E-Readers Up Close: Getting to know the Sony Readers, Part 1

By William Stanek
November 7, 2009 | Comments: 2

William Stanek here, taking an up close look at e-readers. First up, the Sony e-readers.
Sony unveiled its first reader device in January 2006 and the device became available in early 2007. The Sony Reader, like all currently available e-readers, has a black-and-white active matrix EPD display. As with other devices and E Ink itself, the Sony Reader has evolved through several generations of products. The original Sony Reader supported 4 grayscale levels and was able to switch the display at a typical rate of 1.2 seconds. This meant that the device typically displayed the next page in an e-book in 1.2 seconds.

Second generation Sony Reader models support 8 grayscale levels or higher and are able to more rapidly switch the display. The typical display switch rate is 40% faster than the original reader at .74 seconds or less. This means that the device typically displays the next page in an e-book in .74 seconds or less. Additionally, as the PRS-700 has a faster processor than the PRS-505, the PRS-700 is able to more quickly render the page for the display.

The Sony Portable Reader System (PRS) is one of the most advanced reader devices available. Others include Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook.

Sony offers several versions of this device, including the PRS-505 and the PRS-700. The PRS-505 was introduced in 2007 and the PRS-700 was introduced in 2008. Both devices have their strengths.

The PRS-505 and the PRS-700 have a 6-inch screen that provides a resolution of 600x800 pixels--or approximately 170 pixels per inch. High contrast and high resolution, with a near 180º viewing angle ensures easy reading in variety of lighting conditions. With eight levels of gray, the screen provides good display for charts, illustrations and other types of graphics. (Readers with 8 levels of gray scale are second generation. Readers with 16 levels of gray scale are third generation.)


Turning the page in an e-book takes about a second and the battery supports approximately 7,500 continuous page turns on a single charge. This number of page turns per battery charge is fairly typical for 1st and 2nd generation e-readers. Like most e-readers, the Sony readers run the Linux operating system and use a USB 2.0 interface. Using a standard USB cable, you can connect the reader to your computer and then use the Sony E-Book Library software to transfer media to the reader. You can use the reader to view files in a variety of document formats.

Document file types supported by the reader include:

BBeB This file format is used with digital books and publications. Related files end with the .lrf and .lrx file extensions and can be secured or unsecured.
EPUB This file format is used with files created for the e-publishing standard. Related files end with the .epub extension and can be secured or unsecured.
PDF This file format is used with files created for Adobe Acrobat. Related files end with the .pdf extension and can be secured or unsecured.
Text This file format is used with files containing plain text. Related files end with the .txt extension.
RTF This file format is used with rich-text formatted files. Related files end with the .rtf extension.
DOC, DOCX These file formats are used with Microsoft Word. If Microsoft Word is installed on your computer, your .doc or .docx documents are converted automatically to RTF when you transfer them to the Sony Reader using the Sony E-Book Library software.

Secured files have digital right management (DRM) applied to protect the intellectual property rights of the copyright holder. Unsecured files do not have DRM applied. The Sony Reader only supports DRM protected PDF and EPUB files if Adobe Digital Editions 1.5 or later is installed and authorized on your computer. Additionally, with the PRS-505, you must be using the latest firmware release to use all of these formats.

The Sony Reader supports display of PDF in both normal and "reflowed" modes. In the reflowed modes, the reader takes the original content and reflows it at an alternate font size of your choosing. The result is surprisingly good and most documents reflow almost perfectly. However, the more complex the content, the less satisfactory the result.

To ensure the highest quality, BBeB, PDF and EPUB should be your formats of choice whenever possible. BBeB, PDF and EPUB support font styles (bold, italics, underline, etc), advanced layout, tables, charts, graphs, illustrations, and more. The Sony Reader works well with these file formats.

RTF is a lower quality alternative for when you cannot use BBeB, PDF or EPUB but want to preserve some of the layout features of the document, such as font styles (bold, italics, underline, etc), basic layout and tables. Use the Text format to format a document as plain text and preserve only the most basic formatting elements.

So there you have it in a nutshell: the document formats supported by Sony Readers. In my next post, I'll continue digging in to the features of the Sony Readers, looking at image and audio file support.

Thank you for reading! Hope you'll take a look at my new book Windows 7: The Definitive Guide.

William R. Stanek
williamstanek at aol dot com

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I have the Sony PRS-600, a touch (plus buttons and stylus) enabled reader. I bought it specifically for secured ePUB and PDF files I borrow from my library. I also am into touch devices.

Hi Jacque,

I like the PRS-600 a lot. It's a great reader. And I love the borrow from libray feature that Sony offers. Also love the extended library of free classics.

The next reader I want to get is the PRS-900. It's going to have 3G wireless (through AT+T) in addition to USB 2.0. That way you can get content over the air where wireless is available and use USB 2.0 when not available (and otherwise when you want).

Very cool.


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