Sony launched the E-Reader in the early 90's with the Data Discman. (I distinctly recall seeing it in the store and saying "Cha-yea-right. Who's going to read books on a screen?" This is why I am not living on my own private island. That and I never met Richard Branson.) You would think Sony would own the market, but some key choices put Amazon on top. (I'll get to all that when we talk Kindle.) The Sony PRS-505 has held up as the gold standard for E-Reading. Despite being replaced by multiple updated units, the 505 still commands roughly $100 USD on ebay. Consider it the fetish piece of current e-readers. While a generation behind the most current e-ink screens the 505 offers a reading experience close to a printed mass market book. (Let's not kid ourselves, some of those paper pages are downright fuzzy). This was the first e-reader with a high enough resolution to make me consider jumping into the e-book world. From a design perspective, this is the Mercedes to other e-reader's Yugo. Brushed metal cases are well fitted with smooth and responsive buttons. The two memory card slots (I have a 4 GB SD card in mine) are nicely recessed to avoid trapping dirt. The 505 can be finicky on occasion - mine has crashed twice. Both times a hard reset brought it back, but without connectivity a hard reset means waiting until you can access your computer to reload your books.
Here is the 505's Achilles Heel - The Loading of Books. Angela James of Carina Press has been open on Twitter about the Sony Reader Store software refusing to install on her Mac. A major editor for the ebook only branch of a major publishing firm can't use your software? That's a (major) problem. When I obtained my 505 it didn't support Mac. We had some growing pains at first. After the Mac update, it was pretty smooth. I don't find the Reader Store software particularly versatile. I found myself switching to Calibre for file management. (Let's make file management it's own entry, since that is like, omgsoboringIwanttodie and all. For the purposes of these posts you have DRM free files that you maintain with Calibre. Ok? Ok.) The Sony 505 requires a USB connection and the ability to navigate (with DRM) Adobe, the Sony Reader Store, and basic file loading. This won't work for your 87 year old grandmother who pounds on the keys wondering why the laptop won't change the television channels. (Not your grandma. She could totally sudo my root tree, I give you that. Some other dude's grandma. My bad.) Without DRM, it's plugging the 505 into your computer and having Calibre feed it lots of yummy noms. Until the memory runs out.
The PRS-505 has the attention span of, well, me. You're going to need that SD card. Once you are using an SD card any category of books (ie tags you've given your files - like That Junk My Sister Reads or Books Where Everyone Dies And I Cry A Lot) that is also being used by a book in your main memory will duplicate itself. This means you will have 3 books in Super Hawt Reads About Puppies listed and right below that the same category will have 1 book listed. This is crazy annoying when your partner opens the collection labeled Here Is YOUR Stuff On MY Reader Because YOU Keep Saying You Don't Want One LOSER and complains they can't find the book they just loaded. (Pro-Tip: It's in the collection on the next page, the one with the same name.) An easy workaround is to give up the storage in the main memory and put all your books on the SD card. Do not fiddle with the SD card. If you lose it on the bus and find yourself stuck in traffic without any books in the main memory you will cry silent tears of regret. People will think you're the crazy homeless person that rides all day and drop nickels in your tote bag. It won't help.
Ok, so we've loaded our 505 via USB cable from the computer, we've checked out our library books or purchased them from a friendly e-pub seller near us, we've organized them into easy to find collections and tossed a few pictures onto the 505 for custom screen saver action. Now what? Now nothing. You're done. The battery life on this thing is insane. You can charge the PRS-505 roughly once a month (sometimes less) via the USB cable or a wall charger. Sony sold a charger for way too much money so I use a third party PSP wall charger that works perfectly. I've dropped it, set things on it, tossed it to rattle around the bottom of my purse and handed it off to my kids. The text navigation is easy to use and the learning curve ends with Get My Freaking Books To Open Class (also called DRM 101). It's workhorse nature is why the 505 lives on after it's been taken out to pasture and shot as a product line. This is a well designed reliable reader. So why did I kick it to the curb? (Ok, the tween's backpack, but still.) Stay Tuned.
Points of Awesome
- Expandable Memory
- Long Battery Life
- Intuitive Controls
- Many Public Libraries Support Format
- Beautiful Design
- Decent Page Refresh Time
Points of Bummer
- Must Be At Computer To Load
- Requires Adobe
- No WiFi / 3G Support
- Internal Memory Small
- Loading From The SD Card Slower
- Discontinued Product
Tomorrow - iPod or iPad?
Saturday - The Sony PRS-350 & T-1 Thoughts
Sunday - Kindle, All That Or What?
Monday - So What Do I Buy?
Tuesday - Why Calibre?