November 8, 2008

Sony PRS-500 eBook Review - Part 1

Original Post from June 5th 2007.

This is the first installment of my extensive review of the Sony eBook (a.k.a. PRS-500) covering mainly the Industrial design and visible features, in later installments I will cover acquiring content and finally the reading experience of a bought book.

The SONY eReader comes in a neat, thin, leather-like cover.
It’s quite small (external dimensions are 127mm wide, 179mm tall and about 15mm thick), which makes it highly portable. It will actually fit in the back pocket of my jeans and also in the outside pocket of a jacket, or inside pocket or into a smallish ladies purse. That makes it very practical for reading during travel, etc. After a few weeks of use I would say this is a very good external size for the the device.

Overall Sony seems to have gone for (and achieved in my opinion) the smart “executive gadget” look. It has a relatively simple, clean design, with a nice dark blue finish and chrome buttons. It's smooth and solid, making it one of those “nice to hold” objects. There are aspects of the design (button design and placement) and usability that I think don’t live up to the level of the overall design, and I will comment on those.

Since starting to use eReaders with the iRex I have been annoyed by the amount of real estate taken up by non-screen space, leading to a small reading area. This is one of my gripes I want fixed in future eReaders.

So, I took out my ruler and did some measurements on the Sony eBook with results that surprised even me!
Mm x mm Area (mm^2) % of total size
External Size with Covers 127x179 22375 100%
Device Size 124x176 21824 97%
Screen Size 91x123 11193 50%
Area used for text of my book 73x97 7081 32%
(not including margins but including the header/footer)

So, of all that size only 32% of it is dedicated to showing me what I really want to read!

Arguably margins should be included, as they serve a function. But even if 100% of the screen were used that would still only be 50% of the total frontal area of the device. If these numbers can be improved then without making the *device* bigger, then readability can be improved A LOT!

I'll be watching this "display area / total area" ratio closely as a "visual efficiency metric" for future eReaders as they appear. 200% is my personal goal...

Just imagine a device with same external dimensions, that when opened has a folding screen that opens on both sides, leading to a visual area twice the size of the device frontal area, or over four times the screen real-estate of the Sony reader, but in the same sized package that still fits in my pocket.

On the left edge near the spine there are page left, page right and "size" buttons.
The “size” button that cycles displayed text through three sizes. All font sizes are too big for my liking and I would appreciate a smaller font that enabled more text on each page.

The number of pages in an eBook is not really an issue as book doesn’t get thicker or heavier with more pages, although Anthony does point out that the page-turning act can tend to break-up reading and with this smaller page size you turn pages more often.

Larger font sizes are probably good for older people or with poorer eyesight.

Bottom left there is another big multi-purpose button for page-left and page right.
A "mark" button to make the place in a book.

Bottom right the menu joystick and button.

Below the screen there is a line of 10 numbered slim buttons.

All of these I will talk about more during the next post.

Edge keys
The power-key is too well hidden, a little like the iRex. This time it's on the left edge of the device, against the inside “spine” of the book. This is where the volume (it can play sound/music files too) and Memory Card slots are also hidden. I would prefer all of those on the opposite right edge.

Are they all worried about it powering-on in your bag or while travelling?
Please come up with a different solution than hiding the key!


The bottom of the device has a place to tie a lanyard, a mini-USB connector for content loading and charging, a doc connector, a D.C. In power-supply socket (5.2V) and an earphone plug.
I like the fact it's a mini-B type USB connector, and not the A-type of the iRex. This is smalelr and more prevalent amongst digital cameras, game devices and other portable devices I might carry.
The DC power-in looks very similar to the one on my Sony PSP, which I think is 5.0V. It would have been a nice touch to make them compatible - to be tested!

I am confused by the branding/naming of this device. I has on it in a number of places a kind of “Alpha” or maybe it's a “cursive Q” symbol. This is not explained or referred to anywhere.
Is it the “Q” device?
In other places it seems to be the “Alpha Reader” or “Q Reader”.
But in theory it’s the “PRS”, or “Personal Reading System”.
"SONY" alone appears in a few places. Notable on the BACK cover, not the front cover.

This makes me think of Japanese books that open at the back, but the display is still on the right!

No wonder everyone ends up referring to it as the “Sony eBook”

In short: "Sony, get your branding act together!"

Instant on and off! (almost).
Instant-off is reasonably easy to give the appearance of doing (although iRex and others don’t even try).
Instant-on is harder, and Sony achieves it. Press the button and in less than a second you are reading where you left off last time.
This can change your reading behavior significantly and means you pick it up and put it down for short reads much easier and more often, thus reading more.
Although in theory it doesn’t use power when displaying the page I still haven’t got in to the habit of leaving the device powered on during reading pauses.

Apart from hiding the text, it makes you think: "Why have a power button at all?".

Unlike the iRex it DOES USB charge, which is a major saving on carrying a power-supply when traveling. USB IS the new DC power-supply standard!
(Note: Later tests revealed some issues in the USB charging in the PRS-500, so it wasn't perfect)

Due to the large number of pages that can be read on a charge, I suspect that if you use USB to transfer content - that the very act of connecting USB while you transfer content will charge the device long enough to keep you going to read it. This would take me into the domain of my iPod where I essentially never charge it – that is: I never connect it for the sole purpose of charging it and so the charging “task” essentially disappears

Bottom-Line: Sony have done a VERY GOOD JOB on power management.

Features Missing:

  • Wifi? Some method to acquire content directly, without a PC
  • Pen/stylus input

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

there is always something interesting on this blog