Ars Technica takes a detailed look at the latest iteration of Sony’s dedicated ebook reader, the PRS-505.
Their bottom line: “… if the Reader sounds like the sort of gadget you can’t live without and you can live with its quirks, it’s a superbly built device with a screen that will blow you away. It comes highly recommended, but only to those certain they have a use for it.”
This is largely in line with my own continuing experience with the earlier PRS-500 model. I still gawk at the e-ink screen with wonder, though I am at times frustrated by the device’s limitations. For example, during a trip my wife and I took to Las Vegas last weekend, I tried to use the Sony as a reference tool to access an ebook version of the excellent Avant-Guide Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the Reader’s slow paging and navigation made it a poor choice for non-linear, jump-around-and-find-stuff reading. For reading fiction and other works read in a linear fashion, however, I agree with Ars Technica’s assessment — the Sony Reader “…is a beautiful device that excels at what it was designed to do: display e-books.”
Still photos can give some sense of the iPhone/ebook experience, but nothing can capture it quite so well as video.
As you watch the demo, note that the text on the iPhone is much sharper and clearer than it appears here because quality is lost in the translation to web video.
The most impressive thing for me (once I got past the iPhone’s glorious user interface) is the way it can display the book in its complete, uncompromised form. Cover art, interior illustrations, typography and layout are all preserved, creating a very different experience than ebooks displayed on other devices of this size. More typically on small handhelds, book content is stripped down to text with minimal formatting and no graphics. The aesthetics — and the readability-enhancing cues embedded in them — are lost. On the iPhone, surprisingly little is lost and no conversion of the PDF file is required.
One workaround required to get past the iPhone’s current file-handling limitations was to process the PDF file in Filemark Maker, a free app that allows you to store the PDF file as a Safari-viewable bookmarked file on the iPhone. This utility worked very well for the smaller PDFs that I tried (i.e., file sizes less than one meg). A larger 5 meg file caused Safari to crash.
These shortcomings — an inability to transfer and handle files, and the lack of a proper PDF reader with robust navigation and bookmarking capabilities — indicate that the iPhone isn’t quite ready for ebooks today. Yet the important pieces are all there. We’re only a software update or two away from having a uniquely competent new breed of ebook reader, one which will change the face of the book-reading world.