Sep 292008

Guess what, I’ve got another gadget! I decided to take the splash and get one of the new Sony ebook readers, the PRS-505. I’d heard a lot about the e-ink displays, but never seen one in real life.

Well, so far I’m impressed. The resolution is fantastic, very readable in just about any light, infact it is pretty much just like reading a real book. Even better, it plays very well with Linux due to the fact that the reader itself, along with any memory cards inserted, act as a simple usb mass storage device. Plugging the reader into my laptop simply opens up the drives in seperate windows meaning I can just drag and drop any supported document. Of course, some formats work better than others. TXT and RTF files are the simplest format and work well, tho there are no chapters or any other fancy information. PDFs are more or less usable, tho they usually need to be zoomed in which ruins the layout. The best format that I’ve found so far is LRF which is Sony’s binary format for the PRS-500 and PRS-505.


This is all well and good, but there is a better way to move the files over, and also convert different formats. Calibre is a free python program which acts as conversion software, ebook library, and will also copy the files to your reader. Installation under Ubuntu is extremely straight forward, just run the following:

 sudo apt-get install  python-setuptools python-imaging  libqt4-core libqt4-gui \
                      python-qt4 python-mechanize imagemagick \
                      xdg-utils python-dbus python-lxml python-beautifulsoup \
sudo easy_install -U calibre
sudo calibre_postinstall

Instructions for installing on other systems (including Windows and OS X) can be found on the Calibre download page.

The library functionality lets you add any ebooks that you have and search for cover images, the ISBN, publisher and sometimes a brief synopsis. The conversion software will allow you to convert any type of supported file into either EPUB or LFS, even automatically detecting chapters in TXT and RTF files. Finally, once you’ve added your books and converted them to your prefered format, simply plug your reader in and click the copy button. Once the files have been copied over you can unmount the filesystems and read the books on the reader!

Conversion settings that I recommend are to convert all files to LFS format with 8pt fonts and 2pt spacing which is fine for me, but can be zoomed in if you want bigger print. Also, I like to insert a blank line between each paragraph to make the text more presentable. Lastly, I make sure that the chapter detection inserts any chapters found into the table of contents. So far I’ve found that these settings work with just about all my files. I’ve still to mess around properly with PDF files to find the best results for these.

Before converting any files, make sure that you have filled in as much of the information as possible for the book as some of this information will be included in the converted output making organisation a lot easier on the reader, especially if you fill in the series information to group books together.

All in all I’m glad I bought the reader. I think it will come in very useful, tho’ there are a few things that I hope will be improved on in future versions. One of which is a larger screen. The reader is about the same size as a standard paperback, which is fine, but the screen doesn’t fill the whole device. Sony could easily do away with the big round buttons on the bottom edge and make the screen a fair bit bigger which would improve the reading of PDF files no end. I’d also like to see slightly better contrast on the screen to make it more book like. As it is the background is grey and the black isn’t exactly a deep black so it can look a little washed out. I may be nit picking, but isn’t that what the net is for?! Of course the benefits definitely outweigh these couple of problems. Battery life so far seems phenominal, with the battery meter not moving off full charge yet! Supposedly I should be able to do about 6800 page turnsper charge, seeing as the e-ink technology only uses power when actually changing the screen. So far I’ve read a couple of books on it and not really noticed that I was reading a screen rather than a standard book, only noticing when my hand slipped and the cover closed without losing my place!

Well, hopefully I’ll get PDF files playing happily soon and then it will be pretty much perfect. In the meantime, it came with 100 free books, and I’ve been scowering project Gutenberg to find some books to read. Should be enough to keep me going!