- March 7th, 2008
I'd initially only planned on getting the CyBook, but that ... took a while. So I bought a Sony PRS-505 at a local Fry's a couple of months ago. Since I got the CyBook, I've been using it exclusively, so I have a fair basis for comparison.
In terms of displays, they're very similar. Not surprising, since both use the same physical display. So most of the differences encountered are due to the firmware, and the physical controls.
Here's the difficult conclusion I've had to come to: the Sony is the better device. In fact, if it could natively handle the Baen ebook formats, I'd be hard-pressed to justify the CyBook.
Now to explain that...
The Sony has more controls. It's got 10 digit buttons (useful for going to a specific page), a menu button, a bookmark button, a zoom button, and two different sets of page turning buttons (one on the main face, one on the size of the device). It puts them all to fairly good use -- the menus use the digit buttons, and you can go up and down fairly quickly.
From the top-level menu, you can select books sorted by title, by author, or by date. It has an indicator showing in which memory system the book is (I only have an SD-card, so I don't know what it'd show for a MemoryStick). You can start at the beginning and cycle through the pages, or it has them grouped, and you can select (using the digit key) -- for example, "by title" may have "0-9", "A, B, C", and so forth.
After selecting the book, you're again presented with a menu, which allows you to start, continue reading, go to a specific page, view the table of contents, and some other choices.
All of the books I've put on mine were RTF, that being the only choice from Baen/Webscriptions I could get that it would work with. While the PRS-505 can use RTF, it's not a "native" format -- so when you first select it, it reformats it. And this takes a long, long time. Several minutes. It also reformats it when you zoom (I like to read a larger size, and the PRS-505 offers Small, Medium, and Large fonts). After it's formatted for each size, however, resizing again is near instant. This non-native support turned out to be a huge issue for me: several books I loaded, using the "libprs500" application, simply couldn't be read. And loading the straight-from-Baen RTF version onto the card resulted in it not finding it. In order to read one particular book, I had to remove everything from the SD-Card, and then only load the book in question, before I could read it.
While reading, the display shows the title, the page number (and page count), and battery capacity. With me reading for up to two hours a day, I got one (out of four) battery tick per week. That's quite sufficient for me. I recharged via a USB cable.
Now... given all that, let's talk about the CyBook. The first thing I noticed is that it has far fewer controls. A directional button, and a middle button. Intuitively: up, down, left, right, and select. (When reading books, right and down are "next", while up and left are "previous.") The menu button is on the side. There are no digit buttons.
As shipped, the SD Card was locked. And people have reported incompatibility problems with the shipped card and the device.
Since it supports the PRC format, I loaded all the Baen/Webscription books in that format. Book loading is instant, and there are many more font size choices available from the menu button. Page numbers are not displayed, but a progress bar is shown.
This is a serious drawback -- because another problem the device has is that it seems to forget where you were when it shuts off. After a week of working for me, this morning it lost my position. (And note that nothing changed -- I didn't start reading a new book, I didn't hook it up to a computer, etc.) So I tried to go back to where I was -- but while I could go to a page number, I had to guess what the page number was, based on the progress bar, and the total number of pages it told me the book had when I went to the "Go to page" item.
When the device boots, it presents a grid of book choices (with a number of choices as to how many books per page are shown). You select one using the directional buttons, and the select button. You can choose to sort them by date, or by title... but not by author.
One big difference between the PRS-505 and the CyBook here is that the PRS-505, on power-up, will go to where you were last. Whether reading a book, or in a particular menu item. The CyBook, however, appears to do a full restart each time (that is, the Sony appears to do a soft-boot, while the CyBook does a cold-boot). The user experience difference here is huge.
While reading, as noted above, you can use the directional buttons to navigate. Another shortcoming here is that it doesn't always recognize that I've pressed a page-turn button. So I will have to press it multiple times, sometimes, just to get to the next page. And then, sometimes, I worry I may have skipped a page (since there is no page number displayed), so I go back to make sure the previous page is the previous page, and then go forward again.
Battery life is considerably better: after a week of use, I'm at 90% battery charge, compared to (approximately) 75% for the Sony. This may relate to the booting difference described above.
As I said near the beginning, the CyBook is just not as good, in a lot of ways. Fortunately, most of the shortcomings can be fixed in software, and so I'm hopeful it'll improve over time. I'm obviously not a power-user of these devices -- but I shouldn't have to be. (I am, however, limited by using Mac OS X, so I don't have the computer applications that both manufacturers have, which allows for automatic syncing, reformatting on the computer, etc.)
Given that I was able to afford both devices, I'm happy with the CyBook purchase. The main reason, again, is how well it works with the Baen ebooks. Since that is almost my sole source of ebooks, that puts it ahead of the PRS-505, even with all the shortcomings.
Well, I warned you it would be a rambling review.