Sony eBook Portable Reader Systems

User Review and Methods Of Converting And Uploading Books

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USER REVIEW

PRS-505 Displaying Top Menu

Summary

The Sony ebook portable reader systems PRS-505 (obsolete) and Reader Touch System PRS-650 are good products for reading traditional text intensive books.  Anyone who requires color, scientific .pdf books, or likes to read comics should consider another product.

Rating

7/10
  

Strengths

A comfortably sized reader that can hold thousands of books.  The PRS-505 has very sharp image clarity while the PRS-650 has a less sharp image that suffers from reflected glare.  The reflections can be reduced to an acceptable level by tilting the viewing angle.  The Reader Touch System has extra features provided by the touch sensitive screen such as adding notes using the stylus.  The text can be enlarged to different sizes.  With a set of headphones it is possible to listen to music while reading.
Normal Hands Length View 

Horizontal Orientation

Weaknesses

It’s primary weakness is the absence of color.  It does display grayscale images, but it often has problems with sizing them.  Similarly, it does display Adobe portable document files (.pdf), but it does a poor job of zooming the images:  many pdf books display in illegible microscopic font, or must be switched from one side of a zoomed page to the other side and back again.  If you can extract the text in a .pdf document, it can be transferred into a far superior ePub format.  Images in a pdf document sized for 8.5″ x 11″ are generally too difficult to view legibly.  It is very fragile compared to a traditional paper book.  If you read in a dimly lit room, a source of light from directly behind is recommended.  Some of the optional book covers have built in lights.
Greyscale Photographic Image Displayed

Recommendation

The Sony PRS 505 Reader is a wonderful device, only if you intend to use it often for reading traditional text based books with just a few small images.

OBTAINING READING MATERIALS

The reader comes preloaded with a classic book and two sample book excerpts.  There are five commonly used sources of reading materials available:
  • The Sony bookstore http://ebookstore.sony.com/ with a median price of about $10 each
  • Free repositories of copyright expired classic books such as http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page
  • Peer To Peer internet file sharing such as http://www.vuze.com/ which often involves copyright violations
  • Free material uploaded to the internet by the author for self promotion or intentional open source content
  • Manual cut, paste and saving of long text based web articles or e-mails
It is also possible to scan a physical book, perhaps from a library, use optical character recognition and upload it into the Sony Reader, but it would be too labour intensive.

Reading Material Formats

The Sony Reader supports several formats.  The best one is ePub.  ePub may be thought of as a convenient method of storing html (web based format) and images together.  The Sony Reader can resize the text font in this format and incorporate images, but it does not zoom these images.  Some of the Project Gutenberg files use this format with images and is the preferred download format.
If the ePub format is not available for your reading material, then I recommend making the conversion manually.  Initially, I used plain .txt and .rtf formats, but the title and author had to be manually entered into the files.  The use of all ePub files will ensure that the text is presented at a legible size and the titles and authors are neatly organized.

Extracting From .pdf and .lit Files

These two file types are very common sources of books.  The .pdf format is poorly supported by the Sony Readers and the text often appears too small to read.  The .lit format is not supported by the Sony Readers and must be converted.

Adobe Portable Document Files (.pdf)

If the .pdf book was constructed from scanned images, then no improvement is possible.  First, attempt to copy the text out of Adobe Reader.  If you cannot copy the text and the pages aren’t scanned then a conversion program may work.  I recommend using “A-PDF Text Extractor” available from http://www.a-pdf.com/form-data-extractor/download.htm  A license costs US$27.00, and there is a free trial version available.  

Microsoft Reader Files (.lit)

Although it is possible to cut and paste text from single pages, a conversion program is required to extract a whole book.  I recommend ABC Amber LIT Converter available from http://www.processtext.com/abclit.html
When you run the program a window will appear.  The left side is for opening files and the right side is for saving the text in different formats.  Click on the open button (near the upper left of the window) and locate the file you want to convert.  A brief period of processing the file will occur.  Select HTML as the desired output format (default) and then click on Save as.  I recommend sending all of your converted files to the same folder.

CONVERTING TO EPUB FILES

It is necessary to use a specialized program to create epub files.  I recommend Sigil available from http://code.google.com/p/sigil/  If you use Calibre (discussed below) it can make the conversion directly.  
Start Sigil.  Go to a window with the book you have available (in html, .rtf, .doc, .txt etc) and copy the entire book (Ctrl + C).  Switch to the Sigil window and paste the book (Ctrl + V).  Save the .epub document from Sigil with a consistent name structure.  I recommend “Author Last name, Author first name  - Series - Book title”  Example:  ”Doyle, Arthur Conan – Sherlock Holmes 01 – A Study In Scarlet”

Converting To .rtf Files

If you don’t wish to use the ePub format, this section describes an alternate method using the .rtf format.

Open the text document in Microsoft Word, or a similar program.  Consider changing all of the font to something like Arial 14.  Arial 14 is the most comfortably legible font on the medium size setting of the reader.  Switching the reader to small print will give Arial 12 and switching to large print will give Arial 16.  If you don’t change the original font that the document was stored in, it may be too small to read even on the large size setting.  If you use large print books, then Arial 18 is probably the most appropriate font to save in.


Arial 18 Font With Medium Display

Save as Rich Text Format “.rtf” and close the document. 

Open it again with Microsoft Notepad, or a similar program.  If you don’t do the following actions, the title and author of the book will probably not be correctly sorted or displayed by the Sony Reader.  Using the search function (Ctrl F), find the following text “info”  You should see code something like:

{info{author Brian}{operator Brian}

When I use Microsoft Word 2007 to save as “.rtf” it places my name as the author.  You will probably have to change the title and author tags to the correct title and author’s name.  An example is:
 
{info{title Sherlock Holmes 05 – The Hound of the Baskervilles}{author Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan}
 
If the book belongs to a series, I find it very helpful to enter the position number in the series in a short version of the title.  Since the Sony Reader only displays about 30 characters of the title in the window, it’s important to choose a consistent method of abbreviations and numbering.  
Listing Of Titles
 
Use the search function find any other instances of title and author.  If you find any, delete the information contained within the curly braces, and the adjacent curly braces themselves.  If you don’t delete all of the extra title and author tags, then they will lengthen, and usually duplicate the title and author’s name on the reader’s display.
 
Save the file again.  Notepad will require that you save as type “All Files”.  Ensure you overwrote the .rtf version and didn’t create a new .txt version.

UPLOADING MEDIA TO THE SONY READER

There are three methods of uploading material into the Sony Reader:  the Sony software supplied, another software system like Calibre, or the filing system internal to your computer’s operating system.  On several occasions, I experienced synchronization stalls using the Sony eBook Library software, where it would stop in the middle of uploading a book, and remain stuck hours later.  For some time, I transfered all files directly onto a 4 gigabyte SD flash drive card inside the Sony Reader.  I now use Calibre E-book management software (discussed further below).

ORGANIZING YOUR BOOKS

Sony eBook Library Software

Using the eBook Library software product supplied with the Sony Reader, run the eBook Library.exe file to display a screen for organizing your media.  Import the files from their original location on your computer into the library in either the book, audio or picture folders.  When the Sony Reader is connected with a USB cable, it will automatically synchronize the files in the library to the Sony Reader.  When complete, eject the Sony Reader by clicking on its corresponding triangle symbol on the library screen.  When the Sony Reader no longer appears in the library screen, disconnect the USB cable.  The Sony Reader will display a pair of circular arrows for between 10 seconds for the transfer of a few files, to as long as 10 minutes for hundreds of books.  This process will take a minimum of about 2 minutes to quickly add a couple of books to the Sony Reader.


Screenshot Of eBook Library Software

Other Software 

I recommend using Calibre available from http://calibre-ebook.com/  Once you have a book saved or converted into a folder, it has to be added to the Calibre library.  Click on the Add Books button (upper left corner of window) and select the book from your source folder.  Once it appears in the library, right click on it to edit the Metadata to ensure the author and title are correctly recorded.  The Author should be entered first name, middle names, last name.  The Author Sort should start with the last name.  Use a short abbreviation for Series (too long and it will push the title off the screen in the eBook reader).  Verify the book number is correct for the series.  If you “Fetch Metadata” the cover artwork and other items may be available and improve the first page of the book in the eBook reader.  For some reason I can’t determine, an ePub created by Sigil won’t display in the Sony eBook reader until the following work around is performed:  In Calibre right click on the ePub book and select Convert to ePub.

Manual File Structures

It is also possible to use the eBook file directory system in your computer to manipulate the Sony Reader directly as a removable drive. When the file viewer in your computer (click on Start, Computer, in Windows Vista for example) is used to examine the directory structure of the Sony Reader, you should see something like:

Removable Disk (F:)     for the 192 megabytes of internal memory in the Sony Reader

database
    cache
    media
        audio
        books
        images
    sync
Digital Editions
tmp

Removable Disk (L:)      for an optional removable SD card

Sony Reader
    database
        media
            audio
            books
            images

    sync
Although adding books directly to the root menu of a removable SD card is recognized by the Sony Reader, I recommend sorting the different types of files into the audio, books and images folders indicated above.  There are other subfolders associated with the storage of bookmarks and the current page numbers.

Supported File Types

A wide variety of file types for books, music and images are supported.  Some types, such as:  .lit for books and .wav files for music are not.  .epub, .rtf, .mp3, and .jpg are fully supported and recommended.  Adobe .pdf are supported in a poor implementation. 
I attempted to use the Sony Reader for full page black and white comic books, but I was not satisfied with the results.  It was necessary to change the screen orientation, zoom in and pan across to read small text.  It will work well with simple newspaper type 3 panel comic strips.  I use a Sony PSP to read color comic books, but an Apple iPad would work better.
Black and white photographs display nicely on the greyscale screen.  Color photographs also display well, but lose their visual impact without the color.  If the order of photographs is important, then it may be necessary to change their file names to ensure alphabetic order of display.
It is possible to listen to music while reading, or even to play audio books.  However, it is important to remember to stop the music before putting away the Sony Reader, or the music will continue and drain the battery.  Headphones are not included. 



What’s In The Box?

Shipment Of Sony PRS-505 Reader Plus Optional Power Supply
When you open the package, the Sony Reader has a few sample book excerpts, audio and images already loaded.  Access to a computer to install the included CD ROM and to connect to the Sony Reader with the included USB cable is required to upload more files.  Although the internal battery does have a long page turning life, it is still necessary to charge it either through a USB cable from a computer, or an optional 5.2 VDC charger plugged into a wall socket.  A Sony PSP charger also works.


SONY READER COMPARED TO PAPER BOOKS

General

The legibility of text in good lighting is equal to or superior (when zoomed) to traditional paper books.  The ability to carry up to 16,000 books (with a 16 gigabyte SD card) in the size of a thin paperback book is incomparably more space and weight efficient.  Unless you are going on a long trip without access to computers, or you intend to load up on audio files, the internal 192 megabytes should be sufficient for most users.  The Sony Reader does require occasional access to a computer in order to upload a collection of books.  Some public library computers disable the USB ports preventing file transfers onto the Sony Reader.  It does require charging about once a week.  When inside a soft case, it appears to have only about a 60% probability of surviving a drop from hand carrying height.  It is definately more fragile than a paper book and the 20% chance of dropping it, crunching it inside luggage, or knocking it off a table each year will probably determine its service life.

Unusual Quirks

  • When the pages are “turned” there is a visually strong “flash” of the screen.  It may take a few hours or days to become used to this method of refreshing the screen before the next page becomes visible in about half a second.  A long intentional eye blink just before pressing the page turning button (or screen stroke with the Reader Touch System) may help.
  • The reader does not use the file names to extract information presented on screen. It is important to edit the embedded information in the files (title and author tags in .rtf and ID-3 title and author tags for .mp3) in order for it to display correctly in the title and author selections.  Editing these codes manually can be very tedious and time consuming for large numbers of media files.
  • When loading a book from the SD card for the first time, but not the internal memory, there is about a 15 second delay before the first page can be viewed.
  • Positioning of the screen with respect to the source of lighting, particularly at night, may have a significant effect upon the legibility.  Simply tilting the Sony Reader slightly, or moving a bed time night light behind your head will usually suffice.
  • Switching between several books that you, or others sharing the Sony Reader, may be reading takes a significant number of button presses.  The Sony Reader does remember the last page in use for each book, and manual book marks are also available, but navigating to a recent book amongst potentially hundreds of titles could take over 20 seconds.
  • When charging the Sony Reader using the USB cable, it is not available to use for reading books.  After unplugging the USB cable there may be a delay of many minutes before it is possible to read a book, while it indexes the files.

Most Appropriate Users

The Sony Reader Systems can be easily operated by anyone with reasonable literacy skills and physical mobility sufficient to press the buttons.  Young children are likely to drop or otherwise damage it, but they certainly could use it under supervision.  Older family members, or people technologically challenged, who have any difficulty with computer e-mail, are unlikely to succeed in loading books into the Sony Reader without great frustration or direct assistance.  It is a relatively simple matter for a person comfortable with computers to upload a large number of books for a relative that should last for weeks or months of reading along with the simple wall socket power supply for periodic recharging.  Teenagers used to video games, television and movies would probably not use the Sony Reader for plain text based books enough to warrant the cost.  Students who view .pdf academic texts and require the ability to annotate the material should consider borrowing the PRS-650 model from a friend and trying it for a few days before purchasing one.  The Sony Readers are best suited to people who love to read novels and non fiction text for more than 5 hours per week.