image I’m a teacher and get a gift card every year from the parents at school. Empowered to splurge, I bought a Sony PRS-505 last year.

My eBookwise had its positives—earlier I’d owned several Palm PDA-based readers, with smaller screens—but it was too clunky to take out of the house very often. Also, it had a limited selection of books in its store, and the Draconian DRM didn’t help, either. So I was happy to find the eBookwise a good home and upgrade to the Sony.

60 books read, 500 stored, and now there’s Mac support

One year later, how is it going? Fabulously! I have read more than 60 books on the Sony and have over 500 stored on its memory right now. Plus, Sony has added Mac support, so I can now download and read library books from my local public library. The selection was anemic and rarely added to, so I had not checked it for some time. It turns out the library had only paused for a format change over to ePub, and the staffers are now getting in new titles regularly and are up to several hundred.

I can put books on a wish list, check some of them out on the spot, or place holds and be notified via email when the book is available for download. I continue to get free e-books off MobileRead, Project Gutenberg, the Sony store and elsewhere, and to buy books from Fictionwise. I have recently made my first purchase from a non-Fictionwise store—an ePub of the newest Douglas Coupland novel from Kobo, formerly Shortcovers. Kobo is majority-owned by a major Canadian book chain and was the only ones to snag an e-copy of this well-known Canadian author.

Competition from the new guys

In the year since I bought the Sony, there have been some other entrants in the e-book scene. I was tempted by the Astak reader, but it doesn’t have much to offer me that’s different from what the Sony has—unless or until the company comes through with the promised secure eReader support. If that ever happens, the Astak will get another look from me.

The Amazon Kindle has at long last arrived in Canada, too, and I have to admit, it tempted me. I like the idea of the wireless Wikipedia, and there are times the wireless downloads would be handy. But I could not read library books on it, and that would be a big disincentive for me.

If Amazon ever did add ePub support, and the ability to use the dictionary lookup with languages other than English, it  might persuade me to jump ship (I would dearly love to find a reader with a built-in French dictionary look-up!). But right now, I am really valuing the more open formats and the library support I am getting on the Sony.

Cost of use

The Sony remains an affordable purchase for me. My free reads subsidize the cost of the books I buy, and when I do purchase something, I time it carefully to take advantage of member discounts, promo codes and other amenities. My current Fictionwise bookshelf, divided by dollars spent on books, has each book averaging out at about $3.50 when all is said and done. And some of those are magazine subscriptions with about twenty issues left between them—issues I have already paid for but not yet received. When those are factored into the math, it’s at about $2.50 a book, and that’s only considering the ones I have paid for. Adding in the free reads too, and I could easily hit $1 a book.

Of those paid-for books, about half of them remain unread. A few of those are books I once read in paper and wanted to switch over to e-book so I could clear out shelf space and get rid of the paper copy. I have not had a chance to re-read them yet to see how they look on my various devices, but I am happy to own them. About a quarter of them are magazine issues from various subscriptions. I am a bit behind on the magazines, and this is my Christmas break project, to finish those off and make way for next year’s issues.

Have my book-buying habits changed?

I would say I am spending a lot more money on books than I used to. I used to buy from the used bookstore (no profit to publishers there!) and sell them back when my limited shelf space forced me to purge them. Now, knowing I can keep every book and not have to worry about shelf space, I am much more likely to impulse buy from authors I enjoy. I also am very entrenched in the Fictionwise rewards program and will often buy a title I might have gotten from the library in the past, if it comes with a rebate I can use to do more shopping.

There are some books I have also re-bought in e-book form in order to conserve precious shelf space. During a recent move, I couldn’t face packing up the mounds of them, so I went through my fiction collection and added everything I could find in e-form to my wish list, then sold the paperbacks. I have been gradually buying them as time, and rebate credits, have permitted. In some cases, I was able to save a lot of shelf space—The Mists of Avalon, for example, is an extremely hefty book!

I do still buy (fairly often) things like cookbooks or fitness books in paper, and will continue to do so. I often prefer paper versions for anything keepsake-esque (some of my religious books) or very visual. Over time, I see my literal bookshelf consisting  of only this type of book, and all of my fiction being in e-form.

How my initial impressions changed—or did they?

I went back and read the reviews I wrote on the Sony at the just-bought and one-week-later points. Did I change my mind about any of the early annoyances? Were there problems which were not apparent to me at first?

  • I was favorably impressed by the size, the form and the battery life. I remain so. However, I did find that the cover it came with was not very comfortable to hold, and I bought some fabric slipcovers on Etsy that made it much more pleasant to hold.
  • I was dismayed by the lack of Mac software. This, as I mentioned, has been addressed. I don’t love the Sony software in and of itself, and continue to use the excellent Calibre program to manage my library and convert to my preferred formats when needed, but I appreciate that having this software lets me download free books from the Sony store and to check out library books. If your library has even a halfway decent e-book collection as mine does, this should be a major selling point in favor of the Sony.
  • I was initially dazzled by the ability to download RSS feeds, but have found this is a feature of Calibre I haven’t used that much. It’s slow and at times buggy, plus I am not always patient enough to plug in, load, disconnect and wait. I can definitely see the appeal of Kindle wireless for such things and think that is a selling point in favor of Amazon. I would love to be able to read the morning paper in the bus every morning, and to have it just be sent to me, ready to go, is very neat.
  • I do think a search function would be helpful. At times, I have wanted one, but I was not reminded to include this point in this article until I re-read my earlier remarks about it. So clearly, nice though it might be, its absence has not been overly weighing on my mind.
  • I I like that, unlike the Kindle, I can sort the books into collections and browse them that way on the reader. When you have as many books as I do, this ability is necessary and is a selling point in favor of the Sony. But some o
    f their menus are needlessly clunky; you have to go to a lot of buttons to delete, for example! And I would love to be able to easily add a handful of books to a hotlist so I can switch back and forth between them if I have more than one book on the go at a time. I often have a short story collection and a novel on the go at once. When I tire of the stories, it can be a pain to have to go back into the menus and find the novel again.
  • I noted fairly early on that sloppy formatting is much more apparent on the Sony’s larger (relative to my iPod Touch) screen. This continues to be true. I have found that HTML seems to convert the cleanest, and have gone to some effort with many of my purchased books to get them converted into a format that looks nice to me. I resent having to do so much manual labor and wish that “professional” e=books would look nicer right out of the box, but we don’t seem to be there yet. I don’t think this is Sony’s fault, but I would like to see the industry as a whole begin to take this seriously and adopt some standards.

Would I jump ship?

I am extremely happy with the Sony. But I think that life would be easier, in some ways, if one has the number one reader and not the number two. So, happy though I might be, that is not to say I am not always on the lookout for what’s coming down the pipe.

The mythical Life-Changing Apple Tablet of Magic might persuade me, if it can run the ‘apps’ I already have for the Touch and if its battery life is not completely abysmal. And the Kindle product line continues to interest me. But right now, I am valuing the library books and the ability to painlessly buy secure ePub from a dozen different stores over the wow factor of wireless Wikipedia.

That might change down the road depending on who is offering which features. I am trying to remain focused on the features, rather than the brand or the glitz factor.

So, what would persuade me to jump ship down the road, short of catastrophe breaking my reader and forcing me to choose again tomorrow? I’ll make this simple. The first company to come out with a reader which:

  1. Works well with Calibre, including supporting its collections feature
  2. Accepts at minimum ePub (including support for the ADE encryption used by Overdrive) and PDF
  3. Has built-in dictionary lookup with the choice of more than one language
  4. Can download using free wireless, as the Kindle can

So far, my Sony has the top two features and the Kindle has the bottom two features (although its dictionary is English-only). So it’s a draw, and I remain happy with my 505. But if anyone wants to sway me to the dark side, they know what they have to do!

Image credit: CC-licensed photo from Cloudsoup. Interesting snapshot, though it’s not the FicReader.


  1. I was interested in what you said at the bottom about “professional” formatting and liking a certain format as a reader. I’m helping a client self-publish and it’s a first for both of us, however, I would like to offer very professional formatting from here on out to clients and would be interested in hearing your thoughts on that. Thanks for taking a moment if you have the time.

  2. I think my biggest gripe with professional books is that they seem to be formatted as if they were print books. So you;ll get things like page breaks between chapters and large numbers of random carriage returns. I hate that. Also, more than a few have failed to get a second copy edit once they are converted to ebook and so I have bought some that had serious OCR mistakes. If you are going to charge people money for the book, you have to respect that they are *paying* you for it and give them a quality product.

  3. As a side note, when you say the Kindle only has an English dictionary you’re a couple of weeks out of date. Amazon now offers French-English, Spanish-English, and German-English Kindle-compatible dictionaries. I’ve been using the French-English dictionary for a while and am quite pleased with it .

  4. Where do you get it? I checked the Amazon Kindle page and saw no reference. If this is true, I may consider getting a Kindle. My stepdad wants one, so I was planning to get one for him in the new year and if he does not like it, keep it myself. I do love my Sony, but a French-English dictionary built in could be a game-changer for me…

  5. If you might be happy with a 5″ screen, the Pocketbook 360 meets the first three criteria and offers a few tricks of its own, such as a built-in accelerometer for rotating the screen and, surprisingly (via a hack) to turn pages. It uses a standard dictionary format at allows multiple installed dictionaries at the same time.
    You know your way around Mobileread so check out the videos and reviews at the PB360 forum; it meets most of my expectations of what I hoped a Kindle Mini would be like. (FWIW: I’m *don’t* see wireless are either a negative or a must-have; I do value end user formatting controls that override crappy ePub hardwiring.)

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