eBook Reader Update

In a previous post, I looked at the Astak EZ Reader Book and what a great value it was for $259; invariably, Fry’s  put the Sony PRS-505 on sale for $269 a week later…

I was a Sony fan-boy many years ago, but years of Sony’s expensive proprietary standards and crappy desktop software slowly turned me into a Sony turncoat- but I  tentatively toyed with the idea of purchasing the PRS-505 just to be able to bash the unit and re-affirm the joys of the Astak reader’s multiple format support. 

I did purchase a PRS-505 today but I have ran into a few issues with my initial plan:

  • PDF Support on the Sony PRS-505 is native- and appears to be a bit better in some situations than the Astak
  • The Sony unit supports SHDC memory cards up to 32GB instead of just 4GB (and MS Pro Duo- but that is another story)
  • The Display is much easier to read- perhaps due to the 8 shades of gray vs. 4 on the Astak- or is the ‘20% brighter contrast’?
  • There is much more community support for the Sony readers (i.e. hacks and free software)
    MobiRead’s PRS-505 Dev Corner
    Calibre Planet
    PRS Customizer
  • It is much thinner and is more aesthetically pleasing than the Astak…


The PRS-505 supports three different view sizes (Small, Medium, Large) and even the smallest view is very readable:


PDF is supported natively- but it is handled a bit different than on the Astak.  The standard view is a full screen of the original PDF; the ‘medium’ and ‘large’ views are ‘re-flows’ of the text from the PDF, but in-line images are omitted:

This approach will work great for books that are mostly text- but not so great for technical PDFs (like motherboard manuals).  I tried a PDF of a fiction book and I was very pleased with the results.  The table of contents indexing is intact and I can use the directional keys (absent on the Astak) to jump to a specific chapter.

The Sony handles page numbers a bit differently than the Astak; Sony page numbers remain the same no-matter what size the font is- so a 313 page book is always 313 pages. However hitting the ‘next’ button on the Sony book takes you to the next screen- and it can take 2-4 screens before the page changes.  The Astak re-numbers the pages each time the font size is changed- and can often lose the location I was at during this change.  I think Sony has done it the right way.


The first thing that needs to be done with the PRS-505 is to re-flash with a custom firmware.  The PRS Customizer makes easy work of this:


Download the software, select the settings you would like and it will build a scripted firmware package that should be copied to a blank SD card (doesn’t appear to work on Memory Stick Pro Duo).  Simply copy the contents of the ‘sdcard’ subfolder created by the program, insert the card and it will auto-run ‘Igorsk's Universal Flasher v2.1’. 

Select #5 to ‘make a new image’.  After this completes, select #6 to ‘flash the image’.  Lastly select #9 to ‘Reboot’.  If the firmware update is successful, you will now be running your custom firmware (complete with custom icons- if selected).


I was looking to add the on-screen clock, but it appears that this is included in the build- it can be enabled/disabled by hitting ‘0’ from within the ‘about’ menu screen.

A very similar program to this is ‘Hack Builder’.


For eBook library management, I would forgo the ‘eBook Library’ program that Sony provides (which it has already locked up twice since I installed it!)- unless you are interested in purchasing books from the Sony eBook store in their own, special version of proprietary DRM- or you want to download one of the 500,000+ ‘free’ books offered by Sony + Google (which can also be downloaded without their software).

Instead, use Calibre- a very polished 3rd party eBook manger/converter. With this program one can drag-and-drop other book formats (TXT, PDF, etc) and pull in the associated meta information (via ISBN) from the ISBN database.  If you don’t know the ISBN you can either search for the book on Amazon or in the ISBN database.


It will also pull in book cover images from LibraryThing (after signing up for a free account).

After all the meta data is set the way you want it, you can either push it over in native format to the PRS-505, or convert it to a single file ‘eBook’ version (your choice of ePub, LRF or MOBI- the former two both work with the Sony reader).  There were some warnings about x64 drivers on the Calibre support page, but it detected my PRS-505 with no issues under Windows 7 x64.

I tried converting some PDF files to ePub and LFR and found it is much better to let the Sony reader deal with the native PDF format- in eBub/LRF format some of the tables were converted to text, images were dropped and the picture formatting was very random.

Once done properly, a new eBook looks near professional with cover art (either from LibraryThing or a custom image):

One very interesting feature of Calibre is that is can auto-download RSS feeds and convert them into indexed eBooks.  One built-in feature is Google reader; I entered my login and password and it pulled down 50 articles from each RSS I had in my feeds list.

The generated ‘Google Reader’ eBook has an index, summary pages and full news articles- with Images!  Once the feed has been compiled, it is automatically transferred to the eReader.  If you have a lot of RSS feeds, I would actually suggest creating an extra Google account and setting up a different RSS feed- less you end up with a 500+ page eBook of RSS info!

The pages can read via next/previous buttons and interesting articles can be ‘ear marked’ for later review (just like they can be in a normal book):

Calibre does not recognize the Astak EZ Reader, but the .ePub Google Reader file can be manually transferred to the device.  The results were less than spectacular:


The four-shade vs. eight-shade is very apparent and it also appears that the Sony reader does a better job of handling ePub format commands.

Calibre also has built-in RSS feeds for Business Week, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today- just to name a few. And although the PRS-505 does not have an integrated WiFi or EVDO modem, Calibre can provide you with a morning newspaper if you have time to dock your eBook reader before heading out.


Aside from that, there are independent developers are making games for the PRS-505:

image image



So in the end I was a bit torn; do I stay with the older eBook reader that supports every eBook format I could imagine, or do I go with the newer reader with a better screen, SHDC support and a fairly active developer community?   

Calibre was the program that made the deciding stroke for me; it gave me more control over my eBooks and allows me to organize them in the methodical , neurotic way that I like.

I still have 7 days until the return period is up at Fry’s for the Aztak- I guess it is a good thing that I always keep all packaging and scan in all of my receipts! (now I just need to flash it back to a normal firmware and find the 2GB SD card that it came with!)


  1. booklover11:02 PM

    I am curious where you can find the original Astak firmware for EZ reader.

  2. Anonymous6:06 AM

    Huh. I have a sony prs myself, and am in total awe of anyone who's brighter than me (and there's a LOT of those people), but was wondering, do you need to flash the sony for calibre to recognise it as a hdd?

    Also, where would i be able to find proper instructions (think step by step in crayon) on how to flash, if that is the case.

    I can't afford to have a bricked £200 toy. :D

  3. For Calibre there was no need to flash; The Sony PRS should be recognized as a mass storage device (MSD) and I believe Calibre looks at the file structure to determine which version of PRS is attached.

    There was a note on the Calibre page about USB drivers- there may be some issues if Windows doesn't find the right driver.

    Alternatively, you can drag-and-drop the files to the PRS (you specify where Calibre saves the files during setup- usually 'my documents'), or use a USB card reader to transfer the files directly to a SD/MS Pro Duo for use in the PRS.

    The PRS is pretty good about finding files on a SD/MS card.

    Flashing allows changing of the icon set and adding other 'features' (such as a clock, page read averages, etc); there is more info in the PRS customizer/Hack builder on flashing- including info on what to do if you 'brick' your reader.

  4. Anonymous10:49 AM

    Ah! Righty. I'm with ya! Thanks for the clarification.

  5. How well does Sony PRS support chm file?

  6. Calibre looks great. Too bad it is not available for 64-bit windows . . .

  7. Collean: I was using Calibre under Vista x64 and currently under Windows 7 RC x64 with no issues. It is not a native x64 app, but Windows handles it like every other x86 (32b) app and runs it in 'legacy mode'.

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