There have been quite a few ebook readers on the market, but none of them have really taken off. The Sony PRS-500 is the first one I’ve seen that really looks like it has potential.
The biggest difference between this eBook reader and others that have been on the market is the “electronic paper”. Sony has created a device that doesn’t use power to display text on the screen. It only uses power when it changes the text. The screen “remembers” what was written on it.
This results in a longer battery life because it is tied to the number of screens displayed, not the amount of time the device is left on. Sony says the battery will last for about 7,500 page turns.
Another major difference is the fact that the screen isn’t lit like most PDAs. It relies on light bouncing off of the screen for display. This make reading much more natural and similar to the way you would read traditional printed media.
The screen has a slight grey tint to it with the printing in black letter–similar to the coloring on a newspaper. One side effect of the digital ink technology is slight residual images when you turn the page. It isn’t much worse than the bleed through you might get on a book printed on thin paper, but it is noticeable. The refresh rate is also noticeable. Some of the menus allow you to select items. When you move to a different menu option, the entire screen refreshes. It only takes a fraction of a second, but it is much slower than what you’d see on a computer.
When I first heard about the device I figured it would be locked into Sony only formats. However it looks like it is setup to read several different formats including, Adobe PDFs, TXT, RTF, and Microsoft Word Documents. Some of these formats require conversion using the included software. For DRM books, it uses a formate called BBeB Book also known as Marlin. It can display JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP image formats and will also play MP3 and AAC7 audio files.
The PRS comes with 64MB of internal memory and this can be expanded using a Sony memory stick with an additional 4 GB of memory. The included software appears to provide a way to subscribe to RSS feeds that can be synched.
When you pickup the device the first think you’ll notice is how thin it seems. This is very convenient for carrying around in your computer bag. I’m never able to take the books I want with me because they are all 2 to 3 inches thick. With a 4GB card, I could fit a whole lot of books in the small form factor of the PRS-500
Of course the real downside is the fact that not every book you want is going to be available on the device. With the ability to import PDFs and plain text this is less of an issue. However many of the books I’d like to use on it are part of my O’Reilly Safari subscription. I can download a chapter at a time as a PDF, but this isn’t really practical for a long book.
Project Gutenberg offers most of the classics as .TXT documents. Reading classics that are already out of copyright is probably where this devices is the most useful because it helps give you a traditional reading experience with electronic media.
The device works with books from http://ebooks.connect.com. They seem to have a decent selection of modern books although the prices seem comparable to what you’d pay for a paperback version.