Sony Reader PRS-600: a short review

"In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature the oldest."    — Buy at Amazon.comEdward Bulwer-Lytton (1803—1873)
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Quick review

I thought about writing a longer review of the Buy at Amazon.comSony Reader PRS-600 but there are plenty of them already. It's my first experience with an eBook reader which I purchased as a gift for a friend, but I used it for 2 weeks before giving it to her. I've long wanted a device with a passive screen said to be easier on the eyes. Let's see how this goes.

The Screen

Obviously the screen is one of the 2 main selling points, the other being the battery time (given as 3 weeks with continuous reading). I can't vouch on the battery time, as for the few days I used it unconnected, the battery indicator didn't even go down a single notch.

Back to the screen: the eInk does the job, but the added touch layer makes it appear less sharp than the other models. Reading is fine though. So is the touchscreen worth it ? Well, not really. You can draw clumsily, you can take notes in books with an onscreen keyboard and save the notes. Maybe worth it to simply come back to a certain page later, but you can put bookmarks with other bookreaders without touchscreen as far as I know. You are not obligated to leave greasy fingerprints all over the screen as a pen is provided.

Still about the screen it is actually less readable head on than slightly tilted, meaning it's far from perfect. There are only 4 levels of greyscale, but it's hard to tell on text because of the excellent dithering. On the other hand, looking at pictures is a curious experience. Still the white is far from being as bright as even the cheapest recycled paper, which is a shame and makes it less than ideal to read in rather dark conditions. Obviously you cannot read in complete darkness (that's by design).

The interface

It's simple, straightforward and does the jobs really well. When you go from one page to the next the screen goes dark then white then it appears, all this in about one second so you get used to it really fast. Trying to quickly browse through a book bypasses this and displays the pages directly, but still barely over one page per second. You cannot organize your library from inside the device, you need to use Sony's PC software, which I haven't tested.

You can reflow pdf files to fit in the width of the screen, thank god.

Other features like the music player, the search box, the library or the note taker are accessible in no more than one or two clics. Using it as a music player is fine, but will drain the battery much faster than simply reading. Note that you cannot use the reader while it is connected to a PC.

And final usability note: it boots instantly.

OS compatibility

I would say it's excellent and it was one of my requirements. Sony's software runs on Macs and PCs, but on Linux you have easy access to the device's filesystems and can use free library software like Calibre (available from Ubuntu's repositories). When you connect the reader via the given mini-USB cable, you see no less than 4 drives appear: the internal memory (512Mb), the SD card (takes SDHC fortunately), the Sony memory stick pro-duo and a special drive which contains the installers for Mac+PC.

The library software puts files inside /database/media/audio/, /database/media/books/, /database/media/images/ and /database/media/notepads but in reality you can place the files anywhere: when you disconnect from the PC, the reader takes a few seconds to look for any files it knows how to read and classifies them:

Adobe .pdf, MS Word .doc, .lrs/lrf/lrx BBeB books (Sony's format), .epub books, simple text files...
jpg (I haven't tested other formats)
They are xml files that I have no idea how to open on a PC
mp3 (I haven't tested other formats)


The selling point of this device is that you can fill it up with books, throw it in your pack and use it whenever you want without worrying about the battery, unlike other devices like phones or tablets. After a couple weeks of use, maybe you can think about plugging it back in. It's perfect for its stated purpose: reading.

Sure, you can compare it with an iPad or a netbook, but at the end of the day this thing will be better to read on and still have battery. And you won't be tempted to waste your time looking at kitten videos !

Comparing it with a kindle is fairer, but the Kindle is heavily DRMed and works properly only in the US. And on the Sony you can read PDFs !

Personally I'd buy one if only it had the ability to read cbr/cbz files built-in. Throw in an eInk color screen and I'll be the first in line.

Comic books reading

Personally I've been waiting for an eBook reader for comic books, which mean a color screen is a requirement. Still I wanted to give a shot at reading some of the B&W comics I have.

Unfortunately the Reader cannot read the standard .cbr/cbz comic book formats natively, and that's a damn shame. A quick test showed me that B&W or greyscale images can be enjoyable to read, provided the text isn't too small, so that's perfect for many manga for instance. Forget about trying to read color comics. So we can either extract the images from a cbr/cbz and dump them directly on the device, an easy thing to do, but then we are left with a big mess of poorly sorted images.

Another solution is to use a cbr/cbz to epub converter to create an epub file optimized for the screen resolution. The best one I have found is Calibre, which works on all platforms, including Linux. That means 600x800, which will make the text too small in some case. But bigger images are annoying to read with the rather poor zoom function provided.

Converting to epub format is far from perfect, in particularly it increases the file size by over 50% while reducing the resolution !

But first we have to figure out which comic books are not in color, a rather tedious task to do by hand if you have a large collection.

So here is a shell script that tries to guess which comic books are not in colors and copies them to a special folder. You can then import that folder into Calibre for epub conversion. Note, I name my own comic books with the following system: "authors - series name - XX - album name.cbz" or "authors - series name - XX.cbz" or "authors - album name.cbz". This way I can tell Calibre to import it with the following regular expression in [Preferences][Add/save][adding books][Regular expression]: (?P<author>.+?) - (?P<title>.+) and the following template in [Preferences][Add/save][Saving Books][Template]: {authors} - {title}