Why I purchased the Sony PRS-505 Reader

Although I lot of people have been lauding the Kindle, I recently decided to go with the Sony PRS-505 instead. Yes, the Kindle has built-in EVDO access, and the ability to buy books without a computer, or even browse the web; and yes, the Sony has once again demonstrated it can’t create a compelling 21st century computer application to save its life. However, it had a few things that at least for me, made a better choice for me than the Kindle:

  1. The Sony is thinner — I want to be able to slip it into my laptop case and have it take the absolute minimum amount of space.
  2. The Sony simply looks much more elegant than the Kindle; steel with a leather cover simply looks a lot better than white, cheasy plastic.
  3. I’m not interested in buying a lot of DRM’ed ebooks; ergo, I won’t be buying may books from either Sony or Amazon’s web sites. It is highly likely that within 2 years I will be buying a more advanced eBook reader, possibly one with color, and I don’t want to be locked into a single format where I have to go and repurchase all of my books just because some the latest and greatest eBook reader uses an incompatible DRM technology from whatever Sony or Amazon has used.
  4. The Sony is $100 cheaper. Given that something better will be available within 2-3 years at the very most, and possibly sooner, I’m just not interested in spending $400 on a first generation prototype.
  5. Perhaps the most important, the Sony has the really, really good open source support. Kovid Goyal’s libprs500 project supports the Sony PRS-500 and PRS-505, and has very good version tools, allowing people to convert eBooks previously stored in HTML, PDF, TXT, Microsoft Reader (.lit), IDPF/Open eBook (.epub) into Sony’s format. And with a little bit of work, it does a very, very good job with the conversion. Better yet, its ability to convert multiple HTML pages into a single eBook, with credible table of contents, means that libprs500 can pull down the New York Times, the Economist, etc., automatically format it into a single eBook which you can save onto your Sony Reader, and then read it while you are on the airplane. No muss, no fuss. I can also take various books that are available on the web as HTML and also convert them into an eBook which can be used by the Sony Reader very easily.

This last point is I believe one of the best reasons why the Sony Reader will be able to compete very successfully with the Kindle. The libprs500 software is written as a python application, and it will work on Windows, Linux, and MacOS — and its GUI user interface is far better than the truly pathetic Sony Connect software. Score one for Open Source! In my opinion, Sony should send a very nice gift certificate to Kovid as a thank you; his open source project has added an immeasurable amount of value to their product.

The only thing that you can’t do using the libprs500 software is buy DRM’ed books which are locked to the Sony Reader — but that isn’t something that many people will be particularly interested in, I suspect. OK, I did buy Pillars of the Earth, which was available on the Sony site for $6 dollars — hmm, cheaper than Amazon’s $9.99 — but that was an investment I was willing to flush down the toilet when the PRS-505 becomes obsolete, mainly so I could test what buying a DRM’ed book would be like from the Sony web site. But I probably won’t be buying many books with DRM that way. On the other hand, I am quite willing to spend quite a bit more money on non-DRM’ed books from publishes such as Baen Books.

Here’s to the hope to the publishing industry figures things out faster than RIAA’s member companies. In the meantime, I will be mostly pretending that the both the Sony and Amazon eBook stores with their proprietary DRM’ed books don’t exist…