Although the Reader has been out in the US for a while, it's only now that Sony has gotten around to releasing it in the UK. Its introduction has been timed to coincide with the launch of Waterstone's ebook Web site and as the official retail partner for the device, Waterstone's will be promoting it heavily. And at its current £200 price, the PRS-505 manages to substantially undercut rivals like the Bookeen Cybook and iRex Iliad.
Most of the previous ebooks we've seen have had fairly dull-looking designs, but the Sony Reader is a different beast altogether. It really does look very handsome, thanks to its luxurious silver finish. Also, since the case is made from metal rather than plastic it feels much sturdier than competitors such as the Bookeen Cybook.
Like the majority of the ebooks on the market at the moment, this one uses an e-ink display on the 6-inch screen. This is a special type of very high-contrast display that doesn't suffer from flicker and doesn't use a backlight. It is monochrome only, but it can show eight levels of greyscale at a resolution of 600x800 pixels, and it's incredibly readable. In fact, it's almost as good as looking at a printed page.
Internally there's 256MB of memory (192MB of which is accessible) giving you enough space to store around 160 books. If you feel the need, you can also add more storage via SD cards or Memory Stick Pro Duo cards.
The device is relatively easy to get to grips with. You use the column of numbered buttons down the right-hand side of the display to select entries in menus or to enter the page number you want to skip to when you're reading an ebook. The two page-turning buttons are nicely placed so they're under your thumb when you hold the device in your hands. You can also zoom in on the text, with three different zoom levels on offer.
Getting books onto the device is pretty straightforward using the supplied Sony eBook Library software, which supports a broad range of formats. As well as Sony's own proprietary BBeB format, it can also be used to read txt, rtf and HTML files and a recent software upgrade has greatly improved its support for PDFs, though it can struggle to display complicated PDFs properly.
Pictures in JPEG, PNG and GIF formats can be shown in greyscale and there's also a basic music player that works with MP3 and DRM-free AAC files. You can listen to music and read a book at the same time.
Battery life is also incredibly good, with the device offering up 6,800 page turns, which is the equivalent to reading War and Peace five times on a single charge.
Because it's made out of aluminium rather than plastic, the Reader is heavier than most of the other ebook readers we've seen. It doesn't exactly feel like it's made of lead, but it is noticeably heavy when you hold it in your hands for long periods.
Another disappointment is that Sony doesn't include a mains charger in the box. The Reader can be charged from a computer via a USB lead, but it still would have been handy to have a mains charger included.
Also, while we wouldn't exactly say the Reader is difficult to use, the large number of buttons on the front is a bit intimidating when you're initially trying to figure out what everything does. And as the reader offers up three different ways of turning a page -- page-turn buttons, the d-pad and the bookmark rocker switch all turn pages -- we think Sony could have quite easily cut down on the number of controls.
The Sony Reader PRS-505 is certainly not perfect, but its low price and gorgeous design help it raise above the competition. At just £200 it undercuts its nearest rival by around £70, while at the same time managing to look like a much more expensive device. That's seriously impressive in our book.
Edited by Marian Smith