days in my living room it won't last going with me around the world.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sony PRS-505

    Well I have one for a couple of weeks and it works fine. Read 2-3 books a week, on the tube, in the bed, in the coffee shop etc. etc.

  15. Steven Knox

    re: re: The Sony works?

    "Clearly by trying to view PDF's on a ebook reader, [Trygve is] failing to miss the point. "

    Absolutely true. How dare he realize that a portable ebook reader with built-in and advertised PDF support might be used to view PDFs! Like you, he should miss the point entirely and not use any additional features on any product he buys!

  16. Breandan Goodall

    #White Elephants on Parade#

    Not purchased, but did get to see a demo unit for the Sony device in my local Whatarebooks and I was incredibly unimpressed with the quality of screen, which I think you can even tell from the pictures in the article. The contrast was bad, but having to put up with the far too obvious few millimeters of glass/plastic reminded me unfavorably of the old gamewatch handhelds. Other than the screen the Sony device does edge ahead in looks, but that's like saying Miss [insert Northern town name here] edged out her rivals.

    Sorry for the mini-rant, but I'm more than a little bored with reviews covering the ebook devices and giving relative scores among devices. Next round-up I'd like to see how each device stacks up against the usability of the common book.

    As much as anyone I'd love a great eBook device (and as Ian suggests "Don't Panic" on the cover would be nice), but manufacturers should try and improve on the original model. How about a built in dictionary/reference to allow the reader to improve their vocab and understanding while they read?

    Apologies again. Rant over. I'll get me usual of the hook...

  17. Trygve Henriksen

    @John Ridley

    Thanks for the tip about firmware update.

    Unfortunately, it was only for the 505, not the 500.

    So the 500 still can't display .PDFs properly.

  18. Dai Kiwi

    Smartphones & PDAs

    In anticipation of the next article, I will say that the two most frequently used pieces of software on my trusty ipaq rz1710 are μ-book & Tomeraider. The former for reading books & the latter for using the 1.1GB offline version of wikipedia. μ-book is shareware now, but the older 0.8 free version which I've been using for several years is still floating about. A nice feature of the program is that it will read txt/rtf/htm/doc/jpg/bmp files from inside a zip file. Quite handy. Foxit's pdf reader for Windows Mobile works well too.

  19. Dai Kiwi


    That should have read TomeReader. Doh!

  20. Mr C
    Thumb Up

    happy with my prs505

    I have had a prs505 for almost a year now

    on average i read 3 hours daily

    I read all kinds of formats on it, most books are in PDF, others are other formats, but they all show absolutely fine (with latest firmware)

    My reader has seen all corners of the world, night or day, inside or outside, hot and cold, even at the beach 3 feet from the water with kids running about - its very sturdy and reliable.

    The battery doesn't seem to be suffering at all.

    I love how it takes 2 cards, so thats a combined grand total of 16Gb of storagespace.

    On occasions I've actually used my player as storage device as well, imagine that.

    I have nothing but good things to say about it.

    Unfortunately i had to get my player from the US, it took them WAAAAY to long to release them in the UK, and not in the rest of europe for that matter.

  21. paul clinch

    Nokia 770

    has such a high resolution screen, it can be used as an ideal e-book reader. The free FBreader happily reads text files zipped.

    It also suffers from PDF fixed page size format, since it's physically a small screen.

  22. Roger Moore


    You comments on Stanza are not quite correct. You can download your own content to the iPod touch or iPhone. You have to run the desktop Stanza app on your Mac and then enable sharing. The iPod app can then see the books it has loaded and download them.

    Since the desktop app supports LIT, EPub, PDF, plain text and a whole load of other formats it is actually very good at converting files to be read on the iPod...although I'll accept that it is not particularly convenient or intuitive.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    "three boxes any reader needs ..."

    I've been hesitating over the Sony Reader for a while. Seen it in Waterstones - yes it looks nice. However, one essential element, which the review pretty much overlooked, is content.

    Sony directs us to Waterstones' website, which deserves an award for being almost completely unusable. You can browse by publication date, price or alphabetical order but who buys books in that manner? There is a search facility, which sometimes works.

    At the moment, Waterstones site has 6240 ebooks and for my passion - Fantasy - which is lumped in with SciFi, Fantasy & Horror - 321. So for me it's a pretty box with not much to read.

    I'll probably go to WH Smith's website for the Cybook - not sexy but 1441 Fantasy titles (not mixed in with vampires and Star Trek!)

  24. Richard


    I can't help thinking this review would have been better if you'd compared the eBook readers to an actual book ...

    I don't mean that flippantly either. Are we better than books yet? I suspect not.

  25. Nigel

    @Richard - agreed

    Yes, the mashed-tree book still has a lot going for it. Higher information density on the page, easier random access, easier to scan for content or speed-read... and a good price.

    I think the E-book will have arrived when a newpaper publisher gives you one for free if you subscribe to the paper for a year, and when your e-newspaper downloads "just happen" at your railway station or hotel (or of course down your wireless net at home). Shortly afterwards they'll stop printing free papers and give away e-bookreaders.

  26. Lon Bailey

    Been using Mobipocket & Palm TX/ Nokia E51

    I use both Palm TX and Nokia E51 as my reader and mobipocket as the software. seems to work okay except for map graphics in the books.Been using the Palm for several years and E51 this year. Not great but convenient and I also do not need to carry another device around- when at home I read real books.

    Mobi has free software to allow converting word documents etc into mobi format which is convenient.

    At Baen Science Fiction library (web subscription) you can get free e-books and also buy them which are then available for downloads in various formats.

  27. Johann Tor

    e-book v. tablet

    I'm trying to decide between an iLiad (for the note-taking) and a Tablet (probably a 12' one). If it weren't for the price difference, would anyone recommend the tablet for some particular paper-reading advantage? Or is there a particular disadvantage that I should be aware of?

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Minor Detail

    It's all very well having these bespoke readers for eBooks but it's not going to work unless you can get virtually any book on the medium. I had a look at the last 10 books I bought and only one was available as an eBook.

    If there was a truely wide selection I wouldn't hesitate at getting one as I love the concept.

  29. Doug Stienstra
    Thumb Up

    BeBook, definitely

    I think the BeBook definitely should have gotten a better rating. The developers are constantly updating the firmware and seem quite responsive to what customers want. Of all the devices it surely has the most future potential, which is most important in a constantly evolving market.

    Buy it from and enter "" as your coupon code upon buying.... you'll save 35 bucks on it. Here's a little vid of the BeBook in action:


  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Is that some Manga on your e-book!?! Best be careful as far as NuGov is concerned all Manga is depraved and pornographic. Now excuse me where was my ichigo marshmellow.

  31. brownisyellow

    @Anonymous Coward

    I'm sure I recognise that manga from somewhere. Oh yes: (Don't actually buy it if you want the stuff from the headline, The Mail is being as accurate as usual)

    Also, Ichigo Marshmellow is sure to be banned soon, we can't allow depiction of underage smoking now can we?

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