The Sony Reader PRS-600: Some Notes

Ever since I saw the Sony Reader -- in red, the touch screen version -- at The Word on the Street last October, I've wanted one. At first, it was the gadget lover in me. But then I realised that as a writer I could use it to read and annotate my drafts wherever I was, not just when I was seated at my desktop, and that as a person with a brain injury, it would help me read.

One of the compensating strategies I was taught in neurorehab that actually works is to cover off the text that one isn't reading. But it's a bit awkward to juggle blank notecards and to move them around to cover off text in a mass paperback or, worse, a hardcover. Newspapers and magazines, you can fold back or in contortions, depending on how the editor flows the article across columns and ads. Still, it can sometimes be too much work. The Reader solves all that, showing only one page at a time, and with the zoom function, even less. No ads, no images, just nice, readable text.

So I was thrilled when the parental units gave me one for Christmas. Not in red -- sniff! -- but in sharp black, which rather harmonizes with the text actually, and with a matching cover complete with flexible light that comes in handy. It's taken me awhile to figure it out, not because the Sony Reader is difficult to understand but because they hid the Getting Started manual inside the box the Reader comes in and because my reading is, well, not the greatest, especially after the long, exciting day of Christmas. It also didn't help that Sony's ebook site was down. And I only got in through a short blog on that issue. A bit weird.

After futzing around with the Reader, wondering why I couldn't adjust the brightness, playing with the cover light until I got it in a decent position to light the screen well enough to read, reading the excerpt from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I finally found a couple of good, lengthy reviews. One is a librarian's first impressions, by a person who uses Ubuntu and whose other half has a Kindle. He has a couple of things wrong in that review, which I'll get to later, but otherwise it's worth reading. The other review was on by Janet Cloninger, and is very helpful too and includes extensive answers to many questions at the end of her review, but again it's missing a key piece of info (or at least I couldn't find it). I recommend reading those reviews. Mine will simply complement those ones.

Recently -- like real recent -- Sony upgraded its Reader software (Reader firmware too) so that one no longer needs Adobe Digital Editions. Since it was so recent, I thought I'd have to upgrade my software; however, my Reader is fully up to date. I think that's the first time I've gotten a gadget that hasn't needed some updating. The librarian reviewer Jamie either didn't have an up-to-date Reader, didn't realise he needed to update his software, or just assumed that all the out-of-date information floating out there on the Reader was still appropo. It didn't help that he couldn't find the user manual. As I noted, I didn't either till this afternoon.

To find the Getting Started guide, one must remove the Reader from its nook in its box, feel with the fingers for a fingerhold where the Reader was sitting, then pull and manipulate till the darn thing lifts. Underneath is the Guide, warranty, and a USB cable. The Guide tells you how to access the user manual on the Reader. However, like with any gadget, you can download the full Manual from the US Sony site, not the Canadian site for reasons beyond me, which is what I did before I discovered it's on the Reader itself.

The user manual is in a zip file under the Documents folder on the Reader. To access it, turn the Reader on, plug in the USB cable, plug the other end into a USB port in your computer (any OS), wait for the Reader to show a little graphic of a USB plug (may take 5 minutes if Reader not charged and fresh out of the box), start Windows Explorer or click on Places in Ubuntu. For Windows, find the removable drive labelled Reader. For Ubuntu, click on Computer then find the removable drive labelled Reader. Click on the Documents folder, then click on the file titled "" and then the English guide inside the zip file. The large User Guide will open in Adobe Reader. It's a PDF file and is easily navigable with a fully functional Table of Contents and clickable links.

The other error Jamie made was wasting time with Adobe Digital Editions. With the newest software, one doesn't need ADE anymore. The problem was he was trying to use it via Linux. Ironically, the Sony Reader apparently uses a Linux-based OS but does not provide its consumer software in a linux version. Like the (insert expletive) iPod Touch, one must first connect the Reader (or iPod Touch) to a Windows or Mac computer, Autoplay will start, and then you click to install software on your computer. For the iPod Touch, it's iTunes; for the Reader, it's Reader Library (the similarity of names between software and hardware got me rather confused, at least Apple calls the hardware iPod Touch and software iTunes so you can easily distinguish between the two). It installs easily. After that, you do need to authorize both the software and hardware to be able to download to computer and transfer to Reader copyright-protected ebooks. Unfortunately, because you use the Reader Library software to do that, you have to be in Windows or Mac.

Unlike Jamie, I didn't need an Adobe password to authorize my Reader; all I had to do was register on the Sony Reader Store -- accessed through Reader Library by clicking "ebook store" on the left-hand column, in the same way you access the iTunes store through iTunes software -- and then authorize my Reader by clicking Authorize under My Account/Manage Devices in the Reader Store. I had to ensure the Reader was connected to the computer and was showing that little USB graphic on its screen.

To recap, connect Sony Reader via USB to the computer, load Reader Library on your computer, click on ebook store in Reader Library, sign in to Reader Store that loads up inside Reader Library, go to My Account, and authorize your Reader. Whoa, all those Readers makes my head hurt!

I have not yet tried calibre for Ubuntu, but it's received good words from Jamie and others.

Now I wanted to put my novel draft in PDF format on my Reader. The handwriting function would be très useful in revising it. However, I don't work in Vista very often, and like Jamie, wanted to use Ubuntu to manage at least the PDF files. After reading the Gadgeteer review, I wasn't sure if I could simply transfer the file or I had to use Reader Library or calibre to do it. Since I was getting a bit tired (to say the least) and fed up with learning new software, I decided to just try transferring the darn thing using the old-fashioned drag-and-drop method of moving files from one drive to another. I clicked on Places and went to the folder where my PDF was. I clicked on Places again, clicked on Computer, and then on Reader. I clicked through all the folders until I found where the books are stored: database/media/books. I dragged and dropped, that is copied, my PDF file from its folder on the computer to the books folder on the Reader. And voilà, when I disconnected the Reader, touched the Books icon on the home menu, there was my PDF file, fully readable and annotatable.

I bought the entire version of the Hitchhiker's Guide from Sony's ebook store. I had received a couple of Chapters.Indigo gift cards for Christmas, which I'd hoped to use to buy ebooks from their kobo site. But even though kobo (formerly Shortcovers) is affiliated with Chapters.Indigo, you (a) have to register anew to buy an ebook from that site, you can't sign in through, and (b) cannot use Chapters.Indigo giftcards. Both are severe and annoying shortcomings. Since kobo is a initiative and affiliate, you should be able to use one sign in and use gift cards. Also their ebooks are more expensive, even with the exchange, than the Sony Reader Store's.

You can access free books through both Sony Reader Store and kobo. I haven't yet tried downloading public domain books through Google on the Reader Store website or through Project Gutenberg. But the latter offers public domain books in many formats, including plain text, which the Sony Reader can read as easily as PDFs. So I would think one would simply download a book and then drag and dropit into the database/media/books folder on the Reader.

Last notes: (1) You may at first only see Launcher when looking for the Reader in Explorer or Places. Wait for a second or so, and Reader will pop up as the removable drive. Click on that, not Launcher. (2) In Windows, you can plug and unplug and replug in the Reader while Reader Library is loaded on the computer and Library will accurately reflect the status of the Reader, showing it in its left-hand column when plugged in and not when it isn't. (3) The Reader comes with an American English dictionary and a UK English dictionary but not the Canadian one. Since they're Oxford dictionaries and Oxford publishes a Canadian English dictionary, there's no excuse for not providing the dictionary in our own English language.

Update (2009-12-30): The power button is interesting. Push it to the right to turn the Reader on. Push it to the right to turn it off into standby mode. Push it to the right and hold for 3 seconds to shut the device down. It will first ask you if you really want to shut the Reader down; you press Yes, and it'll shut it down. I've been using the Reader for five days now on one charge. I shut it down at night, rather than turn it off into standby mode. The few extra seconds it takes to start up the next day into the Home page doesn't bother me, and it saves on battery power. But during the day, I put it into Standby, or it will go into Standby after 60 minutes if I leave it on.

I'm on my second eBook, and both have words that run together (e.g., runtogether). It doesn't happen all that often, and I don't know why it happens. As far as I know, an eBook is created from the same computer file as a printed book after all the proofing is done. Perhaps it's an artefact of the format??? Whatever the reason, it needs cleaning up.

The Toronto Public Library uses Overdrive to lend books in ePub and PDF formats, as well as audio formats that can be played on the iPod or an MP3 player. I thought "Yay!" until I started browsing. There isn't much choice. For example, a mystery series may have the first book in ePub or PDF and the last book or two in the series, but most in between are either available only in audio or not at all. Nonfiction books are limited in scope, although popular new ones like Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell has a hold line of 20 or more people. But I had to purchase The Question of God, which sets up a debate between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis on belief, love, and life, from the Sony Reader Store. I couldn't purchase it from kobo because it doesn't offer it to Canadian customers. Um, love the irony.